Wednesday, May 30, 2007

opposite of war isn't peace

There was a big reunion at my college last weekend, and I didn't go, for a host of reasons revolving around other obligations in the city and overly complicated logistics around getting there. Now, reflecting on the opportunity I missed, I'm finding that my regret is definitely tinged with relief.

I'm still nervous about returning to places in my life where there are people I'm no longer in touch with, people who may or may not have heard about the changes in my life and the way I live it now.

I've gotten awfully comfortable with myself and my life these days, in large part due to the fact that I'm not fighting anymore. I'm not defending my masculinity or fighting for my identity. Everyone who is in my life understands and respects me; me, Eli, son, brother, boyfriend, guy-behind-the-library-desk. Strangers understand me as Eli because I've now got more of the cues that usually indicate guy (sideburns, tenor voice) and fewer of the cues that indicate girl (breasts). The people who are in my life (family, friends, wider circle of friendly people) know who I am because I've told them and reminded them and they've had time to readjust their notions and gain a new understanding, reinforced, of course, by those same shifting cues.

It's funny and satisfying and a little sad to understand just what those cues mean. This seismic shift of the past year/18 months has changed my world, even as I have changed in ways that are seemingly totally different and yet utterly connected. I'm not the same person under all these cues, the acne and body hair and scars that have landscaped my body into something new. I'm not a new person, but I'm not the same, and how much of that is due to what, I don't know. I don't know if it's even productive to try to sort it out. Am I restless now because my self-directed energy is still high, but the amount of maintenance required for my transition is falling off at a rate inversely proportional to the amount of maintenance required by my facial hair? Or is it the vaguely ADD-esque effects that I suspect testosterone is offering to my attention span? Or is it the early-twenties post-college crisis that I'm just about due for?

It's satisfying to know that transition has, in a sort of grossly defined way, worked. It has brought me happiness and fulfilment in my own skin, and it has caused the rest of the world to get a much clearer picture of me, putting an end to the aforementioned (and formerly ongoing/exhausting/demoralizing) fighting.

It's funny to think that the removal or addition (as the case may be) of a couple of pounds of skin and tissue from my chest or a couple of square inches of dense hair to my face can make for such powerful allies in that fighting. It wins the battle with strangers before anything has to be fought, and it made the difference for quite a few folks who were hesitant to really understand my maleness until it had a form that they could more easily understand.

And that there is the sad part- that 14 months of hormones can accomplish what years of assertions and explanations sometimes can't, that it still takes the same traditional markers of masculinity to establish respect. I'm thinking of my favorite queen karaoke hostess, who despite repeated promptings/reminders/requests on my part, couldn't get my pronouns straight until confronted by the big guns: a rebuke from my mom, and my own physical transition. Miss J got much better after my mom joined the fray, but the battle has only really stopped now that I've got my flat chest in tight t-shirts to gird me.

I read the other day a comment along the lines of "I'm not a man, and not because I'm trans, but because there are no such thing as men."

That resonates with me really powerfully, because I hear in it my own convictions about the sadness and folly of the necessary tactics in the Battle of the Sexes...not in the original sense of the tennis-match skirmish, but the larger Battle, the ongoing one about what it means to have a gender in this system, and the fighting and revolution that's necessary to change it.

I'm starting to ramble, in a manner much more grim and bellicose than I intended. (it's the T!! the T that makes me use these militaristic metaphors!!!)

I want to return at least briefly to my original point, which is about the relief that's been tempering my regret about missing my reunion. That relief is coming from an understanding that going back to Simon's Rock would have meant re-entering the fray- facing a slew of battles, big and small, about how I am seen by people who haven't had the benefit of time and explanations and understanding. That prospect is daunting, and I don't know if it makes me a bit of a coward to be glad to wait til my beard fills in a little more, til I have bigger and better armaments, before I return to the front lines.


Anonymous said...

do you think you would think/feel the same way, same level of comfort, same sense of "done"/movingon with transition if either:

-your facial hair took years longer to grow in, or never grew in at all?

-you felt the need for further surgery, including bottom?

if not, how might things seem different?

Eli said...

hey anon, interesting questions.

I have to say first that while I do have a great sense of comfort these days, I don't really feel like I'm "done."

I feel done with a certain angst ridden phase, but not done with transition as a whole... I wouldn't call myself "post transition" at this point.

But your questions are still pertinent, I think, and I think the answer is (as I suspect you may be anticipating) no, I certainly don't think I'd feel the same level of comfort, particularly as regards the facial hair question.

I have the feeling I'm not totally done with surgery- there's probably a hysto in my future at some point, and while bottom surgery isn't on my radar right now, I haven't totally ruled it out, either.

But my facial hair has come in very nicely, and I think I wouldn't be nearly as happy/satisfied as I am now if it hadn't. But I come from a very hairy family, so I had certain expectations around that- if I came from less hirsute folks and had less hair, it probably wouldn't bother me too much, either.

But it would still make my life harder in terms of being read as male consistently by people around me, and that would no doubt continue to be frustrating and draining.

abigezunt said...

hey there, eli! missed you at the reunion, but i hear you on how weird that would be to see people who hadn't heard the news.
i think a lot of people have heard the news, though, and i think that if you went back to SR, you'd have a phalanx (war metaphor, eh?) of allies using your pronouns right all over campus, and people would get it mighty fast. plus, you look so different now, maybe people who hadn't seen you since you were 16 wouldn't even recognize you, you know?
anyway, what i meant to say was that i missed you at the reunion, but honestly you probably see more simon's rock folks at your hip new york parties than were even there at the reunion anyway. so maybe you didn't miss anything. except the mugs.

Anonymous said...

same anon. I suppose I'm just wondering whether you think you'd still be angst-ridden if your situation was different-- specifically if you definitely had your eye on expensive, high-recovery-time surgery. I find that some guys who know they want bottom surgery early on can feel quite unhappy about how to go about achieving it, and about continuing on in a body still not-quite-right to them.

I am not trying to single you out. I like getting others' perspectives, putting them through the thought experiment of having different genetics, priorities, and resources. your journal is more insightful than most on this point.

Eli said...

abby- dude, there were mugs?? damn.

thanks for the reminder of how good the support of my friends's very heartwarming, since I consistently forget that all y'all have got my back!

also, do you think i look so different? I go back and forth between thinking I look super different, and totally the same. maybe I'll dedicate an upcoming post to this topic.

Eli said...

hey anon, thanks for the clarification. it IS an interesting thought experiment, and one that I (fortunately? regretfully? with more than a little twinge of sadness/empathy, anyway) am relieved is just an experiment for me. (i wonder if non trans folks feel any similar sense of relief/sympathy about me? hmm)

because I do think I would still be quite unhappy if bottom surgery were a high priority for me, because I'd still feel like my goals were unfilfilled, in contrast to how I feel now.

In fact, I wonder if it might be of the reasons I didn't start taking Testosterone til last April was because I wanted to wait until I set a date for chest surgery. I'd been reasonably sure that having the welcome masculinization of T would make the dysphoria of my breasts more intense, and I was right, to a degree. If I wanted bottom surgery and was at the stage I am now, I can see how the frustration would sting even more deeply in light of the other steps I'd been able to accomplish.