About a year ago, I featured the story of an internet friend, here: Guest post – Kale
We lost touch for a while, but as the year came to a close, I wanted to see where they were at, transition-wise and otherwise. We corresponded for a bit, and they sent this update:
Hi! My name is Kale and I wrote a guest blog post for Kameron over a year ago when I first started taking testosterone. I live, mostly, in Newfoundland, where it’s cold and grey a lot of the year. I suppose it goes without saying that a lot has changed for me in the past year. I’m writing this today after making a monumental change to my appearance and expression of self this very morning. After five years of having them I decided to cut off my dreadlocks. I know some of you might be thinking “what does that have to do with taking testosterone or being transmasculine?” Well, I believe that all the choices we make about our bodies, not just the big ones like taking hormones or having surgery, impact our experience of self enormously. And though I hate to think on my dreads in a negative way I know they were a kind of crutch for me for a long time. If you think about it dreads are very gender neutral. Whether a man or a woman has dreads it doesn’t matter; the dreads will more or less look the same. And certainly once my dreads were long enough they obscured my neck, my slender feminine neck.
Well after a year it seems my neck isn’t as slender as it once was. In fact a lot of things about my body are very different. It amazes me how I can feel so much the same and so very different all at the same time. On the one hand the differences feel right to me, feel like the me I always expected to be, and I know that makes a huge difference. On the other hand I know there is so much about me that is the same, the integral parts of me that will never change, no matter what. I think a lot of folks, myself included, fear changes that will alter who they perceive themselves to be. It’s a legitimate fear but I don’t think it’s grounded in any reality. I know that I am the same person I’ve always been except now I feel closer to that person and so much happier. I should say that I identify with being transmasculine but do not feel comfortable with many labels. Every label I’ve ever tried on did not fit well enough to make me feel comfortable with it. Right now I like to say that I do not feel like a man or a woman. I feel like myself and that person has masculine and feminine traits.
Generally I feel more attuned to my masculine side and that was a huge factor in my choosing HRT. Being read as female, therefore feminine only, made me feel very unlike myself. I could not live that way feeling like no one saw me for who I was. A year later my voice is pretty low and I have the faintest line of hair over my upper lip. My veins pop out of my forearms and my pecs and shoulders have muscles they never had before. Strangers almost always think I’m a man. This is my new reality. It generally feels good to me but it’s not perfect. I’m not a man. I don’t really want to consistently be thought of as one. I take what I can get though because in this society being seen as neither a man nor a woman is a pretty unrealistic goal. I feel closer to my masculine side so being read as a man is less difficult than being read as a woman.
The other huge reason I chose HRT was my association with my genitals and my experiences of sex. For whatever reason I am cursed with the desire to have male genitalia. It fucking sucks. I cannot imagine having bottom surgery despite the fact that I really would rather male genitalia. I’m so not ready to even entertain that idea and I don’t know if that will ever change. I wasn’t entirely sure what testosterone would do for my relationship with my genitals but it certainly seemed worth trying. This was hands down the best choice of my life. I can’t express how thankful I am that I had the ability to make this choice. Before HRT I often could not derive sexual pleasure from my junk; it just didn’t feel like it was a part of me. That feeling was exasperating. I felt incredible guilt because I loved my partner but I could not enjoy sex with them. I don’t know how to describe the difference in my genitals other than it feels like what I imagine having male genitalia feels like. I have experienced some clitoral growth but it’s so much more than that. The difference is mind blowing, truly, and I wish I could find the words to express what it actually feels like but I can’t seem to. I hate to use the cliche but it’s so accurate; my body feels like my body now.
Despite all the ways I am so thankful for testosterone, I don’t like to put excessive emphasis on HRT. It was right for me in that moment in time. It’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone. And certainly I don’t think HRT is the only thing that’s helped me with my sense of self. If I want to I can think about my dreads negatively, as being a crutch. Or I can think about them positively, as being a big part of how I expressed myself authentically. Having dreadlocks and using HRT are both choices I made to feel closer to the person I feel inside. There’s so many ways that we can learn to be happy in our own bodies and the only thing that matters is that; each individual person’s happiness. I am so happy I found the courage to choose HRT but there are still days I look in the mirror and wonder who I am, what I think I’m doing. They’re less often, definitely, but they’re still there. This life is a journey, happiness is a journey and there’s no end until you’re dead. I wish I could say HRT made me completely whole and happy and yay now my days of feeling dysphoria and sadness are over! But it’s just not true. Happiness is not something you attain once and that’s it; it’s something you have to always work for. My intent in saying all this is to remind folks of certain realities. And I need to remember them as much as anyone. Life is hard. Go easy on yourself. Love yourself, no matter what you may feel sometimes. If there’s one thing I’ve taken out of this last year and all my experiences with my changing body it’s this.
I like how Kale starts this piece with hair-related changes, and then gets more into it from there. I also use my hairstyle to obscure my slender feminine neck! What are some things you do to help feel more congruent with your gender identity?
If you’d like to write a guest post, please go for it! You can just click on “ask me something” at the top of the page…
Some well known information about binding was finally proven empirically, for the first time ever, and published last week in Culture, Health, and Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention, and Care. The data was collected in the form of an online survey, where participants self-reported about their preferences, habits, and symptoms, as it relates to binding their chests. The sample size was 1,800 people, from 38 countries, ages 18-66 years old, who were either assigned female at birth, or intersex, but encompassed 70 different gender identities. The data was collected in April and May of 2014.
I highly recommend reading this article. View the full article here: Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: a community engaged, cross-sectional study.
Although very little from this study may be surprising among people who have experience with binding, this data is so important, because sometimes it takes surveys and studies to change public opinions, and hopefully that continues to happen sooner rather than later. Specifically, if harmful effects are proven, maybe pressure will be put on health insurance companies so that more people can access top surgery.
97.2% of respondents reported at least one negative outcome from binding. The most common symptoms were:
1. back pain (53.8%)
2. overheating (53.3%)
3. chest pain (48.8%)
4. shortness of breath ((46.6%)
5. itching (44.9%)
6. bad posture (40.3%)
7. shoulder pain (38.9)
Other symptoms included (and some of these are really severe):
8. rib fractures
9. rib or spine changes
10. shoulder joint “popping”
11. muscle wasting
18. respiratory infections
20. abdominal pain
21. digestive issues
22. breast changes
23. breast tenderness
27. skin changes
28. skin infections
From the article:
“Although binding is associated with many negative physical health outcomes, it is also associated with significant improvements in mood and mental health. In response to open ended questions about mental health effects and motivations for binding, participants consistently affirmed that the advantages of binding outweighed the negative physical effects. Many participants said that binding made them feel less anxious, reduced dysphoria-related depression and suicidality, improved overall emotional wellbeing and enabled them to safely go out in public with confidence.”
“Commercial binders were the binding method most consistently associated with negative health outcomes, possibly because such binders have the potential to provide more compression than other binding methods. This finding is inconsistent with community perceptions that commercial binders represent the safest option.”
-multiple sports bras
The first time I bound my chest, I used duct tape, for a drag show. This was about 10 years ago. I quickly moved on to ace bandages. Shortly after, a trans-friend gave me one of his old binders that had stretched too much for him to feel comfortable in. It was too big for me, but it was pretty effective anyway. Still, I didn’t like it at all, preferring to just layer my shirts. Over the next 10 years, I’ve purchased 2 binders from Underworks, and 3 binders that were actually almost tolerable, just compressing the breast region, and from the outside looking like a ribbed tank-top. Still, I didn’t like it at all, and only very rarely wore any of these things. Like, if we were going out and then going to a movie, I might wear the binder, but as soon as we’d get to the movie theater, I’d go to the bathroom just to take the thing off, because it’s not a huge deal, while sitting in the dark.
If you’re interested in another study about trans- and gender non-conforming people, Here’s an interesting one that I summarized: “A Gender Not Listed Here.”
-Works cited: Sarah Peitzmeier, Ivy Gardner, Jamie Weinand, Alexandra Corbet & Kimberlynn Acevedo (2016): Health impact of chest binding among transgender adults: a community-engaged, cross-sectional study, Culture, Health & Sexuality.
Last week, I made a video using my computer for the first time. If you’ll bear with me for the first 25 seconds, I do eventually start talking. It gets off to a slow start, as I am momentarily mesmerized by my own interior decorating. 🙂
I posted this video on YouTube on a new collaborative channel called Undefine Me. The channel has a handful of people who identify in a lot of different ways, talking on a weekly basis about sexuality, gender, and similar topics. I don’t think I’ll be contributing much by way of video, but I’ve started writing on their blog. You can too, if you feel so inclined!
The reason I decided to make a video is because I feel like I have something to say. And I’ve been writing an awful lot about it here on my blog. (So if you read this blog, all the info in the video will be redundant!) But I think there are a lot of people who might be more inclined to watch a video than to read a blog post. (I am not one of those people!) So, this video is for them, and I’m putting it out there in the hopes they’ll somehow find it.
If you’d have known me in college, you’d know 1) I was fond of saying, “One day I will be a drag king” and 2) I appeared to be one of the least likely candidates ever, for such an endeavor. I was beyond shy. I had very few friends, so it’s not likely you would have know me in college anyway! I avoided people at a lot of costs – never attended parties, found the back entrances and emergency staircases to buildings so as not to walk with the masses, went to dining halls at off times, etc.
But I was mesmerized by the idea. I wanted to personify different artists. I wanted to be seen by others in this specific context, which largely meant being seen as male. Then again, I never danced. I never went to bars, night clubs, drag shows. It was all just a hypothetical idea.
Fast forward a year after graduation. I was living at home with my parents, just starting out in my career as a janitor. I had gone to a drag show once with some friends. I was starting to make friends. The way the drag kings presented themselves was enviable, but also to me, a little uncomfortable. They were so overtly macho and sexual. Wasn’t so sure about that. They were fun to watch, but could I actually do that? Still, I never ever danced, let alone grind up on strangers and gyrate on poles.
I knew of one drag king, a friend of a friend, named Maurice (K). But we had never met. She worked at a local historic theatre, so when I found myself there, with my mom, I decided to ask, does K still work here? The person replied, “I’m K!” I told her that we have a mutual friend, and it’s really cool to meet you and stuff. She said we should hang out; she told me when her next show was.
I went to that dingy dive-of-a-gay-bar; it was my first time there, and I’m sure I arrived early. The floor was black, the bar was black, the walls were black, the tiny stage was black. The only thing that seemed only slightly fabulous was the shimmery silver drapes that lined the wall behind the stage. A mix of techno and hip-hop hits blared way too loudly. A few people milled about in groups. I was there with a friend; we didn’t drink. We stood around awkwardly.
I don’t recall much about the lineup that night, but I can still picture this mysterious potential friend’s performance vividly. Maurice had on a pink blazer and a visor. Everything about him was colorful – his swagger, his movements, his outfit. I’d never heard the song before, but I was instantly in love with it. (I asked him later; it was Japan – The Unconventional. I tracked it down on record soon after, and listened to that whole album over and over and over.)
He was certainly not exuding a macho persona, and he’d tell you he’s not going for sexual overtones (although I’d argue they’re there, unconventionally). I mean, of course! There are so many styles of music from which to draw from. Not just hip-hop, country, and pop punk, which was all I ever saw from anyone else. Maybe I could do this thing, if I just stuck to what I liked, which tended toward effeminate anyway. Glam rock, new wave, post-punk, there were all sorts of things to explore. And somehow, my path let me to find this person who was already doing this thing, his way, and wanted to connect with me about it.
After the show, he asked me, “So have you thought of being a drag king? You wanna be one?” And the rest is history. (By which I mean, there’s more to come.)
David Sylvian, of Japan, looks so very effeminate, in this video, and always. Maurice was, essentially, a woman impersonating a man who looks an awful lot like a woman. It was fantastic.
The reasons I’m writing so sporadically about my changes on low-dose testosterone are because:
1. I don’t have much to report!
2. I plan on this being a long term endeavor, both this blog, and the actual taking of the testosterone. So, I mean, I can’t foresee the future, but I imagine I’ll be around 4 years from now, 6 years from now, updating about T-changes every once in a while. I do want to document the long term here.
To summarize, I started using 1.62% of Androgel, 1.25g / day. After 2 months, I was getting concerned with the changes I was seeing (however slight they were), so I asked to be lowered to 1%. And have not seen any further changes since then. I have been highly motivated to continue applying the gel every day. For about 6 days early on, I was alternating days (my doctor’s suggestion) in an attempt to slow progress, and I did not enjoy this skipping of days at all! Since then I have not missed a day.
I have been experiencing some incredible internal changes due to the added testosterone in my body. Some were expected (and were the reasons for me to seek it out) and some were a complete surprise.
1. Increased sex-drive (expected)
2. Increased sensitivity to pain, and all physical sensations, actually (surprise)
3. Increased connectedness with my body, decreased gender dysphoria (not totally a surprise)
4. Decreased general anxiety, big time (surprise)
I don’t have any voice recordings or even very many photos, which is partially due to not being tech savvy (I’m trying to learn little by little here), and partially a tactic I’m employing to help myself not obsess too much. But I do realize it means I don’t have much “proof.” *
I’m thinking about making a video at my one year mark. Maybe. If I can figure out how to do that.
I do have these pictures of my face though. I don’t see myself looking more masculine (yet) but maybe I am getting there, very very slowly… Will just have to wait to find out…
These last 2 photos are sort of to illustrate how we can look pretty different, just from day to day, from photo to photo. I could spend hours taking photos of myself and most of them I’d probably look at and say, “that doesn’t even look like me!” (Luckily I didn’t do that – it’s sort of a rush job. Also, do I think I look like myself? Not sure.)
* It’s not a goal of mine to prove anything in particular (such as, that taking T long-term without masculinizing changes is possible). But if I find that this is possible, I’ll continue to be very very happy! My main goal is to be out there with a different perspective. A different set of reasons for having started testosterone, and a different set of reasons for wanting to continue. And to see what happens along the way. And to talk with people about it! (OK, so that was more like a 5 part goal.)
For over a decade, I had been going back and forth hundreds (thousands?) of times in my head about whether transitioning was right for me or not. Or if not every aspect of it, what about this but not that? Will I ever move forward with some aspect maybe? At some point not that long ago, I seemed to come to the conclusion that no, I wasn’t going to move forward because if I were, I would have done something about it by now. And I haven’t, so I’m not. I must be lacking some internal drive, so it must not be something that I need to do. I settled on identifying as genderqueer and trans* but not planning on medically transitioning in any way. And I seemed satisfied with that. (?) But not quite, or, no, not at all actually. Because it was still on my mind. Sometimes just as whimsical musings in the back of my brain. Other times as pervasive/invasive body-dysphoric consistent ruminations.
I guess I always thought that if I did move forward with something, it would be top surgery, and not HRT. Because I never want to consistently pass as male. I want to continue looking androgynous forever. Top surgery could help with that (although I’m fortunate in that I can get away without surgery, and without binding, in hiding what I have). Taking testosterone would be going further than I want to go. So I thought.
I thought it had to be all or nothing. I thought I had to have a case ready about how I need to transition, in order to access testosterone. And I don’t need to transiton, and I really don’t like to lie. I thought I would need a letter from a therapist, and to jump through all these hoops, to access testosterone. And I wasn’t even sure I wanted it! Eventually I reached a point where I just knew that I needed to try it, at some point, just so that I could know. So that at the very least, I could think about it differently or think about it less often, as it relates to a decision about something I should or should not do.
I have this awesome therapist. She doesn’t know much about trans* identities. I’m fairly certain she had not previously had a trans* client before, although I could be wrong. I’d been talking to her about this stuff, and she’d been following along, more or less, in stride. When I would say I need to try this out, she would say, “then why not!” I asked her if she’d write me a letter if need be, and she said she wouldn’t be comfortable doing that; she doesn’t have enough knowledge about it. Still operating under the assumption that I would need a letter, I started also seeing another therapist, basically for the purpose of getting a letter.
This second therapist gave me the name of a doctor during our first session. Turns out that, apparently, I didn’t need a letter! Turns out I didn’t need to convince anyone at any point that I wanted to transition medically. I never once had to lie to get my hands on testosterone. And once I did get my hands on it, I was given the freedom to experiment with the dosing, basically use as much or as little as I wanted. Turns out I want to use as little as possible. Turns out I might be able to stay on it for the rest of my life without looking any more masculine than I currently do (this has yet to be proven, but it’s been 6 months now, and so far, so good). And the internal effects, with this super low dose, are significant and pretty much better than I could have even hoped for.
Basically, for all those years of wondering and second-guessing and processing and feeling anxious and obsessing and daydreaming and doubting myself and ultimately sort of concluding by default that I wouldn’t take any steps forward, actually doing something about it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
And in retrospect, it isn’t like there’s no turning back, to some extent. Testosterone is a slow-moving substance in terms of long-term changes… I’m really enjoying the internal forward momentum though.
We’re getting a new roof on the house this week. So loud! They’re starting every morning at 7:30, and I’ve just gotten home from work around midnight the night before and am trying to get enough sleep in.
Yesterday, the roofers had a big pile of debris in the driveway, and I had to get through – I was leaving for work. About 4 of them were there, shovelling stuff, and the foreman yelled out, “Clear a path!” They started moving stuff out of my way, and as I walked past a garbage bin, one of the guys dumped a shovelful into it (which I had no problem with). The foreman yelled, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Grandpa!” And I got really confused. Who is Grandpa? Is he calling me Grandpa? It wouldn’t be the first time – it’s kind of a thing that I’m called Grandpa, or “Baby Grandpa.” But how would this guy know that?!!
The one they were actually calling Grandpa seemed flustered too. Apparently he got yelled at for dumping stuff too close to where I was walking. In his defense, he said, “I thought he was with the crew.”
“Grandpa” was later confirmed when I talked to the owner of the company on the phone, and he said if I have a question, I can ask Paul, the foreman, or Steve, “the one they call Grandpa.”
I like being mistaken for someone on the crew!!! (better than thinking I was mistaken for “grandpa.”)
Later that day at work, I found an advertisement for a book in one of the teacher’s trash. It was this book, “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” and it claims the way to babysit a grandpa is to eat olives served on fingertips; look for lizards, cool rocks, and dandelion puffs; and somersault across the room. Not sure about your grandpa, but mine loves olives and he helped me out with a roofing repair about a year ago.