Monday, January 28, 2008

reversible difference

When I first started taking testosterone I was constantly on the lookout; watching the bodies of the men around me, wondering what might happen, how my body may look after these hormones did their job. Now, less than a year down that path I find myself looking around at the androgynes around me. I wonder how my hips might change and if the shape of face might become too much to handle. I soften those fears with knowing that at least my face will be hairy, and yes, maybe my jaw will recede a little and my shoulders soften up again, but my vocal cords will never return to their previous state. I doubt that I will ever pass as a woman again, despite putting a hold on my hormone treatments. Which the exact reason I feel comfortable doing so. I had my last shot a month ago. I technically should've had another 2 weeks ago, and another tonight. I have a vial of T on my bathroom counter and I have a box of needles in my room. I could grab a swab, syringe, an 18 g. and a 22 g. and put this whole questioning to rest . There is a "prescribed path" which many doctors, transfolks and community resources and old school ideas portray:
  1. Undergo analysis
  2. Undergo hormone therapy indefinitely
  3. Undergo chest surger(ies/y)
  4. Undergo bottom surger(ies/y)
  5. Live invisibly as a straight man and NEVER SPEAK OF ANY OF THIS! unless you absolutely must and the you are allowed to use variations the following terminology to describe yourself:
  • born in the wrong body
  • used to think I was gay
  • I knew this was exactly since I was 2- Never a doubt
  • I am 100% man
  • etc.
I have always had difficulty doing things the way people would like me to, and have never been a huge fan of the medical establishment. So here I am, a queer transperson who doesn't fit the binary genders of male or female. I feel comfortable living my life as male, but want that to be more on my terms.
It seems similar to when I had braces as a young teen. I fought my parents for years, I hated kids with braces, and more than anything I hated the smile that kids who used to have braces were left with. It was "perfect" and exactly the same as every other kid in my grade 7 class. I kicked and screamed in a way only 13 year old girls know how to do right, that , "I DON'T WANT A DR. LAMONT SMILE." I warded it off for 2 years, and then my eye teeth grew in approximately an inch above my gum line and the pain impeded my ability to eat. I had teeth growing into my lips. I finally gave in, had the molds done. I made my way out of class for 2 years as they week by week pulled my eye teeth down into line with the rest. When finally the whole procedure had given a satisfactory result, the ortho removed the wires and handed me my plastic retainer. He warned me that if I didn't wear it my front teeth would overlap again, and my teeth could go back to the way they were 2 years of pain ago. I knew that there was no way my teeth were going to cut an inch back up into my gums, so I never wore that retainer. The reversible effects didn't bother me, because the primary concern was that with permanent effects. The reversible effects of testosterone are
  • body fat and muscle may take on a more typically estrogen inspired configuration on the body- less muscle mass, fat moving from the the belly back into the tits and ass.
  • may re-start menstruation.
  • body and facial hair may become more fine, but will not disappear.
  • moods will probably shift.
  • energy levels may change.
  • voice will not change back- once the vocal chords have stretched, it sticks.
I haven't had an oophectomy (ovarian removal) so monitoring hormone levels that could put me at a risk of osteoporosis is not a huge concern. (If you have be sure to keep in touch with your docs and on top of your levels.)

An androgynous gender is something that I have lived with my entire life, up until recently. And I realize, that although technically living within the binary of gender of male is possible and feels pretty great most of the time, these days gender queers are taking back choices in their lives all over the place. Gender neutral bathrooms are on the rise, an awareness of folks who are neither M or F is getting recognized. In some countries they have created an O (other category for gender designation on legal identification.) I am inspired by the gender queers and androgynes around me who are forging the roads through gender in a way that works for them. I am also renewing my thoughts on passing, transitioning, living in the space in between and making male what I need it to be for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lessons from the Locker Room

Male only spaces where a transman is unquestionably welcome are unquestionably uncommon. Many transpeople avoid places like public pools, team sports, gyms, bath houses and other gendered spaces, especially ones that involve getting naked in front of other people. Our bodies are marked, some with scars and others with parts that stand out in their difference. I know I am one of very few who feels that I can access the gendered space within the public swimming pool and gym, and I have a very specific way of going about that. I take risks many people trans or cysgendered (being of a sex and gender that match, and always have- someone who isn't trans or intersexed. I use this term instead of "normative" because there doesn't need to be anything "non-normative" about being trans) folks living in marked bodies never would. I recognize that for many people the thought of entering such a potentially judgmental, vulnerable space is the trigger to large amounts of anxiety. I also venture into these spaces with the awareness that I could find myself there at the wrong time, with the wrong person, and be in a very dangerous position. I play through the scenario almost every time I take the right turn into the mens space.

It's a quiet night at the pool, one man rinses the chlorine off of his hairy body and another ties his shoes and tucks his towel into his bag to leave. I tuck my shoes into a locker, and take my board shorts and neoprene binding tank top into the bathroom stall to change. I find it interesting that in any womens changing area I have ever been in there are accommodations for self conscious individuals who'd rather change out of the judging eyes; but here in the mens changing room I slip into the disabled bathroom stall setting my clothes on the toilet paper dispenser as they come off. The man from the shower strolls over to the sink stand and starts his evening ritual, brushing his teeth, cleaning his ears, whatever else men do at the sink of the pool changing room- he's standing there naked, if it was morning he'd shave. He sings to him self and happens to look over just as my lulu lemon super tight sports bra binder top falls from the toilet paper dispenser to the floor, visible below the stall door. He stops singing and stares in my direction, waiting for the door to open. I sense the tension and tuck my tits neatly into the neoprene top and tuck all my clothes together to stash in the locker. As I try and slip past me he throws out some comment, maybe it's "shame your bra fell on the floor faggot", or maybe something more in my face, "you're in the wrong place lady." Or just something silent, a comment played out with a fist or a foot slipped in my way. Maybe it isn't one guy, maybe its a group of them, younger than me and outsizing me and outnumbering me, with a point they need to prove.

This hasn't happened and hopefully; being that this is the west coast and that I have yet to see the changing room anything but bustling at anytime of day my luck may hold. I don't say too much, rarely strike up conversations, because despite the passability of my voice, I am new to this. I don't know the social code of the mens room. I try to not look at anyone's cock, or make eye contact. But I do listen. I learned a lot about body image, growing up, what my body may some day look like from the shower room time I had as a young girl. I never had that experience of learning how to be a man, until now. I am becoming familiar with a number of reoccurring characters, and their lives and interests.
The men who bathe in the mornings always seem to be talking about the poor markets, the troubles in the world, politics and economics. These men have watched CNN and had their coffee before I have finished my last dream and are on their way out of the pool by the time I am hauling my sorry ass across the street and into the cold water for the rude awakening to brake the hangover. There's one older Irishman who always enters the changing room like its a party at the seniors center with all his best naked buddies, "Hello, hello, how are you all today? I'm great, it's the rest of the world that seems to be having problems!" I once heard him recount the story of returning from war, and becoming a man. He had been serving in the force and when he returned home, still at the tender age of 18 he got off the train and started the walk home. He was stopped on his way and asked where he was headed.
"I'm going home to see me mum."
"No sir, if you are man enough to serve your country you are man enough to come out to drink to it."
He reckoned that first sip marked the beginning of his life as an alcoholic, and he didn't make it home to see his mum that day.
I hear about the stock market and I hear languages I don't understand, I hear men asking each other about their wives, their kids and early retirement. I hear war stories and see fathers helping a son tie his shoes. This men only, let's get naked and chat space is my incubator for the male experience. I study it like the eggs we hatched in my kitchen when I was 14. Watching, listening, and keeping my eyes down and being very nonchalant yet cautious about everything.
I study. I learn.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Perceptions of Masculinity

Growing up in western North America in the 1990's has left many imprints of time and place on my character. I remember the conversations of my conservative family members, generations rooted in resource based industry, loggers, ranchers, farmers, and trades peoples, around the dinner table as a child. I remember the attitudes of anti-francophone, western Canadians during the Quebec referendum. I remember the internal conflicts created between my own budding activist and conservationist politics, with the familiarity with irresponsible forest management. My young vegetarian tendencies clashing with the meat and potatoes of a working family. I have grown and despite how much of a head-spin it may have caused me at 17 to be told that within ten years I wouldn't be as "left" as I was then, I can see my extremism settling into attitudes built up from a whole different set of influences, a queer feminist politic that considers the environment, but also critically analyzes class and privilege and doesn't necessarily make all of the most "socially-responsible" decisions, but does help me do whats right for me. Self care. I was also raised with an idea of self care that has evolved, and is no longer so centered around fear. Other childhood dinner table memories I have include the kidnapping of Michael Dunahee, and the constant awareness that a young girl like myself shouldn't be out alone, especially at night, if I didn't want to get raped. Rape was a constant threat, I think I was afraid of being raped long before I understood what rape was or had any idea about sex, sexuality, consent, abuse, etc. As my appearance to the world has changed, and rather rapidly, my role within the Rape victim/potential rapist street theater has reversed. I started noticing the different attitudes of women around me long before I started medically transitioning, but the reactions that now remind me of how much I have changed are those of the men. I was walking down the street the other night, amped from derby practice and going over to a friends house when the man I was following on the street, an older guy, maybe 35-40, suit and briefcase, turned and asked over his shoulder, "you aren't going to mug me are you?"
I was shocked, I suppose I was larger and younger than him, dressed in a lower income bracket's uniform of a plaid loggers jacket and jeans, but I was so surprised. I just sort of laughed and said, "well no, are you gonna mug me?".
I can't seem to shake some of the lessons that I absorbed as a child, and even the ones I never fully adopted, but heard, took into consideration, criticized and lived with in the back of my mind. My grandfathers racism, my uncles belligerence to environmentalists, and the word of every woman around me; that women are too often victims, and that we'd best live with fear. A fear that keeps my grandmother in her apartment, even in fear there, that some young punks will break in and steal her belongings and beat her up. A fear of young, rough looking men, especially in groups, or if they are wandering, smoking, lurking, looking, running, wearing working clothes, people of colour, listening to music, carrying anything, looking stoked, looking suspicious, looking alternative, among scores of other profiles that we learn as children. The villain has a moustache. The villain has broad shoulders. The villain is wearing black. The villain is out to get you, beat you up, rape you, violate you and make the night a time to sit in front of the television or carry mace. I am the villain. I have learned to fear him, I have feared him for years. And now all of sudden, despite my kind caring compassionate character and soft inside, and biologically female body, I have become HIM. The one that carries your fear through the night. And I recognize that we all have a lot to un-learn.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hogtied- adventures in surgery.

Looking back on the past couple weeks a big punctuating event was the Hogtied Outlaw Variety show that happened on Tuesday night. It was organized by a group to pull money together for a friends chest surgery, which was happening faster than the funding organizations their hoops and paper trails are built for. He is one of many people for which the system of applying for surgery, and funding and waiting on lists for whoever is available wasn't going to work for. So thinking back to the best way that we know how to bring in some cash legally we gathered a group of people to spread the tasks of throwing a big party out amongst us, and rake in the cash for the cause. Everything went amazingly well because we had an awesome group of people, all with different strengths, some with experience planning events, and others with very valuable logistical abilities or bomb network connections. Being a part of a radical community of queer artists, activists, cyclists and freaks feels so right and I can't imagine what my life would look like without this type of people in it. I feel incredibly priveleged to know and share with other people who are transitioning, or just fucking gender, and even those that actively "live so unapologetically outside the confines of domesticated femininity" (taken from off the map- microcosm pub. portland ore.) Nothing makes me more happy than to be given the job as the cowboy who is hogtying young drag kings and their cowboyed up butchy fuck buddies, boys you'd only think were boys because you saw them at the urinal, leather pant wearing keytar playing artists, along side straight laced straight folks who are getting their first taste of queer culture and perhaps the taste test of kink that will change their lives forever all for polaroid photos that are being sold so a buddy can have a surgery that will change his life.
Another young feller at the show was able to collect a list of email addresses to help him bolster support for his surgery, which was scheduled to happen yesterday, but was called off because the catholic hospital trawled his chart to find out he was trans (the surgery was not a SRS surgery, but a breast reduction that had been in the works for 2 years), and played their catholic card saying that no SRS surgeries and apparently any surgeries on trans patients would not be allowed. His surgeon is trying to find an avenue to get him back on the table and under the knife and he is trying to to raise awareness of the discrimination of this facility, without slapping himself in the face and loosing the surgery all together by saying the wrong thing to the wrong people.
Yet one more friend, who wasn't at the show and doesn't live in town any more was recently advised by his knee surgeon that he didn't feel that he was making smart choices in his life and that surgery was a very serious and dangerous endeavour, completely unprovoked considering that this patient said NOTHING to this doctor about any plans or intentions to have any surgeries what so ever. This doctor made an assumption that since his patient was medically transitioning, taking testosterone, that he must be "going all the way". A misconception that I would hope more people in the medical profession could get over already.
Some of the kids I work with, without knowing my history or official gender or sex status, seem to have an affinity towards me and connect on a sort of "I know you understand ways that I am different cause we're sort of different in the same sorts of ways". I am the boy who will proudly wear pink and not permit any sort of gender stereotyping or homophobic behaiviour whatsoever. The 7 and 8 year olds that are figuring themselves out, recognizing how important they feel having an adult who breaks the mold in their life is, have a special bond with me. They appreciate having an ally with whom they can share things like the fact that their favourite characters in guess who are Chris and Kyle because you can't really tell if they are girls or boys, and get the point when I explain why I never ask the question, "is your person a boy? or is your person a girl?" They get it when I say that sometimes it isn't clear. That you don't know someone is a boy or girl from how they look, if the have a mustache or earrings. They get it when I draw pictures of my favourite things from vacation, including me and 2 friends in a canoe; and that when they ask if the people in the picture are boys or girls I can just say they are my friends, and not everyone is a girl or a boy. Its not always as simple as the binary. Now I just wish that these kids could explain it to the doctors.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Looking back on the first months of medical transition

I remember crying to my aunt on this day as I showed her photos of transguys online, and explaining that I needed to find a way to start transitioning asap. I needed to find a doctor desperately, and was at the point where I think a lot of us realize it's do or die, when the "choice" to transition stops seeming realistic, because it's become impossible to "choose" to continue living a lie.

A couple months later and I had started taking T, found a community of transmen who I lived with and around. For the first couple months we did our shots together, getting together for "shot night", a sort of boys night celebration, with intramuscualr injections thrown in for good measure.
Summer continued and with each month passed my voice got a bit deeper, and all the hair on my body began the slow creep to meet up and become a continuous manrug. I was starting to really confuse folks in queer circles, which didn't seem too weird, since I had been turning heads for years as a queer, butch, strong, tall woman working in jobs such as bike messenger and greasy spoon diner cook where folks like me were not as common as we may be in womens studies department or radical organizing circles. I think one of the things that threw off a lot of queers was my openness and upfront attitude to do with everything. I have always been comfortable voicing what I felt was important, and my transition and trans politics were not going to be an exception.
By fall I was working for the first time in jobs with people who had no idea about this huge part of what makes up who I am. It created a strange feeling for me as I had been answering questions and explaining myself constantly for the past 3 years. I find ways to balance sharing my values of gender diversity and transpolitics in a very general sense without always feeling like I am explaining myself. I have discussions on gender in which sometimes my own gender is not brought up at all. For the most part I can't keep secrets and the only personal relationships that I maintain without that disclosure are those with the children that I work with, not because I don't think that they would understand, like I said, I had 3 years of explanation period, where I didn't live with the luxury of non-disclosure. I have met and discussed gender (generally and personally) with many very understanding kids, but I know that sometimes they have questions that they bring to other trusted adults (parents), and I honestly don't want to have to explain myself, or have my employer stand up for their right to employ me if some parents' homophobic/transphobic prejudices get in the way of a peaceful day to day.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reading the experience

I find myself often checking out books and scanning websites of transgender politics and experience. I find the stories of the other men living with the same "condition" of myself and sit down to reading them. I can rarely read too far in without my mind wandering, and my feet following, over to the bookshelf, where I reach to pull an album of childhood photos, pre-transition photos, teen girl photos, anything where I might be able to remember if I knew, and how I felt, and how I feel now about feeling that way in that time. What clothes and haircuts I can recall feeling good about, the activities I thrived in, the early experiences of being "misgendered" and how that made me feel. Now when I say "Mis-gendered" I do see the dual potential meanings, and looking back through these photo albums I see both. The times I remember being "misread" as male and the feelings it spurred, and the social conditioning which "misgendered" me into dresses and long blonde french braids. The adult male I am today searches those photos for me, I remember being on the other side of the camera, but it is sometimes hard to correlate Me and Her.