This essay and accompanying collage were first published for Femme Salée’s zine issue Perverse Bodies, Winter 2021. More about this awesome collective of artists, writers, and curators can be found at Femme Salée.
On Halloween afternoon, 2009, I was running around doing last minute things like my head was cut off. Our inaugural variety show was kicking off that night, at the local community space that had just opened up. One of the many things I realized I’d overlooked was figuring out how to hook up a boombox to the PA system. I burst into a Radio Shack without the slightest idea of where to look, but also with a strong aversion to talking to anyone working there. I called my mom. My brother was around too – mom put the call on speakerphone.
“I need a jack or an adapter or something, to get my boombox plugged in to a PA.” My mom had always helped me rig up my stereo equipment amidst many moves, and my brother had played bass in a bunch of bands; I hoped the two of them together could figure this out for me.
“OK,” he cut in, “you’d need a 1/8 inch jack on the boombox end, and then a 1/4 inch to plug into the PA.”
“OK so, I’m seeing those. There are a bunch of kinds though.”
“Get one that’s male on both ends.”
“What do you mean?”
“Male. Like, it’s protruding out, right? Instead of female, which would get plugged into.”
“I don’t get that.”
“Uhhh, so, the male is what’s getting put in…”
“No, I get that! It’s just, I don’t get why it’s called ‘male’ and ‘female.’ Is that for real?!”
“Yes! Of course I’m not just making this up!” It was the first I’d heard of it.
“I just don’t get it!”
“Yea, that figures.”
As I poured over which product to get, a memory flashed into mind. My brother and I had been vintage Saturday Night Live fiends. We were sitting together, watching Dan Aykroyd as a sleezy late night public access TV host, and Laraine Newman as his guest / date / escort. They’re watching a video of some worms getting it on, making lewd comments.
“These little buggers have both male and female organs. They like to go both ways, AC/DC you know what I mean, heh heh,” Dan Aykroyd’s character jeered. I didn’t have the slightest clue what he meant. But it seemed obvious from all this imagery: Sex is electric. And from that, I deduced that I was doing it wrong.
I had had some electrifying moments, but they were few and far between, and around that time I had been feeling I’d been short circuited all together; from there I just shut down the whole operation. When things had continued to not work like I kept hearing they were supposed to, when nothing ever felt right, I stopped pretending they did and clammed up. Sex was touchy, both the act itself and the topic in general. If a group of friends were laughing about sensational sex stuff, I would get so uncomfortable that I’d just get up and leave, no explanation. I’d just be gone. I didn’t seek out anything that might be arousing because it didn’t seem worth the effort. I was not asexual. I was purposefully squelching my sexuality because things didn’t line up. And since none of it made sense, I didn’t know how to start trying to open back up, even if I had wanted to. Which, eventually, I did. Sometimes I would have wet dreams, and I was glad that at least I had that going on, that thing that is generally a male thing. It was my favorite part about my sexuality. Waking up because I was orgasming felt like the best gift in the world. It felt like a freebee. Because to climax in waking life was a lot of hard work.
Around the time I started to transition medically, a few years after that Radio Shack moment, with hormones and top surgery and other stuff, I felt an urgent need to finally and fully figure out my sexuality. Really force it—reading books, going to workshops, making my spouse come to workshops with me even though they didn’t want to, talking about it exhaustively in therapy (or rather, writing exhaustively and emailing that writing to my therapist), bringing it up a lot with my spouse even though it felt, well, forced. All these efforts helped a little but not much. What did get me there was patience, time, experimentation, thinking creatively, and just feeling out how to be present in my body in other ways.
Transitioning did help. What I can see and feel makes a lot more sense now. My chest contours in a way I can accept, although it’s not perfect. My voice is present and fully-formed, after seeming far off and lost for so long. Broader shoulders and more muscle definition have allowed me to carry myself differently. Getting confirmation that I’m seen as male, mostly, by others, has bolstered everything else (although I identify as non-binary and am not actually a man). It’s my junk though; although it has changed for the better, it’s not enough and I still get hung up on the junk.
And I do mean “junk,” a word with various meanings, one of which is “male genitalia.” I don’t technically have a dick, but in all ways other than the physical realm, I do, and in that discrepancy lies the crux of my transness. Or more specifically, my in-betweenness. Because although there is a strong correlation between genital-dissatisfaction and transness, the two do not always go together. Some cis people don’t like what they were born with either. And some trans people are fine with what they got going on. Others are not at all, and lower surgery is first and foremost; the ultimate transformation. I’m somewhere in between.
A few years ago, I was tasked with designing and creating my own “groinment” for a theatrical production of a tripped-out version of a play called, If Boys Wore the Skirts. In this genderfuck of a fever dream, my three “classmates” and I wore white button-down shirts, black ties, black socks, black shoes, and black skirts upon which we had designed fancy-free versions of our internal landscapes. I was thrilled by the opportunity and took it very literally; here was a chance to come up with something that reflected the way I feel about my junk. If you were to ask me, I don’t have a vagina, clitoris, and labia. Nor do I have a penis, scrotum, and prostate (unfortunately). What I got is junk, and it’s janky AF. But by reimagining it, I’ve started to learn to live with, maybe even love, what I got. In this version I dreamed up for the play, there’s a highly delicate water balloon configuration at the top of a water slide. Pointy party hats are there to protect it. And in my right hand I held a needle: I’m the only one who gets to “pop” it, which I did, during a fashion show scene in the play. The water did indeed gush down the slide and splatter fantastically on the upswing. My ultimate wet dream, cum true.
I like to make note of when I’m on and off testosterone, and this time, I’m way behind on mentioning it – I’ve been back on since July 20th. I hit it hard initially with a pretty high dose (100mg per week) and then lowered it to 60mg per week. So far, my menstrual cycle halted immediately (fingers crossed this continues to be the case – it’s been over 2 months so I’m thinking I might be in the clear!)
I haven’t gone to any medical professionals yet, but I do plan to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood very soon. This time around, I’m aiming to also ask for Finasteride for the first time (a drug that helps with hair loss / is a partial testosterone blocker). My hope is that I’ll still get the benefits of testosterone I’m seeking while not continuing to have a receding hairline. Really not sure – just going to try it and find out. If it does seem to be a good balance, I envision myself staying on T for much longer than ever before. We’ll see!
I feel like I’ve finally reached a point where being transgender feels normal. I’ve both hoped for this state of being and feared it, in equal parts. I don’t mean that I feel normal – I definitely don’t and probably never will! I just mean that doing yet another shot of testosterone is no longer an event. It’s rote; it’s routine. I don’t care whether I do it subcutaneously or intramuscular. I don’t have a preference for needle gauge. I’ll do whatever. All that matters is getting it into my body. There’s very little mental fanfare, no ritual surrounding it.
In addition, although I enjoy connecting with other trans-people and hearing others’ stories and journeys, I no longer need it. I don’t specifically seek it out. My journey is probably not even near complete, but I feel like I’ve done everything that I felt an urgency around, and the other aspects will either happen or not happen, at some point down the road. I’m not stressing or planning or strategizing anymore.
A part of me wondered if I’d ever get to this point I’m describing, since I’m nonbinary and still have not quite “settled” into my gender. There is no settling into the gender I feel I am. It’s always a balancing act. Being “settled” and being “satisfied” are two different states, I am realizing. I hope to remain satisfied, but to never settle. I”m sure I’ll be back on and off testosterone for many years to come.
A couple of things I want to note from my most recent time off testosterone (Dec. 2020 – July 2021):
– I regained even more sensation in my chest. This happened in a past timeframe off of testosterone, and I was thrilled it continued. I now feel like my chest has just about fully regained sensation, something I had given up on at one point in time.
– I felt more things, emotionally. Like being able to cry a little bit, stuff like that. Always important to me, to be able to revisit.
– I was less hot, sweaty, oily skin type stuff. It’s not a big deal, but it is preferable.
– I had my period. Blah.
– My sex drive was non-existent. Also blah.
– I did not experience fat redistribution reversal like I have in the past. Maybe that has to do with getting older, metabolism slowing down? Not sure.
– I stopped losing hair / some fine hairs did grow back in along my hairline.
That’s about it for now. I like making predictions about timelines when I make these on T / off T posts. My guess is that if things go well with adding in Finasteride, I’ll be on T for over a year and a half.
Eight years is a long time! Trying T, even though I wasn’t at all sure I was going to like it, but positive I needed to at least see what it was like, was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself.
For the first few years, it was a very fine line between feeling very connected to what it was doing for my inner world, versus not wanting any physical changes. I was microdosing, but even still, was on-and-off of it a few times. Later on, I did want some changes, but only up to a certain point, which led me right back to that pattern of being on-and-off. This is still the case – I’m currently off, with plans to go back on at some point (maybe summer?)
I continue to find myself right where I want to be, more so as the years go by. Here’s a description of an interaction I had yesterday that highlights how I’ve hit that sweet spot of in-betweenness:
I was trying to print out some photos at a store. One person started to help me, and then another person also came to help. The two co-workers were talking amongst themselves, referring to me, and one person was using, “he/him/his” and the other person was using, “she/her/hers.” Finally, the “she/her/hers” person got confused and just said, “Who?!” And the other person gestured toward me and said, “Him!” and simultaneously, I just said, “Me!” And no one did any back-pedaling, questioning, or apologizing, which was pretty much perfect.
Ideally, I’d like for everyone who has known me from before I started my transition, to get on board with my nonbinary identity. I realize this is a tall order, so for those people who can’t grasp the nuances, I’d prefer they defaulted to male, “he/him/his.” This isn’t the case across the board, but one can dream right? And then for those who are just getting to know me, I hope they’ll all get that I’m nonbinary, as much as there is space to have those conversations. And then as far as strangers go, I really revel in the mixture / confusion. That’s the best state for me to exist in.
To many more years!
In general, I’ve felt relieved about how few times I, as a trans person, have been asked things I don’t want to answer. Variations on this scenario have come up twice in the past 2 months though. Blech!
#1: I’m taking part in an experimental study trial for a COVID-19 vaccine. At the end of May, I had a phone interview where they screened me to see if I was healthy enough to participate. Nothing came up about medications I’m on (other than specifics they were asking for), surgeries I’ve had, or anything else gender related. They assumed I’m male based on name and voice and didn’t ask about reproductive health. I did not disclose that I’m trans, and it didn’t come up. I really enjoyed that; it felt refreshing.
The in-person screening a few weeks later, was a totally different story. I was pretty prepared for that though, for having to explain that even though I have a uterus and ovaries and all that, I won’t be getting pregnant despite not using any birth control methods (that has more to do with who I have sex with, and less about being trans – I could be trans and still get pregnant…) I was prepared to do a urine test to screen for pregnancy, despite appearing male. I was prepared to talk about my hormone replacement therapy. I was not, however, prepared when the nurse followed these questions up with, “Have you had any surgeries?” because she asked it in a way that was totally different than how she would ask about any other category of surgery. It was in a sideways, sly, under-the-table kind of way that put me completely off. I replied, deadpan, “Is that information needed for the screening?” She replied, that, yes, they did need to note any major surgeries, to which I replied that I’ve had top surgery. She asked, “What is that?” and I replied, “A double mastectomy.” She wrote it down.
#2: My co-worker, after working together for 2 years, decided to pop the surgery question. She asked it completely out-of-the-blue, apropos of nothing. I guess, at least, she prefaced it with the ominous, “Can I ask you a personal question?” I replied that she could definitely ask, and I’ll decide if I wanna answer. Then I added that I probably would answer, because although I’m extremely private with stuff, at work, I am willing to open up if people are putting in the effort. When it was THAT question, however, I told her I wasn’t going to be answering it. I am glad she asked though, and told her as much, because it led to a long conversation in which I talked to her about a bunch of other things that have been long overdue for her to know about. Such as, I don’t actually identify as a man. She did not know this. She wanted to assert that she did know my identity and that it is a boy. I told her I don’t feel like I am either a man or a woman. Pretty sure that sank in for her. I also told her that my spouse is my “spouse” and not my “wife,” as she assumed, and that they use gender neutral pronouns. And that they also now look male, but don’t identify as such either.
We talked about what people assume based on appearance and a bunch of other stuff. She compared me to a temporary co-worker we had last summer, also trans, and how he was so open and friendly and he answered all her questions including her surgery questions. I bristled at this, but didn’t let it get to me. He and I have since become friends (although I didn’t say as much). He’s gonna be how he is, and I’m gonna be how I am. Although it was uncomfortable and difficult to steer her in the directions I wanted to go in, overall I feel like we got to a new place in our dynamic. I got to tell her that surgeries are actually not that important (or at least not important for others to know about) and other things are much more welcomed, in terms of questioning. Such as, how do you feel about ___________, and whatnot. She semi-argued about what was and was not important, and she also relayed information about her friend who is now named Susan. While talking in graphic detail about Susan’s body and how it is so much more stunningly vivacious than her body, she kept using male pronouns. I did not like where she was going with this at all. I just cut in to ask, “Wouldn’t Susan want you to be using “she” and “her” for her?” She replied that since she’s known Susan for forever, Susan doesn’t care. I’m really hoping it sank in, even just a little bit though.
I feel like I held my ground in both cases and stayed true to myself. Feels good to know these things can come up and not throw me way off, anymore.
I found out a few weeks ago that the anthology I contributed to, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, is a finalist in the “LGBTQ Anthology” category! Although there won’t be a “Lammy Awards Ceremony” because of COVID-19, the winners will still be announced in early June, for 24 categories, through a format TBD. The finalists were selected by a panel of over 60 literary professionals from roughly 1,000 book submissions from over 300 publishers. I didn’t even know this anthology had been submitted / it didn’t occur to me, so finding that out through social media from one of the editors was a fun surprise.
I’ve read a few of the other books from other categories this year; here are some mini book reviews:
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – The author captures a year (more or less) of her life in which she was consumed by an emotionally abusive relationship. She also weaves in myths, legends, and historic examples of lesbian abuse through the ages. It ended up being much harder to get through than I anticipated, but it was highly rewarding. I was particularly impressed by the way she kept her ex-girlfriend at an extreme distance from the readers and simultaneously submerged us in the chaos.
A Year Without a Name by Cyrus Grace Dunham (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – This also was the story of one year, but presented in a much different way. They do a particularly good job of examining the mental health struggles that can result from the uncertainty of gender dysphoria and what to either do or not do about it. From what I can gather, they come from affluence, and they don’t mention how this plays into their experience at all (it is HUGE), which bothered me, but that might not be quite a fair assessment.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Gay Memoir / Biography) – One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. In his blurb on the book jacket, his background is in poetry, and that makes perfect sense (although his language is not overly poetic). I was absorbed fully in his experiences, specifically the ways sexuality and sexual acts became dangerously subverted for him, over time. And why the culture at large contributed to that. He also handles family dynamics deftly, painting portraits of each family member fully, so we can see and understand why they are doing the things they do and being the way they be.
Death Threat by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Ness Lee (LGBTQ Comics) – I gotta admit I can’t remember much from reading this, and that was only 3 months ago. So I just now went to go find more about it, and here’s a quick synopsis from goodreads.com: “In the fall of 2017, the acclaimed writer and musician Vivek Shraya began receiving vivid and disturbing transphobic hate mail from a stranger. Using satire and surrealism, Death Threat is an unflinching portrayal of violent harassment from the perspective of both the perpetrator and the target, illustrating the dangers of online accessibility, and the ease with which vitriolic hatred can be spread digitally.” From what I remember, the story was disjointed and difficult to follow, but the alarming nature of the situation definitely did shine through.
Looking forward to June to find out the winners!
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.
So I’ve been blogging for a while now, and I haven’t said a whole lot about my spouse, basically out of respect for their privacy. But they actually have a lot to say! Here’s just a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes:
Over the last 6 years that Kameron has been recording his gender transition journey, I have always appeared in his writing as the supportive spouse. That’s a role I have been happy to fill. Happy to be part of a couple t hat goes against the standard narrative of couples perceived as “same-sex” who split when one comes out as transmasculine/trans male. I never felt that Kameron’s transition challenged my sexual orientation—I am that rare non-binary unicorn who discovers their identity all at once, albeit belatedly. I never thought I was a lesbian, if anything other people read me as asexual. As I came into my own queer sexuality and genderqueer identity, I was falling for a pansexual gender non-conforming guy (I have no idea how he would define himself, this is how I experienced him). I embraced the po-mo complexity of my attraction to his particular queer blend of femininity and masculinity.
For me, being genderqueer gave me permission to play with my gender presentation. I had fun thrifting to build a wardrobe that reflected the spectrum of my gender expression—t-shirts from the boys section, day-glo green femme sweaters, bright blue doc marten boots, mini-skirts, baggy pants and flannel shirts. I felt more confident taking up space, and attracting the attention of other gender non-conforming queer people. But once I found myself romantically involved with someone (before Kameron), my partner assumed that I was “the more feminine one.” I felt pressured to present more femininely to heighten their tenuous, new expression of masculinity.
Now when I look back at the past 13 years of my life, I question whether I presented femininely because I internalized that pressure and carried it forward into my relationship with Kameron. Was this shift an unconscious assimilation to ease moving through the world? Or did I truly want to grow my hair out, wear skirts/dresses, and feel included in feminist spaces?! What a mindfuck! Being genderfluid makes life hella complicated. I have identified as a genderqueer femme, but that feels too limiting now. My gender expression has shifted again in the last 3 years toward a more masculine presentation. I feel more comfortable with how others see me now but I am sure that I am still perceived as a queer woman. The pendulum has simply swayed from femme to butch.
While Kameron’s transition didn’t threaten my sexual orientation, I did find myself at times feeling like I was getting left behind. I started to have strange pangs of jealousy—I had a much larger chest and have felt dysphoric about it since it first developed, but I wasn’t the one getting top surgery. I was the one sitting in a waiting room and I was the one keeping track of how much blood was accumulating in his drains, taking time off to help him with early recovery. Where were these ugly resentments coming from? I was so dissociated from my feelings and my body that it took years of watching Kameron’s transition unfold for me to start exploring my gender identity more.
It’s funny that we didn’t talk much about our gender identities with each other, I cocooned myself a bit and started parsing out what felt good and what didn’t. “She” was icky, so I asked Kameron, some close friends & family members, and co-workers to start using “they/them/theirs” for me. Ah, a sigh of relief. Then more discomfort would surface, I couldn’t wear bras anymore, not even sports bras. I threw them all away and got advice from Kameron
on various binder options. Another sigh of relief. Then a sudden surge of agitation when a friend starting dating someone with my given name. I had already been obsessively browsing Celtic baby name websites but now I felt an urgency to rename myself. Overall, I feel more comfortable with my gender now, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. I have started low-dose testosterone (shout out to Planned Parenthood for using an informed consent model) and am scheduling a top surgery consult soon. I am hoping that these steps will help alleviate my dysphoria, as it feels ever present now that I have stopped compartmentalizing it. These flooding feelings has been difficult to manage, and I’m currently battling a flare up of past restrictive eating habits.
For the longest time I couldn’t bear the attention of physically and socially transitioning. And I didn’t feel trans enough. I questioned why I had to do the emotional labor of explicitly coming out to be seen as non-binary. This has been an ongoing test of my tolerance for vulnerability. I need to be my authentic self for me, but the acknowledgement of others is overwhelming. I am a private person, I don’t have a blog, I keep a written journal. I guard my inner world with ferociousness and have a hard time trusting others. So far most people have been supportive and reached out to let me know so, but others have quietly noted signifiers (like changing my name on social media accounts) without comment. While the attention is exhausting (mostly due to my anxiety in these interactions), the silence of others is more painful. These silences have spurred me to have more in-depth conversations with those who do reach out, to push shame away and invite friends in.
**Potential spoiler alerts for Orange is the New Black, season 7**
My spouse and I were watching Season 7, Episode 8 a couple of weeks ago, and a familiar face suddenly popped up! In Piper’s story line, her sister-in-law gets the two of them to go on a transformative wilderness retreat. The leader of the retreat, Rio, is someone I used to perform drag with!!! When I saw her, on TV, I wanted to shout, That’s Windz! But since I’m historically bad at face recognition, I waited until the credits, to confirm that the actor, Linday Coryne, was for sure the person I’m remembering.
In the scene, she is teaching Piper and a group of ladies, how to hunt with a bow and arrow. She has a handful of lines, one of which is, ““Recognize the bow as both arbiter of death and provider of life; recognize the multitude that exists within each of you; be proud of it.” She’s like, part hunter, part spirit guide.
We didn’t have a whole lot of overlap, in real life. By the time I started performing in 2006, she was moving to Baltimore (if I’m remembering correctly). But she’d come back home to visit periodically and perform with the “Muthers Boyz.” I was also there, some of those nights, performing and/or watching.
Windz was the star. Within the context of this dark and dingy gay dive bar, he seemed more like a megastar. The crowd ate it up, everything he did. I definitely felt some envy toward him, at times; I looked up to him. On the other hand though, our approaches, attitudes, and motivations seemed so far from each other that it wasn’t much use to try to compare myself to him. He was doing his thing, which was very different from my thing.
The following are just my impressions and things I remember (which might be fuzzy). We didn’t actually know each other or have many conversations…
Sometimes, he put a lot of work into his costumes, especially when he was emulating Michael Jackson, which was one of the things he was most known for. His impression was spot on. Other times though, it seemed like he went on stage in just what he might have been wearing that day anyway, business casual or whatever, with no drag make-up, facial hair, or flourishes. His repertoire of songs was small. I definitely saw plenty of repeats within the few times I did see his performances. But what he did, he had it down, and he always looked like he was having a blast up there. Really drew in individuals from the audiences, creating special moments.
I, on the other hand, struggled to connect with audience members. I didn’t particularly want to; sometimes I wished I could be doing my performances in a vacuum instead. Being at a bar, at that time, was uncomfortable for me, but I was driven by the gender-play; the opportunities to try out being someone else. And for me, it was a one and done kind of thing. Once I did a song, I never did it again. (There are a handful of exceptions to this.) Like, it was onto the next thing. I was going to learn another song, try a different vibe, try new costume elements, get the essence of the original performer or time period or mood of the song or whatever. A lot of times, for me, it was silly or it was out there, robotic or other-worldly or very much effeminate or even aggro/punk. I wanted to get the whole range of gender expressions, try it all, experiment. I also used drag to work through a lot of feelings at the time. But that’s a story for another post…
I remember one time, the two of us were backstage together, and Windz said, “Maybe you should do some Duran Duran. People would be into that.” I thought to myself, “OK, at least my ’80’s vibe is shining through, but I’ve already done Duran Duran!” Haha. In Windz’s world, maybe it was more like, you collect a handful of “signature songs,” and you cycle through them. Like a radio station. For me, it was more like I was a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill.
I am, essentially, a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill. I literally do this a lot.
These photos are not the best, but they’re all I got. This was from a time before digital photography. Do you remember,way back when, taking a photo and not being able to instantly see if it turned out well or not? And then you really have only 24 chances (or 36 if you splurged for a 36 shot roll of film), and then you’re gonna pay around $7 for those 24 pictures, and after you pay, then you finally get to see whether it’s a good shot or not??? OK, so I’m fibbing a little bit. Digital photography was a thing (this was probably 2007.) It’s just that I didn’t yet have a digital camera. I brought my Pentax film camera with flash, down to the bar to try to capture some of the performances.
Windz was very aspirational. And it paid off! Holy shit – she (the person, not the drag king) is an actor on TV and stuff!!! I was super floored to recognize her on TV! I hope to see her in lots more stuff; I want to see more gender-nonconforming people in more roles in the media, like, all the time!