Tuesday, May 30, 2006

in the company of men

So, speaking of that new and improved mindset! It's variations on a theme that I've been espousing over the past few weeks- I'm happy. I'm feeling good. Solid. In a good place. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but at the same time, hey! It's good to feel good! And I really can't feel much compunction about spreading more positive energy into the world.

I used to talk about feeling feeling very unsteady- I was very unsure of myself, always longing for solid ground. Well, for a long time I didn't actually talk about it much to anyone but my therapist, since this was in my Era of Internalization when my "gender issues" (as I called them, being unready to own a trans identity) were my deep dark secret. But if you asked Annabelle, I'm sure she'd tell you all about how a major theme of our sessions together was me talking about how I was very nervous about the future, and how many choices and options I had before me. I didn't feel like I was standing on solid ground; it was self-perpetuating, too, in that I felt unsteady because I hadn't made any decisions, but I felt too unsteady to make any decisions. Then even after I did make decisions (which have turned out to be excellent!) I still felt unsteady and unsure last summer, and for a lot of the fall, too, as I started living out said decisions.

Now, I feel increasingly more solid. Though in some ways, I oughtn't- I'm in a typical unsteady, post-college point in my life. I don't know what I'm doing with my life, or where I'm going to be next year. But I've got a good job, and a good place to live, and a lot of good people in my life, and there is a slow realization (in every sense) that Eli is a good guy. And I feel like I'm getting a solid sense of self from which to address any and all future uncertainties.

One of the first signs I had of this solid ground came a couple of weekends ago. I went to a dance performance, called In the Company of Men, that was entirely choreographed and performed by male dancers. There was a lot of different embodiments of masculinity on stage, all of which were a delight to behold.

I'd been nervous, a bit, because historically, seeing guys perform has been a bit hard on me. It's tough sometimes to see guys be natural and comfortable in their bodies- it's made me jealous, and very aware of my own uneasy relationship with my body, and aware of my at times tenuous performance of manhood.

This time, though, there was none of that- just an appreciation for the stunning and energetic dance (of all sorts- tap to modern, wildly athletic to quietly charming) and the wide variety of guys up there in front of me. Made me aware of a new comfort in my self, separate from my perceptions of how my masculinity is playing out in the world. My own masculinity is coming together for me. Maybe I'm passing better, maybe I'm being seen more accurately by the rest of the world. But more importantly, I'm seeing my own masculinity, and being happy with it. This is important, as I have an unfortunate habit of seeing manhood as an amalgamation of

For example, there was a dancer there who was volunteering and ushering, and at one point he was pushing a mop across the stage to clean it up for the next piece. He was pretty curvy...well-built and muscular, but with, to put it bluntly, a very significant ass. I was appreciating it, and hearing other audience members around me murmur similar appreciation, and I realized that his ass was not unlike my own. And hell, if he can have an enormous ass and be extremely attractive and unquestionably masculine, then so can I.

It was good to have my anticipated worries fail to materialize and be replaced, instead, with further certainty that I'm happy as a guy, that I'm not lacking when in the company of other men, that I'm plenty manly, getting manlier, and happier about it all the time.

Part of my comfort these days is being happy with my body, as it is, and because it's mine, not because it looks more or less like (the problematic notion of) a "boy's body." I want to rid that phrase of the power it has. A boy's body. What does that mean, anyway? My body is a boy's body, because I'm a boy, and it's mine.

I'm letting go of notions built in my head of what it means to Be A Man (not too far- those notions, problematic though they are, still guide me. and that will take up an entry of its own one of these days) and am welcoming what it means to be myself in a manly embodiment. Am I putting too fine a point on it? I think it's a relevant distinction. I'm still looking forward to my body becoming more typically masculine, because it feels comfortable and secure. But it's a push-pull to a comfortable place, because even as I move toward my goals of masculinization, I'm also letting go of some of those goals, and reforming them to pull them closer to where I am now: validating my own brand of masculinity as it exists now. That's what I meant about becoming manlier all the time.

That's important, I think, as I transition- not to invalidate my style of masculinity as it comes naturally, without the aid of testosterone and surgery. Surgery and T and other hallmarks of transition aren't going to somehow turn me into a man. For all my talk about puberty, an becoming a man, I want to remember that my transition to being a guy doesn't hinge solely on physical transition.

Fortunately for me, I think that I'm learning how to transition along multiple levels as this physical transition continues. Even though (as you can read in my previous post) I haven't changed that much in my two months of taking T, I've gotten a lot more comfortable with my body as it is. It's starting to masculinize, true, but it's also masculine simply by virtue of being mine. The manliness of my physical self is also about how I move in my body, how I wield it and yield to it. I can grant myself manhood as surely as any hormone.

Though, admitedly, the hormones help.

I hope this post hasn't wandered too far hither and thither. I know I have a tendency to be verbose. I think I've gotten down some of my experience accurately. Namely, that I feel more secure and stable in my body now than I ever have before, and that is lending me a peace and happiness in the rest of my life. This stability is by no means perfect (nor do I expect it ever will be and, may seem obvious, but sometimes I have to say it outloud, not just because I'm trans) and I look forward to a lot of forthcoming work settling into myself. I've started to lay a good groundwork, though, and I can feel it in my happiness.

I leave you with some visual evidence. It's from a month or so ago, when my sister was visiting, and it's actually me sitting in the exact same place I am right now: on my fire escape. Of course, now it's night time, and I've got my laptop precariously on my lap and jackhammers down the street (really? jackhammers? at 10:30pm?) to keep me company, and that was pre-T, so in general I wasn't feeling quite as good as I am now. But in that picture I sure was happy- there's nothing that makes me feel solid and good like being with my sister.

so. happy Eli!

Friday, May 26, 2006

8 and 1/2 weeks

Last Thursday I got my fourth shot of T- the second at a full dose. This puts me at a solid two months of transition, and I'm starting to see some definite changes, that I'm willing to believe aren't just my hopeful imagination. I guess I'll give the laundry list of changes first, then do some more cohesive commentary.

For the first time over the past week or so, folks have been commenting (mostly on the phone) that my voice sounds different. My mom said that the main difference she could tell was that it sounded like I was always talking in my lowest pitch...that it never went back up higher. So it hasn't turned baritone yet, by all means, but I can feel my voice continuing to open up and embrace its tenor nature fully. I wasn't expecting instaneous, and this feels really good. I think it's helping me pass more consistently in the outside world, too...there's just a more masculine timbre to it these days.

Skin, Hair, etc
Holy crap, why did no one warn me about the sweat? I am so sweaty, all of the time. In situations where I wouldn't have been sweaty before, I'll get sweaty if I'm just walking or sitting around and it's at all hot. But in situations where I feel justified in sweating (excercise, exertion, extremely hot situations), oh my god, do I get sweaty. I feel like I've never sweat this much in my life! Are all boys this sweaty? Only teenage boys? Will this go away?
Only time will tell. Honestly, I'm starting to get used to it some...being sweaty all the time doesn't bother me as much as it did. And I don't think I smell bad, though my smell is definitely changing...becoming more masculine, though I don't know quite how to quantify that. So I'm not gross, just sweaty. But it's definitely one of the more noticeable recent developments.
My skin has stayed in pretty good shape, though. Not too much acne, just a bit around my jawline.
I'm noticing new hair growth, too. I can see the beginnings of new hair in plenty of places, though it's often very fine new hairs, or just slightly darker existing hairs. My days of shaving my face and neck once a week are over...I get a noticeable shadow on my upper lip and under my chin after just a few days. Not enough to be proud of, but definitely enough to warrant shaving frequently so as not to look like a scruffamuffin. I'm glad of all of my lovely shaving products that I got for my Manniversary, especially my Nivea sensitive shaving gel (Thanks, Alysse!)- it's worlds better than the old Barbasol from the can, though slightly less fun to play with.

I'm noticing new muscle definition in my arms and those sexy hip muscles...what are they called? That make a V above your hips, and show up mostly on statues of young greek gods? It's certainly not from all of the time at the gym that I haven't been putting in, so I assume vitamin T is the culprit. Just think how buff I'm going to be once I actually put some work into this body of mine! I'm looking forward to being stronger, and able to more easily accomplish those things which require strength. I'm also just looking forward to filling out my shirts better. Nothing like some shoulder muscle to make a shirt hang right.
My face may or may not be gradually changing shape...I can't put my finger on it, but I think my jaw is firming up a little. When I look in the mirror, I like what I see more often. But that could be just a result of my new and improved mindset, also.

Again, an open invitation for parents, family members, teachers, employers, etc. to skip this section or, for propriety's sake, immediately banish it from your mind after reading it.

Sex drive continues to be at its usual fever pitch, so no real change in quantity. Qualitatively speaking, however, changes (for the better!) contine to develop. I think it's probably a combination of a variety of factors, some mental- I'm really happy, I'm more comfortable with my body, I'm more relaxed, I'm more sure of myself- and some physical- definite changes in my anatomy are most welcome, and are leading to new discoveries, and delightful re-invention of old favorites. I hesitate to go into much detail (a gentleman never tells) but my sex life has never been better, and I can't do much except grin about it.

So I think that about covers my bases. I'm getting my shot #5 early next week; this transition presses steadily onward. I'm hoping that this shot and the next one will deal a crushing and final defeat to the Communists- they'd be scheduled to return right around my next shot, so I'll keep you posted about whether the Red Army makes another appearance or not. They showed up rather suddenly last time, and I wasn't quite prepared for how upsetting it was. I'd known that it would probably take at least a month on a full dose before such things began shutting down, but I'd already started resettling myself into my body in a new way, and it felt rather like a betrayal to be so suddenly reminded of an uncomfortable and unwelcome biology.

That part about resettling into my body in a new way is important, though. I've been thinking about it a lot. But it's going to have to wait til the next post, because it's time to close the library now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

few and far

Haven't posted so frequently lately- Spring is in full swing, and so am I, and the days are flying by, almost faster and fuller than I can manage.

I've been on T for about 6 weeks now, and I'm getting my next shot on Wednesday of next week. I'll do a two month summary at that point, but for now, I'm still being deliberately patient. I can feel my voice slowly expanding in tone and depth, and it makes me very happy. This week for the first time, one of my friends commented that my voice sounded different when I left her a voicemail, and someone else mentioned that I sounded like I've got a cold. I don't know if I've been also consciously pitching my voice lower, and I can't really hear a strong difference, but I can feel more resonance in my chest, and it's a great feeling.

It's not that I think a deep voice is going to make me more appealing or attractive or compelling. It's just that it feels more natural to have it resonate in my chest like this...I didn't even realize where it was coming from before, but now I can really feel what I'm saying, and it helps me lend weight to my own words.

Speaking of my words, I'm hoping I'll be able to be more diligent again about updating this soon. I'll be working evenings twice a week, which are always quiet, and so I can have assured time at least those days to sit down and spill what I've got to say.

Hopefully then I'll be able to articulate and post about more of the thoughts in my head. I'm thinking lately about a lot of things: transmasculine as a broad adjective; what it means to stay queer as I transition; how I can trace my gayness and connect it to my trans identity and sort of squish them up together to make queer; my Gender Goals, not least of which is still my name; having children; the perennial topic of passing and coming out and what kind of man I want to be known as, and what kind of boyfriend I want to known as; dealing with the pockets of people in the world who still don't know that I'm a boy. You know, the usual.

That last one is rather more pressing at the moment, since I'm going to an event tonight hosted by my college for alumni in NYC. I'm looking forward to seeing old professors and old friends, but I'm also trying to remember which of them are clued in, and which of them are going to be clueless, and how I can make myself comfortable without stressing myself out too much. I'm wearing one of my favorite outfits- blue corduroy suit, bright blue shirt, argyle sweater vest, matching tie. It's easier to be tough when wearing the appropriate armor.

I honestly can't remember who's going to be there, and what they may or may not know. It's hard for me to remember, sometimes, because it seems so...so...absurd that anyone would think of me as a girl. Which isn't really fair to all of the people who knew me for years and didn't know any better. I never really performed 'girl' very well, but I called myself a lesbian and didn't disabuse people of the notion that I was a girl. And I'm glad I didn't, in some ways, because at least I was increasing visibility and space for masculine/boyish female people. It was legitimate that I looked as I did and went by she. It didn't make me happy, and so now I look the same and go by he, and that's legitimate, too. Now I'm not sure why I ever thought that I wouldn't be able to be a guy, but at least I was being useful while I was dragging my feet about coming out as trans.

So happy being a boy now. Well played, Eli.

Monday, May 08, 2006

we three Eli's

I went to a party and naming ritual on Saturday for my friend Elliot who's being ordained as a rabbi next weekend, and there were three of us there (including Elliot, who also goes by Eli regularly!) named Eli. Someone mentioned that they thought that Eli was becoming the new Jake for the transmasculine community...I don't know that I like the sound of that. I don't want my name to be trendy. Someone else pointed out the prevalence of girl names that start with E, and how many of us want to maintain a connection to our pasts, or continue to honor the family members that we may have been named for. I certainly made it my number one priority to keep my first intial when I was deciding on a new name.

It was a very moving experience on Saturday- Elliot talk to all of us about the process of choosing a new name, and what it means to have a name, and how naming is a powerful thing in Jewish traidition. There was a point in the ceremony when we all went around the circle and acknowledged Elliot and Elliot's new name...one by one we all said "I see you, Elliot." It was wonderful to be a part of such positive and respectful energy, and be a part of a ritual to honor a new but very close friend. I feel like Elliot and I have a lot in common, beyond just our shared name of Eli/Elliot(t) and our love of Canada and sweatervests. I feel a bit like Elliot is my genderqueer role model- someone who's creating the postbinary revolution in so many different ways and spaces that I really respect.

It was very personally moving for me to be there, too, given that I've been wrestling so thoroughly with my own name lately. Not Eli/Elliott- that I'm very comfortable and happy with. But I'm having a lot of trouble choosing a middle name.

I know that on some level, middle names are not the most important thing in the world- they're not used daily, or anything. But I think for me, a middle name is a very intimate thing...I keep it protected as just an initial most of the time, and it's something I share with people I'm close to, and it's a chance for me to honor my family and my history.

So I want to choose something that's a good fit for me, something that sounds like me....Elliott sounded right the moment that I heard it, and I think it fits me very well. Eli, too, I've grown in to, though I had some misgivings for a while about the low consonant to vowel ratio- that's why I got Elliott to lean back on!

Now I'm trying to decide on a middle name, so I can get the ball rolling with getting a legal name change and new ID, and it's taking me a long time. I've got a couple of contenders that have been kicking around for a while, and a few dark horse candidates that have recently emerged, and I'm not having the epiphanous moment I was hoping for.

For a long time, I've been considering Michael. It was my first thought when I was thinking of a new name- it's my father's name, and it also would give me the initials E.M. I like the Forster, literay-homo allusion, and at first I also liked that it was EM...for a while, the people closest to me called me Em as a more gender-neutral way of being close to me, and I came to associate someone calling me Em with that person being respectful of my gender. Also, I had the thought that if people for whatever reason couldn't get a handle on Eli, they could start with Em, and it would be like calling me by my initials, so it wouldn't be too bad.
Those very reasons that I like it, however, are also the reasons I'm not totally comfortable with it. I'm not sure that I want to name myself after my father. I'm not so close to him that it's an automatic thought. I don't even know if he likes his own name. Also, where EM was once a comfort because of its ties to my past, now it's starting to feel a little too close for comfort. I'm no longer so sure that I want a name that's tied to my time of when my gender hadn't been fully realized, and I'm certainly not very interested anymore in making things easier for other people. My name needs to make me comfortable, not everyone else.

There are very similar reasons for why I've been considering and wavering on Emlyn. It's the masculine version of my given name- in fact, it's what my dad wanted to name me until my mother pointed out that (as far as they knew at the time!) they were having a daughter, and giving her an unusual Welshman's name might not be the best plan. Now, I like it, because of those very reasons- it's definitely a name that sounds like me. Unusual, old fashioned, rather effeminate. And it's got close ties to my past, and Elliott E. is rather a distinguished name. But it also makes me flinch just a little when I hear it, sometimes, because it's so close to my old name, and reminds me very strongly of "being" a girl, or being seen as a girl, or what have you. Those are memories that I'm not particularly comfortable with yet, and, while it's possible that I'll get over this flinching business and so I don't want to discard a good name prematurely, I'm also not so comfortable with it right now.

So I've also been thinking about Charles, which is has none of the possibly feminizing connotations of the other two options. It was the name of a couple of grandfathers, one on either side, so that's nice, and it's one of the names my mom was considering when the doctors told her that the first ultrasoune indicated that she was probably having two boys. (Peter and Charles, Pete and Charlie. Katherine and Emmalyn, Kate and Emma. Clearly, I was going to be Charlie.) Also, my current middle initial is C, so there'd be some nice continuity there in continuing to be E.C. On the other hand, I don't have any particularly close ties to the name Charles. It doesn't really feel like me.

Those three have been the big contenders of late, but there have also been a couple of dark horse candidates to emerge recently. Namely, Theodore, just because I like it, and I like Teddy, and Theodore Roosevelt was my favorite president, after all. Carry a big stick! But I have a bit of a lisp, so a th name might not be the best. Also, there's no familial/historical connection.

And then just very recently, I've been thinking about John. There's a strong family history of Johns (two of 'em with the same last name, even! one from each side!), and it's a strong, masculine name with a good solid history behind it, and don't I seem like I'd be Eli Jack, when I'm not Elliott John? It's a rather pedestrian name, true, but it's firmly entwined in my family lore, and that's important to me.

So, that's my Big Gender Thought at the moment. Renaming oneself is a powerful, special chance, and I don't want to muck it up. Not too many folks get a chance to name themselves...though, as Ro pointed out, Catholics do it all the time...and I want to take full advantage of my opportunity. Also, I don't intend to change my name again, so this one's going to be it for the long haul. Think wisely, young Eli!

In the meantime, I leave you with a portrait of the three Eli's from the other night. A gaggle of Eli's, a bunch of Eli's, a pod, a herd, a flock of Eli's? In any case, ain't we a handsome trio?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

t-shirt weather

It's supposed to be over 80 degrees today here in NYC. The advent of May has clearly kickstarted summer, and given the mildness of our winter, I see no reason to believe that we're going to be spared any heat at all this summer. I predict (though I hope I'm wrong) that it'll be hotter than blazes here for the next few months.

Which, naturally, puts me in something of a quandry, because summertime weather is not meant for guys with breasts. At least, guys with breasts who don't want the rest of the world to know they've got 'em. I mean, binding is a pretty uncomfortable affair in general- I don't bind very fiercely because I can't stand the discomfort. There are ways to make one's chest look pretty darn flat, but it's pretty hard on one's rib cage/skin/chest tissue, and I don't really want to go there. So I have my own system, and it basically involves two extremely high lycra content sports bras and a lot of layers- usually, if I have my way, I've got a t-shirt, an actual shirt, a tie, and a sweater between me and the outside world. However, come summertime, this is not the best system. That is clearly a fall/winter outfit, and while it can get sweaty and the elastic can get pretty uncomfortable at any point, in the summer, it's darn near suffocating.

Which is why I'm looking forward to August 9th which such intensity.

Anyway, I figure I have a couple of options. I could get a more hardcore binder, which would hurt, but would make me more comfortable wearing fewer layers because my chest would be flatter. Or I could keep wearing my sweaters and just sweat my way through the summer (at least my work is air conditioned), but as I may have mentioned, I don't like being extraneously sweaty. Or I could adopt the approach that I'm test-driving today: go about my ordinary binding business, and just wear a t-shirt and a polo shirt and try not to look down.

I've been hunching my shoulders and tugging on the front of my shirt more than usual this morning, but I'm also banking on the fact that people know me as a guy, and aren't going to spend a lot of time examining my chest. How often do you really look at the people you see everyday?

Also, frankly, this is something of a fuck you to the world.

I don't want these breasts, I didn't ask for them, and I'm going to be getting rid of them shortly (sounds so menacing when I phrase it that way...poor breasts), but while they're here, I'll be darned if I'm going to let them make my life difficult.

And okay, those are big words from a short guy, and I know that I can't always back them up. I do let my body make me miserable sometimes, I can't help it. I don't look down at myself when I'm making out with someone, and I try to avoid mirrors when I'm shirtless, and I still sometimes get hit (it's a very visceral sensation, really) with the crap avalanche of Help, I'm trapped in a body I don't identify with! (Now THAT would make a good latest edition in that YA series, Help, I'm trapped in... about the boy with the body-swapping adventures)

I've always really admired folks who can put their bodies out there or not even notice their bodies, and still express and embody their gender identities with ease. I can't do that; I always feel like my body is constantly undermining me. That's why I'm taking these steps to change it- it's not a good feeling to have the sense that your body is working against you. (Betrayal is simultaneously too harsh and too cliche to use here. Insubordination, perhaps?)

but today! today I decided that being sweaty and uncomfortable may just be worse than being gender dysphoric and uncomfortable. and it's probably good for me to try to ease up and let go of the anxiety around my chest. And hell, it's my last summer with breasts, so I'm just going to carry on and deal with them. It builds character.

It's a good sign, too, I think. Six months ago, a year ago, I was far too nervous about whether my masculinity would hold up in public to think about going out in public without a lot of layers and binding. Now, the fact that I can do this (even though I need to write a long blog entry about it to make myself feel better) shows me that I'm dealing with my discomfort.

I'm starting to separate my discomfort with my body from my discomfort with my self. Does that make sense?

My therapist said something similar to me before I went home for Christmas, and I was nervous about my first Christmas with my family as Eli. She told me not to worry if they were upset, or distant, or being difficult (none of which happened, fortunately!)...not to let it seep into my feelings about myself. That it would be hard for me to ask them for what I needed (pronouns, etc) because it's hard for me to ask for help, that's part of my personality. And I should worry (as I was starting to do) that being reluctant to correct my family, or anyone, about my gender would mean that I wasn't trans enough, or what not. Just because it's hard for me to try to enforce my gender shouldn't make me doubt the legitimacy or validity of my gender. It just means I'm not a very good enforcer.

Likewise now, I'm taking that lesson to heart and trying not to let my discomfort with my body and how it's read by others affect my ability to be in the world.

Hm, I don't think I'm being very articulate, I don't know that I'm describing this process very well- the fact that my unhappiness with my body- with parts of my sex and gender (note to self: interesting thought, explore this later)- feels like it's embedded in me deep, and affects a lot of my life and my actions. I'm trying to change that, and I can feel it happening, and I'm trying to encourage it. I can feel myself slowly compartmentalizing my unhappiness with my physical self and teasing it out of me. I want to gather up all of my different bodily discomforts from all the corners of my mind and sweep them out the door this summer, as the T starts shaping me and my surgery draws nearer. I refuse to let the unfortunate (or at least, less than ideal) disagreement between my embodiment and my identity condemn me to perpetual discomfort. Hell, I refuse to let it condemn me to a sweatier summer than absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

looking forward

Had a funny moment today when a patron asked me if I was getting to take any vacation at all this summer. I replied that I'd be out for a few weeks in August, having surgery, and she gave me a very sympathetic look and said "That's no fun!"

I had to restrain myself mightily to keep from exclaiming, "No, actually, it's going to be fantastic!"

That's not normally the attitude one has towards surgery, I suppose. It gave me a funny reality check to remember that this exciting event that I'm looking forward to with such immense anticipation is an undertaking that many folks regard with feelings more akin to dread. Surgery, including general anesthesia, and the subsequent recovery period is generally no joke. It's amusing to me to realize that I'm going to feel like crap for a significant period, even as I'm happy and thrilled and relieved.

I'll need to be careful not to overextend myself in my excitement in August and early September...really, for the rest of the fall. Luckily, I've got the feeling that I'll have good people around me to keep any eye on me, and keep me in line.

Had a moment of wondering, too, how I was going to explain my surgery to folks who don't know me very well- the Social Work students, basically. Then I realized that I don't have to. Surgery explanations and medical histories are very private things in this society, and it's perfectly acceptable, and indeed, preferable, in some instances, to keep them on a need-to-know level.