Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Happy Holidays

I'm home for the holidays, without much internet access, but so glad and thankful to be home surrounded by my loving family. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 18, 2006

gym vole

Got out on my fire escape for a little while on Sunday, it was so nice and warm. Or eerily, unseasonably warm, I suppose. Still, felt good to be out in just a tank on a mussed, lazy, unshaven sunday afternoon. Later that day (see below) it got cool and very blue just after sunset. It was hot hot in my room- overactive radiator- so it felt good to lean against the chilly glass. You can see my scars are fading.

I think I'm emerging from what was a rather sedentary autumn, and thinking that it might be nice to hit up the gym for a while. I'm starting to get just a touch of a spare tire 'round my middle, and while there's a big part of me that thinks I'd look just fine as a hairy little cub of a bear with a cute little belly, there's also a part of me that wants to see if (now that I've got all this lovely testosterone slapping muscle on my frame) I couldn't make something of a musculature for myself this winter. There's no good reason not to go to the gym- no time, maybe, but I spent less than an hour there today, and I feel good about it. It'll give me more energy, too, I hope.

I try not to be self conscious when I'm there. I don't worry about being read as male- my flat chest/sideburns/etc pretty much take care of that for me. I'm still conscious of the fact that I don't look like most of the guys there, though, in terms of body shape. I'm still short, wide-hipped, soft edges where plenty of them (and not just the studly hardbodies, but the relatively ordinary looking guys, too) have hard edges.

Didn't have any worries with the locker room- just kept my boxer briefs on and figured that no on would look too close and notice the lack of a bulge. Though that didn't stop me from (as I often, perhaps comulsively sometimes, do) rehearsing things to say in the event that someone not only noticed but actually mentioned it to me. "Traumatic childhood prank gone awry...don't really want to talk about it...just promise me you won't ever mix firecrackers and a wetsuit, okay?"

It helps to get out of my head sometimes and remember- as was especially evident at the gym, once I really looked around- that everyone else is equally trapped inside their own heads, and generally are NOT constantly measuring and evaluating and judging me. I may be a slightly pudgy, short dude puffing away on the elliptical machines (and the only guy on the ellipticals!) but that's fine. No worries.

This gym-going might be part of a bevy of 2007 self-improving habits. Learn how to self-inject, start doing my shots weekly; go to the gym, get some muscles; start washing my face with something so as to try not to look quite so much like an acne-riddled teenager; keep shopping at farmer's markets and cooking with the seasons and eating nicely; give away clothes that are too big or too small for me; learn how to trim my sideburns into something a little more interesting than these standard rectangles- perhaps finally grow out those muttonchops I've been threatening?
Last but not least, I'm going to leave you with a pair of silly, exhibitionist items.

My voice has been dropping again, and you can check out my last few exceedingly goofy voice posts [click here] Also, I believe I said something about belly hair? Not that you can really see it, and not like I was tryng to be all Casanova in open white shirt, and not that I can actually believe I'm actually photographing my body hair for internet consumption, but...there you have it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the gimper

This past tuesday I got my shot of testosterone at Callen Lorde, and instead of getting it in the butt as usual, the nurse injected me in my right thigh. We'd been talking about injecting , and coming to the clinic to get my shots as opposed to maybe starting the process of self-injecting. As it stands, the party line for the youth clinic is that you need to come in and receive your shots from them for the first year, after which you can be trained to administer them yourself and do them at home.

There are plenty of reasons to self-inject, not least of which is the ability to control one's own dosage schedule, as well as avoiding the necessity of going down to C-L every other week and waiting in the office for my appointment. It's not as much of a hardship as all that- only takes me 30 mins to get down there from home or work, and when everything's running smoothly it's only a 15 minute interaction. However, it is an extra trip to Chelsea every two weeks on top of my usually weekly visits to see Amy, my therapist, whom I see early enough in the morning that the clinic isn't open to give me my shot at the same time. Also, the clinic is perpetually busy and running behind and overbooked, which means getting an appointment can be difficult, I can only be on a biweekly schedule, due to said appointment scarcity, and I often end up waiting 45 minutes in the waiting room for a 7 minute clinical encounter. Which can be frustrating.

So this Tuesday, while we talked about that, the nurse said she'd inject me in my thigh, since that's where they teach patients to self-inject. Apparently it's a three-part tutorial, where the first time they go through all the motions slowly and deliberately, showing you each part of the process (how to draw up the T into the syringe, how to swab down, where to place the needle, etc) but still do it for you. The second time, they let you try it yourself, but still step in to guide when necessary. The third time, they have you do it all by yourself while they watch to make sure you're doing it right, and if you are, then you pass, you get needles and your bottle of T and you're sent off into the wild blue yonder with instructions to come back every once in a while for old time's sake (and bloodwork). She also told me that they teach you to inject in the thigh since you can't twist around and see your butt very well by yourself, and so there's a greater danger of doing it wrong and hitting a nerve or something equally dreadful.

So she had me sit down, and jabbed me in the right thigh, and it was fine! The first time I've ever seen the needle actually going in, and it was easy- she moved it slowly slowly towards my leg, and carefully stucj it in, pulled back a bit to make sure she wasn't in a vein/artery, then plunged the T in. Kinda neat, and totally painless...I didn't feel a thing at all.

Sweet! I thought. The butt is reputed to be less painful, but while plenty of my butt shots have stung a tiny bit, this shot hurt not one whit.

Famous last words.

Getting on the subway a few minutes later, I noticed that I could feel a little bit of cramping in my thigh, felt like normal muscle soreness, as though I'd worked out too hard the day before. Nothing too bad, though, until the next day when I woke up and my leg was afire with crampy stabby pain. It actually seemed to be lower than where the injection had gone in, and was weirdly centered around my knee. In fact, it felt scarily similar to the pain I'd had a few years ago when I busted up my knee playing basketball and had to wander around with a brace and crutches and a prayer for my over-stretched medial collateral ligament.

I don't think intra-muscular shots can affect ligaments, so I don't think it was anything troublesome, especially since there was no redness or swelling or heat. I'm pretty sure that it was just the T painfully being absorbed by my quad muscle, which is in no way used to having a viscous, slow-disolving liquid forced into and through it, and that (since the quad is what makes my knee work) is why it hurt like the devil to bend my knee all day Wednesday, and hurt like the dickens all day Thursday, and hurt only a tiny little bit on Friday. Today, Saturday, it doesn't hurt at all until I bend my knee alllll the way back, like I'm stretching. Wednesday, when it was the worst, I stuck a heating pad on it for most of the night (and Ben brought me ice cream) that that helped.

Still, I don't know what that was all about, exactly, but it sucked. A lot. There is no way that I'm going to deal with that much pain every other week, let alone every week, which is what I'd planned- if I switch to self-injecting, I'd like to try going weekly. I know plenty of guys self inject into their butts, and they don't all have nerve damage, so it must be possible to safely do. And I know plenty of guys inject into their thighs every week without crippling, limp-inducing pain for three days. Maybe it's just the first one that hurts the worst? Maybe that was just an unlucky shot?

Also, I've been reading about more and more guys switching to subcutaneous injections, so just under the skin instead of all the way into the muscle. It's a lot easier, since you don't have to go as deep, and you can use shorter, thinner needles, and there are more possible injection sites. It's also newer, so less understood/tested, with possible unknown effects, as well the possibility of less effective absorption.

I dunno. Maybe I want this to be easier than it is? I don't want the hassle of going to C-L for shots, and I want to be able to do them weekly, but I don't want the sort of pain that came with this thigh-shot method. Hopefully, easier ground can be reached.
That being said, I haven't done any of the sort of body part breakdown of T effects in quite a while, but needless to say, everything is still as expected and going well. Maybe if I can get my belly hair to show up on my camera I'll post a few shots here. Lucky you!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

flesh and blood

A little piece of community parlance that's recently been getting very much under my skin is the term "bio-" as a prefix, as in the term "bio-boy" to distinguish non-trans men from the trans folks. I know it's common usage, along with "genetic girl" and other (often alliterative) such terminology, but it really annoys me, similarly to the way that I'd be annoyed if someone said "Wow, Eli, you look like a real guy now that you've got such bushy sideburns!" Invalidating and hurtful, right? I am a real guy. I am real.

Likewise, I'm a 'biological' guy, too...I've got a body, and everything that goes with it, and to distinguish me from other men by calling some of them 'bio' makes me feel a bit like a freak, and I don't need it. All of our identities and bodies are medicalized anyway...where do you think the lines come from the demarcate men from women? They're not as firm as everyone would have you believe, and I know that all masculinities are constructed, so I don't need to feel like mine is a cyborg variety and others have the "real" deal when that privileges non-trans men in a way that I'm at all comfortable with.

I'm not saying that lines cannot be drawn- I'm not asking anyone to turn a blind eye to the differences between my experience and that of a non-trans man, or to try to pretend that we're the same, when we're not, and I wouldn't want to be.

I'm fine with terminology like trans and non-trans, and I quite like (no doubt because of the neat chemistry allusion) transgender and cisgender, like the cis and trans bits of molecules that align in different ways to create different substances. And I'm pretty okay with xx-guy and xy-guy, though I think dividing us up by our chromosomes can be an odd thing when most folks have never had their chromosomes tested. I assume that I'm xx, but I really don't know, for sure.

I just don't like the use of bio-guy because it sets up a dichotomy that posits me as non-biological, so not-real, not-alive. I am very much alive.

Likewise, a frustration with folks who admire trans folks and feel the need to preface the compliment with their non-trans status, as though in a misguided attempt to make it a better compliment. I'm thinking in particular of various online communities (of which I may or may not be a member *ahem*) that exist essentially as vanity exercises, like ftmundressed or what have you, wherein transguys post pictures of themselves (in this particular instance, in various states of undress) and then other folks can comment appreciatively.

While I'm under no illusions as to the self-aggrandizement and ego-boosting that these communities are essentially centered around, I do think they provide a couple of useful purposes. I don't know if I can speak for all transfolks, but I have to say that there's a lot of negative self-image shit that has come along with being trans for me, much of it bound up very specifically in my body. Pretty much the only self-esteem issues I've ever had have been explicitly connected to being trans, and so a little ego-boosting now and again can be a good, soul-nurturing endeavor. Level the playing field, a bit, you know? Some positive feedback to combat all the negative stuff that is generated internally and also fed through society's representation of transness.

Also, it's a great thing to see other trans guys looking happy and health and sexy- it's a great way to get a good idea of the breadth of transmasculinity, and the possibilities and options of transition, and get some reassurance that being trans doesn't equal unhappy, ugly, unsexy, busted. From a research-into-transition options perspective, it's nice to see what T or surgery or whatnot has done for other guys, to make my own process less mysterious/daunting.

And it's just a great all-around reclaim our bodies as sexy and positive instead of varying degrees of uninhabitable, which seems to be the party line that most trans folks start at.

Although it's worth noting that there is a whole other set of issues that I am trying hard not to develop around being part of such a community- namely, feelings of inadequacy with regards to being "trans enough", or having had the right kind of surgery, or whether my sideburns are coming in as quickly or thickly as the next guy, etc. It's a little ironic, perhaps to come away with more and/or new insecurities from a group that theoretically is for the good of my self-esteem, but there are moments (his scars are less noticeable than mine! he's got such awesome abs! he's so well-endowed!). Usually, though, such moments are few and far between, and the body-positiveness of such places shines through in a great way...particularly because the feedback is almost always enthusiastic, plentiful and very positive.

Which leads me nicely back to the place where I started off on this whole thing in the first place, which is the annoyance that flares up when a non-trans commenter gives feedback along the lines of "Wow, you're so hot! I'm a gay bio-guy, and I'd totally jump you in a second!"

I'm sure said commenter meant well, but what I hear is "i'm surprised, because despite the fact that I've been led to believe that trans guys are really just unattractive mannish women, you look enough like my idea of what a real man is supposed to look like that even I, an actual man who's usually attracted to other actual men, am attracted to you! because I can pretend that you're really a man!"

which is, y'know, probably just me being too sensitive, but also...c'mon. can't you just say he's hot, and leave your own gender out of it?
these thoughts are leading me to other thoughts, which maybe I'll have time to return to in the future- some about discussions I've been vaguely party to about people variously known as 'transsensual' or (ick ick ick) 'tranny chasers.' As first reaction is that there's nothing wrong with my trans status making me more attractive to someone, but I have no interest in my transness being the sole reason that someone wants to date aka fetishize me. But certainly it's a topic that could use a lot more inquiry.

Also, while I'm chattering away about bodies and vanity and self-esteem, have I mentioned lately how happy I am with my physical self? I mean, now that I've gotten the big stuff taken care of, I've got time to notice/whine about the little things, like my acne, that are annoying or make me feel unattractive. But I want to put it out there that I feel awesome about myself and my body these days. I haven't had a body-based freak out in months (if you don't count the Evil Nipple-Tweaking Milkmaid incident from Halloween), and for the first time in my life I consistently take stock of myself and am pleased with what I find. I look good, and I think I look good, and that feels...well...pretty good.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Doctor's Orders

Just got a voicemail from Dr. Vavasis (whom I still think of as "my doctor" even though I haven't had an appointment with him since lo these nearly 8 months ago when I first started T) at Callen-Lorde, saying that he received a phone call from a woman working for my union. She wanted to discuss with him my surgery, in order to assess whether or not to grant me my short-term disability benefits for the time that I was out of work during my chest surgery. Apparently, though, she used my old name (guess my union still hasn't caught up its old paperwork, since I've corrected it in all the various departments).

Anyway, he left me a message saying that he wants to talk to me before calling her back, so that he knows my boundaries, and what he can and can't and should and should discuss with her, etc. A very pro-active, thoughtful and respectful thing for him to do, and I'm very glad that he did it. I feel duly empowered.

The trouble is, I'm not sure what to tell him.

I've got an inclination to ask him to say whatever it is he thinks will get me my 300 bucks from the union. Trouble with that strategy is that I've really got no idea what exactly would be the most effective strategy.

One way would be to pretend I'm female, and that I needed to have a "reduction" done for some sort of medical reason- backpain and history of breast cancer are the two most common ones used. That would be pretty much fraudulent on every count, though, since I'm not female, had no back pain due to my breasts (unless you count from hunching/binding to hide them), and have no history of cancer (thankfully).

I could also try to present it as thought I'm a non-trans male with "excess" breast tissue that needed to be removed...gynecomastia, I think, is the usual term. Which is more accurate in some ways, since I basically did feel that I had excess breast tissue that wasn't appropriate for me as a male, and so I had it removed.

But there's also the fact that I'm pretty sure Dr. Brownstein filled in the form with "transgenderism" as the reason for my surgery. I'm not certain, though, since I foolishly had him fill it out and send it right back to the Union, rather than through me so I could see what he put.

That right there might have doomed me, since most health insurances as a matter of course routeinely deny anything that's associated with Gender Identity Disorder or Transgenderism or any such diagnosis. Which is frustrating, if you think about it, seeing as how insurance companies (and other authority figures) often require a diagnosis in order to grant any sort of validity, but then turn right around and exclude anyone with those diagnoses from insurance coverage or non-discrimination policies like the ADA.

So, what to do, assuming that the union knows that I'm trans? (which, well, duh. not just Dr. B's form, but also the fact that I changed my name from Emmalyn Cassandra to Elliott John, and also the fact that my original membership form says F but all my stuff now says M, etc- and a note on that, now...sometimes I wonder if maybe it wouldn't have been easier to lie more on some of my forms when I was often being read as male but before I had the ID to back myself up. I often wasn't asked for ID or, even when the telltale F was presented, it was often overlooked. sure, I would've been perjuring myself, but really, it would just have been preemptively telling the truth. and it might've saved me some trouble now.)

I think there's two approaches we can take- there's what I think of as the Classic Transsexual Model, such as it is...so, talk about how it's Medically Necessary For Transsexuals To Have Chest Surgery, and how I was in Intense Emotional Distress, and this is a Necessary Step in the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, and I had to do this for my own good. so I could be Normal.

which, while it has elements of truth in it (I do feel more normal now than I have in a long time), is also a fucked-up narrative that I feel a little icky for taking part in and perpetuating. I don't know that I was in intense emotional distress (though this might just be my penchant for downplaying my own troubles talking), and I certainly don't believe that it's necessary for all trans folks to have surgery and/or follow the SOC in order to be respected and believed and validated in their selves and identities. And I think it's dangerous to perpetuate that model, and why it may be dangerous to have trans health regulated by the insurance industry...we may end up with slight victories (insurance coverage!) at perhaps great cost (only if you fit the appropriate rubric!). Such as the policy in NYC about changing one's birth certificate...the Board of Health (bastards!) voted down the recommendations to allow less rigid guidelines about what's necessary before issuing a new birth certificate, so as it stands, trans bodies (our own physical bodies) are being regulated by the state- no new birth certificate unless you've drastically, expensively, and who-knows-how-successfully modified your genitals, according to THEIR notion of what's necessary in order to be a transperson. Not even what's necessary to be just a "man" or a "woman" but still, because they won't issue an entirely new document but rather an 'amended' document, a "transsexual" as defined by the state. Urk.

But, back to me and my union.

You can see why I'm wary about participating in/perpetuating these "medically necessary" notions, but at the same time... I do believe that this chest surgery was a medically necessary procedure for me, as part of my own personal medical transition. I really needed to have surgery in order to feel whole (ironic! scars signify not absence or loss but gain of self!), and I believe that surgery costs themselves should've been covered, as well as time out of work.

I'm not fighting on the surgery itself front (oh I wish, though!) but I am going to fight this fight about time off of work.

Sooo....I think I'm going to ask Dr. V to say that I'm a ftm transman under his care, that he's supervising my transition, that chest surgery was a medically necessary part of my transition. If they need to know if it was causing me pain/distress, then yes, it was.

I hope this works. I'm tired of fighting. Though I better not be, since I'm sure this ain't my last fight.

I'm wondering if this is going to affect my chances/opportunities to have a hysterectomy one of these days. Hopefully not. Not that I'm sure I want to have a hysto, but it seems like probably an inevitability, given everything I've heard about PCOS and endometriosis and the effects of long term T on one's bits, and the ever-diminishing likelihood that I'll ever be able to use those bits for anything ever again, so why not get rid of 'em?

It seems so long ago, though it was only August- I'm straining now to remember details, like the day of, getting back to the hotel still wearing the anti-clotting stockings, and trying to stay awake through a Project Runway marathon. And my new blue pajamas that I wore for days! and the flowers that Rochelle sent me the day after surgery. (see left for picture proof, with bonus hotel room background)

And how I was hunching over for a few days afterwards, keeping one hand on my chest, semi-convinced that things would just...fall off, if I straightened up or took my hand off my sternum. Though now I think maybe it's just that the binder was a little loose, and would slip, and make me worry. (as evidenced to the right, with bonus cable car in the background- yay, San Fran!)

And the first peek that I got at my chest, back in Portland, holding the binder away from my chest, and my worried feelings about looking...well...ravaged. Bruised/taped/scabby. It was a bit scary that first night I saw it, honestly. I didn't want to admit it for the world, of course, because being scared sounds like regret and not for one second ever have I regretted this. But I was for a while worried and scared and wondering "what did I just do to myself?" when I couldn't life my arms and everything was sore and swollen and different.

It seemed like it'd take forever to get better, but now, barely four months later (four months nearly to the day, actually), I feel fine and fantastic- fit as a fiddle and ready for love!


Haven't gotten a chance to watch it yet, but there's a video on YouTube with Jamison Green and Calpernia Addams, apparently talking about coming out, etc? I'll give a review later, after I get a chance to watch it.


Saturday, December 02, 2006


Wow, seems like everywhere you look these days, trans folks are in the New York Times! Seems like there was a slew of articles a little while ago, about birth certificate changes, and my friend Ray being profiled...and I remember back in August or some such, there was a Sunday Styles article called "When Jane Becomes Jack" or something similar, and then now today there's this article, about young children with non-normative gender identity.

I'm delighted and pleased to hear that parents are being supportive of their children- I'm all in favor of supporting gender diversity. It's also making me think about myself and the gender of my childhood. I certainly felt supported throughout my upbringing (thanks mom!) as a very boyish child- I wore dresses sometimes without much fuss, I think, but I also had my hair cropped very short for most of my life. Until middle school, when I went with the flow for a while and tried to "be" a "girl" by growing out my hair and wearing more form fitting clothes, etc.

Makes me realize a couple of things, though- for one, I didn't have a very strong gender identity when I was a kid. I knew I liked to be the knight and not the princess, but I didn't have strong "I'm a boy!" or even "I'm not a girl!" feelings until my teen years. (Which I speak of so distantly, but were not in fact so very long ago!) I guess, like my sexuality, I just didn't think about it much until it became an issue. It never occured to me to argue with the world, which told me I was a girl, in part because being a girlchild wasn't very oppressive for me- I still felt like I could do whatever I wanted, wear my hair short, be the knight, etc.

Any feelings of difference I had separating myself from my peers felt like they were due at least as much to my intelligence and nerdiness as to any sort of gender issues...though I certainly did get my share of "are you a boy or a girl?" on the playground.

Someone posted on an online forum recently something along the lines of his slow discovery, as he has more and more experience with public manhood, that his female history and experience as a "girl" was very unlike the experience most girls and women have. That really resonates with me.

I don't claim a lifelong masculine identity because the fact is, I wasn't proclaiming my maleness from childhood. I was very boyish, and something that's helped my family, I think, has been being able to reflect on my childhood and think about "what a little boy" I was.

The way I see it, I was a kid (and in my world, that meant being pretty genderless, though as far as it goes, I was a boyish kid) and then I was a dyke, and then I was (and still am) a queer guy. I started thinking about my gender pretty much as soon as I started thinking about my sexuality, though not so publicly. I realized I liked girls pretty suddenly at about age 12, and it was one of those things where I had a realization, and then the more I thought about it, the more it seemed reasonable. I like girls. Awesome. I must be gay!

With my gender, it was very similar- just took a lot longer and was a lot harder, in no small part because being trans is in a lot of ways a lot more complicated than being queer. At least for me, being gay was something I could readily latch onto. No sweat. Being trans was something enormous and mysterious that I had to wrestle with for a long time to really figure out and go forward with.

Someone else wrote on that same online FTM forum about feeling like their old self had died, was gone. And I know a lot of families have feelings of grief, feelings of losing their sons/daughters who become these new, differently gendered people. I don't feel like any part of me has died, though- but nor do I feel like I'm "still the same person inside!" as the opposite line of thinking often goes.

Who the hell is the same person at 21 that they are at 13? That's when I started thinking about my gender. I feel like I've grown up, I've discovered thing about myself, and I'm expressing myself more clearly and honestly. I don't feel like I'm a new person, just a changed one.

This post is meandering, I'm not sure where. Childhood! Neither the same nor new on the inside! I had a childhood, not a girlhood or a boyhood!

Since this isn't a particularly unified line of reasoning, I guess I'll go back to the article one more time, to Kenneth Zuckerman's assertion that most kids grow out of their non-normative gender behaviors and identities. (Just a throwaway- I saw him speak once, with Judith Butler. It was a validating moment for me, genderwise, as I realized that I wanted to think like her and look like him, and so this was probably a good decision after all.)

I'm not sure what to make of that. I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for kids to grow out of non-normative gender behaviors. If anything, I grew into mine. So is the moral to take away that not all gender nonconforming children are/will be transgender adults? I'd like to think that more gender nonconforming children might be a good thing, regardless of any potential trans futures. Children with strong gender identities (normative or otherwise) should be supported in them, and children (like me) who are just carrying on being themselves (normatively gendered or otherwise!) without much thought about it should be supported, as well. The future should not be seen as absolute, either way...we should recognize that gender identities are flexible and fluid and certainly aren't fixed by childhood.