Been what, five years since I posted? Oops. Lot has happened since then! I'm coming up on 10 years of being Eli and it's making me want to write again. We shall see. Let's start with showing off my new haircut ("high fade, please") and my frankly glorious beard. Can't hardly believe I used to fret about whether it would ever grow out.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Well, I don't know about the tail end of 2009, but I haven't been blogging since January in large part because my life was eaten up be rehearsals; I was in a community theater musical, and it was such fun! It was Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate which, as you may well know, is a musical about a bunch of actors putting on a musical rendition of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
My partner R. convinced me to audition with her, and I'm so glad she did...I was nervous about my vocal shortcomings, but community theater is very forgiving, and with great musical direction and plenty of encouragement, I managed to overcome my doubts and sing my little solo with some distinction.
It was a novel experience for me, whose most recent prior theater adventure was in middle school. I had a some nerve-wracking moments when the costumers announced that they were renting Shakespearean costumes for us. I had visions of snug tights, a la the old MGM movie version. I spent some time fretting about what I would do if it turned out we WERE wearing tights. I could always dig up some sort of packer with which to pad my underpants, but I don't even know if I have one anymore. I don't feel the need to wear one on a regular basis, and am not used to doing so; with all the tap-dancing in the show, I was a bit worried about the logistics of even trying. I felt a bit trapped. I've pretty much made peace with my smaller-than-average package, but I am not particularly eager to showcase said tiny package on stage!
Fortunately, we ended up with sort of flow-y pants, and the issue of tights was skipped, but I had more than one angsty conversation with R. about it. Here you can see the end result: me all dressed up in my Shakespearean finery, playing the part of Hortensio, one of the 3 suitors.
Lack of sizeable bulge: unnoticeable!
Anyway, the truly interesting part of the whole experience came when the local paper did a small write-up about the show, and I was interviewed by the reporter. She asked me about the show, and I talked some about what a terribly sexist show it is. The music is fabulous, but the underlying premise of Shrew and thus of KMK is how "uppity" women need to learn their places and stop being so feisty and independent and just hurry up and get married already.
R. and I had talked about this throughout rehearsals, and she prompted me to mention it to the reporter, and I'm glad I did- there was a nice little quote in the paper about hoping that audiences would enjoy the songs but think critically about the message.
I think it's really important for feminist analysis to be done visibly and publicly by men, and it's something I'm really committed to as part of my manhood. Feminism is not just a women's issue, and while it's frustrating that I sometimes get taken more seriously about important issues now that I'm manifestly masculine, on this matter, I relish my role as an ally. The more that people hear men speaking about issues of gender equality, hopefully, the more we can get away from the identity politics that shoehorns sexism into being something for only women to deal with.
It's a right and a responsibility that comes with the male privilege now, and I try to live up to it as best I can.
Posted by Eli at 6:56 PM
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I dug out my old fencing mask and glove last night- they still fit fine, and feel comfortable and familiar. They're both neatly labeled in my 7th grade handwriting with my old 7th grade name. Why couldn't I had been more restrained and just put my last name on there? How was I to know that nearly 10 years later I'd be trying to scrub that girl's name off my mask with nail polish remover?
To no avail, I might add- I ended up just scribbling heavily over the offending letters, leaving me with my still-in-favor 'E' with a squat sharpie box close on its heels. I'm not worried about it- besides the fact that no one will even notice, I have no qualms about the fact that the name I chose to put on my equipment as a 12 year old is not the name I'd like to have on there now. (Besides, maybe it used to read "The Eminent Emu!" I was pretty into nicknames for a while in middle school...)
Still, it was a poignant moment to cover over those letters one at a time. I always liked my name as a kid. It was unusual, and beautiful, and I loved to hear the story of how my mom had taken a suggestion of my dad's and shaped it into my name. I'm still fond of those letters, and undoubtedly will always feel a tug when I see them.
For a minute in my early transition, it used to give me knots even to hear the name, not to mention if someone tried to call me by it. Not anymore. I'm not tender there now; that name is fading away from me. I still prick up my ears when I hear it, but I don't turn my head anymore.
I remember a key plot point in an old favorite fantasy novel- the reknowned elfin thief Shadow had been lured into a trap by a wizardly nemesis, who had captured her in a name-circle. She was trapped within a circle inscribed on the floor, whose enchantments were keyed to a particular person's name, such that once that person was tricked into stepping inside the circle, they could never escape. However, to her similarly-entrapped companion's amazement, once the dastardly wizard steps outside, Shadow is able to hurl herself out of the magic circle, sustaining some scorching from fiery sparks but no more. Turns out that the 400 year old elf was actually named Nightshade, but has just been going by her nom de thievery for the past few centuries. She was able to escape, but not without some damage, since, she explains, you can't have everyone calling you something for years and years without it becoming at least partially your name.
Now that I've finished typing out that little anecdote, I realize I'm actually trying to draw a reversed analogy- I'd be held fast by the circle keyed to the name I gave myself, and could step out of one based on my birthname, which is no longer my name, but can still scorch a bit.
Posted by Eli at 5:59 AM
Friday, September 11, 2009
I started fencing again last night, for the first time in...at least 8 years, maybe closer to 10. It was wonderful. I fenced with enormous gusto from about 7th-9th grade, and some of 10th grade, i think, but then I moved off to college and then NYC and despite a few attempts at forming a club in college, never really had a chance to fence again. I'm very excited to reinvigorate my fencing career!
Plenty of interesting thoughts to think about my gender, though, for sure! When I was last fencing, I started with foil, as beginners ought to, and then quickly switched to sabre. Of the three weapons, sabre is in some ways the most physical, as it involves cutting attacks with the edge of the blade as well as thrusting with the point. It was a male-dominated sport for years (still is, in plenty of ways), and it only became an Olympic sport for women in 1996. So in the late 90s, when I took up the sport, it was very much an exciting thing to be a girl sabre fencer. Not a lot of women were fencing that weapon yet, and it was still seen as primarily a male weapon.
I was doubly excited by that, both because I was proud of being a trailblazer increasing the number of women in the sport, and also because I was thrilled as always to be doing something that was perceived as masculine, surrounded mostly by boys and men. And, of course, it was my favorite of the weapons, with what seemed to me more excitement in the slashing, and more variety of attack and defense. It's something of a fencing trope that boys get excited about sabre and being able to whack as well as jab at people, so make of it what you will that I, too, wanted to hack 'n slash my way across the strip.
Now, though, I find myself a bit bemused. As a male, I'm no longer a rarity as a sabre fencer. Of course, fortunately, women sabre fencers are much more prevalent now themselves, so that's great! But it means something a little different when I say that I started fencing sabre in the mid to late 90s, because any number of guys were fencing sabre then. It was an especially exciting time for me to start fencing sabre because it felt like the beginning of a new era for women in fencing, and that was definitely a draw for me.
I wasn't the only girl in my hometown to start fencing then- just across town, at the more elite fencing academy, was a young woman just my age who had also just begun fencing sabre, and who is now the world champion, multi-gold medal winner, best woman sabre fencer in the world. I even fenced her once, at a small local competition, and while she beat me, it was close: 5-4. When I was watching her dominate at the Olympics on TV, I had some pangs of what-if. There were a few months when she and I were quite evenly matched. Clearly, she has astonishing physical talents, but she also plunged headfirst into the competitive world, trained intensely with world-class coaches, etc. Clearly, I didn't, whether out of lack of money (all the equipment and private lessons get very expensive very fast) or opportunity (I was fencing at a much more recreational club, and didn't feel like I could switch allegiances to the other, also much more expensive, studio) or what. But sometimes I wonder what if I had? I know I have some natural skill, and I certainly love the sport. I could certainly have fenced in college, and probably competitively on a national level, though who knows if I'd ever have made it to the Olympics. But I never did pursue that, and there's part of me that really regrets that.
On the other hand...I wonder what would've happened had I done so? Fencing, like almost every sport, is rigidly structured by gender. One might have friendly practice with anyone, but men and women never compete against each other. Had I become a competitive athlete, I wonder how that would've affected my gender identity, and dysphoria, etc? I wonder if I would've developed a strong identity as a female athlete...athlete by choice, female by circumstance, but the two would've been by necessity strongly tied together. I wonder what that would have done in terms of providing a positive association for me with being identified as female. Might it have led to a stronger coping mechanism, and caused me to live as female longer?
For that matter, if I'd been dedicating all of my time to training and fencing and competing, would I have had the time to get involved in the LGBT community to the extent that I did? That was when I first met other trans people and my eyes were opened to the possibility of transition, which of course set the gears turning in my head about my own potential for transition.
If I had been a successful competitive fencer, would I have felt like I had more at stake when deciding to transition? If I had been established with a career, history, win-loss record, etc, would I have been willing to give that up? The fencing community is not that big, and it's always difficult to transition within a small community...and that's without the added trickiness of gender segregation and sports, and all of the arbitrary or un-thought out positions about whether and how transsexual athletes can compete.
And not to mention, I wonder how being a serious athlete would've affected my relationship with my body? As I've mentioned before, I believe I had a huge upswing in my dysphoria once I started paying close attention to my body...that is, once I had to fully inhabit my body in extremely vulnerable situations, etc, etc, you know what I mean. Puberty! Romance! S-E-X! Prior to that, I hadn't paid tons of attention to my body, and as such I think hadn't been as bothered by its ever increasing 'femaleness.' But athletes, I'm given to understand, are much more in touch with their bodies, since they spend so much time shaping and tuning and training them, and of course rely on them to do their sport. I wonder whether having an athlete's vivid relationship with my body so much would've caused my dysphoria to crop up sooner, or whether getting such use out of my body would've cause me to develop positive associations which would've counterbalanced the dysphoria, and let me cope longer?
I'll never know, of course. All I know is that I didn't, and I transitioned, and now I'm delighted at a chance to re-discover a sport that gave me such joy in my early teens. There isn't much I'll need to relearn...the equipment is essentially the same, though I'll need to order a new jacket that fits my newly broad shoulders, and doesn't have the pockets on the front for plastic breast protectors. And from my brief experience last night, I think the athletic prowess that comes from being nearly 24 and full of testosterone as opposed to 12 and NOT on T will serve me in good stead.
Still, there is one small matter. I used to like to brag a bit about that one bout I had with the Olympic gold medalist, and how I got 4 touches on her in our one competitive bout. I can't tell that story now, without delving into my transsexuality, since men and women don't fence each other in competition.
Of course, one might say that this is the perfect opportunity to come out. Why NOT tell everyone that I fenced her, because I used to be a woman, and now I'm a man? It's a great opening, an opportunity to do a little community education and visibility raising. The only way to advance equal rights for trans folk is for more trans folk to come out, to end the myth that we're rare, freakish weirdos. Right?
Well....here's the classic bind that illustrates so clearly why "You Gotta Be Totally Out or Yer a Coward!" is such a false dichotomy. I am SO happy and excited to have found an opportunity to fence in my little New England town (and kicking myself for not discovering it for the past year, but oh well). The two teachers are in their late 60s, having been teaching and coaching and officiating since they were undergrad fencers at NYU in the 1960s. I have no idea how they would react to my disclosure, nor how the roomful of 14-17 year old boys who make up almost all their other fencers would react. I really don't want to close this opportunity, by dint of awkwardness or transphobia or anything else. So I think I'm going to keep my mouth shut, which really, just means that I have to refrain from bragging about one essentially meaningless bout that I had with a fellow teenager who now happens to be the best in the world.
Unless of course I am just a coward.
Posted by Eli at 6:04 AM
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I can be pretty glib about my transition. In some ways the seriousness with which I take it has traced a parabolic path- I distinctly remember a night out at an East Village gay bar in July 2005 (the Boiler Room on 4th & 2nd, if anyone cares. it was the night I first laid eyes on my partner R) when I ran into a young man I'd known for a brief time in college. He called out my old name with pleased surprise, and I sounded oddly breezy when I replied.
"Actually, I'm a man these days!"
Even to my own ears the statement sounded brash yet flat, particularly coming from someone who hadn't physically changed an iota from the babydyke he recognized from college. I hid the awkwardness with an extra-large slug of my gin and tonic, the quinnine in which was glowing faintly blue under the blacklighting. I expected him to laugh, perhaps even politely as though at an unoriginal joke. The harsh well drink was welcomed by the burning in the pit of my stomach. I was none too steady in my newly declared self, and I knew if he laughed, I might well laugh, too.
I still cried in those days- or nights, to be more accurate, sometimes alone but more often on a girlfriend's shoulder- but in public I was more likely to laugh at myself in moments of tension, still unsure of how to be serious about being taken seriously.
To my friend's credit, he didn't laugh, merely asked what I was calling myself. Even more embarrassing, that I hadn't thought to start out with this necessary fact rather than an assertion I needed to to keep lighthearted in order to be able to say at all. We didn't chat long, for which I was grateful.
That breezy approach to outing myself didn't last long. As I grew more used to educating friends and old acquaintances, I grew surer of myself and more serious in my discussion. I learned to be matter of fact, and firm. I found that people mostly would respond to the tone I set, rarely flat-out questioning me or my decisions. Like my friend in the Boiler Room, as overwhelming percentage offered nothing but gentle support- exactly what I needed and wanted.
That my earnestness was met with almost universal support is something I am grateful for, and something that probably contributed to the second-half of that parabola I mentioned above. The hurdles of my transition weren't insignificant, but once I stopped dealing with them daily, I began to lighten up again. This time, not as a defense mechanism, but because I was secure enough to let go of my defense mechanisms.
I know that this is due in large part to the various factors that make up my success story. Because I was able to negotiate my transition with a minimum of grief, relatively speaking, I don't carry around as much psychic dreck about it anymore.
Posted by Eli at 4:52 PM
Monday, June 22, 2009
It occurred to me this afternoon that my beard functions for me in some of the same ways that my neckties used to, as a sort of masculine armor. I was talking with some transmasculine friends this weekend about our respective masculinities, and the markers of that masculinity, and how important it was to have that masculinity firmly anchored.
I used to wear neckties not for the reasons I do know- because they are beautiful and stylish and dapper- but because I needed them as a badge of my masculinity. I don't know how well it worked as a broadcast system, and most people probably still saw me as a dyke in a tie prior to transition. But I felt safe and grounded in my neckties; I'd learned to tie them from my uncles, and my father had given me a few of his, and I could feel a connection to every man I saw on the street or in GQ. W e all chose to tie these tiny nooses around our necks in the name of masculine beauty and tradition.
My good friend Mary Ellen even worked with me on a project of mine about the ties I wore as shields. She took some gorgeous pictures of me that I made polaroid transfers with, and I think it captured nicely some of the nuances of my choices, how I hoped the ties I put on could be both broadcasting signal and dampening field, announcing my masculinity and hiding my female breasts.
Here are a few from the series:
I don't wear my ties to signal my gender anymore. I wear them for fashion, or perhaps to add a touch of authority to my youthful demeanor. In fact, for a while early in my transition R. commented that I'd become a casual dresser, as I'd traded in my ties for tight t-shirts after I had chest surgery, in a sartorially opposite but psychologically similar announcement of my gender.
My beard is now, I realized, my primary gendered fashion statement. Like the ties used to be, it's mostly a matter of style preference (I think I look cuter with a beard!) but it's certainly a way for me to assert my maleness as well. I'm sure it's why I started growing out my sideburns long before I should have, and persisted through the patchiness. Nothing says 'dude' like facial hair, and I feel it welling up in me especially right before I head home, to face the folks (family, old friends) who have the strongest memories of me as female. I want my face as fuzzy as possible, to again both broadcast my maleness and dampen my female history that lives in people's memories.
Posted by Eli at 4:52 PM
Friday, June 19, 2009
Yesterday I found myself at a loss to answer the question "Why did you move to New York?"
The answer is actually rather straightforward; I moved to NYC in 2005 because I had just graduated from college and decided that I wanted to pursue transition of some sort, and live as male. I knew moving to a new city would enable me to introduce myself whoever I chose, and what better city than The City, the place where everyone goes to reinvent themselves? More importantly, though, I knew that my reinvention-of-self would require very specific medical care, legal advice, and social navigation, and I knew that New York City is one of the few places where I could easily tap into support systems for all of those needs.
But the person who asked me this question is not (to my knowledge) aware of my transsexual history, and while we have a good friendship and working relationship, I haven't yet found the opportunity to broach the subject with him. It's made more complicated by the fact that I quite like this guy, and trust him, and would like to share things with him. I think someday I probably will disclose, because I sometimes do share deeply personal information about myself with my friends. Not to mention the fact that he's a philosopher by trade, and I like talking to him about all manner of things just to get his erudite perspective.
It's made yet more complicated by the fact that he is technically my boss. There is no law in my state prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, and I am an at-will employee. Although I have absolutely no reason to suspect that this man (or any of my coworkers) would react in an unpleasant manner to learning this about me, knowing that I would have no recourse if something did happen adds a layer of hesitation to any thoughts of disclosing in the workplace.
At any rate, I ended up fumbling along with some of the other smaller reasons ("Who doesn't want to move to NYC? Some of my friends were moving...I thought I could get a job at XX place...) and I don't think he noticed my awkwardness, but I sure felt it. It occurs to me that I could've just said "I knew that I would be needing some specific medical care that would be easier to access in New York."
It's true, but it doesn't necessitate the big Reveal of my transsexual history, which is still an awkward topic for me to naturally bring up in conversation.
I'd like to be able to be more more matter of fact about bringing up my transsexuality in conversation with people who are unaware. My gender history always feels like such a bombshell to drop into conversation. I don't know if it really is, or if it just feels that way to me. I've never had anyone revel a transsexual history to me when I didn't already anticipate it.
Of course, it's possible that folks already know that I'm trans, whether through the grapevine or shrewed Googling or what, but it seems unlikely to me. I'm trying to think about the the times I've had conversations with folks where they've opened up about big, deeply personal things in their lives- having been adopted, for instance. It hasn't happened to me that often, and I don't think (again, this could be my own bias) that any of these revelations have been of quite the...sensationalistic variety that transsexualism is assumed to be.
I wish I could give folks a little questionnaire after I have my inevitably awkward coming out conversation with them, so I could get feedback and figure out how much of the awkwardness is in my head, and/or how to minimize the awkwardness.
For now, I'll continue to leave some questions unanswered.
Posted by Eli at 11:38 AM
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Gosh, it's been a while since I've posted. More than two months, in fact! My 3rd year of being on T slipped by during that time, without much notice. Really, year three doesn't feel much different than year two...which I suspect is the crux of these writing gaps. My transition (and the entirety of my gender, really) isn't as interesting to me as it used to be. I foretold this, and I'm not surprised about it, but how quickly the memory of angst disappears! It's nice to feel normal, and it's seductive- I am reminded daily why it's so hard for people to raise their consciousness when they've never had their privileges challenged, and why cissexual (that is, non-transexual) people sometimes find it so hard to understand what gender dysphoria really means.
It's so comfortable having my gender identity and physical sex be in sync! Almost hard for me to empathize with gender variant folks, and I used to BE a gender variant person! Heck, I still am, in some ways, but they're very different ways.
Anyway, I've got dishes to do and sleep to get, but I'd like to start writing in this again. Just because my life isn't angsty anymore doesn't mean it isn't still interesting, and I'd like to keep making this record for myself and my friends and family and any who might find it helpful.
So I'll end this post with my old standby easy-out: pictures!
First is me in early spring sunshine with my beard at its wooliest, sometime in March:
Then a somewhat more restrained beard picture from about the same time-
Mostly to contrast with the below picture from a year ago (may 2008) to show that yes, my beard pattern is filling in. I thought I looked quite good at the time, but it looks so patchy to me now, alas.
I sure was skinny- I've put on some padding since leaving NYC, aka the land of walking everywhere.
And here are two shots from tonight- recently clean shaven for the summertime (my coworkers tell me it makes me look about 13, alas, so it probably won't last long), and then a topless photo just because.
In August it'll be 3 years since my surgery with Dr. Brownstein.
Posted by Eli at 6:13 PM
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Time for another picture update, perhaps? I'm a bit fuzzy, pasty and plump after the most recent New England winter, but I couldn't get a good shot of my pot belly without revealing too much! Maybe next time.
I feel as though I haven't changed much in the past year, but perhaps that's just because the changes are happening much more slowly. When I look back at pictures from a year ago, I can see how my beard looks spindlier by comparison, and how my musculature continues to fill out. I'm no longer in my tip-top New York City shape (I forgot until I went back for a visit how much baseline walking is involved in being a Manhattanite!), so my t-given muscles are a little more padded these days, but I don't mind my plumpness, not least because it's an ever more masculine plumpness, spare-tire style. I feel a bit goofy for thinking these thoughts at all, as though I haven't any more pressing concerns than where on my body my adipose layer is thickest, but it's these little things sometimes that add up to the proof of the pudding as to why my transition was necessary.
Posted by Eli at 5:09 PM
Oh man, I just had my hackles raised. I read Andrew Sullivan's blog over at the Atlantic, and while some of his conservative politics make me roll my eyes, I generally appreciate his insights; it can be quite refreshing to see the world through a perspective not aligned with one's own. Anyway, there's been a rather casual thread of posts in the past few days (see here and here) about trans athletes, and whether we (specifically trans women, actually) ought to be allowed to compete. Nothing wrong with that, until I read the most recent post.
A reader wrote in to correct something he'd said, and Andrew wrote: "I'm grateful for the info. I'll note merely the tone. If the trans community really does want to help educate, inform and guide public policy, as they should, a little less fury, derision and anger might help. Especially with respect to people generally deeply sympathetic."
One of the most infuriating things in the world, regardless of what issue is actually at stake, is when a self-righteous 'ally' tries to tell a member of a minority group that the group should be quieter, not so loud in their complaints, grateful for what help they get, etc. It's a patronizing position that comes from privilege. Only someone with the luxury of being outside a struggle can say what amounts to "Stop being angry that we're oppressing you!"
It's such a defensive posture, and I'm sick of it.
Come to think of it, it's a very conservative, assimilationist viewpoint, one that I shouldn't be quite so surprised to hear Andrew espousing.
And this post plays right into that same trope of the Angry Transsexual (or Angry Black Man, or Angry Feminist), naturally.
Update: Ha! I wrote to Andrew, and got back the following:
my point proven.
jeez you guys need to lighten up.
Posted by Eli at 5:54 AM
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
What does it mean when something's transphobic? Like homophobic (the undoubted inspirational term), it means to words or actions or behaviors that are anti-trans- I generally take it to mean something that is unfair, hurtful, offensive or meanspirited, and negatively affects trans people, whether directly or indirectly. Today I read an offhand comment that had been made on a friend's journal, and I felt moved to respond, telling the author that I felt it was transphobic.
She had made a comment along the lines of "many transpeople are often selfish jerks while they transition!" and I had responded with "Hey, that's offensive. People are jerks all the time for all kinds of various reasons, and yet transfolks are the ones who routinely get chastised/written off for being "selfish" and "assholes" while we're trying to navigate an insanely difficult and stressful period of our lives. It's the kind of transphobic double standard that makes me wont to paraphrase Bella Abzug: we'll know we've won when an asshole transperson gets cut neither more nor less slack than an asshole non-trans person."
We talked it out via a few more comment exchanges, and I think I understand her perspective. She was making the point that transition is not a get-out-of-jail free pass, which is an exceedingly legitimate point. It's still not okay to be a selfish jerk, regardless of the 'reason' or stressful factors. I had moments in my early transition when I was self-centered, and I regret them, and I believe I mostly apologized to the people I slighted at the time. Equitable standards work both ways- just as we shouldn't be held to stricter scrutiny of when/why we're being jerks, we don't get to complain that it's not out fault, it's just all this pressure! For instance, the myth that taking testosterone turns one into an angry moody sex-fiend, seemingly held and perpetuated by trans and non trans folks alike. Yes, testosterone has effected significant changes in my emotional stability, the length of my fuse, and my sex drive. It's called self-control. I think going through transition is in many ways a second (or extended, in my case, since I started transition about 19) adolescence, and while we take it for granted that teens are often moody, angsty, and self-centered, we also hold them to reasonable standards of behavior, and recognize that not all teens are such.
Anyway. One of the more interesting bits of the exchange for me was that my conversational partner revealed in her initial response to me that she herself is trans, and hence had no small amount of perspective on the matter. And hey, all of a sudden I was reading her comments in a different light. I still feel like her initial comment was unfair, but her subsequent clarifications calmed me down, and inspired me to re-evaluate.
It was a nice reminder about the importance of context in conversations on tricky, potentially threatening topics. I was probably more defensive than I needed to be about her initial statement, because I've heard too many comments from non-trans folks that, as I commented "managed to both belittle and invalidate the stresses of transition." I went in with hackles up. It's much easier to accept critique of my community from a fellow member of said community, and I wasn't so trepidatious about her perspective. In the end, I was glad I challenged her, because in her explanations, she made several very insightful points that I was glad to have the opportunity to ponder. On the other hand, I still thought her initial comment was unfair, so it just goes to show that everyone can make insensitive statements sometimes, particularly in "in-group" spaces where they have reason to believe that they'll be taken with a grain of salt.
So transphobia (or spontaneous mildly transphobic statements, anyway) can come from unexpected sources! Not just trans folks, but trans allies. In a much more clear-cut instance, I was in a conversation with someone the other day- someone who has dated at least one trans person (to my knowledge), who is not herself trans, but who pushes for gender identity to be included in educational settings about diversity and nondiscrimination, in short, a trans ally- who unexpectedly brought up the subject of an unexpected crush she'd had last year.
"I think he was a bio-boy!" she chirruped almost bashfully.
The flow of conversation moved reasonably quickly, and I didn't say anything at the time, but arrrgh, how that phrase grates on me. As I'm sure I've mentioned her innumerable times, I despise the false dichotomy that it sets up between trans and non-trans men, or, more specifically transsexual and cissexual men. There are so many loaded and moral connotations with the prefix 'bio-' that I cannot tolerate it used in opposition to 'trans-'. Bio sets itself against synthetic, and I am not a fake man.
Yet there are plenty who would disagree, who would tell me to get off my defensive high horse and let go of my conceptions of the word 'fake.' I suspect these are the same folks who gleefully or casually refer to themselves and others as trannies. At any rate, I think the argument goes that transsexual men are NOT the same as cissexual men, so why get so bent out of shape about terminology?
Well, all terminology is not created equal, my friends, and to ignore the power differentials in the words used to describe us is to relinquish a powerful weapon in a fight to end oppression.
Relatedly, I've heard folks say proudly that they are NOT real men, not because they are trans, but because there is no such thing as a "real" man. That's an admirable sentiment, but one that isn't shared by the populace at large, and may not be for an exceedingly long time, if ever. In the mean time, I think groundwork is an important part of the Revolution, and until the notion of "real men" is finally stamped out, I'm certainly not going to let myself be defined outside that circle.
Posted by Eli at 5:14 PM
Thursday, February 05, 2009
I've seen this story on a couple of blogs this morning, about a young woman in Germany who is apparently a rising pop star and transsexual.
My first thought was to be please at the (for once!) reasonably respectful and positive writing; I found both the article and the blog mention pretty good in terms of pronouns, quotes from her doctors and family, etc. What struck me, though, besides the cringe-inducing sensationalism of using her given name in the headline, was the tagline of "World's Youngest Transsexual!"
I think it's great that she was able to get her family to support her, and that she was able to access good healthcare and pursue the treatment she needed without the 'blunt trauma' of puberty, as the article puts it, that I imagine many of us went through. Though the question of how young is too young to transition certainly comes up, it, while both contentious and interesting, is not my point.
The main thing I'm interested in is the fact that the article seems to be making a distinction that she's the youngest transsexual in the world because she's already had surgery. Does that mean that she wasn't a transsexual, per se, until the moment of obtaining surgery? To take it away from such a surgery-centric model, and bring it back to myself, I found myself wondering, have I always been a transsexual, even before I started pursuing transition? What about before I even realized I wanted/needed to transition?
I am now most comfortable calling myself a transsexual, or a man of transsexual experience, but that wasn't always the case. I (like many of my friends, it seems) identified as genderqueer/trans* for a number of years before realizing that I still hadn't gotten it quite right, that I am transsexual and definitely needed and wanted to pursue social and medical transition. I'm trying not to project any assumptions about what it does or doesn't mean to be transgender, and this is certainly not to say that I believe a genderqueer -> trans* -> transsexual trajectory is 'normal' or 'right' or what have you. Clearly, these can be separate identities or they can coexist. I certainly am still more genderqueer than many men I know, regardless of whether they are trans or not- I enjoy a bit of crossdressing, etc.
But I also sometimes think that transsexual is a more appropriate word for me than transgender, simply because I don't feel like my gender has changed much. I'm the same slightly effete masculine person I've been for ages.
All that said, I think I've come to feel that I've always 'been' a transsexual, I just didn't realize it for quite some time, and so spent years first misidentified (by myself and others) as female, and then misidentified (by myself) as genderqueer/butch, and now finally have realized that I'm a transsexual man. Still, the means that I (all transsexuals?) were once "the World's Youngest Transsexuals!" It occurs to me that it's pretty condescending and insulting for this newspaper to act like they've discovered a rare species, The Youthful Transsexual, simply because they've found someone who has had the good fortune to be able to access the medical care necessary to transition at an earlier age than most of us.
Posted by Eli at 6:41 AM
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Today I've been wearing a holter monitor, which is basically a portable EKG device that I've got to carry around like a fannypack with wires leading to electrodes that are stuck to my chest. It's not terribly inconvenient, and it's mostly a precautionary measure (I had some heart issues as a child, had a few palpitations in the fall, things are being ruled out), so it's not particularly scary or stressful, but it's been making me pretty uncomfortable all day and I think I've finally figured out why.
It reminds me strongly of having my chest surgery back in 2006, when I had the same feelings of caution, of having medical tape on my chest, and a limited range of motion and mobility, and having to be careful about how I lie down, and how I snuggle up to my partner. It's a funny reminder that having chest surgery was a simultaneously traumatic and euphoric experience for me. In the abstract, it was the pinnacle of happy times. I don't know that there's been anything else in my life that I've focused on so intently as I did in the months leading up to that surgery. It certainly has been the most expensive thing I've ever done, second only to my college tuition. It was something I desperately wanted, hoped for, counted down to...and then something that (I now realize) I basically hated while I was going through it.
I was physically uncomfortable, scared of what my results were going to be, mourning the loss of my nipple sensation, feeling guilty about being such a burden (financial and otherwise) on my family, and feeling vulnerable in just about every sense. It basically sucked! I was happy and delighted on an abstract level, and then miserable and resentful on an immediate level. I resented that I had to have surgery at all, that putting myself through such an ordeal was (as my doctor would later write in a testimonial letter) "necessary for me to lead a normal life."
And of course, a month after the surgery, when my wounds were well on their way to healing and I could move around again and see my newly flat chest, the resentment faded and paled before the significance of my triumph. But wearing these electrodes taped to my chest all day reminds me of what a slog it was during those weeks. And if I recall from my many painful interactions with medical tape while keeping my nipples properly moistened and bandaged post-surgery, sticky tape and my chest do not get along! I'm a little concerned about how many chest hairs I'm going to lose to these bits of tape tomorrow morning...
Posted by Eli at 7:39 PM