A few days ago, I got a message from a reader. They wrote:
Hi…thanks for taking the time to help others have the advantage of your experience to answer our own questions. I’m non-binary…I had top surgery 3 years ago, but I’m interested in remaining in the middle. I’m interested in a more masculine body structure (less curvy, more masculine fat distribution, stronger jaw line), but wanting to keep my feminine traits like smoothness of skin/not markedly increasing facial hair and not wanting to make the changes to my disposition that it seems can happen with a standard dose of testosterone. I’m interested in being able to build muscle (just definition) for both look and to be strong and healthy. I’ve hit 50, so not so easy with menopause underway. I’m also interested in how this could support my libido.
I’m thinking that microdosing may be a good way for me to do this, but interested in your thoughts. Also, to whom does one go to get this? I’m going to be living in NY/NJ area and it would be great if you could provide any medical professionals in that area. I’m finding that some MDs don’t know much about this and aren’t incredibly willing to discuss. Does one have to have a prescription for this? I’m assuming so. In any case, any info you could provide or point me to would be greatly appreciated.
We messaged back and forth a few times and decided this could be the good basis for a post. Here’s an attempt to answer their questions, and elaborate on some thoughts they put out there:
Thanks for reaching out! I started microdosing T so long ago that that word was not yet in use – at least not in this context, haha! We called it “going on a low-dose of T,” which is clunkier, and it’s cool there’s a more straightforward verb now, even if it brings to mind people taking small amounts of acid for therapeutic purposes, more than anything else at this point. I’m sure that’ll change over time.
I too, had (have) a list of things I do and do not want from testosterone. Most of those things have worked out for me, even in the long term, which is mostly based in genetics, but I still feel like I lucked out. (It can feel like a crap-shoot, especially when you want some, but not all, of the effects that testosterone may cause.) I haven’t sprouted that beard that I never wanted. I gained a more masculine body structure. I still have smooth skin. It’s helped my libido. Also my voice is lower, my disposition shifted for the better, it was a real game changer in many ways. It helped me grow into myself, for sure.
Testosterone is a controlled substance, which definitely means you need a prescription for it. My journey to actually getting the stuff was bumpy. Initially I went through a primary care physician who I found to be smarmy. I put up with him so I could keep getting my prescription until I decided I could do better. My next physician was hesitant and I really had to advocate for myself super hard. She conceded for a while but ultimately referred me to an endocrinologist. The endo wasn’t great either. I hoarded it as much as I could so that I was not beholden to medical professionals, and so I had the freedom to start and stop when I wanted to, as opposed to when I could get access. I still do this. It’s not recommended, but anyone who knows me probably wouldn’t be surprised.
Things have improved vastly in some regions of the US, but of course not everywhere. Many Planned Parenthoods now offer gender affirming care and hormone replacement therapy on an informed consent model. Generally it’s a matter of weeks, not months, to get in and get your prescription. I just did a cursory search, and, by region, here are just some of the places where this is possible: Southwest Florida, Southeast Pennsylvania, Washington and Northwest Idaho, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, all throughout Illinois, Western NY, Massachusetts, NYC, Reno Nevada, one tiny town in Arkansas. Some of these places are not surprising. Others are. What makes a specific Planned Parenthood offer HRT or not?!! One day, eventually, I think they all will.
If anyone has any specific information about providers or options in the NY / NJ area, please leave a comment. Hope this helps, and good luck!
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…
My spouse and I just attended the 27th annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, and we saw some pretty great films. Overall, we both preferred the documentaries over the fictional narratives, but we did like all the ones we ended up picking out. I’ve had a varied relationship with this festival over the years – when I was younger, I wasn’t sure I belonged, and it was just so thrilling to even be there at all. I volunteered one year, and formed some lasting relationships through doing that. Then I kind of shunned it for a few years, deciding I didn’t have time for it, and the ticket prices were too pricey. In the past 4 years, I changed my tune and realized we are lucky to have this festival in our hometown, and we should make the most of it. We pick out a handful of films each year now, and pre-pay (to get a slight discount). I’d have to say that at this point, the novelty of being there as a super-fan has started to wear off, but I do still look forward to it each year, regardless… here are the films we saw this time around (links are to film websites, trailers, or reviews):
Zen in the Ice Rift – This was a narrative drama from Italy about a transmasculine teenager who is really just at the beginning of their journey into who they really are. They’re on the boy’s hockey team (only because their town is so small and that’s the only option), are getting bullied, and are acting out a lot in response. It was pretty hard to watch, but definitely well done – themes of victimization and violence, definitely a trope at this point.
The Ground Beneath My Feet – This one was from Austria, about a workaholic woman who’s sister has suffered yet another psychotic break and is hospitalized. The woman starts to question her own sanity while trying to juggle all aspects of her super stressful life (a lesbian affair with her superior being only one small tendril of her falling-apart-life). Really well done, edgy, gloomy thriller-drama.
Label Me – From Germany, this one was about a refugee from Syria who begins an ongoing money-for-sex relationship with a man who seems very well off and very isolated at the same time. It gets interesting when the two men navigate that line between intimacy, sex, money, and everything else that falls in between.
Leave it to Levi – This was a documentary about a porn star who works exclusively with Cocky Boys. It was just totally fun, but there was depth too, when the film explored his relationship with his mother and his forays into dressing in drag and going totally against the norm of the Macho Porn Star.
Gay Chorus Deep South – This documentary was full of heart. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir toured 7 southern states in order to raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that have been popping up in the wake of the 2016 election. Along the way, we see some amazing personal stories of some of the chorus members, specifically from people who were born in the south and made it to the (relatively) safe haven of SF.
Changing the Game – By far, this one was our favorite. So many strong emotions going on. Between this one and Gay Chorus, I did a lot of crying! This followed the trajectory of 4 transgender teens from 3 different states (which all have different laws about transgender people competing in sports) and how they navigated what they had to do to keep pursuing the sports they love. They all came up against so much hate, but also so much love and support, specifically from coaches and parents / guardians.
It’s that time of year again! Yep, I know I’m way behind schedule with the pride festivities: I mention this every year, but yea, this really is when my mid-sized city celebrates pride, far behind the rest!
I ended up having a blast. Generally, during the days and weeks leading up to pride, I tend to think, dang, not again! What am I gonna wear? What am I gonna do? Maybe it’d be better all around if we were on vacation, and absent all together. So, yea, there’s some angst there. But as soon as I get into it, I’m IN IT!!
As far as the parade, we did something new and different – we marched with a group called “Positive Force,” which is a queer gym Caitlin (my spouse) has been training at. We didn’t know who would be there or what the group would be doing exactly, so we planned our outfits independently, on our own. I decided to go shirtless!
OK, so this is kinda a big deal. At the time I got top surgery, 3 years ago, I was known to say, “I’d never go shirtless in public though.” I’m sure if I looked through my archives, I could find multiple times where I wrote, specifically, that. BUT! Since then, I’ve changed my mind and gone shirtless a handful of times. Not right away. It took over a year; the first couple of times were when I was abroad,, visiting my brother in Turkey. I did it first in the Black Sea while my brother was preoccupied with getting a locksmith to help us with the waterlogged electronic key to the rental car, deciding that I was so far from home and the people I know so well and it’s exciting, and here I go! I did it again, on that trip, when my brother brought us to a Turkish bath, segregated by genders. I was nervous, but it all turned out fine.
I did it again a year later, at a state park all by myself with no one in sight. But also at another state park filled with people, and it was pretty thrilling. And then again this summer, at a hotel pool in Massachusetts.
Which is all to say that deciding to go without a shirt (although I did have suspenders on, to somewhat cover my nipples, because I’m not quite comfortable with them and still plan to get revisions eventually), seemed like a challenge I wanted to try. When we got down there, I was pleased to see 3 trans-masculine acquaintances already ready to go without shirts on. And a bunch of other acquaintances too; it seems like we picked the right group! It was us plus a yoga studio, and we handed out flyers and candy and chanted, on-and-off, “All bodies, hott bodies.”
Saw a bunch of people that we knew, including my mom and her best childhood friend. Another friend was camped out at the protesters’ corner, holding a sign that said, “My boyfriend is cute when he’s grumpy,” with an arrow pointing right at a protester. We got a good laugh out of that.
Then we just relaxed for the rest of the day. Watched Tales of the City (the new one, and now we’re making our way through the old one.)
The next day, Caitlin and I co-hosted an LGBTQIA+ themed electronic music show. That was a lot of fun. And then I stayed for another hour for the next radio show, in which the host and I read the piece I have published in an anthology, plus just goofed around.
Two days ago, I abruptly hit a wall in my transition journey. But it’s more like that wall had a secret corridor that I’m now turning down, without really slowing down – just taking a moment to look back, and all around me, and then moving on in this other direction. The decision to stop T for the time being doesn’t actually mean that I’m losing forward momentum. I was expecting it all along. At some point. At the same time, it wasn’t premeditated or planned I just realized, now is the time, all of a sudden, and then I mentioned it to my spouse, and that was that.
The number one reason to stop, for now, is ongoing concerns of losing my head hair. And the number two reason is that uncomfortable sensation of feeling overheated, which is much less welcomed as warm weather approaches.
I’ve been here before. That was, specifically, January of 2016. I feel so grateful to my past self for so diligently recording where I was at, every step of the way, so that I can get super specific about where I was vs. where I am! It feels like a coherent narrative, of sorts. In the fall of 2015, I had been on Androgel for roughly a year and a half, and I had lost sight of why I was doing it and what, exactly, was it doing for me. I switched doses, I went off-and-on, and then in January of 2016, I just went off all together. I ended up being off T for one full year. And then I tried out injections, which I’ve been on now for over 2 years.
And now, again, I’ve lost sight. I’ve been worried, daily, lately, about my receding hairline, and I can’t make sense of all the numerous products on the market to help that. Rogaine, Finasteride, DHT suppressants, etc. Instead of figuring out what might help, it just makes more sense for me to go off T, until I feel differently, which I know I will, again, at some point, in the not-so-distant future.
I do not look forward to getting my period again. That is going to be horrible.
Other than that though, I don’t foresee any major issues. Mental health-wise, I feel super stable and good. I don’t expect that to change much. Oh, also, I’ll be pretty happy about not seeing more and more facial hairs popping up. Not a fan of my own facial hair! I’ll be glad if that stabilizes for a while and I don’t have to think much about it.
I predict (and my predictions have been pretty far off, historically!) that I’l be back on T by November or December. We’ll see! Oh, also I guess I’ll have to tell my endocrinologist. Do I have to go to my upcoming appointment if I’m not taking hormones?! (Answer: No.)
Hey, I have an essay in this anthology, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, which is finally being released by Columbia University Press, officially on April 9th, but you can go ahead and order your copies now! This has been roughly 5 years in the making, and through that time, I went through lots of different edits and re-writes with Micah Rajunov (genderqueer.me), one of the two editors. Both he and Scott Duane did tons of behind-the-scenes work to make this happen. I just sat around, for the most part, and waited to see what was going to become of it!
The time-frame was so long that I pretty much forgot what I wrote. And I was a little apprehensive to revisit it. When I first heard news of the release date, I had a mixture of emotions: excitement and pride, to be sure. But also a little bit of hesitation, like, would I still identify with whatever the hell I had written?! Would I be cool with everyone, friends and family, reading it? I decided not to overthink it; when I got my copy in the mail, I posted this pic to my social media, and just let what was gonna happen, happen. However, I still hadn’t read it! I was stalling. My spouse went ahead for me, and reported back, which helped me get used to the idea. When I first tried, I couldn’t read it linearly – I just skipped around and tried to get the gist, get a sense before finding out all the details. Then I went back and started with the anthology from the first contributor, and when I got to mine, I finally did read it all the way through. Phew. I’m almost done with the whole book now. Lots of really amazing, diverse stories.
People started ordering their own copies. My grandpa and my aunt have already read it and connected with me about it! I ordered a dozen to give to friends, my therapist, my local Out Alliance’s library, etc. It’s starting to feel real, and the excitement is growing, now that I can kinda wrap my head around it.
This past Saturday was my two year mark on T-injections, 40ml / week (this was just recently lowered, from 60 – my initial dose was 50). I still very much look forward to every injection (not the act itself, but the being-on-T part), and I still regularly think about the ways hormones have improved my life; I don’t tend to take it for granted.
My original plan was for this to be a short-term thing. But I kind of love it. I think my dose will vary over time, but I don’t anticipate stopping really, probably ever. (Of course that’s subject to change!) Not having a menstrual cycle is huge. Being seen as male 100% of the time is… well, there’s some ambivalence there, but it’s definitely an improvement. Now instead of getting confused for female, I am regularly getting confused for being very young. Which can be awkward but mostly is fine.
I’m able to engage socially in ways I really never could have dreamed of. I look people in the eyes way more. My anxiety is almost zero, where previously, I was operating regularly with an underlying sense of fear and dread. Some of these mental health changes can be attributed to finding a medication that actually works well for me, but a lot of it is the disappearance of gender dysphoria.
I’m still legally female, which is on purpose, and I still almost always go into women’s bathrooms and dressing rooms. I’ve never been stopped or questioned.
I don’t love all of it. I still daily pluck hairs out of my face because I don’t like them and I don’t want to shave. I’m pretty concerned about my receding hairline. And if I were really being honest, I liked the way my face looked before being on injections, more-so than now. It just so happens that the way it is now reads as “male,” and that works out way better for me. Oh well…
So here are the face comparisons:
A friend of mine living in Albuquerque posted about an art project s/he recently completed, and I messaged hir to find out more about it. What follows is an interview with the artist, Harley Kirschner, in which we touch on toxic masculinity, safety, artistic processes, and a whole lot more!
Kam: How did you get involved in it? Did you propose the idea?
Harley: I work at Winnings coffee shop again, after a few years in plumbing and pipefitting , unemployment, self employment and other jobs. We have artists do murals in our bathrooms and it was time for a new one.The need was expressed and I jumped on the opportunity. I got free reign over what I wanted to do and as a trans artist who is getting into what I like to think of as oversized zines, naturally I created a zine installation about using public restrooms as trans in a public restroom.
Kam: Is it related to your plumbing career, your art career, or both? Can you elaborate on that?
Harley: My plumbing career collapsed which I now see as a blessing. However, in that collapse, after living stealth 24/7 I really collapsed emotionally. Everything about my art and my loud trans non-binary self is because I failed at fitting the mold of what a plumber or pipefitter or man is supposed to be. Trying to be someone that I’m not almost killed me as I was terrified and disassociated all the time. I do share my experience with how bathrooms were such a huge part of that in this installation. However, although I would usually put my name on my story, due to the location being my place of employment and coming to embrace myself as non-binary and using mixed pronouns when I feel safe, I felt too vulnerable. I thought about censoring my story but felt the content was important so I chose to leave off my name.
I found empowerment in taking a bathroom and making it my own and a safe place for trans people after my experience in the plumbing industry which has rules (which are laws under the guise of safety… Most are.), about gendered bathrooms. That was one issue that I always had issues with myself. My experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industries was heavy industrial for the most part so I did very little in bathrooms and actually very little with water. Mostly, I piped refrigerant and coal. I still use some of my skills in doing irrigation.
When my plumbing career fell apart and I started talking about it in zines and about how toxic masculinity makes me want to kill myself, I started getting recognized for my art and it was very clear to me that where my art had been lacking in the work that I had been showing wasn’t in the technical sense but rather in the voice. I knew that if I wanted to achieve what I wanted with my art, to make trans people feel beautiful, I had to use my own voice and make it loud. I had been very scared to do that. Partly because it was incredibly unsafe in my plumbing career and partly because I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. When I had nothing to lose career wise and my sanity and breath depended on taking up queer and trans space I knew that taking the steps to enhance my literary voice would give my fine art real value.
Kam: What are your goals with the project? What would you like people to get out of it?
Harley: To make Winning Coffee Company the most queer and trans friendly coffee shop in Albuquerque. To take back bathrooms after they made me feel so unsafe. To embrace the diversity within my community by feeling the love and support of not only trans people but of all the people who love my work. I feel that it is very new to me to feel the amount of love and support around being trans from cis people that I do and I would like to offer that same safe feeling in a public place in Albuquerque for all trans people. I am very lucky to have such great supportive coworkers that helped make this happen, including making the bathrooms gender neutral (a few years ago) and helped me paint the walls.
Kam: Do you see ways to expand on this? Other places or other ideas?
Harley: I would like it to be an ongoing conversation. As the installation deteriorates and get tagged (unfortunately a given with the Winning’s bathroom-nothing offensive just disrespectful in general) I would like to replace the paper with different stories. People are encouraged to contribute any stories they have about using the bathroom as a trans person. I have thought about doing this bathroom in other spaces but am too busy artistically to take on another project right now.
Kam: What did your artistic process look like for this?
Harley: I used matte black paint on all the walls but chose to keep the ceiling white and paint the door white so it didn’t create a feeling of being trapped. There was a metal frame that used to have an advertisement poster in it. The advertising company closed but the frame was still there. It reminds me a lot of the welding that I was working with at the job that I reference in my story so I chose to keep it and decoupage the plexiglass that it holds. It works very well with the symbolist element of my work. I wallpapered large photocopies of stories and photocopied collages of images related to being trans and using bathrooms. I incorporated images from my time in the union, including an image of my shadow where I look like I’m holding a gun and I’m going to shoot, an image of a sign that says “ouch”, and images from one of my textbooks. My favorite part is the dictionary words “restricted” followed by “restroom”, nothing could have been more appropriate. In my photocopied collages I incorporate transfers to overlay images. There is a grainy quality in oversized prints that I find particularly appealing.
Kam: Anything else you wanted to add that I didn’t ask about?
Harley: Thank you very much for asking me to talk about my work on your blog. Your writing has always inspired me and I hope that my voice will be as touching to others as yours has been to me.
The bathrooms (all except for two) at the school I work at are getting a complete makeover this summer! (This is only a part of the remodeling / demolition that’s been going on – it’s been a fairly chaotic and atypical few months. Most of the time it feels like, how is all of this going to be completed by September 4th?!)
Here’s a quick rundown of the bathroom count:
3 boys gang bathrooms
3 girls gang bathrooms
1 mens staff bathroom
1 womens staff bathroom
2 gender-neutral staff bathrooms
1 girls gym teacher bathroom
1 boys gym teacher bathroom
1 nurse’s office gender-neutral bathroom
7 classroom gender-neutral bathrooms
2 girls single-use bathrooms
1 boys single-use bathroom
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that my workplace has more bathroom options than pretty much anywhere else, ever. As a genderqueer person, I have never stressed out about where I was going to go pee. Never, until this summer. All bathrooms are out of commission except for one girls gang bathroom and one boys gang bathroom. “Gang,” in this case, means that more than one person can enter and use the bathroom at a time. I am missing my gender-neutral option!
Before I came out at work, I was using both womens and gender-neutral bathrooms. After I came out at work, I gradually transitioned to only using gender-neutral bathrooms. One good thing about all this upheaval is that when they’re done, there will be 4 more gender-neutral bathrooms than there had been previously. !!! !!!
Until then though, I’ve had to make some tough decisions. As the bathroom options started to shrink (due to demolition), I was getting creative, for a while. For example, I realized there was still a toilet not yet destroyed in on of the classrooms, and I was using that for a while. My co-worker, who knew I’d been only using gender-neutral options, asked me, “So which bathroom are you going to use?” Being semi-facetious, I replied, “I’ll use the womens for #1 and the mens for #2.” And I actually was doing that for a while.
But then I started running into other people who were also using the bathroom as the pickings got slim. And I started getting nervous. I’d rather people saw me as male and used he/him/his pronouns for me than not. Some people get that I’m neither, and that’s great, but I don’t need the whole school understanding this nuance. Things have been so much better for me since coming out; I just want to keep up that momentum.
So I made a stark, black and white decision, that I was going to use the boys gang bathroom, no matter who was around or who wasn’t around. It was tough to wrap my head around because, since top surgery, coming out, and being on a regular dose of T (in that order), I’ve been in all sorts of bathrooms depending on the context, how I’m feeling, and what the options are. But I STILL prefer and gravitate towards womens rooms. And I STILL have not been stopped or questioned once.
But, in this case, I’ve been feeling like I gotta do this because I’m trying to assert and simplify my identity so everyone gets the picture / is on the same page. It’s been working. Almost everyone (except my former supervisor who keeps leeching onto the building) uses he/him/his pronouns for me. Essentially, I haven’t been wanting to confuse people or have them question where I’m at. Even the contractors – all of them have been calling me “buddy,” and that actually feels really good!
It defintely has been nervewracking though. A few times, I almost ran into the girls room when I heard that someone was in the boys. I’ve never been in a mens/boys room with other males. (Er, actually, maybe a handful of times when I was traveling in Turkey, but that’s it.) But I stuck it out and passed them at the urinal in order to use the stall. Or was in the stall and heard them using the urinal. Or at the sink, etc. I went into the boys room while B&G (buildings and grounds – for the district) workers were around, while my co-workers were around, while (female) teachers were around.
And in the end, it’s all been OK. (It was a little less nerve-wracking, overall, because contractors were made to use a port-a-potty outside. Sucks to be them!) All I mean by that was that there were way less males using the school’s boys bathroom.
As soon as I can though, I will be right back in those gender-neutral, single stall bathrooms, which will be all over the place!!!
Wanna see other posts I’ve made in this series? Here they are:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)
Oh, and, as always, I’ve been all over both the girls and the boys bathroom, in order to clean them, daily.