Getting a pap smear as a transmasculine person

I don’t have a gynecologist.  I haven’t had one for probably 15 years.  The reason for that is because I felt so out of place there, so I let that aspect of my health passively slip away.  I’ve always gone to the dentist twice a year.  I was really into chiropractic care for years, consistently.  I’ve gotten eye exams.  I regularly go to a therapist and a psychiatrist.  I even have a primary care physician, and more recently, an endocrinologist.  But I’ve neglected and avoided anything related to my junk (this is just my preferred term for what I got going on down there…)

My last pap smear was in 2012, and I went through that because it was a prerequisite for getting testosterone gel.  That was enough of a motivating factor to go through that.  It was super painful and anxiety inducing, but I had done it!  Since then, there’s been no reason to get it done again, in my mind.  Prior to 2013, I’m not sure how long it had been.

About a year and a half ago, I was on a panel  with two other trans-people, in front of a group of health-care professionals, talking about our experiences with health services.  I mostly talked about my experiences with top-surgery consultations, but during the Q & A, the three of us were asked about sexual and reproductive health.  I was super open about how uncomfortable I am with this aspect of health care, and how I have avoided it.  I even felt a stubborn pride about it – something like, “if I avoid it, that verifies how little I relate to my junk.”  This really makes no sense whatsoever, and why exactly is this a point of pride?  My two peers were much more proactive – they had had lots of experiences with making sure their needs and check-ups were on track.

Two weeks ago, I was eating lunch with a super close friend.  She was mentioning something about her menstrual cycle and about how she needs to get her routine check-up.  I told her how long it’s been since I had a pap smear, and she seemed aghast.  I said I wasn’t going to be getting one either.  She said something to the effect of, “But you have to.”  She sort of role played a scenario in which hypothetically something scary is found, like HPV or cancer, that could have easily been avoided by just getting regular screenings.  The emotions she was pouring into it were what got me.  I kept going back and forth between, “OK, I will get it done,” and “No way never again!”  The conversation stayed with me.

A couple of days later, I had a lump in my armpit.  I’d never had anything like that before.  My spouse told me I should get that checked out.  This was something that was more straightforward!  I could definitely go to the doctor for something like this!  I called and got an appointment for the next morning.  Then it dawned on me that I should be getting a pap smear.  I waffled back and forth for a while, wondering if I’d be able to get myself to call back.  I finally did, pitching my voice as high as I could so it would be apparent that this request would not be totally incongruous.  Blah.

The pap smear was just as painful as the other times I’d gotten one, but I would say it was less anxiety-inducing.  What helped me get through it was trying to stay present in the moment, in the room.  I did this by talking with the nurse practitioner.  “This room is cold.”  “Please use the smallest one possible.”  “This is really hurting.”  Etc.

I gotta admit I do not know the exact reasons pap smears are important – what is being tested, etc.  But I do think I will be more on top of getting them every few years from now on…

To top this all off, on Saturday we were out in the woods with some friends.  Sunday morning, I felt something chafing on my chest, and when I looked, there was a tick latched in right on my nipple!  Eeaughhhh!!!  My spouse tweezed it and pulled it in half.  Half of it is still embedded in my skin.  I’m thinking it will work itself out on its own.  She talked to our friend on the phone – he regularly gets ticks and gets them tested in groups, after he’s collected a bunch.  So far so good but lyme disease is a scary possibility.  Do I have to go back to the doctor?!

 


I was in Turkey and Greece!

So I went on a really big trip this summer – I visited my brother!  I flew into Istanbul, stayed with him there for two nights, and then we rented a car and went up to Sile on the Black Sea, Yalova on the Marmara Sea, the city of Bursa, and Ayvalik on the Aegean Sea.  We took a ferry to the Greek island of Lesbos / Midilli.  We also saw ancient ruins in Bergama and went to a Turkish bath with natural hot springs in Inegol.  We crammed a lot into 10 days!  This was my first time overseas since 11th grade, when I took a class trip to England and Scotland.  It was the first time I’d seen my brother in three years – it was pretty great to reconnect.  We did lots of swimming and hiking and we also went to a Whirling Dervishes festival, which was going on continuously for 114 days of summer.

If you wanna read more, I wrote about this trip, through the lens of someone who is non-binary, here!  I wrote about TSA stuff, but more excitingly, I wrote about feeling more comfortable in a “male” role in a way that I am not, in America.  I even swam without a shirt on, in front of others – something that I didn’t plan on ever doing!
Traveling Non-Binary:  Gender Perceptions in Two Cultures

The website is called Transgender Universe, and I’ve written for them before (this is my 4th piece).  I like switching it up with blog writing every now and then.


I finally made a resource page, of sorts

This is just an announcement that I added some stuff to my blog!  For the longest time, the additional tabs were “ask me something,” “what it’s about,” and “glossary of janitorial words and phrases.”  And that was it.

About two weeks ago, an outreach specialist who works for drugrehab.com reached out and asked if I would add their website.  She wrote,

“Studies have shown that individuals in the LGBT community are more likely to use and abuse alcohol and drugs and tend to continue abuse throughout their lives. We work to spread awareness and to be an informational resource for those impacted by alcohol and drug dependence.

I believe that our website would be a valuable addition to your resources listed on your page.  Would you please review our resource and consider adding it to your website to spread awareness”

And that got me thinking, because I don’t have anything like that on my blog!  But I decided that I could – she kind of got me going to start organizing a resource page.  I told her, “I’ll need to start from scratch because I have yet to provide a resource page at all, but I love the idea, so thanks for that push!”  And then I started working.

I had always been of the mindset that although many blogs do have links to online safe spaces, hotlines, etc., I don’t need to be one of those blogs – people can google whatever they want to google and glean information from myriad places.  I wouldn’t even know how to narrow down a page.  Some, like Micah’s on Neutrois Nonsense, for example, are so comprehensive, I don’t really have anything to add!

So, mine might be a bit random, and it’s definitely not complete, by a long shot.  I included the one for the drug rehab site first, since she was the one to get me going.  I then added two overarching sites for mental health, Micah’s blog (of course!), the blog of a professional gender therapist who is very hands-on, and then two sites that are geared toward brainstorming and creativity, when it comes to gender.

You can take a look here:  LGBTQIA-GSM Resources.  Please lemme know if you want me to add anything in particular…  (The GSM stands for “gender and sexual minorities,” because there are not enough letters in the alphabet to cover everyone!)

I’ll just end with a little more information about the drug rehab website, mostly because I was so tickled that they wrote and wanted me to “advertise” for them.  It makes me feel like, wow, cool, my blog really is reaching people.  (This is something that waxes and wanes for me, whether it’s really out there or not.)  So, the outreach specialist said,

We are a free informational resource for those  battling mental health and substance abuse issues. Our website tackles many issues currently facing society today. We have a team of doctors and writers who update our content daily.
We do have a hotline that you can call with questions about different treatment options, as we know every individual is unique and so should treatment be as well.
If you want further information, check out my new resource page!!!  LGBTQIA-GSM Resources

3 months on testosterone

Today marks 3 months on T-injections.  My prescription is for 50ml / week, but I’ll admit I was using more than that for the first 6 weeks.  I’ve been doing 50 regularly for the last 6 weeks though, leading up to my blood test, because I really do want to see where the levels are, at that amount.  I have an appointment on Thursday with the endocrinologist to discuss this.  I’m going to ask to be put on a higher dose.  Which I may or may not bump myself up to.  I… just really like to stockpile testosterone and to have some personal control over it.

Changes have been occurring at a comfortable pace.  I’ve gained maybe 8 pounds, mostly in my abs, shoulders, and pecs.  I get more dark hairs on my chin and upper lip, which just means I gotta use the tweezers more often!  My voice definitely dropped within the last month – I’d say that is the most noticeable thing.  And I have mixed feelings about that, because it is such a permanent thing.  But, so far I’d say I’m getting used to it and will probably ultimately be happy about it.

We went to Easter Sunday at my Aunt’s, and it was the first time I’d seen my relatives since these changes have occurred.  I felt a little self-conscious, because they do know I’m trans and that I changed my name and some of them know about my top surgery.  But I haven’t said I am on testosterone.  And I’m not gonna.  It will just be.

Being out at work has been going super well.  Everyone is consistent with “Kameron.”  The “he/she,” “Mr.” etc is all over the place, which is overall fine by me because my gender is all over the place, and at least everyone knows that I said, “Kameron/he/Mx.”

Other than that, it’s been pretty low key.  It’s certainly not as big a deal in my head as getting on Androgel, 4 years ago, was.  I imagine I’ll be on the injections for a few more months at this point.  And then on and off of them, sporadically, for the rest of my life.  Probably.

I came up with a new term in my head, today, to describe my gender.  I’m definitely not “mannish,” but I do think that I am “male-ish.”

Here’s my face:  Other than not being able to get the lighting right, I think that my cheeks and neck have filled out a bit…

before injections

 

 

3 months on injections

Oh, also, I almost forgot!  I barely got my period this month – it was way late, and it was sooooo light, at that.  That was awesome.  It kinda freaks me out that that’s all it takes, and there are no health consequences(?) for the cessation of menses.  But, I guess it’s relatively normal, like with birth control and stuff…

Also, yesterday at work, we were using swing machines, which is uncommon (extra work over break).  And they require a lot of upper body strength.  I’d normally be sore after that, but today?  Not sore!


Mermaids and Transgender People

Content note:  sex and sexuality.
Also, spoiler alert for this super obscure film that is probably hard to find, but totally worth it!

My spouse and I just saw The Lure, a Polish film re-envisioning The Little Mermaid (meaning Hans Christian Andersen much more so than Disney, although there are elements from both).  It takes place in the 1980s, and these particular mermaid sisters are vampiric vamps who come ashore in order to perform as singers/dancers/strippers.  One of them also joins Triton’s punk rock band.  There is no sea witch in this version; instead, they are exploited by the humans around them, for their talents.  The director likened them to “immigrants, abused by the locals (used in the sex industry) on their way to their real goal—America.”  I didn’t quite catch that hidden meaning, although that’s super interesting; I guess I was looking at it through a trans-specific lens, and I saw a bunch of parallels that resonated.

The two sisters have two very different focuses/goals.  “Golden” wanted to perform and find her way to America.  “Silver” falls instantly in love with the young bass player at the nightclub.  Golden, very early on, warns her sister, something along the lines of, “would you be willing to eat him if need be?”  While on land with legs, the mermaids have no sexual or excretory organs.  They’re paraded around, and it’s said that they’re “as smooth as Barbies.”  When water is splashed on them (Think, 80s movie, Splash !!) and their tails re-emerge, they do have a “vagina” of sorts – it’s just super unconventional.  Also, they have a strong fishy smell (d’uh!), and another quote from the director, “they represent innocence, yet their odour and slime recalled girls maturing, they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different.”  The reason I’m focusing in on this in particular is because it is Silver’s motivation for what she does throughout the rest of the story.  She does want to marry the bassist, but even more clearly, she wants them to have sex, and he won’t, the way that she is.  There is a really graphic surgery scene where she loses her tail and gets new, permanent legs, fully formed with vagina and everything else.  She gives up her singing voice, as a trade off.  There then is a sex scene, which does not go as planned.  And then, OK I’m going to leave it at that, to not give away anything more!

I related to this sexual conundrum, as a trans-person.  Not literally, of course, but, in a way.  Just to cover the base-line, in general, trans-people feel all sorts of ways about sex and sexuality and their own anatomy.  It really is all over the map, from person to person.  And, as well, I’m sure, there are cis-people who feel a total disconnect, for a variety of reasons.  So it’s not really a “trans-specific issue,” but, overall, it is surely more common among trans-people.  Following that disclaimer, I’m actually only speaking about my personal experience in the next couple sentences.  I do not relate to what I have.  And I never did.  I’ve created some work-arounds, in my head, over time, that have helped.  And I’ve been able to become more present, which is nice.  But I still get hung-up.  And upset that there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

I’m not the only one, by far, who is making this connection between trans-people and mermaids.  If you are familiar with Jazz Jennings, 16 year old trans-activist, author, spokesmodel, youtube celeb, etc., she has linked the two in some very strong ways.  She even has a company called Purple Rainbow Tails, through which she sells mermaid tails she’s made herself raising money for trans-kids.  I found a really interesting article that touches on Jazz and mermaids called, Transgender Mermaids.  Here’s a quote from it!

Of course, the question that most people ask is “Why mermaids — why not some other animal or creature?” The reasons may be varied and complex, and they may vary with each girl. However, a common theme is that mermaids may hold a special appeal because they have a high level of human feminine facial features and upper body features while having a lower body that isn’t that of a traditional human female. Many transgender girls may relate to this because they know that they are truly females no matter what their genitalia may be.

Also, Mermaids UK is a support resource and advocacy group that has been around since 1995(!!!) focused on helping transgender kids and adolescents, and their families.

I was once in a really obscure play, a reworking and twisting of the children’s play, If Boys Wore the Skirts.  The original was “a satire on what may happen if women continue to copy the clothes that men wear. According to this play, in self-defense the men may take to wearing feminine things. Here we see a bunch of rugged males forced into skirts. The setting is a schoolroom in the present.”  (Present, meaning 1958.)  The version that I was in was a mature audiences, tripped-out dream-like version.  As one of the “schoolboys,” I got to imagine and create my own genital-themed skirt, called a “groinment.”  I had such a blast with this, probably much more than anyone around me could have known!  I’ll leave you with two images of what I came up with:

 

I pulled out the ol’ skirt and water-balloons this weekend, to get a photo of this creation. When I looked back at the pictures from the actual show, however, I realized I’d done a different water balloon configuration, haha. Either way works…

This is from the fashion show scene. I’m gonna spell out what I got going on here: There’s a highly delicate water balloon configuration at the top of the water slide. These pointy party hats are there to protect it. And in my right hand is a needle: I’m the only one who gets to “pop” it. (And I did, and the water actually did follow along the slide!)

 

 


How To Be a Girl, episodes I through VI

I wanna recommend a podcast!  It’s called How To Be A Girl.  A while back ago, I had been following a blog, gendermom, on wordpress.  It’s written by Marlo Mack (pseudonym), about life with her (now) 8 year-old transgender daughter, M.  I really love reading/hearing from the perspective of parents, especially parents of young trans-kids.  And this one in particular has a lot of input from the daughter.  They are in it together.

In the summer of 2014, she branched out and also started producing a podcast.  At first I was reluctant to check it out.  I guess because although I was listening to some podcasts at that time, I preferred reading and connecting through blogs.  But then one of the episodes was featured on a podcast I was already a big fan of, Here Be Monsters, and I made a mental note to go check out the rest of the episodes.  It’s taken a while, but here I am to say it’s great, haha.  I listened through episodes 1-6 twice now…

The first three establish some backstory and facts (I’m not going to give too much away!).  At this point, M is 6, and she has the support of her mom and dad (who are divorced) and other family members and friends.  Hardly anyone knows that she is trans (better to be more cautious at first and see how things might play out).  She had been saying she is a girl, basically as early as she could talk, and although it took a long time to convince her parents, they are fully on board now.  She likes the color pink, my little ponies, stuff like that…

Episode 4 is called Tom Boy Trans Girl, and it’s about, how girly do you have to be to be considered a girl?  There are plenty of tomboys out there…  M gradually shifts to liking blue over pink and getting into Pokemon and ninjas.  Marlo Mack is afraid the being-a-girl thing was just a phase.  M sums everything up super succinctly.

Episode 5 is about finding love.  Marlo Mack has to navigate through transphobia from potential dating partners, and she talks about how she handles it.  M also tells a love story.

Episode 6  is super cute.  It is a straight-up interview, Marlo Mack asking M a bunch of questions.  The perspective of this 6-year-old is really amazing and surprising.  Well, she’s been through a lot, so I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising!

Some talk about the other episodes, coming soon!

My spouse and I have been talking about the idea of working on a podcast together.  We have a local community of radio people we can plug into / in with, and I already do a weekly music show.  This would be totally different though, and would involve a steep learning curve.  We got some books out of the library (always a good place to start!), and I’ve been trying to pull apart, think about the elements that go into the podcasts I do listen to:  the way the sound editing overlaps, the hooks to keep you listening, stuff like that.  We’ll see.  I think it would be a lot of work, but could be really rewarding.


Branching out

 

I started writing occasionally for a website called Transgender Universe.  Here’s the first article that I’ve posted!  It’s about pride flags being burned in my neighborhood, following the election, and then an impromptu rally, as a response to this hate crime.

(This first appeared on Transgender Universe, here:  From Burning Pride Flags to a Neighborhood Rally)

lgbt-rally

The morning after the election, I woke up to a text from a friend who said, “Hi! We’d like to get a rainbow flag to hang at the house in solidarity after what happened yesterday. Do you know where we could purchase one?” When he had said, “what happened yesterday,” I figured he meant Trump, but once I got on facebook, I saw that two pride flags had been burned in my neighborhood the evening before. Talk about getting hit close to home! It is being investigated as both arson and a hate crime, but so far there are no suspects.

So I looked up information for the gay pride store that had been a mainstay in our city, first opening in 1989 as a leather and fetish supplier, and later changing ownership a couple of times and morphing into a place that had something for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I was shocked and saddened to learn that it had closed in August with the death of the current owner. So instead I recommended a couple of novelty stores to my friend, hoping he’d be able to track one down.

“AS THE EVENTS UNFOLDED, IT BECAME APPARENT THAT THERE WAS NOWHERE, LOCALLY, TO GET A PRIDE FLAG BECAUSE EVERY PLACE HAD SOLD OUT!”

As the events had unfolded, it became apparent that there was nowhere, locally, to get a pride flag because every place had sold out! A fellow neighbor had ordered 120 more flags, and she was formulating a plan to get these out to people and acquire more, flooding the area with rainbows.

On Friday evening, another friend in the neighborhood had texted me to see whether my spouse and I were going to the rally in the morning (I feel fortunate that I have so many friends who are in the loop, because there are times when I am totally living under a rock!). I said, “Yes,” as if I knew all about it (ha ha), and we made a plan to go together.

And so, my spouse and friends (a queer couple with a 10 year-old son) and I walked over to a nearby park Saturday morning, carrying signs and wearing fun outfits. As we approached, I felt a wave of emotion, moved by the size of the gathering, the amount of rainbows flying in the air, and the openness of everyone there.

A community comes together and holds an impromptu rally after two LGBTQ+ flags were burned in their neighborhood in an apparent hate crime.

Mary Moore, the organizer and the neighbor that ordered the flags, stood up on a table to announce the intentions of this rally: to hand out more flags for community members to show solidarity, and to show LGBTQ+ members in this neighborhood how much support is out there. Mission accomplished, by leaps and bounds! There were so many allies and families, along with people who identify as LGBTQ+. I walked around the outskirts of the crowd, taking photos and scoping out all that was happening. There was a station for people to make rainbows out of ribbons, as well as a spot to make construction-paper rainbows. Someone was doing face painting, and there was also a place to sign up to order a flag, because the 120 that Mary had ordered for the rally had sold out in 9 minutes!

The director of the local gay alliance also stopped by, got up on the table, and delivered a similar message of hope and love. I started to feel more comfortable, and moving into the crowd and approaching people with signs, asking whether I could take their photograph. I saw a couple of acquaintances, and where I would normally be too shy to strike up a conversation, in this environment, I went right up to them to say hey and chat for a while. My spouse and friends also connected with neighbors we know, as well as meeting a few new people.

I posted a photo album of the event on Facebook and watched my social network do its work, spider-webbing outwards from friends I had tagged, to friends of friends and beyond. I also messaged Mary, the organizer, to thank her and to ask her a couple of questions.

“…I LEARNED THAT SHE HAS BEEN AN ALLY AND SUPPORTER OF LGBTQ+ RIGHTS FOR A LONG TIME.”

We talked on the phone for a bit this morning, and I learned that she has been an ally and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights for a long time, even doing advocacy work in Washington DC. She said that for the past 8 years though, she could ease up because there was someone in the White House who was pushing for the same things; she could focus on her career, working as a lawyer in private practice, and on her family.

She first heard about the 2 flag burning incidents from a friend, while picking her kids up from daycare. Her husband had heard about it through the website, nextdoor.com, which acts as a community bulletin board and a way to connect with others nearby. I just joined, myself, to see what it’s all about (and to try not living under a rock quite so much). Sure enough, 5 days ago, there was a post from one of the victims of the hate crime, stating, “I hang a rainbow flag on my front porch and someone burned it down. Thankfully my house didn’t catch fire. The [police are] currently investigating; please keep an eye out for suspicious behavior in the area.”

And then, as a response, Mary Moore created the event, “Let’s Gather to Support Our Community.” She wrote:

In response to the burning of two rainbow flags in [our] area, let’s stand together and show that our community is tolerant and welcoming, regardless of who you love, where you worship, where you were born, your political affiliation, the color of your skin, or how much money you have. Many people in [our] neighborhood have been buying rainbow flags to put out in solidarity and to give to friends. … Would people be interested in organizing a central meeting place this weekend or next to give out flags and just to stand with our community in solidarity? … Please comment below if you would be interested in a gathering like this, if you have or can buy flags to distribute, and/or if you can assist with finding a location for this gathering. If there is interest, then we can set up a formal event on here.

I know that this is just one of many issues and injustices within our communities and that we are all so very busy, but we have to start somewhere and do what we can with what we’ve got every day. Let’s not be bullied or let our neighbors be bullied.

A community comes together and holds an impromptu rally after two LGBTQ+ flags were burned in their neighborhood in an apparent hate crime.

It all came together from there. I want to personally thank Mary Moore for showing my friends, my spouse, me, and everyone else who could be there for how much we are supported by our neighbors!

Regarding our rainbow flag status: We don’t have one, but when we moved into our house ten years ago, we dubbed it the “Rainbow Ranch” (it’s really a Colonial), and I spray painted a rainbow on our garage door. I sure as hell hope that never gets burned down – we just put a new roof on it a couple years ago!


7 recent LGBTQ+ films to check out

My spouse and I attended more films than ever before, at the annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, recently.  Most of these links are to trailers; a couple are to the film’s website directly.  I highly recommend the first 6, and then I don’t recommend the 7th at all.

Suicide Kale – This film was shot in 5 days, with no budget.  Even without stipulating that, it’s an intriguing and complex look into the dynamics between 2 lesbian couples at a lunch party, and what happens when one of them finds a suicide note tucked away somewhere.  Sounds like it’d be intense, but it’s actually fairly lighthearted and humorous.  Very well attended, mostly women in the audience.

Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo – This film takes place in real time, as two men fall for each other in a love/lust at first sight type-of-way.  Things start out in a laid back, sexually explicit environment / vibe, but quickly become complicated as the two grapple with an emotional twist, and whether the connection is worth working through it.  Super well attended; roughly 98% men, 2% women.

closet-monsterCloset Monster – This might have been my favorite one this year.  It’s a coming-of-age story of an 18-year old boy coming to terms with his gay identity, complicated by flashbacks of a hate crime he witnessed as a young child.  There were body horror elements to the film, which I was really into.  Plus, Isabella Rossellini’s voice is featured as a talking pet hamster!  Well attended, very diverse audience, including young adults, which isn’t usually the case.

strike-a-poseStrike A Pose – This also was possibly my favorite one this year.  It’s a documentary about the 7 dancers who went on tour with Madonna in 1990, and where they’re at now.  Not all of them are gay!  Some of them had a lot of secrets at the time, and they are now much more open about things.  Way more emotional than I would have thought, going into the film.  Very well attended, diverse audience but definitely mostly men.

Girls Lost – A film from Finland.  Magical realism.  3 tight-knit female friends, about 14 years old, are frequently bullied at school but find solace in each other and a greenhouse they regularly retreat to.  Suddenly, a magical flower appears; they drink the nectar and turn into boys, for about 12 hours.  One of them realizes he is transgender, and he becomes addicted to the feelings the nectar brings.  At the same time, he is self-destructive, in an effort to understand himself.  Really well attended, diverse audience.

Real Boy – This is a documentary spanning over a few years, as a singer/songwriter FTM person starts his transition.  It focuses on the relationship between him and his mom, between him and a best friend who is also trans, and between him and another trans singer/songwriter who is a little older and acts as a mentor of sorts.  Issues that are discussed:  hormones, sobriety, top surgery, family dynamics.  Also really well attended, diverse audience including young adults, which is not generally the case.

Lovesong – This was a flop.  My spouse and I were attracted to it partly because it stars Jena Malone, and also it seemed like a complex story-line.  It was fairly complex, but they characters were not at all likeable.  Two female friends who go way back, dabble in acting on their attraction to each other, at various points spanning a few years.  Kinda boring.  Sparsely attended, mostly women.

My spouse and I diligently filled out audience participation ballots for each film, and a survey about the festival in general.  My most important feedback:  more films with trans characters please.  And also, please make it more affordable.


New App: LGBTQ+ health care info & reviews!

I recently connected with Nic and Cat, a duo based in Philadelphia, who have been working super hard for about a year, creating an app for anyone who is LGBTQ+ and is looking for a health care provider. It will be simple, straightforward, user-based, and reliable.  A beta version will be available soon, and Nic says, “the more the merrier, because once we’re beta testing we want to have as many reviews on there as possible–that’s what’s gonna make the app useful.”

qspaces-hard-at-work2 qspaces-hard-at-work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I already signed up.  You can too!  At:  https://qspacesapp.com/qreview/

I definitely will have a lot to add, from
The first primary care doctor who proscribed me T,
The terrible consultation I had for top surgery in my area,
and, yeah, there will be much more.  I have thoughts on my current doctor.  Thoughts about the surgeon who did do my top surgery.  Thoughts about my sometimes therapist and my psychiatrist (refreshingly, those two are all positive.)

I asked Nic a few questions to get a better sense of who they are and what their project is all about…

K:  I’m curious, do you and Cat have experience in web design?  Or, what are your backgrounds?

Nic:  I have some experience with coding, but not enough to be able to pull off an app like this. I’m currently a 2nd year in medical school with a background in crisis counseling, EMS, and performance. Cat is a jack-of-all-trades. In the past, she’s used design principles to build community dialogue around social issues and is currently working for Johnson & Johnson on their TAP program, and starting her first year at University of the Arts in the Design for Social Impact Master’s program. She always has a million little projects going on, from trying to create the perfect denim work jean for butches, tomboys, transmen, and anyone else who has trouble finding a durable, well-fitting work jean, to cataloguing every queer movie in existence, and more.  When she had the idea for the app and shared it with me, I was like, there has to be something like this already out there. We looked around and there were a few options, but nothing that gave tangible results. She started drawing up some sketches and we’ve been unstoppable ever since.
qspaces

K:  Was there a specific moment or incident where you said, “We need an app to fill in this void of information.”

Nic:  We had just moved to Philadelphia so I could go to medical school and we were both trying to establish care with a primary doctor. Cat had very recently had a terrible doctor experience and she didn’t want to go through that again. So she turned to an online forum, a queer philly group. The posts were all over the place, and it was just generally inefficient. I was also meeting with a group called the Gender Interest group at the time, which is an interprofessional group for folks in healthcare who are trying to push systematic change at their home institutions around attitudes + policies affecting gender diverse folks. I was pretty blown away by how professional, dedicated, and compassionate these healthcare providers were and I realized that patients could only find out who had adequate training in LGBTQ patient issues by word of mouth.  I mean, almost 10% of the population is lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and / or trans. Yet we give hours and hours of lectures on the most rare of congenital metabolic diseases. I think that’s a problem. 

So there wasn’t one exact moment. It was basically a culmination of all of our experiences up until that point. Cat + I realized that 1. we could do something about it and 2. that we were actually the perfect team for this project.

K:  What has been the most rewarding parts of the process of getting it off the ground so far?  What about the most frustrating?
Nic:  So many great experiences. My favorite parts have been where people approach us and say, yeah- but have you thought of this? I love working with people, and building off of ideas, so the amount of collaboration that this has led to has been truly incredible. We’re working with a web dev team called Webjunto in Philadelphia and they’re really awesome. A good part of the team is queer and they have a lot of great insights. Even the straight, cis people have some great insights. 😉

The most frustrating part, by far, has been trying to convince straight, cis folks that there is a need for this kind of app. You can quote statistics at them all day long (like over 56% of lgb folks have had discriminatory experiences at their healthcare provider’s office, and over 70% when looking at transgender and gender non-conforming people) but they’ll just reply, ‘Well, not at this institution’ (which I know for a fact to be untrue). The institutional support matters because we need funding, we need investors in order to set up a sustainable business model. The reason some of these other sites are stalling out is because they are non-profits that run on volunteer work. Cat + I would love to devote ourselves full time to this app, and it’s important that it stays totally free for the folks using it.

Besides, we have so many other ideas, including things like having a Clubhouse- a community space for lgbtq folks to chill + hang out that isn’t centered around alcohol. Maybe one day! 
_______________
I’ll share more info about this app as it becomes available.  This is SUPER important.  (I’ll also share updates about this magical Clubhouse as that materializes as well.  🙂 )

Dear Sugar Podcast: I’m a transgender man, seeking acceptance

So, I’ve been listening to this one podcast religiously since its beginning in December of 2014… it’s kind of a guilty pleasure; it’s a straight up advice column!  It’s called Dear Sugar; the “Sugars” are Cheryl Strayed, of Wild fame – the book, the movie (starring Reese Witherspoon), the attitude, and Steve Almond, who wrote Against Football, among many other books and essays.  They also always bring in an “expert,” or someone who can speak from personal experience about the person’s question.

dear-sugar

They have fielded numerous letters about relationships, family dynamics, friend betrayals, weddings, lies and secrets, infidelity, personality clashes, (surprisingly, nothing that I can remember about work drama or school issues…)  A couple of them have been about lesbian and gay -centric problems:  parents who are unsupportive, partners who are still in the closet, etc…

 

I have been waiting for something that relates to trans-people.  Finally, after a year and 9 months, they tackle it!

And… it’s totally underwhelming.

Have a listen, here:  I’m a Transgender Man, Seeking Acceptance  (For reference, it’s 39 minutes long.)

I mean, I think it’s great for the general population.  So, it’s a good start.  They read two different trans-men’s letters, and they seem to be at different points in their transitions, so that’s cool.

The first guy is in college, and he’s feeling great about his path and the people around him and everything – everything except for his parents, who just will not get on board.  This, I feel, is super common.

The second guy seems to be a little more established, in a career, and he’s navigating the world of dating.  He is concerned that since he is short (5’2″), does not have a lucrative career (social worker), and does not have a penis, he may be unlovable.  This, too, seems like a pretty common concern.

The “Sugars,” in general, use radical empathy as a basis for starting a dialogue.  And, in this case, since they don’t know how it feels to be transgender, they take the angle that,

“The best way to begin to understand an experience very different from your own is to listen to the stories of others. This week, we read the letters of two transgender men who are struggling to find love and acceptance.  The Sugars discuss with Cooper Lee Bombardier, a visual artist, writer and transgender man.”

According to his bio, Cooper “has been a construction worker, a cook, a carpenter, a union stagehand, a welder, a shop steward, a dishwasher, a truckdriver, a bouncer, and a housepainter, among other things, for a paycheck.”  He’s currently super successful with the writing and the art.  He sounds super cool!

Steve Almond starts off talking about the first time he met a trans-woman.  It was slightly cringe-inducing, but also definitely a worthwhile story.  Then they get into the letters, and introduce Cooper.  He, as a guest, is eloquent and upbeat, but he does keep it pretty basic, and seems somewhat detached from his own personal stories.  There is a really great moment though where Cooper says he’s been “transitioning” for about 15  years, and when the Sugars ask him how old he was when he started, he says, “in my early 30s.”  They sputter about how young he looks and how could this be?  And he replies, “I moisturize.”  And then later, “It’s the trans-fountain of youth, you know…” and there’s lots of laughing, and Cheryl says, “Sign me up!”

One thing that Cooper says really well in discussing the first letter is,

“We wrestle with these feelings for so long, that by the time we articulate it to somebody, it’s like a bottle bursting open.  …And we tell our parents and we expect them to get it, like, tomorrow.  Even though we’ve been struggling with it for years and years, right?  And so I think that… it’s really hard to be patient when we’ve waited so long to kind of actualize and realize that this is what’s going on for us.  But for those relationships that we do want to bring along with us, we do need to offer some patience, even though it’s hard.”

When discussing the second letter, they telescope it out, to bring it to the wider theme of anyone who feels like they are unloveable, and how to change that internal notion.  Cheryl says, “This is a universal conundrum.  …Am I too fat to be loved? No. Am I too poor to be loved? No. Am I too fill-in-the-blank to be loved? No.”  They touch on how his height and his career might factor into this, and no one makes one further mention about the fact that he does not have a penis.  Is it because they think it’s not important to talk about?  No, I kind of doubt it – I think they are finding it too awkward to address.  And/or, in being respectful, they feel that it’s not up to them to talk about a trans-person’s genitalia (or sex life, or surgeries, or…) which is definitely important that we’ve gotten that far, but in this case, it was right there, in the letter, and it just got straight up ignored.

I do really hope they expand the dialogue about what it feels like to be a transgender person.  I have been thinking of writing in, for a while now, and I only feel more motivated after listening to this.  I’m planning on it; I’ll let you know.