In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!
#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.
The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.
#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.
We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.
I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.
I like to keep tabs on when I go on and off testosterone, and I’m pretty far behind this time around. About a month ago, I went back to my stash of Androgel 1.62%. I had stockpiled it years ago, and at this point, I had 2 bottles left, which had expired 2 years ago. I figured I might as well use them up (they still seem effective, just not sure if it’s less effective than they once were) rather than throw them out. I’m doing 2 pumps per day; at that rate, each bottle lasts one month. So when I run out at the end of January, I’ll probably just switch over to injections – I also have testosterone cypionate 200 mg/ml stockpiled. Probably enough to last me 6 months.
I’m doing this without going to an endocrinologist, physician, or through Planned Parenthood or some other type of clinic. I just don’t think that I need to. I think that I will be on testosterone short term, again, and by the time I’m back off it, seeing a medical professional would have barely been worth it. I kind of think I might cycle on T for 6 months / off T 6 months, back on, back off, for a while. And I’ll have to go back at some point to get more, so I can be monitored again at that point.
It seems to be a larger trend that as time goes on, the decisions are more in the patient’s hands anyway, and access is much improved. More and more Planned Parenthoods are offering HRT, for example, through an informed consent model, and you can get started the same day that you made your appointment. This is amazing! No more blood work, no lying about your gender identity to make sure you’re going to get your prescription, no waiting for months for the initial appointment and then weeks after that appointment for the prescription. Next time I need some, I’m just going to do this.
While I was off of testosterone, some stuff changed. The best thing that happened was that I gained a lot of nerve sensation back, in my chest. I am beyond thrilled by this! I assumed that at the point I was at (3 years since top surgery), healing had plateaued, and that was all I was gonna get. After a few months off T though, things started changing pretty drastically. Areas that were numb started to get back more feeling. Areas that were painful if I touched too roughly were no longer painful. I would even go as far as to say that erotic sensation has started to return, slightly. Things still aren’t the way they were, but it’s a huge improvement, especially since I had given up!
Oh also! My receding hairline had been worrisome – it was a big factor in my decision to go off T last spring. I imagined it would just halt the hair loss, but in fact, hairs started growing back in the area I assumed was now “bald”!! I’m talking about my temples – little hairs grew back in! I didn’t even know that could happen. Super psyched by that!
Even though these are huge pluses, things had gotten off balance again, and by going back on T, I feel more balanced (until I’m not, again… I know it’ll happen.) The weather was getting colder, and I just felt too cold. The joints in my hands and arms ached. Now that I’m a month in, pain, gone! The biggest reason for the shift, though, is just much more nebulous. Somehow I was being pegged as female by strangers again. I have no idea why: it’s not like my voice or face shape changed back! It must be an aura or a smell or like, pheromones or something. Or maybe a way of carrying myself? Whatever it was, it wasn’t sitting right. And I’m feeling good with that decision.
Will check back in when I’m not good with it, again. Probably within a few months, if the past is any indication of the future…
So I’ve been blogging for a while now, and I haven’t said a whole lot about my spouse, basically out of respect for their privacy. But they actually have a lot to say! Here’s just a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes:
Over the last 6 years that Kameron has been recording his gender transition journey, I have always appeared in his writing as the supportive spouse. That’s a role I have been happy to fill. Happy to be part of a couple t hat goes against the standard narrative of couples perceived as “same-sex” who split when one comes out as transmasculine/trans male. I never felt that Kameron’s transition challenged my sexual orientation—I am that rare non-binary unicorn who discovers their identity all at once, albeit belatedly. I never thought I was a lesbian, if anything other people read me as asexual. As I came into my own queer sexuality and genderqueer identity, I was falling for a pansexual gender non-conforming guy (I have no idea how he would define himself, this is how I experienced him). I embraced the po-mo complexity of my attraction to his particular queer blend of femininity and masculinity.
For me, being genderqueer gave me permission to play with my gender presentation. I had fun thrifting to build a wardrobe that reflected the spectrum of my gender expression—t-shirts from the boys section, day-glo green femme sweaters, bright blue doc marten boots, mini-skirts, baggy pants and flannel shirts. I felt more confident taking up space, and attracting the attention of other gender non-conforming queer people. But once I found myself romantically involved with someone (before Kameron), my partner assumed that I was “the more feminine one.” I felt pressured to present more femininely to heighten their tenuous, new expression of masculinity.
Now when I look back at the past 13 years of my life, I question whether I presented femininely because I internalized that pressure and carried it forward into my relationship with Kameron. Was this shift an unconscious assimilation to ease moving through the world? Or did I truly want to grow my hair out, wear skirts/dresses, and feel included in feminist spaces?! What a mindfuck! Being genderfluid makes life hella complicated. I have identified as a genderqueer femme, but that feels too limiting now. My gender expression has shifted again in the last 3 years toward a more masculine presentation. I feel more comfortable with how others see me now but I am sure that I am still perceived as a queer woman. The pendulum has simply swayed from femme to butch.
While Kameron’s transition didn’t threaten my sexual orientation, I did find myself at times feeling like I was getting left behind. I started to have strange pangs of jealousy—I had a much larger chest and have felt dysphoric about it since it first developed, but I wasn’t the one getting top surgery. I was the one sitting in a waiting room and I was the one keeping track of how much blood was accumulating in his drains, taking time off to help him with early recovery. Where were these ugly resentments coming from? I was so dissociated from my feelings and my body that it took years of watching Kameron’s transition unfold for me to start exploring my gender identity more.
It’s funny that we didn’t talk much about our gender identities with each other, I cocooned myself a bit and started parsing out what felt good and what didn’t. “She” was icky, so I asked Kameron, some close friends & family members, and co-workers to start using “they/them/theirs” for me. Ah, a sigh of relief. Then more discomfort would surface, I couldn’t wear bras anymore, not even sports bras. I threw them all away and got advice from Kameron
on various binder options. Another sigh of relief. Then a sudden surge of agitation when a friend starting dating someone with my given name. I had already been obsessively browsing Celtic baby name websites but now I felt an urgency to rename myself. Overall, I feel more comfortable with my gender now, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. I have started low-dose testosterone (shout out to Planned Parenthood for using an informed consent model) and am scheduling a top surgery consult soon. I am hoping that these steps will help alleviate my dysphoria, as it feels ever present now that I have stopped compartmentalizing it. These flooding feelings has been difficult to manage, and I’m currently battling a flare up of past restrictive eating habits.
For the longest time I couldn’t bear the attention of physically and socially transitioning. And I didn’t feel trans enough. I questioned why I had to do the emotional labor of explicitly coming out to be seen as non-binary. This has been an ongoing test of my tolerance for vulnerability. I need to be my authentic self for me, but the acknowledgement of others is overwhelming. I am a private person, I don’t have a blog, I keep a written journal. I guard my inner world with ferociousness and have a hard time trusting others. So far most people have been supportive and reached out to let me know so, but others have quietly noted signifiers (like changing my name on social media accounts) without comment. While the attention is exhausting (mostly due to my anxiety in these interactions), the silence of others is more painful. These silences have spurred me to have more in-depth conversations with those who do reach out, to push shame away and invite friends in.
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!
This post is a continuation I started last summer, basically in celebration of the fact that I can now wear t-shirts without feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious. Hooray for top-surgery, which was now a year and two months ago.
This beautiful specimen of a shirt was uncovered in a thrift store in Spencer, MA, just outside of Worchester, last summer while my spouse and I were visiting one of my friends from high school, and her husband and toddler. In case it’s hard to make out the print, this says,
“THE MORAL MAJORITY IS NEITHER.”
What does that mean??? At first, I didn’t know, and I don’t have a smart phone to “gooooogle” the phrase ASAP, so I just bought it an forgot about it. I did know I needed to have it, but I wasn’t going to start flaunting it until I found out what it was all about. I had a vague recollection of the term “moral majority” and that it was bad according to me (It really does just sound bad!!!), but that was about it.
I’m sure there’s more to the story, but according to wikipedia, the Moral Majority was a political organization started by Jerry Fallwell (The New Christian Right), mostly active in the 1980s. Critics started stating that “The Moral Majority is neither,” meaning the organization was neither moral nor a majority, and the slogan spread to bumper stickers, and other “swag” items.
This appears to be a homemade t-shirt from that time period (I’m following clues from the tag of the shirt. I could be mistaken), and it seems like it’s iron-on letters that are slightly felted. This added to me falling in love with this shirt. I feel that it is a good time and place to be wearing this t-shirt out and about, frequently, and proudly!
One year ago today, take or leave a day or two, I was at an incredible record store in Concord, NH. I was still recuperating from top surgery, but the worst of it was over, so my spouse and I went on vacation for a week. (OK, for her it was only a partial vacation – she was scheduled to attend a conference for work in Concord for 2 days.
We first went to Greenfield, Northampton, and Worcester, MA to visit friends. We went hiking, swimming (well, for me, it was only up to my torso cuz of surgery), blueberry picking, and shopping. We visited a botanical garden at Smith College, and when we got rained out, we ended up on the semi-precious gemstone wing of the science building. We also tried a Gose-style beer for the first time, and we watched Straight Outta Compton one night after the baby / toddler went to bed.
After all that fun stuff, we headed up to New Hampshire, and pretty much parted ways for the next two days because my spouse had work to do. It was awesome! We first went to the local co-op together to load up on snacks and drinks. After that, we just crashed at this hotel that was getting paid for by her employer. I hadn’t stayed at a hotel in roughly 10 years at that point, so the novelty factor was HUGE! I just kept getting ice from the ice machine, checking out other places my key card gave me access to (like the gym and pool, even though I could barely utilize these perks).
On the one day, I basically walked up and down the main street and did whatever I could do, for a full morning and afternoon. This involved spending many many hours in this old-time-y record store. I even bought a t-shirt from them, to commemorate the experience:
I liked it because it is an iconic image that literally has a pitchfork in it. And often, “pitchfork” and music are synonymous in this way: pitchfork.com
But I strongly feel that this record store preceded the website by many many years. OK, so I just had to follow through and look it up: The store launched in 1973, while pitchfork.com launched in 1995.
It appears as if not much has changed in this store since 1973, which is why I was so happy to just go treasure hunting in there for hours- I got a bunch of cassette tapes that had never been opened, for like a dollar each. And I got soooooo many records for under $3. I had a blast. I wanted to get this shirt in a gold color, but they were out of that color in my size. So I settled for yellow. Not my favorite color, but not a bad one either!
Some of my favorite things to do, ever, are: try new beverages, hunt for records in new towns and cities, and go swimming! And I’m so glad that I can swim again now – so far this summer, I’ve gone 3 times!
Oh, also big news on the traveling / swimming front: I finally solidified plans to visit my brother in Turkey, next month! We are going to explore ancient ruins and go swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Can’t wait!!!
This post is a continuation of a series I started last summer – basically, the best part of top surgery, for me, is getting to wear t-shirts and tank-tops and button-down shirts without having to layer or bind. So I started featuring a bunch of my favorite t-shirt, and here’s yet another one!
Today is one year and one month after top-surgery. This date seems like much bigger of a deal than my one year anniversary. Why? Just because of a flood of serendipitous things (I am still recovering from my semi-recent hospitalization – still out of work, and lots of things are connecting in my brain that would not normally mean much.)
Anyway, one year ago, today, I went on a day trip because I was bored. I had been out of surgery by a month at that point, and I still had another month before I got back to work. I was itching to not wear the ace bandage and nipple-gauzy thingies. I was tired of staying at home all day, or relying on others for rides because I could not yet lift my arms to drive. Enough time had passed, so I went on a day trip to one of my favorite spots in upstate NY. It felt so good to be out in nature, getting all sweaty and stuff. I remember feeling safe enough that I took off my t-shirt and let the ace bandage air out for a bit. (I distinctly remember the breeze from the lake against my skin.)
Sooooo, what I’m trying to get at: Yesterday, just fairly coincidentally, I ended up at that same beach. I actually went to 4 parks (park hopping!), over the course of 12 hours, again, by myself, and again, I had a blast! This time though, I took a different route – I had looked at maps prior to taking off, and deliberately decided on a course of action.
One of the small towns I was gonna drive through is Fulton, NY. And I’m thinking now that I was drawn there because I have this really old t-shirt I got at a thrift store in my early 20s, and I wear it a lot, but have never been there. You know what? There is no way this image could be correct – this town is landlocked! (Furthermore, it’s technically a city, but it’s so tiny and rundown, I was baffled by that. I bet this town has a history to tell.)
I have a whole lot of shirts that are fairly random and were just thrift store finds over the years. And I wore them all when I was young without any qualms or thinking twice. But now I’m kind of like, “wait, what is the deal with this shirt, anyway?” Or, “I’ve never actually been to this place – the image just looks cool.” Etc.
So, expect some more t-shirt-centric posts from me soon!
You can find the rest of the series, from last summer, here: T-SHIRTS!
Tonight at 10PM (9PM central time), PBS is screening a documentary called Real Boy. If you’re hanging at home tonight, check it out!!
I had the opportunity to see this film twice now:
Last fall, my neighbors and I went, as part of the annual LGBT film festival where we live. I’d have to say that I was a little bit jaded at that time – here is yet another story about young, white, binary, trans-masculine people. Seen that / heard that!!!
The parts about his (Ben’s) mom, and family dynamics were what held it together for me. My neighbor was really touched by it in a different way – there was a lot about singing/songwriting/creativity, and also about recovering from substance abuse and other destructive behaviors.
Then, two weeks ago, I went with my spouse and her parents. It was a free showing, and the two main “characters” were there in person to answer questions and play some of their music as well. I felt really happy that we all saw it together – we then went out to eat and talked about how we related or didn’t, with the movie. Awesome conversations.
I would say that, for me, the second time’s the charm, haha. For one thing, closed captioning was on, so we could all listen and read the dialogue simultaneously, which was kinda necessary because some people mumble more than others. I got a lot more out of it – the way that Ben’s navigating his new life / roles / perceptions as a very young person (I can’t imagine transitioning at that age!!! Hormones are already on full alert and then to mix it up so drastically, must be stressful – both positive and negative stress.) And the male bonding that was going on between the characters felt a lot more touching to me this time for some reason. He has a mentor / protegee dynamic going on with an older musician, and then a housemate / brotherhood with a trans-guy he met through mutual friend.
In terms of content notes, I would give this warning: Topics that are potentially sensitive to those in recovery are brought up: mostly grappling with drug and alcohol abuse, as well as self-injury and family issues / rejection. Also, we follow along as Ben and his housemate move forward with getting top surgery with Dr. Garramone in Florida.
I’d say catch this movie if you can! Although it didn’t really speak to me the first time, I came around to really like it!
With everything else that’s been going on lately, I completely forgot that my one year anniversary was on June 1st. I think I was aware on some level, because I’ve been super vocal with my spouse, the past few days, about where I’m at with this process. So I’ll try to distill those diatribes into something that makes sense!
Most importantly, within the past few weeks, I would say I have grown increasingly more comfortable with the off-beat sensations that I have going on. Nothing is painful, per-se, but there’s still a lot of tenderness. I am finally OK with my spouse resting her head there without warning, and in addition, I’ve realized that the more I ignore/avoid that area of my body, the more it will stagnate. ??? (That’s just a hypothesis, but I hope there’s some truth to that – I’ve been trying to actively “manhandle” some spots, in the hopes that’ll promote more nerve growth, haha.)
I am over the disappointment of it not being picture perfect. At first I was angry with the surgeon (Dr. Rumer). I held onto this anger for a long time. But, as I noted at 6 months, I had been poking and prodding around my rib-cage a lot more, and I came to the conclusion that my bone structure is asymmetrical, and she (the surgeon) had to work around those idiosyncracies, and in the end, I think she did her best. I’m sure it would have looked more even if I had gone with DI, but peri was one of the things I was not negotiating on. I already have scarring on my chest, from my self-injuring behavior years ago, and I really wanted no additional scarring, if possible. And that was accomplished. (Aside from my drain holes – those scars are still visible!!!)
My nipples, I believe, can be “tweaked,” (haha) for sure. They look like they got shrunk and melted on – I think a different surgeon can really change the size and shape and it’ll make me much happier. I am not going with Dr. Rumer any-further. I was supposed to have my one year appointment either in person or over skype, on Thursday, but I cancelled it all together. I am done, and am only now looking ahead to revisions. The appt. wasn’t even going to be with the surgeon – just a nurse-practitioner, like I did over skype at 1 months, 3 months, 6 months, etc. I’m done.
I am grateful that insurance reimbursed a large part of it – I really didn’t think I stood a chance with that.
And, just to wrap up, I want to reiterate how important this step was for me: It’s not just that now I can wear tighter shirts and I don’t have to consider whether to bind or not, etc. It has really affected my self-esteem, self-perception, and social comfort. When I get dressed, I am excited to see how the shirt falls now – does it accentuate my pecs (which are now one of my favorite parts of my body), can I layer things in an interesting way, can I wear this as an open shirt and consider wearing a necklace as well?… etc. Sometimes I will wear two outfits in one day, just to try out new-to-me fashions!
I told my spouse the other day that I used to just feel dumpy all the time, and she was shocked – she said I never looked dumpy. Now it’s the opposite – I feel snazzy!