Friday, June 30, 2006

names + feelings

Last week I went to 111 Centre St, to the Manhattan Civil Court, and arrived at the office of the clerk at 9:05am in order to file my paperwork to legally change my name to Elliott John. I stood in line, had my papers stamped, paide my $65 fee, stood in line again, got an index card with a hearing date on it, and was out the door by 9:30am. I'm going back on Thursday, July 6th for my hearing to see what the judge has to say about it all. I petitioned for an exemption from the publication requirement- I don't really want to publish it in a newspaper, mostly (honestly) because of the time/money/hassle factor, but also because of the reasons I listed: I don't want my privacy compromised, particularly because being outwit as a trans person can be a safety issue.

I have to start out by saying that I'm feeling very good about this- I'm extremely pleased with the name I chose. John is an important part of my family history, and my name fits better and better every day that I roll it around in my head. I can't wait to be carrying it around in my wallet.

But I also have to say that when I walked out of the courthouse and took a seat on a bench, I was hit with a weird sad feeling. I say weird because it was unexpected, and somewhat inexplicable. Ask me straight up, I'll tell you I'm happy as a clam! But I sat on that bench and felt little bits of sadness nibbling away at me.

I think it's because in some ways, when I do this, Emma isn't going to exist anymore. I can't really explain it very well. I mean, clearly, I'm not Emma anymore. I'm still me, but I'm not Emma, whoever that was. But Emma is still in my wallet, and still on my social security card, and still on my checks, and still in the employee database at work. When I change my name, Emma isn't really going to exist anymore except in newspaper clippings and the minds of any out-of-touch people.

And. Well. That's kind of sad, maybe.

The feeling reminds me of one that seeped through me a few weekends ago at Brooklyn Pride, when we were in the park enjoying the people watching. I saw an older lesbian couple together, holding hands, pointing out sights of interest to each other, being casually affectionate and all together adorable; I thought to myself, "that could've been me, if I hadn't decided/realized that I'm trans."

and again it was a sense of loss, like something was being given up. The next day, I was still thinking about it, and I had an idle thought that I haven't sent in the rest of Dr. B's fee yet, I've only been on T for 2 months...I'm still in a pretty reversible point in my transition, technically. But with that thought came a swift feeling of revulsion- I was almost nauseous at the thought of stopping transition and trying to embody myself as a lesbian.

So I don't know quite what to do with these feelings- on the one hand, I don't want to buy into the narrative that I'm "killing" my "former girl self." I'm not...I'm not even sure how much I accept the idea of this binary between Emma the Girl and Eli the Boy, because I wasn't ever much of a girl, and I'm certainly not a traditional boy, and I'm still me, anyway. But I can't ignore these sad feelings that have popped up twice now.

But then I feel guilty about having these feelings- I'm so busy being happy about being trans, and excited about my transition. I don't want to cast any doubtful shadows! None! It's like, hey! I'm busy being happy here! Don't bother me with your sadness! Also, I'm scared of sadness, because it feels too close to regret and uncertainty, and the last thing I need or want is anything that threatens this nice feeling of security and solidity I've been cultivating lately.

But Amy (therapist par excellence) told me that feelings of loss don't mean uncertainty about being trans, that they don't invalidate my transcend, and that we'd have plenty of time to talk about it next Thursday before I go off to court.

Monday, June 26, 2006

six of one, half a dozen of the other

Okay, I got sidetracked in that last post, so I thought I'd start another (let's see how many posts I can make in 24 hours!) to get out my usual laundry list of changes. It's only been two weeks since the last one, but things are happening fast these days, I think. The changes of two weeks are more noticeable now than they will be a year from now, so I might as well get it down.

Continues to drop in a very gratifying manner. Folks to whom I haven't spoken since before starting T have been noticeably startled when hearing my voice. I think it is a good thing that my speech patterns are the same, else perhaps folks might not recognize my voice on the phone. I tihnk because I have the same intonation, etc, my voice seems less different than it really is. In fact, the other day I had the thought that I think I'm speaking in a higher part of my voice these days in a weird subconscious attempt to keep my voice sounding the same. Because I think I used to speak more in my chest voice, but the pitches that were my chest voice are rapidly becoming my head voice. The other day when marching for the Trans Day of Action, and shouting all of our "What do we want? Transjustice! When do we want it? Now!" chants, I started getting really hoarse and gravelly, and someone advised that we all yell from our diaphragms. I did, and I swear my voice dropped...uh, I don't know musical terms. Half an octave? Is that a lot? It felt like a lot.

Skin, hair, etc.
So I'm less sweaty these days- or maybe I'm just getting used to it. Actually, I'm afraid that's it. I'm just used to a new baseline of sweatiness. As I've mentioned, I'm getting real hairy. I've always been a fuzzy fellow- my leg hair has been thicker than many guys that I know for years- but now the hairiness is starting to expand up over my knees, and I'm getting all sorts of new fine hairs all over the place. Primarily on my face/sideburns/muttonchops area, and also under my chin and along my neck. Moustache is starting to become classic pubesecent boy style (and will be for a while, i'm sure), I'm starting to get a little bit of belly/chest hair, and the hair on my upper arms and shoulders is becoming less like peach fuzz and more like actual hair. At this point shaving is still an every 3 days deal because I'm kind of lazy, but soon it's going to need to be every other day at least if I don't want to look totally scruffy all the time. I admit, right now I like it because I like the evidence that my hair is coming in, but it's really not very classy to be all scruffy-like.

Actually, the most manly thing ever has happened. I've started growing hair on the side of my hands's hard to explain, but you know how dudes have hair on their knuckles and backs of their hands? Well, I've started growing thicker, darker hair along their, especially in that little spot on the side of the back of my hand, and it's just so new and patently masculine that it makes me smile every time I notice it.

Muscle definition continues apace...I'm not working out at all, but I'm definitely as muscular as I've ever been. Kinda nice. As for face changes, I feel like maybe my nose is a little larger, and maybe my jawline has squared off a bit, but who am I to say? So I'm going to give you some visual evidence. I've started taking pictures in vaguely the same position every couple of weeks, so here goes. We've got me on the day of my first shot, then on the day of shot # 5 (about 2 weeks ago) and then from earlier this evening. I'm not really in exactly the same position in each one, but ah well.

Urges, Libidinous and Otherwise
Things continue to be....intense, and on a short fuse, in more ways than one. Some are delightful, some are frustrating. I like being revved up all the time, but I don't like how hard it is to refocus my concentration away from sexy thoughts and onto practical matters. I don't like how quick my temper is to flare these days, but I'm gratified that it remains just as quick to melt away as it ever has. Now that I'm becoming more used to new feelings, I'm getting better at dealin with them. As this blog is testament too, though, it's plenty of interesting thoughts in my brain about where my feelings really come from.

from whence?

Received shot # 6 on Friday, while the nurse was telling me about this show she saw on Oprah about transgender twins. I didn't get a chance to see it, but my boss was telling me about it, too. Sounded interesting! Being a trans twin myself, I think twins are a particularly interesting lens through which to observe transness, and try to think about why I'm trans. My sister and I are not identical, but we were raised in essentially the same environment- as close as you can get, anyway. Yet she's a straight cisgender girl and I'm a queer transgender did that happen? Chalk one up for nature rather than nurture. At the same time, what about the identical twins, where one of the pair is trans and one isn't? Oughtn't that be an argument for nurture rather than nature?

I've never really cared to delve too far into questions of "Why"- it makes me a little bit uncomfortable, I think. For all that I'm on very solid ground these days, it still feels dangerous and uneasy to interrogate too intensely the tender parts of my trans identity, and one of those tender bits is definitely the origin question. But what I can say off the top of my head is that I think it's a combination nature/nurture thing. I've read and listened to too much queer theory and gender theory to not be certain that gender is a social construction. But (and maybe I really am destined to be hopelessly structuralist. or was it essentialist? now I can't even remember what she called me.) I can't help feeling like that construction has its foundation in some sort of biology.

There are too many social phenomena that are gendered masculine that have biological/chemical roots (as I'm learning first hand with my better living through masculinizing hormones chemistry experiment) for me to feel comfortable or confident about not claiming some allegiance to the "nature" side of the debate. That entire run-on sentence basically means that I've read enough theory to feel guilty about hanging on to my inclinations to feel that I was "born this way" but not enough to be able to capably critique either side of the debate. Like when I was talking with someone about Halberstam's book "Female Masculinity" and how I have the sense that it's problematic to try to establish an entirely new or separate manifestation of masculinity that isn't male, because at some point we're just going to be creating new vocabulary for the same reference points. But I haven't read enough of that book (it's on my mom's bookshelf in Portland...maybe while I'm recovering from surgery?) or any others on the topic to be able to back that sentiment up.

Help a fellow out, folks. I need more people to break it down for me- I do better when someone (professors, friends, fellow students) explains theory to me than when I read it right from the source, because I don't have quite the tolerance for the academic lexicon that some of y'all seem to. Sometimes I need the Buterlian perspective just given to me straight up, because I'm not always so successful at wading through her words myself. Though I do acknowledge that there's no substitution for primary source material. Ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Disgruntle" should be a prizewinning hog

Had an interesting and disgruntling experience eating lunch this morning. The waiter came over to our table shortly after my lunch compatriot and I had put down our menus, and paused. He glanced at me, then looked over at her. I looked up and started to order, but then diverted course when I realized he was paying no attention to me at all.

Eli: "Yes, I'll have the....uh, after you..." (gestures across the table)
Waiter, to me, not turning: "I knew you had some manners."

So she ordered, and then I did, and then he left the table and I was left fuming, for reasons that I'm now trying to fully unpack. I realize that it is convention for women to order first, and it is my instinct to defer to that convention. I almost always do. However, I recognize that such gendered convention (and its counterparts, like the check being handed to me, etc) can be frustrating for my dining compatriots, and it is a rather classic example of binary gender norms just begging to be deconstructed. So sometimes, like this morning, I try to break it down just a bit and order first, or wave the check towards someone else, or something. That was myfirst reason for stepping up like that. Though, to be fair, also playing into it was the fact that I was real hungry, and I wasn't sure if my compatriot had quite decided what she was ordering, and there was a brief pause in which no one was speaking, so I jumped in.

I think the reason that I felt so disgruntled is that I was unhappy that my attempt to be radical was so neatly deflated, and also I was defensive about being questioned about my manners...which is an especially loaded feeling for me, since so much of my masculine identity is tied up in being a chivalrous gentleman. I know that a gentleman is supposed to defer to the ladies at the table. I also know that "lady" is the last word that should be used to describe my lunch companion.

But I was feeling just shaky enough (I knew that I was jumping in, and I'm not used to it) to be stopped in my tracks when he called me out. And he was insulting my manliness (what kind of guy are you, that doesn't let her order first?) and he knew it, and I knew it, and I had a moment of whiny defensiveness when I wanted to say "Hey, I know that! I'm a gentleman usually! It's just that I was being radical!"

And then I was frustrated with myself for getting defensive, and letting it get under my skin like that. Because then I was second-guessing my motivations (Maybe I was just being rude?) because claiming that I was busting down the binary gender system is no excuse for rudeness. But hey, I don't want to be shamed out of my (admitedly small scale) revolution, either.

So yeah. Plus, I was again a bit taken aback by the intensity of my disgruntlement. This ties in to what I was talking about the other day, with my newly T-shortened temper, and how I'm still noticing it, and I'm nervous about it, and I'm not sure yet how to respond to it. I'm starting to recognize how it works, and there are interesting parallels to the changes in my sex drive.

Just like my sex drive, it's primarily not a quantity thing. I maybe think about sex more than I used to, but I've always thought about it a lot. Likewise, I get annoyed or disgruntled about things more than I used to, but I still don't very often, because I never did very much. Instead, it seems to be mostly about intensity and persistence. It's much harder to ignore sexual thoughts, or stop thinking about them, or put them to the back of my mind. They're more persistent, and intense. Likewise, it's much harder to just let go of little annoyances- something that might not have even been a significant blip on my rader can make me huff and puff a little under my breath. It's harder to let things go, and I get annoyed/frustrated much more quickly and intently.

Weird, huh?

In therapy this morning Amy and I talked about developing a new skill set to deal with these emotions, should they start to settle in for good. She said something about isn't it funny how our selves turn out to be chemically based, and I remembered that yes. This is better living through chemistry, and it's powerful stuff I'm working with here. These emotions and feelings are real, and they aren't going to just go away- I'm sure everything is going to keep settling in while my hormone levels are newly fluctuated- but I'm going to have to learn how to exist with a slightly different temperment.

She suggested a regimen of, essentially, Feel. Breathe. React. In other words, when I start to feel something, take a couple of deep breaths for a moment or two and really try to understand what I'm feeling, why I'm feeling it, what might be the factors, what are my (new) instincts about reacting, and what does my sensible self think about reacting. Then, once I've figured it out for a second, carry on as normal.

Seems kinda silly when I write it out, this very elementary self-control excercise. I think it's going to help, though, because I've already recognized that the best way for me

It has worked- this morning, it helped me deflate my disgruntlement with the waiter by breathing until the moment passed, discussing something else for a second, and then not getting into it while it was still stinging with this disgruntlement. Now, clearly, I can take my time to pick apart the situation and understand what was happening, and I feel fine about it. A little bit of lingering disgruntlement, maybe, but I'm mostly interested in it now as an anecdote. So let's hear it for measured thinking, and deliberate distance.

Actually, if I do it right, I think this necessity for reigning in any flares of temper is going to be good for me. It's going to make me more mindful of what it means to be even-tempered and calm, by making me work for it a little more, so I think I'll have a more thoughtful perspective on things. Also, there have been times when my default amiable nature has not worked in my favor....I wouldn't, as some have, ever use the word pushover to describe myself, but hey, it's been said. Maybe if I'm instinctually a little more aggressive, I will be more likely to stand up for myself?


In other news, I can't stop touching my face. So fuzzy! I haven't shaved since Monday morning, and it's now thursday evening, and I am one scruffy, stubbly dude. I wish I could take pictures of it and post on here to brag, but I think it's probably a good thing that I can't. Y'all don't need to see close-ups of my pores and my proudly patchy facial scruff. It's still nothing to be proud of...can't even think of growing it out yet. I really should've been shaving this week, but I was busy, and then not at my house, etc. Anyway, I've got stubble on my face, and I really like running my hand over it. Plus, it's still soft right now! It's too new and fine to be anywhere near sandpapery yet. Awesome.

I'm getting my 6th shot tomorrow, so maybe I'll give another T-diary style rundown of changes soon. I can't tell if I'm trying to make assessments too frequently- maybe I should give it longer between rundowns, so there will be more to report. At the same time, I've never been one to skimp on the self-analysis. Why start now?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

so I don't have to dream alone

Twice in the last three days I've had anxiety dreams about my upcoming chest surgery. I don't know what this is about! Ask me while I'm awake how I'm feeling about August 9th, and I'll tell you straight up how excited I am about it. This surgery is the pinnacle of my summer- it's going to make me so much happier and more comfortable in my daily being. I can't tell you how many times a day I think wistfully of wearing only one layer of shirt, of sitting on my fire escape in just jeans, of looking in the mirror while I brush my teeth and not frowning a little at my reflection, of pulling someone in close to my chest and not feeling anything in the way between me and them. so good, it's going to be!

I know that any surgery has its risks, and shouldn't be done lightly. Anesthesia is no joke, and no doctor is perfect. This surgery carries its own specific risks ("I'm sorry, we did everything we could, but....your right nipple didn't pull through. I'm sorry. It's in a better place now.") and there's going to be discomfort, etc, afterwards. But I'm not scared. I've been under anesthesia before, and something tells me that being under anesthesia for hours while doctors are messing with your heart was a little more intense than just three hours of a procedure which, while somewhat invasive, doesn't mess with anything deeper than skin and surface tissue. So I'm not so worried about having surgery, per se. Why am I having these anxiety dreams, then?

Now that I think about it some more, though, the dreams have mostly been about me being afraid of fucking up after the surgery, and somehow causing things to go wrong. In the first one, I dreamt that I went back home before my drains were out, or my stiches removed...somehow without that the doctor called me and said "Why'd you go home, you need to be here for your followup!" and I was already back in Portland. I woke up really freaked out from that dream. Then this morning, I dreamt that I was home after surgery, back in my old high school, somehow, and I was trying to get home, but I had things I needed to bring with me and I knew I couldn't carry them because I wasn't supposed to lift anything heavy. But I couldn't find anyone who would help me carry stuff home, and so I kept carrying them myself without thinking about it, and then I'd notice I was lifiting something, and immediately drop it and worry about whether I was messing up my incisions.

That first one is just sort of silly, but this second one is somewhat related to something I was wondering about yesterday. I don't have a good sense of how impaired I am going to be after surgery - how long is it going to be before I've got full function back? I know I have to take it real easy for a couple of weeks, but am I going to be able to navigate getting home from the airport with my suitcase two weeks after surgery? Am I going to be able to reach books off the top shelves when I go back to work the next day? I don't know how things are going to go. So I guess I am a little anxious about that.

Still, these dreams can stop already! I've got less than fifty days til I go under the knife, and at the rate of two anxious dreams every few days, that's more sleepy stress than I need in my life.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

pandora's box

This week for the first time I had some pangs of worry about my transition and how I'm changing. Overwhelmingly, my feelings since starting T have been positive and excited and thrilled- I've been welcoming the hormone induced adjustments and developments to my body. I've got my rough idea of what to expect, based on everything I've learned from my transman buddies, both in real life and via the internet, and I've been gratified as each expected milestone is reached. Ah, here comes my sideburn stubble, and there goes my voice roughening and squeaking, and there are a few hints of muscle definition even as my proto-sixpack abs start to recede under a little padded belly.

But then there are the changes that are harder to quantify, and which I haven't really expected nor anticipated, and honestly, they're making me a little nervous.

These being the mental, emotional, mood changes that I've been noticing, and it's enough to drive a guy really crazy because they're so subjective and minor and at the same time definite. Taking T has some rather cliched effects (anger, aggression, high libido, incommunicative) and there are some moods I've been in lately (impatient, frustrated, walled-up) which seem to overlap. I'm trying to find some way to understand this that neither blames every little grumpy moment on the T, nor ignores the fact that hormones are powerful substances that have strong effects on behaviour and feelings.

It's hard, because I've been envisioning this transition in a lot of ways as a series of small (or not so small) adjustments to myself. Sure, you could say I'm radically changing my life. But I also see that I'm just becoming more and more of myself...that is, I'm not really changing, I'm still me, just with slightly more pleasing packaging.

But what do I mean when I say that? Who is this me that's staying the same? I think of myself as tenderhearted, eager to please, thoughtful, sensitive (sometimes overly), laidback, reasonable. My moods and personality and reaction to things, that's what make up me, right?

But lately, I've been having moments of uncharacteristic behavior, and I don't really like it, and I'm worried that the T is in some way 'changing my personality.'

There's one thing that's been easy to identify, and easy to deal with: I get frustrated more easily. Particularly in situations where I'm being thwarted in some way, or forced to wait for something that I think should happen faster: waiting for a check in a restaurant, waiting in a doctor's office, waiting on the subway. Particularly if there's no immediately apparent reason why I should be waiting (the waiter isn't busy, there's no one else in the office, we're stopped between stations on the tracks). I can feel the frustration coming quickly, but it's easy to recognize, and easier to deal with once recognized. I can talk myself down, or , I've discovered, I can circumvent it if I use the time in a way that no longer feels like my time is being wasted- read a book, or have a necessary conversation with whomever I'm waiting with.

I've been noticing that for a little while, and it's clearly only been happening since I've been on T, and I'm not stressed about it. Learning new ways of managing a suddenly more surfacable impatience is probably good for me. Builds character.

But (especially this past week) I've been having these...moods, and I'm not sure if I'm just having a moody week, or if it's a T thing, or what, but it makes me nervous if it is, because I don't particularly like them. I've had a shorter temper. Something will happen, something that I feel like I should be able to accept without a qualm, and it'll raise little hackles of disgruntlement. Or I'll be quiet (not quite sullen) but withdrawn compared to my usual exuberance and not be able to explain it. And just the other day I remembered an incident that happened in the past, that was not upsetting at the time, and it made me kinda mad when I thought about it again.

I don't want to leap to conclusions ("Oh god, T is turning me into a mean jerk!") for a variety of reasons, not least because I feel like my sample is inadequate to decide that these moods have been solely T induced. Also because there are other factors which may be accounting for the various moods (time gives a change of perspective, the fact that I've been kinda tired and busy and generally feeling a bit overextended this week) that have come up.

But I really don't like being cranky, or angry, or grumpy, or frustrated. It's why I don't like fighting, and I really really don't like shouting. I pride myself on being calm, and amiable/accomodating, and even-tempered. Being angry makes me uncomfortable- I'd much rather be reasonable/rational about something and talk it out. I don't know quite how to deal with little surges of temper, and while I think I've been handling them fine (mostly by being startled after about a minute, wondering where the heck these feelings are coming from, and then trying to dissect them with my rational reasoning until I can determine the source and how to fix the trouble), I'm also a bit nervous about what this means for me. Am I going to lose my favorite bits of myself?

And even more broadly, to get away from Eli-specifics for a minute, what does this mean about what transitioning means? Or what gender is? For lots of transmasculine folks, transition is centered around injecting testosterone. What does testosterone really do to you?

Clearly, it does different things for every person. And keeping track of moods and feelings is much more difficult than keeping track of how many new chin hairs you found this week, or what your biceps measure these days, or even recording voice clips and comparing them.

(Brief interjection: the other night Rochelle played back for me a voicemail that I'd left for her earlier that day. My first thought "Ha! That dude has my same speech patterns!" Second thought: "Gee, guess my voice IS changing. Better get some permanent recordings of it while I still can.")

I've talked before about how my transition means for me a chance to learn how to occupy my place in the world, and learn how to be a man the best way I know how- learn how to be my own kind of man, by learning about what "man" means now, and taking that knowledge and going new places with it...taking the bits I like (responsible, strong, flat-chested) and leaving the bits I don't (privileged and unaware of it, tall, non-removable penis).

But part of the deal of hormones and puberty is that you DON'T get to pick and choose. I'm going to get the acne along with the sideburns, and it looks like maybe I'm going to get the frustratingly short temper along with the stable sense of self.

One of my big comforts is that puberty is supposed to be a time of confusing and hard to handle emotions and moods, right? Maybe this shorter temper is a function of being a person with plenty of testosterone in my body, but I've only been such a person for 3 months. I think with a little more time, I'll have better practice at wrangling my moods where I want 'em to go.

So that's what I've been telling myself during my brief moments of worry this weekend. "What if I've started injecting something into my body every two weeks that's going to make me grumpy and cranky and no fun?"

"Well, young Eli, don't count your chickens yet, and don't underestimate your ability to eventually rule your own roost."

(was that metaphor a bit too awkward? emotions and moods as chickens, still hatching and fluffy, but then in a while will be more settled, once i'm hormonally stable, and then they'll be the grown up chickens in the roost but I'll still be able to be in charge of myself and my thoughts? hence the ruling of the roost? uh yeah. I thought maybe it was. amendment to goal: regain even keel, and develop more adept metaphors.)
Also, today is Father's Day. Cheers to dads everywhere, and here's to being a dad myself someday!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

mirror, mirror

Had a really interesting therapy session with Amy today. We covered a whole lot of topics, but there's one that has been sticking with me this afternoon, partly because I haven't ever given it a lot of thought before, and that is the troubling intersection of eating disorders and transmasculine identity.

We were talking about self-image among transmasculine folks- how hard it is to develop a good (positive, accurate, healthy) sense of self when there aren't a whole lot of cultural reference points to go by, and what reference points exist are often fraught and problematic. That is to say, I'm trying to develop a sense of myself as a guy, and I'm trying to get a handle on my body, and how I feel about it. Looking to the world around me for masculine referents, I run into trouble sometimes when I try to compare myself to the guys I see around me, especially if I'm walking around in Chelsea! Those muscle boys can give anyone a complex.

On the other hand, trying to remember that everyone has their own bodies and body issues is, well, not only an oversimplification, but also an exercise in isolation. I need points of reference, and to be able to see myself reflected in others, even if it's funhouse mirror style.

But when I try to place myself into the context of the transmasculine community, uncomfortable tensions can unfold if I start, as is all to easy to do, comparing myself to other guys and either making unrealistic predictions ("Ooh, he's been on T for 18 months and he's got washboard abs...Only 16 months to go and then I'll have washboard abs, too!" Uh, yeah, or maybe he also does 500 crunches every morning.) or start giving myself a hard time ("He looks so much more like a dude than me. I'm not trans enough!") in all sorts of really messed up ways.

So all of this (as I was discussing with Amy) is not unique to me, and can be a veritable breeding ground for disordered eating. Particularly with transmasculine folks, who are often trying to look more masculine, and are often thwarted by curvy figures. Lose weight, and where do you often lose first? Hips, breasts, thighs...All body places that are heavily gendered as feminine. Plenty of guys want to lose those feminizing curves. I know I do.

Almost all of my issues with my body and my sense that I'm not particularly attractive are wrapped up in my gender. When I look in the mirror and I don't like what I see, most of the time it's because I'm not seeing a guy. That's getting better as I'm letting myself relax and learn about different masculinities, but I haven't been culturally indoctrinated for nothing. All these years of the different kinds of maleness don't just fade away.

I know for myself, I never had any trouble with my body until I started looking at it in a (trans)gendered manner. I remember being in middle school and starting to hear my peers complain about their bodies- thighs too big, breasts too small, whatever. I remember thinking (in that precocious, meta, self-analytic way that I had as a kid) that I was lucky not to be "one of those adolescent girls with body image issues."

And then I grew up and started getting naked with people and started facing my body as more than just the thing under my clothes, and it was a whole 'nother story. Then I looked at my large butt and thought about how unmasculine it looked, started hunching my shoulders to hide my chest.

All eating disorders are heavily gendered, of course- it seems like everyone's issues with their bodies stem from not feeling like "real" men or women, for whatever reason. But for me, instead of feeling like not a good enough girl, I started feeling like not a good enough guy...and it's that much harder to feel like an okay guy when you aren't even cut from the same cloth as the hegemonic mock-up.

So, what to do? Seems like eating disorders are often as much about control as they are about image, per se...for folks whose lives feel unmanageable or out of their control, at least they can be in charge of what they eat. That's got tricky ramifications for trans folks who want to medically transition but, for whatever reason, can't- too young, no insurance, no money, no support. They're seeking to modify their bodies, lose those parts that feel girly, and if they can't do it through hormones or surgery, maybe they'll try to do it by not eating. And hey, lose enough weight and you stop bleeding, too- another goal of many trans guys.

How do you approach someone whose disorded eating is based in a gendered body dysphoria?

A lot of the literature and ideology behind recovering from eating disorders and being body-positive have slogans like "Love your body!" and "Learn to accept yourself for how you are!" Which are great slogans...but are not the encouragement I would offer to many trans folks. I'm intensely uncomfortable and dysphoric in my body...don't tell me to love my body!

It made me sad, and uncomfortable, and unhappily aware of how tricky these intersections of issues can be. Amy said it was a big issue they talk about at Callen Lorde when they're talking about trans health, especially for youth. It made me think again about why I keep putting "hit the gym" on the top of my to do lists, even though I clearly don't have it prioritized enough to actually do it all that often.

And furthermore- and we talked about this in group, some, and I think I'll write more about it when I've let it chew through my brain a little further- I have to admit that on some level, I think it's legitimate for me to want a typically masculine male body. I'm trying to parse apart what I really want, and why, so that I can balance that with what I can and can't accomplish, and scrape out some peace of mind (and body) for myself.

But it's hard! Because I think it's problematic that my ass/thighs/hips make me uncomfortable in their enormity- I can tell that's coming from cultural indoctrination that says that guys don't have big butts (and really, neither should girls, but it's definitely a girl thing) and that is messed up on so many levels. For on thing, plenty of non-trans guys have wide hips and full thighs...back to remembering how everyone has their own complications, right?

On the other hand, I'm never going to be happy about having breasts, because I'm a guy, and guys don't have breasts (though again, I've seen the occasional non-trans man with a bigger rack than me). So I'm having them removed in less than two months, and I think that's important and valid and good. it okay for me to pick and choose what parts of my gendered body image likes and dislikes are okay?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gender Goals 2006

The other night in the Transmasculine Group at the Center, we went around and did brief introductions- trying to get a sense of each other, why we were there, our comfort levels and histories and plans. It was nice, and too brief, and made me think (always good) about where I am and where I'm going and what kind of progress my travel has made.

I'm not sure what I said exactly- it's always hard to articulate myself on the spot- but I've been thinking about it since then. So I thought maybe I'd do a little update on the progress of my various Gender Goals. I keep a lot of little running lists in my head of Things I'm Working On, and one of the lists on the top of the mental stack (naturally) is the gender list. I made a bunch of goals for this year, and I'm pretty much on top of them.

1) Start T and have top surgery in 2006

Well, this one is coming along famously! I've been on T for...uh...I guess 10 weeks, now? I just got my 5th shot. There were some bumps at the beginning- I was going to get started March 20th, and ended up pushing it back and back again due to logistical hiccups at the clinic, and ended up getting my first shot on April 10th. Things are going real well...I keep noticing more and more changes. I think it's starting to pick up speed. I'll give the usual update after my next shot, but suffice it to say that I'm getting hairier by the minute. Also, noticing a few emotional/mental changes for the first time, which are rather interesting, and which I'm not convinced yet are not figments of my hypersensitive imagination. So I'm going to give it a few more weeks, see if I can establish further patterns before I make any proclamations.

2) Figure out my name once and for all

And I have! My name is Elliott John. Eli J. I finally decided a few weeks ago, and have been quietly letting it sit to see how it feels. It keeps getting more and more comfortable, and I've started practicing a new signature, so I'm pretty sure this is it. I was pulled in by the strong family history (someday soon I'll recount the story of the two Johns who were my great grandfathers), and by the unassuming strength of the name. I suppose I could've been, as my father pointed out, "a touch more creative," but I like the balance of John against Elliott. I'm not an entirely flamboyant fellow, after all.

Now, I just have to figure out when I want to get my name legally changed. It's a bit of a process, involving both time and money- going to court with the documents, returning once it gets approved, taking the decree to be published in the newspaper, paying everyone lots of $$, etc. That's not really trouble, except that I'd need to then get new ID with my new name on it, and I've already purchase plane tickets (back and forth to the West Coast) with my old name. I was thinking I could just keep my old Oregon ID when I go to the DMV, and show them other documentation, and say I lost my old wallet. Then in August, I could just take the ticket and show it to them with my old ID and hope that my burgeoning stubble wouldn't blow the whole gig. Or I could wait until after August to change anything, but that has two notable drawbacks, mostly being that I'd have to wait longer to get a license that I wouldn't be embarassed to show anyone. Which ties into the second drawback, which is that my 21st birthday is in September, and I'd like to be able to use an authentic, real ID for that occasion. Or I could try to change the name on the plane tickets, and bring along an affadavit of name change, and before-and-after ID, and hope the airlines understand. hmp.

3) Find a trans community for myself

This one seemed a bit daunting when I made it up last year, since the term "trans community" is altogether too ambitious a term to really use with ease. But lucky for me, I didn't have to define it, I just wanted to find it...and I have, in spades. It was jumpstarted when I started going to the transmasculine drop in group at the Center on Wednesdays- I met a whole slew of really fantastic guys all at once. I remember coming home from that first meeting with my heart beating fast and my head overflowing. The moderators had passed around a piece of paper with possible topics and questions for discussion listed on it, and I took it home and folded it and propped it up beside my bed, so that first thing in the morning I could open my eyes and read "How do we as people of trans experience navigate our histories and incorporate them into our present and future?" and "What is our vision of masculinity?" and suchlike.

Slowly but surely, I feel like I'm coming deeper into this trans/queer community and social circle through all manner of routes. The friendships I'm making fold back on one another, and connect to each other in myriad ways- friends I met at group will show up at someone else's birthday party, and we'll realize again that we're all one big happy family in this small queer world.

It's done me a world of good to have other transmasculine folks to hang out with and strategize with, talk to and connect with. I really needed people to look to for support, and I'm starting to feel like maybe folks look to me, too. It's good for me to feel solid enough to be someone that other folks look to.

4) Become more comfortable with my own self and my own masculinity, rather than wistfully and dysphorically and somewhat hypocritically aspiring to hegemonic masculinity.

Speaking of being solid: as I've been writing lately, this goal is coming along quite nicely as well! I finally feel like I'm settling into myself, rather than hurtling towards some unknown future Eli.

I know that I'm changing right now, but I feel much more like I'm changing as a person, not changing as a transsexual. By which I mean, I'm 20 years old and barely a year out of college. Of course I'm changing at a breakneck pace! But I don't feel like my changes are resting on my gender- rather, I'm settling into myself and still making adjustments to my gender, but now I have a strong sense of who I am. It feels good. I keep mentioning the word solid- it's my new favorite adjective.

Not least because my body is changing- I've always associated masculine bodies with being solid. The few times I've been on, uh, intimate terms with guys, I've always been intrigued (and envious) of how solid their bodies felt. Now, I'm feeling better than ever about myself because I'm feeling that same sense, both because my body is becoming more traditionally masculine, but also because I'm learning more about different sources of masculinity within myself. I can look to that solidity to come from myself and my actions, both in accordance with and in opposition to the masculinity I've been comparing myself to in the rest of the world.

But speaking of feeling about my body- I'm also discovering, to my chagrin, that I've got body image issues within the context of the transmasculine community. I'm doing much better about not looking at myself through a hegemonic lens- that is, I'm not trying so hard to see myself as masculine with a normatively masculine man as my guide. And it's really good for me to place myself within a context of other transmasculine folks, because 1) it's beautiful to fully experience gender as a really experience that, not just believe it as a theory, but be a part of a community where people express themselves on all parts of a gendered spectrum and 2) I like being able to see myself reflected back at me from folks who have gone through similar experiences.

The danger there, though, is assuming that I'm going to follow the same mold just because I'm trans. I need to center on myself and my own possibilities and potential, because it'll give me a complex if I spend too much time looking at other transguys and wistfully eying their broad shoulders or six-pac abs.

and as a final bonus, I'm going to leave you with visual evidence of my increasing manliness. It's pretty goofy in some ways, but it's a flattering photo (it's from a good angle, so I look manly) and I think pretty accurate. Note the broad shoulders! The curly-ish hair! (confirming the hypothesis that T makes one's hair curly? I hope so- I've always wanted curly hair) The so chic party hat!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


My voice is becoming an interesting variable, not under my control at all. It's been dropping, but then sliding back up again. Last week, I could feel my deeper tone and resonance, and today, I can't tell that it's changed at all.

Perhaps that's just me getting used to the change? Maybe this feels normal now, and it'll take another drop before I can feel that my voice is getting deeper.

I left myself a voicemail the other day so I could try to hear my own voice and see if it's changed, but I (somewhat disappointedly) couldn't really hear a noticeable difference. Again, though, it could be that I'm not very good at remembering what I used to sound like- maybe if I had a recording to play side by side, it'd be more apparent.

I know that it is dropping, though. More friends are commenting on it (I startled my friend Wane last night by dropping my voice as low as I could make it. Eli as Barry White. ha!) and I can usually feel the difference.

It's more unreliable than it's ever been, though. I'm a bit nervous about karaoke on Thursday, because I really don't have control over this voice of mine- who knows if it's going to start getting squeaky, or stay low?

I'm getting my 5th shot tomorrow (hurrah!), so maybe that'll precipitate another drop. I know it's unrealistic to hope to someday have my dad's radio-smooth baritone, but hey. A kid can dream.

Monday, June 05, 2006

that's the truth about men

It takes me about 13 minutes to walk to work in the morning, closer to 10 if I pick up the pace. It's a nice walk, most of it along and through Morningside park, pretty quiet- most folks are already at work or in school, so at quarter to ten I've got the park mostly to myself. I really like my walking commute, for a number of reasons, including the intense stairs through the park that (hopefully) contribute to my manly physique, the chance to be in a little bit of nature (trees! grass! rocks!), the good fortune to breath fresh air (such as it is in the city) instead of subway fumes on my way to work. But not least of all, I like it because it gives me a few minutes to think before I really start my day, as I switch between rumbling around half dressed and bleary eyed in my apartment and standing more or less crisply behind the desk at the library.

Oftentimes, I think about this blog, and entries that I have half started, either saved on blogger or in my brain. I get a lot of good blog writing done in my head on the way to work, and then later when I'm sitting down in front of the keyboard, I have to try to close my eyes and put myself back in the park to try to recapture a particularly apt turn of phrase that came to me. Was I already on the stairs when I had that thought, or was it waiting to cross the intersection at 119th?

Today, I had some interesting thoughts bubble into my head while I was walking to work, and I thought for once I'd get them down before they faded.

I spent last night having dinner with Rochelle and an old friend of hers. He was a sweet guy, a high school science teacher, good looking, thoughtful and well-spoken and considerate. I had a brief flash of envy over his very even facial stubble, but overall my impression was "Gosh. What a good guy."

It made me realize that I don't hang out with that many guys, and I don't hang out with ANY straight guys, and, well, I rather wish I did. I never did have many guy friends growing up, and while I hang out with many more guys now than I ever did before, most of them are trans and almost all of them are queer, and I rather wish I had a bit more insight into the life and experience of straight, cisgendered men. I want to know what it's like to be a non-trans guy. Maybe partly out of wistfulness, but also from plain curiosity. Straight guys are pretty much the mystery demographic to me- they're the one group of people whom I don't flirt with, don't know much about, and don't interact with much socially.

You could even look at it as being one aspect of my personality that I'm not particularly in touch with. I mean, I've been a 'girl'- first when I was young, and I was briefly assumed to be straight, as everyone is. Then I was a queer girl...that sounds funny even to type it, but I was. I was a babydyke of the first degree. Now I'm a guy, and I'm definitely a queer guy- I haven't dated many (any? making out doesn't count as dating, I suppose) guys, but that doesn't mean I'm not queer as a three dollar bill. and I'm certainly most comfortable describing myself as a queer guy.

But being a straight guy...well, for one thing, despite all of the lovely women I've had and do have in my life, I still don't know much about what it means to be a straight guy. Most of my relationships have been explicity lesbian, and even now continue to be rather lesbionic (not that there's anything wrong with processing!) and ever since Olivia's sincerely befuddled inquiry when I first mentioned being trans to her our freshman year of college ("But, Dude...why would you want to join the patriarchy?") I've been worried about becoming straight. Not that I don't want to be a guy who dates girls (certainly not), and not that there's anything wrong with heterosexuality per se, but I don't want to uncermoniously be absorbed into the dominant culture as I absorb testosterone into my body.

I certainly know, though, that a large portion of that worry comes from uncertainty. I don't really know what it means to be a straight guy- all I'm operating with is my understanding of the hegemonic masculinity that is so steeped in our culture that I can't miss it. I don't really understand from a close perspective how straight masculinity operates, and I certainly don't know much about how to take it and make it your own. Make something good out of it, be a good man, as so many men do.

And that's what I was reminded of last night- that's the kind of quietly radical masculinity that I'm lacking in my life. I'm so lucky to be surrounded by folks who are at the forefront of the gender revolution, subverting the binary like there's no tomorrow, and I belong to that community and I'm glad of it. But I know that I want to be around, and learn about, and learn from the guys who aren't breaking the chains of masculinity so much as just adjusting them for a better fit. There's a radical power there, too, I think.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pronominal Form

I've received a couple of emails recently that have contained comments in them that have prompted some interesting and not uncomplicated thoughts about pronouns.

I've had the delight (luxury, almost) of not really thinking to much about my pronouns these days, because pretty much everyone in my life calls me he now. It's really lovely not to have to think about passing, or being she'd, or what have you.
In fact, before I launch into this discussion, I have to say that while I continue to think about my gender a lot these days, I'm no longer worrying about it all the time. My thinking and processing is much less anxious- I'm not stressing out about this transition. I'm being mindful, and thoughtful, instead of self-critical. Perhaps I'm still over-analyzing, but I feel like it's coming from a better place these days. So that's good.

Anyway, these emails both contained just one line about pronouns that threw me off.

One of these emails was from somone who was mentioning a friend of hers who has apparently rather recently come out as FTM, rather late in life. Near the end of the email, she wrote "I still often call him "her," which is something you may be used to!!"

That has stuck with me over the cpast week or so, as has an excerpt from a second email from another friend who's coming to visit.

"...because I don't ever want to be that person who slips up and she's you and ruins your weekend."

For both of these emails, my dominant reaction is to be glad that the person in question is reaching out, and being proactive in their support. I'm looking forward to seeing them in person- they're both coming to New York soon- and I'm not at all concerned about either of them interacting with me now that I'm Eli.

But at the same time, I want to figure out why those sentences have stuck with me like little burrs this past week. The conclusion I've come to is that my reactions to both of these comments are coming from a similar place- that is, a sort of mild indignation and defensiveness at the implication that female pronouns should have such power over me, or even a place in my life.

Regarding the first statement, I find myself getting a bit defensive. My retort is that no, actually, I'm not used to people in my life calling me she. I'm used to people in my life recognizing me as the guy that I am. I'm also used to the people in my life who know about my trans identity, and who knew me as female, respecting me and calling me by my preferred pronoun.

At the same time, I recognize that being able to say that so unequivocally is a new piece of privilege, one that's steadily developing as I physically transition and become more evidently and entirely male in my appearance. It's not perfect now, by any means, but people who meet me these days generally don't question my manhood, and I like it that way. That's only going to be more consistent as my transition continues. Also, pretty much all of my friends and family are well acquainted with Eli now, and don't ever slip up. I can't remember the last time someone close to me called me 'she.'

But there was a time in the not too distant past when I did have to endure folks calling me 'she' rather frequently, whether because they didn't know me and were reading me as female, or because they used to know me as female, and hadn't gotten used to the pronoun shift yet. And my word choice (endure) is deliberate here, because it was uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at worst, and it wasn't something that I was 'used' to, ever. It was something I put up with, until the people who cared about and respected me put forth the effort to stop making me uncomfortable.

But even as I type that sentence, I recognize that it's not quite fair. I know how hard it is to reconceptualize someone that you've known for years in one light, by one pronoun, who is now asking you to change your thinking. It's hard to change your thinking. It's hard for me to use gender neutral pronouns for my friends who request them, because they don't come naturally to me. It's hard for me to remember to use a new name for folks I know who decide to go by their full name instead of a nickname, or a middle name, or any new name. I have to be very careful and conscientious, and I mess up sometimes. It's hard!

Which is why I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for being also uneasy about the mention of pronouns from my other friend's email.

My first inclination upon reading that sentence, and what has been in my head this week, was to respond with "Well, just calling me 'she' isn't going to ruin my weekend! I'm stronger than that." I know that my friends are trying hard, and that one mistake doesn't have the power to invalidate me, just as strangers who have erroneous assumptions and erroneous pronoun usage, too, aren't that important in the long run. They need to be corrected, maybe, but it doesn't really matter.

But what's this? How can I write in one paragraph about how difficult it is to endure female pronouns, and then in the next about how I just shrug them off?

I guess this is part of the complexities of gendered interactions, and the necessity of context to make things better. And it comes down, again, to me being in a more stable place now, and more sure of myself, and not worrying about other folks misreading me or misremembering me, and coming up with the wrong pronoun. I know, though, that it's easier to let it slide when someone uses a wrong pronoung if they've previously made it clear to me that they're supportive, and that they're making an effort to remember. And it's easier to let it slide now when strangers think I'm a girl because I'm more confident in myself as a guy, and I'm not constantly relying on feedback from the rest of the world to confirm my masculinity. I'm confirming my own masculinity, these days. (sweet!) And I'm also confident that these misreadings of my gender are going to get fewer and further between, until soon they'll be mere memories of days past.

Which will, naturally, bring up a whole other set of concerns about passing and being stealth and disclosure for me to wrestle with in my head, and in my life, and on this blog. To Be Continued!