As top surgery results and testosterone have been working their magic, I have felt less hung up on how I am perceived. This is great news! I feel less drained when I go out in public, generally. I’ve taken things into my own hands when I feel like I’ve needed to, and this had not been psychically difficult, by any means! Here are some ways I have been true to my non-binary identity:
1. I Tampered With My Driver’s License.
Since I don’t live in Oregon or California, I still have to legally be either “Male” or “Female.” Although I legally changed my name to something more masculine, I opted to remain “female,” legally. This has led to feelings of dysphoria, but being “male” would have anyway, as well. So, as of a few months ago, I decided to put a bright neon sticker over my “Sex” on my driver’s license. At first it was neon orange. Currently it’s neon green. The color doesn’t make too much of a difference – just the fact that no one can see whether it’s “M” or “F” is huge for me. I’ve shown it at the pharmacy, bought beer with it, gotten “carded” at restaurants, shown it to bouncers at bars and nightclubs. No one has commented or had an issue with it – they just need to know how old I am, and that I am who I say I am! That’s it. (As an aside, when I traveled abroad, I did take the sticker off, because I didn’t think TSA agents would be too thrilled about that…)
2. School Pictures
I am an elementary school janitor – every year, I go through the same routines: first day of school, winter concerts, spring concerts, curriculum nights, open house, book fair, the 5th grade breakfast, last day of school, etc. No one can forget school pictures! They happen within the first weeks of school – this year, it was a week ago, today. As a staff member, I have to participate, and then I get some free photos, and I get a sheet of all the faculty and staff, every year. In the past, I have gone by the initials that I used to go by, which was “KT” and then [last name]. Unless I wasn’t feeling like speaking up (which was the case on a couple of occasions) I made sure the picture company had me down as “KT” instead of “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” or “Mr.” This year, surprisingly, I “passed” as male, as I saw the picture lady write down, “Mr.” and then ask me what my last name is. Without hesitating, I gave her my last name (new, legally changed), and then said, “Can you change that ‘Mr.’ to ‘Mx.’? It’s neither ‘Mr.’ nor ‘Ms.’ ” She replied, “I guess I can,” and I watched her cross out what she had and re-write “Mx.” It was awesome! I kinda can’t wait to get my sheet of faculty and staff photos this year.
3. Playing It By Ear, As I Go
This last one is a bit of a contradiction -I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I cannot assert my non-binary identity in every and all cases, so, if people are given a heads-up that I’ve changed my name and pronouns, in some situations, that is good enough. Especially at work. Teachers have been great about switching over. And I honestly don’t know how many of them get the nuances I’ve tried to convey. A couple of them for sure, because they asked me questions, and I had some really satisfying conversations. But in addition to this, there’s a larger group of people who are slowly hearing about it (or not) by word of mouth – mainly buildings and grounds workers. Electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, people I see now and then, but certainly not every day. If they get that I am a trans-person, and they are respectful, then, that is good enough. There’s this one guy who is over at our school a lot. A few weeks ago, he took me aside, and, obviously nervous about the exchange, he said, “So, I just want to know, because we are friends… It’s Kameron now?” He was just verifying something he wanted to make sure he was getting right, and, in my eyes, I was really psyched about this because he’s a guy that I think other workers look up to. So, the more positivity around it, the better. The less nasty gossip behind my back, the better. And, to that end, I just went to a union meeting two days ago, and the secretary addressed me by my old moniker, “KT.” I almost didn’t correct her, because… I don’t know… the picking your battles thing, I guess. BUT! Someone else corrected her, someone that I didn’t know knew yet! And so, I riffed off of that, asserting, “Yep, it’s Kameron now. I changed my name.” She shrunk into herself at hearing that, but, whatever. Another buildings and grounds guy took it from there, telling me loudly that his “niece” just transitioned recently into his “nephew.” We sat down and continued to converse so that anyone and everyone could hear, if they tuned in. He was just overjoyed to be accepting “Shane,” his middle-school-aged family member. At no point did I try to assert that I was neither male nor female. If he got the gist that I am trans, and he spreads the word with a positive attitude, then that is better than good enough. Acceptance, even if limited in understanding, is still worth it!
Prince was sort of an unlikely artist for me to try to emulate. I usually gravitated toward the detached, spaced out robot/alien type vibe – people like Gary Numan and Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy and David Bowie. Prince is sex, right? And, I never felt like I could pull that off. (Also, of course, he’s African American, and I’m not.) Lots of drag kings (or at least the ones I saw) exuded an overtly macho, hyper-sexualized persona. Off stage, they were laid back, just hanging out and smoking on the back patio. I just kept to myself for the most part, feeling too nervous to interact, eating pop-tarts and re-writing lyrics back stage. Incorporating jerky movements into every performance. Falling back on hacky-sack or yo-yo onstage to make things more interesting.
Years later, I was no longer performing at a gay bar – I was doing monthly shows at a community space. It was freeing and also draining. I also did occasional shows elsewhere, like a David Bowie Tribute Night at a bar that’s mainly a music venue. Someone was organizing a Tribute 2 Prince at this same bar, and I think he’d seen my David Bowie performance and thought I’d fit in well with bands doing Prince covers. I immediately agreed and started getting excited. It’s like, I would have never taken on Prince of my own volition, but when someone suggested I do it, I was game.
I probably had about 2 months to get ready, and I really took it to heart – I put a bunch of Prince songs on my iPod and listened every day at work, narrowing down good ideas, learning lyrics, just getting a sense of the breadth of his many types of music. I danced and lip-synched in front of the mirror in the bathroom at work. I started to cull songs that would work well as a medley, and also, separately, I started to have some ideas for the song, “Diamonds and Pearls.” It’s a duet (with New Power Generation member Rosie Gaines), and I had to see if I could enlist my drag king buddy to do it with me. She said sure; we did lots of practicing at her house. (We also did a photo shoot.)
I remember that I scoured thrift stores for cheap diamonds and pearls to no avail. Then, the weekend before the show, my spouse and I were in Philadelphia visiting friends and attending the Philly Trans-Health Conference. We stayed out late one night, so late that we missed our chance to take the subway back to their apartment. We had to get a cab. This is maybe one of 3 or 4 times I’ve ever been in a cab. Our friends said at a certain point, “this is fine, just drop us off here.” We opened the door, and right there, out on the curb with a bunch of junk, was a tangle of a bunch of diamond and pearl necklaces. For real. Right there. I still have them.
Around this time (this was late spring/early summer of 2012), I was sort of questioning/re-exploring my sexuality, and talking about it a lot in therapy. It kind of helped things, to throw myself into emulating Prince, at the time. After the performance, I wrote this to my therapist (amongst a lot more words, haha), “so this was by far the sexiest performance I’ve ever done, and some people were responding to that (I got gyrated on in the bathroom, some people were touching me) yet it does not translate to me feeling like I am a sexual person. It’s just a role.”
Even so, I had a blast! I did 2 sets – the medley I edited, which was “Uptown/When Doves Cry/Gett Off/D.M.S.R.,” and then “Diamonds and Pearls.” It was so fun performing with my drag buddy again, and we totally nailed it. The place was packed, and a lot of people approached me afterward to talk to me / say how much they liked it. I was Prince.
The number one piece of advice I would give someone who isn’t 100% yet about a potential new name: try it out in a controlled setting where you are surrounded by strangers (if possible). If it’s a temporary setting, even better.
I’m the type of person who isn’t going to go with something till I’m really really sure. Other people might be fine with trying a name amongst friends and then switching it at a later date, or trying out a few names with a few people all at the same time. These people can disregard my advice!
Sometimes finding a new name is more of an ordeal. It has been for me at least – I’ve been considering new names for many many years. What could be a fun and creative process might end up feeling like a never-ending search for a perfect fit. About a year ago, I wrote a post on finding a new name. I thought I had it! I was pretty excited about it!
It is here: Ruling With Elf Wisdom
I started using my new name at my new doctor’s office, and then I made no further progress after that. Something was off, but I assumed it was just that it would take some getting used to. Now, a year later, I can easily say it just wasn’t the right name for me. (And/or I just wasn’t ready.) It looked good on paper. It sounded good in my head. However, it sounded strange, for me, in the real world. When a nurse called me back from the waiting room, it just did not feel right. Lots of other blog writers have addressed this too:
A few years ago, Micah wrote about how he had an online presence as “Maddox,” which he thought fit well until he started trying out the name at a conference. It is here: Misnomer
Jamie Ray wrote about their process of over-thinking a name until one just came to them, through a Starbucks barista hearing their legal name wrong. It is here: The Name Game
I started thinking about names again a couple of months ago, once I really started to accept that the name I thought I might go with, “Avery” was not a good fit. I wanted an androgynous name, and I felt like I’d heard them all (and I might have, with all the time I spent searching names online). It wasn’t until I had a conversation (not the first) with my partner (at a Starbucks, coincidentally), that a name I had glossed over many times before suddenly popped out more. “Kameron.” I like it because it’s more of a masculine name than a feminine name. I like it because it’s close to my legal name. I like it because Cameron is the name of the first trans-guy I met in real life (the first trans-guy I knew to be trans anyway).
I just feel more sure this time. It’s not really explainable – it’s just a feeling. So far I’ve told a handful of friends, my mom, my partner’s mom, and the partial hospitalization program I am currently attending.
The PHP is a perfect place to try this out. No one knows me there, and I probably won’t be seeing any of them again after 5-10 days. Plus there are lots of opportunities for people to address me, and everyone else, by name. I started to get called “Kameron” a lot, and it’s been treated like it’s just my name. They don’t know I’m not using it yet; it doesn’t matter! When someone says “Kameron,” it fits.
I don’t yet have a timeline for legally changing my name, but I know that I will. I know the change-over will be hard and it will take a while for everyone to get on board and remember. That’s OK – a lot of good things take a while. Even settling on a name to begin with can take a while. Try not to get discouraged – your name is out there!
I got asked a fun question a couple of weeks ago. A reader asked,
If you were to create a new line of barbies (and friends) for tomboys (or whatever you prefer to say) what would that line look like?
I would make a lot of changes to the barbie doll. First and foremost, the bodily dimensions would resemble the range of shapes and sizes that people actually are. When I think of a barbie, the image that comes to mind is a naked doll with these weird neutered bodies and impossible measurements – for some reason, a naked barbie seems more common than a clothed one. Kids get lazy and leave them around without dressing them? For this reason, these new dolls would have clothes that don’t really come off. When I think of people, they are clothed. When I think of myself, I am clothed. Although it’s fun to interchange clothes, these dolls would just wear clothes and then they’d be versatile in other ways.
They’d have knees and elbows that bend better than barbies, and they’d have hands that grip better. There’d be interactive toys to go along with them, but they wouldn’t be dream mansions and safari jeeps and jet skis. There’d be homes with the roofs removed and different things to do in each room – frying pans and food ingredients, TVs and computers and books, brooms and vacuum cleaners. Gardening tools and bikes and basketball hoops.
I would rename these barbies “People.” They would reflect different experiences – different ethnicities, different ages, different sizes, different abilities. One or two might be in a wheelchair. One might be gender-ambiguous. There would be babies and children, adults and old people.
These “People” would hopefully appeal to boys, girls, tomboys, and other gender non-conforming children. Playing with them would center around realistic life choices instead of fashion and glitz and glamor. It’d be a lot like playing house, with plenty of interchangeable activities and roles to experiment with different configurations.
And now for the fantastical part – these products would be manufactured by people making a living wage and they would be an affordable toy option. Haha.
Anyone have other ideas for a more gender variant version of barbie?
Today marks 2 years! I bring this up each time I do one of these posts, because it’s that important: although I haven’t changed much on the outside, my internal world feels significantly different, and that’s why I stay on it. I don’t have any changes to report, but these back-posts say a lot:
I may be changing my tune. I might increase my dose in order to look more masculine/androgynous. I just don’t know yet. Just wait and see. For now though, here’s some pictures of my face; I don’t think I look different over time. Maybe slightly rounder face?
To celebrate this milestone, I figured I’d post an (edited) email reply I sent an internet friend. They asked, essentially, how I finally made the decision to start testosterone. They were wondering if I felt a hormonal imbalance prior to starting T. I said,
The other day, my partner alerted me of a really cool podcast story, and we listened to it together (for her, she listened a 2nd time). It’s about a subset of trans-people, and a subset of non-binary people even: people who identify as bigender. I’ve heard this term before but didn’t have a clear grasp on the experience of bigender people, largely just equating and blending it in with people who identify as “genderfluid,” in my mind. The two terms definitely overlap, and the podcast didn’t mention “genderfluid” as an identity, but it told a very gripping and personal story of someone who is bigender.
I’m just going to summarize this person’s story, but if you have a half hour, listening to this podcast would be a half hour well spent! Here is the link:
Invisibilia Story About Paige (Go ahead and skip the first 2 minutes – it’s just podcast producers doing introductions and general banter.)
Paige is in her 30s and lives in San Diego. Her story is not a common one, even within the trans-community. She grew up MAAB (male assigned at birth) and was largely fine with that, didn’t think twice about it. She had fleeting feelings maybe she was supposed to be a girl, but they were very rare, and she didn’t dwell on them. She joined the Navy and enjoyed it. She got married; got a job, a car, a house – everything most people hope to do. When she was 30, still living full time as a man, her body mysteriously stopped producing testosterone. She got put on testosterone replacement therapy, and that’s when things started getting strange. Those fleeting feelings of being female returned full force and with more frequency. She began to feel a really strong split between “guy mode” and “girl mode,” and she had no control over when or where it might happen. When in “girl mode,” she began to feel repulsed by her body, even to the point of vomiting from disgust.
She talked to her wife, and decided to stop taking testosterone and start taking estrogen instead. The disgust started to wane as her body changed, but at this point, she was aiming for androgyny so that she could feel comfortable in both guy and girl mode, something she kept flipping between, often multiple times within a day. There were certain things that changed for her depending on which mode she was in, perception-wise and personality-wise.
It’s been confirmed through psychological tests on a small sample of people who are bigender that there are in fact some differences going on. This research is really in its infancy, and nothing has been conclusive on a large scale thus far. But, well… makes sense! (I am far from saying men are from Mars and women from Venus or anything like that, haha.)
Parts of her story are really sad. Her marriage didn’t make it. She spent a long time feeling like an alien, hiding her true nature, etc. A lot of things a lot of people can relate to…
The interesting thing comes in the conclusion though. It seems that the longer she was on estrogen, the more she “settled into” being female, on a psychic level. She has stopped “flipping” uncontrollably, for the most part. It does still happen, and it’s super jarring, but she is living close to 100% in “girl mode” these days.
This is super fascinating to me – although I am really in neither “guy mode” nor “girl mode” ever, my gender identity is static. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to go back and forth, uncontrollably, at inopportune times.
More than just a few people experience this though. Something like 8% of MAAB trans-people, and 3% of FAAB trans-people.
Last week I got my free flu shot, in the cafeteria of the high school I used to work at (I now just work at an elementary school). I went around back, and luckily ran into a former co-worker who was dumping garbages. It was cool to get to see him, and I was able to just go directly inside along with him, instead of going through the front, going to main office, checking in, getting visitor name tag, etc. etc. I chatted with him for a minute, then followed others down to the cafeteria to get the shot. A lady was there to organize us and hand out the forms we need to fill out. She looked at me kinda sideways and said, “How old are you?”
“Me? I’m thirty-one.”
“Oh, I thought you were a kid!”
“Oh, yeah, I get that sometimes.”
“OK good… well you’re lucky.”
I think she meant lucky that I look so young? I do feel lucky – I like passing as a kid. And I was even wearing my janitor uniform including ID badge on this occasion and everything, ’cause I was heading straight to work. Don’t know of many high-schoolers who’d be sporting that outfit.
The other day, I was walking home from the library. I had my red backpack on, full of new media. My pants were probably partially saggy; I was wearing skate shoes, as usual. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been in a pretty low mood, so I’m sure I was slouching quite a bit, probably staring at the ground as I went. I was crossing the street to get to my side street before I realized some teenaged girls on a porch were yelling to me.
“Hey! Yeah, you.”
“Yeah! What’s your name?”
“[I said my name.]”
“No. [Said my name again.]”
“Yeah. [Still not my name, but realized it didn’t really matter.]”
“Nice to meet you!”
I kind of did a little wave and kept walking, worrying I was going to start running into them a lot since this was pretty close to my house. This isn’t a direct account of an instance where I passed as male, but I’m pretttty sure teen girls wouldn’t have been so adamantly yelling if they saw me as, basically, a female-bodied person in their early thirties. So I’m going to count it!
For over a decade, I had been going back and forth hundreds (thousands?) of times in my head about whether transitioning was right for me or not. Or if not every aspect of it, what about this but not that? Will I ever move forward with some aspect maybe? At some point not that long ago, I seemed to come to the conclusion that no, I wasn’t going to move forward because if I were, I would have done something about it by now. And I haven’t, so I’m not. I must be lacking some internal drive, so it must not be something that I need to do. I settled on identifying as genderqueer and trans* but not planning on medically transitioning in any way. And I seemed satisfied with that. (?) But not quite, or, no, not at all actually. Because it was still on my mind. Sometimes just as whimsical musings in the back of my brain. Other times as pervasive/invasive body-dysphoric consistent ruminations.
I guess I always thought that if I did move forward with something, it would be top surgery, and not HRT. Because I never want to consistently pass as male. I want to continue looking androgynous forever. Top surgery could help with that (although I’m fortunate in that I can get away without surgery, and without binding, in hiding what I have). Taking testosterone would be going further than I want to go. So I thought.
I thought it had to be all or nothing. I thought I had to have a case ready about how I need to transition, in order to access testosterone. And I don’t need to transiton, and I really don’t like to lie. I thought I would need a letter from a therapist, and to jump through all these hoops, to access testosterone. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted it! Eventually I reached a point where I just knew that I needed to try it, at some point, just so that I could know. So that at the very least, I could think about it differently or think about it less often, as it relates to a decision about something I should or should not do.
I have this awesome therapist. She doesn’t know much about trans* identities. I’m fairly certain she had not previously had a trans* client before, although I could be wrong. I’d been talking to her about this stuff, and she’d been following along, more or less, in stride. When I would say I need to try this out, she would say, “then why not!” I asked her if she’d write me a letter if need be, and she said she wouldn’t be comfortable doing that; she doesn’t have enough knowledge about it. Still operating under the assumption that I would need a letter, I started also seeing another therapist, basically for the purpose of getting a letter.
This second therapist gave me the name of a doctor during our first session. Turns out that, apparently, I didn’t need a letter! Turns out I didn’t need to convince anyone at any point that I wanted to transition medically. I never once had to lie to get my hands on testosterone. And once I did get my hands on it, I was given the freedom to experiment with the dosing, basically use as much or as little as I wanted. Turns out I want to use as little as possible. Turns out I might be able to stay on it for the rest of my life without looking any more masculine than I currently do (this has yet to be proven, but it’s been 6 months now, and so far, so good). And the internal effects, with this super low dose, are significant and pretty much better than I could have even hoped for.
Basically, for all those years of wondering and second-guessing and processing and feeling anxious and obsessing and daydreaming and doubting myself and ultimately sort of concluding by default that I wouldn’t take any steps forward, actually doing something about it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
And in retrospect, it isn’t like there’s no turning back, to some extent. Testosterone is a slow-moving substance in terms of long-term changes… I’m really enjoying the internal forward momentum though.
I’m happy to report that outward changes continue to be extremely minimal! I’m going to focus on the most noticeable internal-experience changes, now that it’s been a good chunk of time and it feels like these changes are here to stay.
Pain: I was in quite a bit of constant physical pain, mainly joint pain in my hands and arms, probably from repetitive motions at work and/or not eating enough. Instantly, that was gone. In addition, I’m just kind of suddenly getting a little bit stronger and work is way easier. Also, I’m experiencing sensations of pain a lot differently than before. Like, it’s unpleasant! Whereas before, the constant joint pain was unpleasant, but certain types of pain (basically, self-inflicted) were pleasant and/or comforting. I’m not going to say I’ll never self-injure again, but it does feel so far away from where I’m at right now. That is so amazing to me. I hated that I did that, even very recently, quite a lot.
Hunger: Hasn’t ended up being sustainable unfortunately, but seems worth noting. I felt hungrier for about one week, early on. I thought eating was a worthwhile thing to do. Briefly, I had chemical signals connecting food with pleasure centers in my brain; It was awesome! Like, I would think about and look forward to getting to eat. I would prefer certain things over other things, by a lot. That quickly dwindled back to my normal feelings and attitudes about food, which are not very exciting. Not at all. Sometimes eating is a real chore, in fact. The one thing that feels different now is that if I skip eating at a time I usually eat at, I will feel more motivated to catch up. In that way, I will feel hungrier if I don’t eat. That wasn’t really true before. Also, I’ve gained 5 or 6 pounds, which manifests in the one externally noticeable physical change going on – muscle growth, mainly in my arms, shoulders, pecs, and abs. Really psyched about this. Can’t go wrong with more muscles!
Warm and Fuzzy: I just feel cuddly and cozy. I feel connected to my body in a way I never have before. It’s really hard to describe, but I’m sure people can relate. Like, my clothes feel soft on my skin. Like, I’m walking on pillows and clouds, yet paradoxically, I feel totally grounded. Like, I had no idea how jagged and disconnected I was before; I had nothing to compare it to. These sensations have been dwindling over time – I think I’ve been getting used to them. Like the clouds are not quite as soft and pillowy as they were at first.
Sex Drive: Having a sex drive I can relate to is awesome. Being able to have sexual thoughts and have that be connected to a body sensation. My body responding to sexual stimuli. Having totally different sensations everywhere on my body than I used to, in a good way. Clitoral growth, which means actually being able to feel and experience erectile tissue sensations. Previously, junk was so small and sensitive in a bad way, it wasn’t all that fun.
Anxiety: The biggest, most drastic change, is anxiety: totally gone! Like general anxiety just disappeared into thin air. I still totally over-think things and mentally worry way too much, but the fact that those thoughts aren’t connected to physical anxiety responses is a huge relief. I was exerting so much energy on things that don’t matter! I was feeling so drained and limited by these feelings that I couldn’t get away from before! It’s a lot of work avoiding things that might trigger unpleasant internal responses; now I don’t do that nearly so much! It is totally a brain chemistry shift – I don’t know how or why, but it’s not something I’m worrying about haha. Also, emotionality overall hasn’t changed much. I still have been experiencing the same range and types of emotions, which I’m happy for. If anything, there might be a slight capacity to acknowledge anger and frustration now, which seems positive. I’ll have to see how that plays into my life.
I’ve been on Androgel, 1%, 1 pump (1.25g) per day. I started with 1.62% for about 2 months, but I started to see some changes that freaked me out (voice dropping and body hair growth), so I asked to switch to 1%. Which I did for 2 months (voice went back to where it was, body hair growth stopped). Then recently I started alternating between the two every other day. Which has been working out so far, and I like. I just hope I can continue to alternate my prescriptions. I might be questioned on that…
I have had some other slight physical changes that seem common: I feel warmer, body temperature-wise. I’ve had some pimples pop up, particularly in places I wouldn’t normally get pimples – thighs, butt, armpit(?) I’ve been slightly sweatier (my partner would say significantly sweatier, haha).
I want to be able to use testosterone for the rest of my life, but to not change much, physically speaking, over time, if possible. So far, it does seem possible. The internal shifts are too good, I couldn’t have even imagined, or dreamed them up, in advance. I’m still just hanging out, revelling in it all. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.