My partner and I met up with friends in Pittsburgh last week. We did a bunch of fun stuff – Andy Warhol Museum (on his birthday!), ate at a church converted into a brewery, saw an outdoor concert at an art gallery…
But I was most impressed by a contemporary art museum called The Mattress Factory. It was housed in 3 buildings on the same block. There were some permanent art installations that took up whole rooms and kinda blew me away. One in particular was called, “It’s all about ME, Not You,” by Greer Lankton. I’d never heard of her before, so I did a little bit of research (both at the gift shop and later, online).
The room was a fantasy version of her actual bedroom in Chicago. It had an astroturf carpet and was filled with hand-made dolls and shrines. Shrines for Jesus, Patti Smith, Candy Darling… There were Raggedy Ann dolls and Troll dolls. It’s hard to see, but the bedspread and floor next to the bed is overflowing with prescription bottles (all hers).
Greer Lankton was born in 1958. She transitioned in 1979, which was so long ago that it’s still simply stated that she had “sexual reassignment surgery,” or “a sex change,” as if that’s all that transition entails, as if that’s an appropriate way to sum it up. I wonder what it would have been like to transition in that era. She went to Pratt Institute and lived in NYC for years before moving to Chicago. She made a name for herself in the art world by making realistic dolls of friends and celebrities.
Wikipedia says she transitioned while she was a student at Pratt, and it states, “She had previously been the subject of a local newspaper article about people transitioning to a new gender.” I tried to search for this newspaper article online with no luck. I am so curious about what it would have said!
She struggled with drug addiction and an eating disorder and passed away in 1996, shortly after finishing this installation at The Mattress Factory. It became a permanent room in 2009.
At the gift shop, we saw a poster that featured Greer Lankton and many other famous transgender people. My partner ended up buying one and so did our friends. The posters were made as a way to raise funds for MOTHA (Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.) This is a museum that is not physically in existence yet, but it will be once enough money is raised. It’ll be in San Francisco (of course!) Even though it’s not yet built, the MOTHA is already doing all kinds of stuff – just check out their website.
If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, make sure to check out The Mattress Factory, and especially this one particular room on the third floor of the main building! And if you’re ever in San Francisco at an unspecified date in the future, be sure to go to MOTHA!
A reader asked,
What are the do’s and don’t’s when asking a trans*person about their experience?
What are 2-3 questions (or as many as you like) that one should NOT be asking a transgender person?
What are 2-3 questions (or as many as you like) that one SHOULD be asking a transgender person?
This reader happens to be the marketing coordinator of Simmons College, the third US women’s college to accept students who identify as transgender. She was wondering if I’d like to add to the conversation in the form of a blog post. Sure! So, officially:
I am participating in Trans*forming the Dialogue, Simmons College’s online MSW program‘s campaign to promote an educational conversation about the transgender community. By participating in this campaign, I will be offering my perspective on what TO ask and what to NOT ask trans*people.
The first thing to think about: it totally depends on how well you know the person! So, let’s break it down:
If this is someone who is a stranger, and they just introduced themselves to you, saying their name back to them is a great way to start out affirming who they are. Also asking, “What are your preferred pronouns,” is important so that you can address them to other people in the way they want/need. This is a little tricky because we’re specifically talking about visibly trans-people here. You could be meeting many trans-people throughout your life and not even know it!
Then, personally, I would steer the conversation away from trans-related topics, unless they bring it up. Oftentimes, trans-people don’t want to talk about more personal aspects upon meeting someone new. So any other great questions fall into the general getting-to-know-you category. “What brings you here?” Or, “How do you know so-and-so?” Or, “How’s your day been so far?”
If you are talking to an acquaintance and want to get to know them better, instead of asking direct questions about their experience, you could share some of your own – what was your childhood like, what was puberty like? Chances are your new acquaintance has a lot to say about growing up and will feel more comfortable sharing if you share first. Do NOT ask, “do you feel like you are trapped in the wrong body?” This is a trope perpetuated by the media that not all trans-people relate to. It’s kind of a sensationalized way of putting it. It is a sound bite. Asking about their experience is a great way to get a better understanding about how broad and different “trans-narratives” really are.
If you are a friend / ally of a trans-person, there is a lot you can do and ask! You can specifically ask, “What can I do to support you?” It might mean correcting pronouns in the moment in social situations for your trans-friend. (I know I have a hard time with this, and if someone does it for me, it feels affirming.) It might mean exploring gender expressions together – maybe going out and trying on different clothes or trying out makeup together. If you are a trusted friend, more personal questions to help you understand would probably be appropriate. “What does gender dysphoria feel like?” “How would you define your gender?” “Where are you in your coming-out process?” These questions can spark great conversations that let your trans-friend know you are engaged and interested and want to help if possible.
If you are in an intimate relationship with a trans-person, asking a lot of questions is essential! Transition related decisions will affect both of you, emotionally, financially, and energy-wise. It’s important not to press for a timeline or throw in your two cents about what your partner should be doing. You will need to adjust to the natural pace (it is a long process) and understand that there is going to be a lot of uncertainty. “What can I do to support you?” works well, but your partner might not really know in the moment. There will probably be times when gender dysphoria and frustrations are acute – during those times, just being physically present and not asking any questions might be best. In the bedroom, asking what is OK is a must. The way trans-people feel about their bodies and about sex can be wildly in flux and change from day to day. Asking, “Is this OK?” or “what if I did this?” or “What feels good right now?” is going to be better than phrasing things in the negative, such as, “What is off limits right now?” or “Where can I touch you?” These kinds of questions might lead to shut-down mode.
Questions that are never appropriate are, “Have you had any surgeries yet?” “What are you going to do about your beard?” “Do you think you will be able to pass?” Or anything else related to their bodies and their appearance. This is personal and could be triggering. Not all trans-people have the same goals or timeline. Also, some people are non-binary, and their transition goals might look very different.
If you don’t know the trans-person very well yet, and you are not sure what is OK and what is not OK to ask, just use this rule of thumb: Is this something you would ask a cisgender person? Other than the preferred pronouns question (important question you might not ask a cisgender person) this will get you far in a social situation.
A couple of days ago, I got an email from someone named Rachel, a casting associate with Magilla Entertainment, a New York-based television production company that specializes in non scripted programming. Which I’m guessing is synonymous with reality TV shows?
Here’s a link to their website and current programs: Magilla TV
They are developing a new show that will follow different people changing their lives in various ways, and one episode will focus on multiple trans-people and varying stages in their transition. They will be pairing people up with a mentor or coach to help them through aspects such as coming out, starting to wear clothes they identify with, and contemplating surgery.
Rachel asked me if I’d consider becoming a coach for the show, and although I’m flattered, there’d be NO WAY I would do this! For one thing, I’m an introvert and although I can envision contributing to an anthology or being a part of a magazine story, this is way way way too BIG. Also, the premise is intriguing, but I fear the tone could become exploitative (as is the nature of reality shows, usually).
If you’re not scared off by these types of things though, this might be the right fit for you. Here is the casting call and contact information:
ARE YOU STRUGGLING WITH YOUR GENDER IDENTITY?
Are you struggling with who you are? Do you feel like you were born into the wrong body? Are you living life as the opposite gender you were given at birth? Magilla Entertainment and a major cable network are now casting men and women who identify as the opposite gender and who are considering going through a transition for a new docu-series. If you have been struggling with your gender identity and want the support of a coach or mentor as you transition, we want to hear your story. If you think you are ready to embark on this journey, please contact us ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, age, location, occupation, contact phone number, a recent photo and a few sentences about yourself.
I’m glad for the increase in media representations lately and really hope they aim to showcase a diverse group of trans-people. Demonstrate that not all narratives are the same. (For example, point out that not every trans-person identifies with having been “born into the wrong body.” Another example: a non-binary person!) And, most importantly, to convey these struggles with the deserved respect!
This blog is largely about working as a janitor and about living as a non-binary person. I’ve struggled with the chronicling-of-my-job side of it, and with melding the two aspects of my identity. Largely this is because I am not out at work. It’s hard to write about work if I feel a block. Also I’m not always sure what to share about work… I feel tentative about it.
I am out in other areas of my life – friends all use male pronouns; relatives at least know I prefer male pronouns. In new situations, I plan to let people know about male pronouns whenever I feel like I comfortably can. But work has been a challenge, in my mind.
A big part of that is, what would I be asking for, exactly? Male pronouns, and a name change down the road. What about bathrooms? What about my appearance? I won’t be looking any different, as opposed to other trans-people who transition from one gender to the other. Is this too much to ask for? And what about kids and parents? Where do they fit in? I see teachers getting on board (Maybe? One day?), but how much can I hope for it to trickle down to students and their parents? Does it matter to me that much?
Right now, this is hurting my head. BUT, a couple of weeks ago, I took a first step! I had been wanting to fill the principal in about my recent hospitalization and absence. At the time it happened, I was vague and just left it at I was hospitalized. I did want to let her know the nature of the occurrence and just touch base about where I’m at. I figured it would be a good time to also give her a heads up about my trans-identity. I didn’t plan to ask for any accommodations or change-overs at this time – just wanted to let her know.
So I waited for a good time after school when she was still in the building. I’d been psyching myself up for a few days, so the day I decided I could do it, it was definitely going to happen. It wasn’t perfect – I knew she was getting ready for a kindergarten registration event that evening, but it kinda had to be NOW! I kept it short, knowing she had other things.
I just popped in her office, said I’d like to touch base about where I’m at – she asked me how I was doing and I said, “Much better.” Which was kinda true in the moment, but not true later on. I’ve been on a roller coaster with new med adjustments and things, but I didn’t get into all of that. I just told her that the reason I went out was that due to personal stress and work stress, I could sense my thoughts getting extremely confused and disorganized. I sought out help from my therapist, and she’s the one who brought me to the hospital. I’m on new meds, for now at least (the principal asked about side effects) and seeing my therapist more often for the time being. The principal was open and supportive.
She started to wrap things up by talking about cleaning for tonight (with the event), so I knew I had to jump in with my other purpose before the moment passed. I said, “I do have another thing to bring up, about where I’m at. I wanted to let you know that I identify as transgender.” I went on to specify that most people who ID this way transition from one gender to the other, and I don’t feel that – I feel like I am in the middle. That I’ve been in this process for years, and work is the last place. That I’m on testosterone but such a low dose that my appearance won’t be changing. That I prefer male pronouns and plan to change my name at some point. She listened intently and asked what I needed. I said nothing right now, just time to maybe talk to other people within the school and come out on my own terms. Maybe at some point an email but nothing right now. Just eventually a name and pronoun change. I asked her if she had any context for knowing about trans-people, and she said yes. And that was about it. I wrapped it up really quickly and told her thank you. She said thank you to me too.
I don’t know what this means other than one tiny step. Right now everything has felt so hard, this feels like nothing. I think in time, it may feel like I opened doors up to take further steps, but as of now, it just feels like something I got out of the way.
Here’s to happier days ahead. I should be happy about this, and hopefully it will sink in later…
Since I have a lot of extra time on my hands right now, I thought I’d read through some of my old blog entries. I came across a couple of pretty good ones that didn’t get read by many people, because I was just starting out. It takes time and energy to build a readership. I thought it’d be fun (and self-indulgent, which I could use right now) to “re-blog” one of my first posts (and edit it lightly). See if it still holds up; maybe make a commentary at the end. This one in particular was my 10th blog post, and it’s from a year and a half ago. I had been on T for 6 months at that point. It got 4 views. I think it’s of interest to more people than that!
For over a decade, I had been going back and forth thousands of times in my head about whether transitioning, or partial transition, was right for me or not. 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. But I was not quite satisfied, 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 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. But I don’t need to transition, 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, at least in my town, locally. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted it! Eventually I reached a point where I just knew that I needed to try it, 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.
Now that it’s been close to two years on testosterone, I am at a new normal. I have used the gel every single day, and the benefits have been astronomical. BUT, I forget now; I forget what I used to feel like. I can feel myself approaching a new stage, a stage where I look like someone in between, more so than I already am. This new stage might involve shaving (or plucking chin hairs at a faster pace than I currently do.) It might involve a lot more explaining and coming out. It might involve top surgery and a name change. This is my transition, in process.
I’ve been previously writing this ongoing series as “__ months/years on T without physical changes,” but I decided to change the wording from “physical changes” to “noticeable masculinizing changes” …a little more accurate. There have been some physical changes. But, ultimately, they have not added up to a more masculine gender presentation, which has been what I’m aiming for.
A quick rundown of the physical changes I have seen:
(All of these occurred within the first 2 months and then plateaued out, except the ones that have an asterisk – they started to become noticeable around the one year mark.)
- muscle growth, mostly in shoulders, chest, and abs
- moderate clitoral growth
- smell stinkier, need to shower more, get sweaty and sticky, get grosser quicker
- more peach fuzz on face, mustache teeniest-tiniest bit darker
- hairier butt crack*
- slightly more hair on thighs, where I apply the gel*
All these changes are so slight. I don’t think I look any different. Also, my voice sounds the same to me. I would say my range has shifted oh-so subtly (like when trying to sing or make high pitched or low pitched noises, which I like to do a lot), but my speaking voice is the same.
Here are a couple of pictures:
Also, please note my new summer fashion, in the first photo. I cut the sleeves off of a couple of western-style shirts, to wear over t-shirts or tank tops. The placement of the pockets & snaps helps hide what’s going on with the fact that I have a chest. In the winter, I just layer, and it’s awesome. In the summer, it is hot! Right?! If I can get away without wearing a binder, I will. (And I am grateful every single day for that.) This layered look just might do the trick. I do imagine that I will get top surgery one day. I always start thinking about it much more in the summer. What an incredible feeling it would be to just wear a tank top and be done with it!
I have not missed a day yet, applying 1.25 grams of Androgel 1% per day. The internal effects make it more than worthwhile. A quick rundown of those:
- lower levels of anxiety
- higher sex drive
- less instances of dissociating / more present in my body
- increased ability to experience bodily sensations
- more awareness of the world around me
- increased sensitivity to pain
- ability to let things just roll off my shoulders
- a lot of these are rewording similar themes: basically, a greater sense of well being!
If you wanna look back at where I’ve been, here are some past posts about this topic:
- Five months on T without physical changes
- Eight months on T without physical changes
- Eleven months on T without physical changes
- One year on T without physical changes
And also, a video about it, at the one year mark.
My non-binary self has made it one whole year on testosterone(!!!), and it feels like there’ll be no end in sight (I wasn’t planning on there being an end). I still feel highly motivated to apply the topical gel (Androgel) daily. The benefits have been more than I could have even imagined.
If you’re a numbers person, this paragraph is for you (if you’re not, just go ahead and skip it): There are probably a lot of estimations about what is considered a “normal” range for testosterone. There are plenty of articles and websites to find info on levels, and what “free testosterone” is, etc. Also, I’m not a scientist. I’m a janitor. So I’m just going based on what my blood-work form says: Females have a general T range of 14-76 ng/dl Males have a general T range of 300-800 ng/dl. I started at 59. I’m now at 102.3.
This makes quite a bit of sense in that I am now in neither a female nor a male range. Which is how I’ve felt myself to be for a very long time, and it’s now being reflected within this potent hormone/steroid level. It’s not high enough to be exhibiting secondary male sex characteristics. But it’s high enough for me to feel much more comfortable in my skin, being someone who is non-binary in this specific way.
Instead of repeating a lot of that info, I thought I’d go back to what I wrote a year ago. I did not yet have this blog (I started it last July); I was writing in a paper journal about what it felt like to start testosterone. Here are a few choice excerpts:
3/18/13 – My initial start level was 59. I’m hoping for about 100 or so [good guess!] – enough to feel different, but not enough to induce physical changes… Applied it to my shoulders. It was a lot more, volume-wise than I was expecting. Didn’t notice any changes, but had a dream that night that two men (strangers) were out on the street, checking out each others’ erections and making sure things were working properly.
3/19/13 – Felt just kind of increasingly calm, which can be attributed to any number of things… Toward the end of my work day, I was reclining on an inclined weight bench (I clean the weight room) listening to my mp3 player, and when I sat up, my visual field was new and improved. Everything looked sharper, brighter, more organized. I scanned the room and structured it by color for the first time. Made me wonder if I’ll be able to “see” differently.
3/22/13 – Switched to applying it to inner thighs. Makes more sense in terms of touching and potential transfer. I’ve been feeling really warm and fuzzy lately, which is the best part of this whole thing. Still feel calm, and simultaneously energized, like relaxergized!!!
3/29/13 – I need to convey more how awesome everything is. Anxiety is gone completely. I have never felt this way in my life. I’ve never been on Extacy, but I’m gonna take a guess I’m feeling similar to that. Last night, I rolled around on the living room floor like a dog. I’m just kinda reveling in my own skin over here – I feel so safe in my body.
The intensity of these feelings has, of course, diminished over time (although wouldn’t it be cool if I could feel this high for the rest of my life? Even that would get boring though haha.) But the difference between where I was and where I am, in terms of how I feel, is so great that there’s no question for me about whether I should continue.
My voice hasn’t dropped. I don’t have to shave my face. I don’t look any more masculine, in my opinion. However, I do think my face shape is morphing ever so slightly. It’s hard to know what might be due to aging and what might be due to testosterone. But here are some pics to illustrate:
I’m continuing to walk this fine line between experiencing incredible internal changes, which makes the decision to continue taking T a no-brainer, and feeling concern about long-term physical changes. So far, this line is still in place, and all is well.
I’ve been posting about progress on testosterone super infrequently. There’s a couple of reasons for this: 1. I’m definitely feeling like I’m in it for the long term (both taking T and writing this blog), so it’s more like spurts of data over a lot period of time, rather than data overload and then burnout, or something like that. 2. There’s really not a whole lot to report! I mean, I’ve been experiencing a ton of internal changes. But things are feeling pretty stabilized, and there’s not a ton of exciting new information. Here’s a recap / rundown:
I’m using Androgel 1%, 1 pump (1.25g) daily.
Physical changes: what I have noticed has been sooooo minimal, which I’m so psyched about. And these changes happened within the first 2-3 months, and I’m not seeing much new here since. I noticed a slight filling out of my mustache, a few longer light-colored hairs on my chin, a slight broadening of my shoulders with some muscle growth in my pecs, biceps, and shoulders. My clitoris got bigger over the course of a few days about 2 months in, and hasn’t changed since then. I’ve gotten a little sweatier and smellier (feeling the desire to shower more frequently), and I seem to have a higher tolerance for cold, which is awesome! There is one physical change that I’m noticing more recently: I’m seeing slightly darker hairs at the application site. I apply the gel to my upper thighs, and there’s definitely some slight hair growth. The one change I’m feeling ambivalent about and unsure of is voice dropping. I keep being hyper aware and concerned. No one else seems to be able to tell there is any difference. So far, I haven’t made vocal recordings because I don’t want to obsess over it any more than I already am. I think the difference is so slight, and that voices are moving, dynamic, changing things anyway, that there’s really no cause for concern. Largely, I worry that certain changes plateaued soon and were pretty negligible, but that perhaps my voice will keep dropping the longer I’m on T. I’ll just have to wait to find out. I may start making voice recordings, if I think it’ll help.
Internal changes: The internal changes I talked about at 5 months included drastic decrease in anxiety, increase in sex drive, feeling grounded and connected and warm and fuzzy, and changes in sensations of pain. I’m still reveling in all of these things. It is still plenty of reason to keep taking T, despite my concern over experiencing physical changes. For about 6 months, my anxiety levels were at 0, which I have never experienced before in my entire life. Now they’re fluctuating, like life tends to cause, but at a much lower, more tolerable level, than I was experiencing pre-T. Increased sex drive feels sustainable, and has allowed me to explore new (dormant?) areas of my sexuality I hadn’t been able to tap into before. Sensations of pain and feeling connected to my body have been starting to dwindle in awesomeness, I think because I’m getting used to it, and can’t recall what it used to feel like, to compare then and now, as much. Everything is dwindling in awesomeness, and I keep trying to remind myself how different in a negative way, my bodily experiences were, pre-T.
The effects of T have been a dream come true for me. I’ll be back with a T update in a few more months! (These photos are from 5 months and then 8 months. I guess I’m looking at whether there’s a change in my face shape over time. So far, I can’t notice anything. This pleases me.)
I’ve been going to a chiropractor about once a month for over 5 years. I have mild scoliosis; my back goes out of alignment in a way that always throws my hips off. Plus, working as a janitor requires a lot of repetitive motions – I try to alternate between right and left as much as I can, but I know I’m skewing to the right anyway. I want to do whatever I can to prevent ever having a back injury.
My doctor noticed the scoliosis when I was 13 and treated it by having me wear a lift in my left shoe. Is this really a treatment for scoliosis? I’d been wearing the lift my whole life right up till seeing this chiropractor. He immediately said I didn’t need it. He was definitely right. The appointments always go the same way. He uses the same motions and tools to put me back into alignment. It is a very short amount of time. I can feel the improvements every time I walk out. Sometimes I’m doubtful about how long the effects last though, when I’m going right back to the same tasks every day…
I had an appointment two weeks after starting testosterone, back in April. The routine seemed slightly different, and he commented I was looking good. I wasn’t planning to, but I mentioned the testosterone. I figured he might have some questions – at least ask me why I was taking it. I’ve never said anything about how I identify to him; he’s totally cool though. I imagine he’d totally take it in stride. He didn’t ask though. All he said was, “testosterone will do wonders for muscle mass, but we’re looking at your whole system here. Your spine works in tandem with muscles, joints and ligaments – it’s also connected to every single internal organ.” I think he went on, but I didn’t really catch it all because it sounded like jargon of the profession to me. He was just laying the groundwork to let me know it is important I keep coming.
I am really debating though. I’ve gone 3 more times since then, and I don’t seem to be nearly as far out of alignment as I was before the testosterone. I can’t know for sure because I can’t quite see what he’s doing and I don’t know enough about it. But I’ve been feeling like it might not be necessary. And he’s said more things to the effect of, it’s important to keep fine-tuning your body. Like one time he told me an extended metaphor about not even Yo Yo Ma being able to play well with a shitty, out-of-tune cello. Or something.
I never thought testosterone would change anything about my back, but it does make sense. If I’m developing some muscle strength to balance things out, I might be able to hold the alignment better. I do think my core muscles have shifted, so that if my back is a lever, it has become a slightly more efficient lever than it was before. That is so cool! I’m still going every month in the meantime, but I’m trying to figure out whether I want to continue or not…