Thursday, May 31, 2007

muscle memory

My sister has graduated from college and is coming to live with me (hurrah!) and this past weekend we spent a bit of time scurrying around starting to get things ready for our apartment. One of our endeavors was the acquisition of a bed for her, and luckily enough, she found one on Craigslist, being sold about a half a mile from our apartment.

Unfortunately, there's a rather sizable park (with a more than sizable cliff/towering set of stairs) between the two spots, so we undertook to load the full size bed (Ikea mattress and frame, so light, but still big) onto a handtruck and cart it an additional 7 blocks up and down and around the park, from door to door.

It was a pretty arduous task, given that our handtruck had a pretty flat left tire, and that the sidewalk was in a few places rather too narrow to accommodate us, etc, but great fun was had by all. The surprising part of the whole adventure was how much I ended up shouldering the load. Especially as we were coming back through the park, pulling the handtruck up the stairs- it was much easier for me to pull the cart than it was for Kate.

I know that my shoulders have gotten broader, that my muscle mass has been building, but this was one of the first real bits of tangible evidence of my increased strength that I've had. It felt normal to me to haul that cart up the stairs almost casually, until I saw that it was a heavy load for Kate. That was a definite moment of disconnect.

When we were younger, Kate was stronger than me. She was the one who could run faster, and farther. She could shimmy up poles and ropes, through some combination still unknown to me of arm strength and sneaker maneuvering. I would never agree to enter an arm wrestling contest against her, because I knew I'd lose. She used to be the buff twin!

In a slightly different context, my therapist said to me this morning "It's not like you don't know your own strength, Eli."

She meant that I am (or at least, I try hard to be) conscious of my size and space and presence, of the eddies I cause in the flow and exchange of power in the world. I take up more of it now, in my maleness, and I'm very aware of that, in contrast, as Amy was pointing out, to many other men, to whom manhood came more naturally. (Among that group I definitely include both trans and nontrans men, though I think there are far more nontrans men, numerically of course but also percentage wise, who fit the bill.)

So yes, of course I do know my own strength, and I know it physically, too- I've been proud as my push-up count has risen from single digits ending in noodle-armed exhaustion to my current sets of 15 that I try to remember to do every day. But this hauling of the handcart reminds me that, for all the work I try to put into my body, the payoffs are still sometimes a gentle surprise.

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.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

slip away

So, I forgot to give myself my shot yesterday. It was only when Ro asked "so, how'd your shot go this morning?" late last night that I realized it was, in fact, Wednesday and while I'd been home and puttering around the house for a good two hours, I totally neglected my usual Wednesday morning ritual of masculine hygiene: brief workout, mostly of crunches/pushups; shower; shave; injection.

I think there's a post back in the archives of this blog somewhere, musing about how long it'd take for the excitement of transition to fade. Well, not long, I guess. I'm going to go home tonight and do it, and I've been marking it on my calendar, so if I pay a little more attention to what day of the week it is, I should be fine in the future.

I don't think there have been any ill effects, but I did realize that I was in an exceptionally good mood yesterday, and also managed to be slightly more patient than usual during a couple of moments of frustration.

Could be coincidence- my life is pretty good all around these days, what with the sunshine, and my sister's upcoming move to NYC to replace my imminently departing roommate, etc. I'd chalked my cheerfulness up to those factors. But maybe my late dose contributed, as well? It's food for thought, and has me wondering about adjusting my dosage and/or dosing schedule. I'm due in a week or so for my quarterly bloodwork check-up, so maybe I'll see where my levels are at and discuss it with my Doc.

I've been thrilled with the pace of my transition thus far, but I think I'd be willing to trade in quicker puberty for fewer bouts of grumpiness.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

all my transsexuals

I don't think I ever wrote about it, but a couple of months ago, back in January, I met a soap opera star at my favorite gay bar. This fellow was playing a transwoman on the soap opera "All My Children" and was friends with a transwoman who works at the bar. Apparently he'd talked to her a lot to prepare for his role playing 'Zarf,' a sexually ambiguous David Bowie type who begins to transition to Zoe over the course of a few episodes, while trying to make out with the lesbian character. Or some such appropriately soapy plotline- appropriate clips can be found on YouTube, at any rate.

The woman who works there introduced me to him as, I suppose, the only other trans person who frequents the bar, and he wanted to spend some time chatting and asking questions, and telling me about how the producers did all this research with the appropriate GLBT organizations, like GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and how it was really important to him to get it "right" and etc. I think he was hoping to both show off a little as a trans ally, and also try to mine for more information he could use to further his understanding of his character, or some such.

And I'm trying not to begrudge him that, because I think he did do a credible job with the role (what bits I saw from my own YouTube explorations, anyway), and he was sincere in his desire to be respectful and educate himself (again, like my karaoke friend Orlando, with the self denigrating question mixed with flirtation: "May I ask a question? If it's offensive, you can punch me! You can do anything you want to me, actually.").

But I wasn't really in the mood to play "ask-a-trans-dude." I just wanted to sing my songs and hang out with my friends.

I thought of this event again because this past weekend I was at a party and saw a guy I went to college with, not someone I was ever particularly close to, but we had a couple of classes together and were on the cheerleading team (such as it was) together, and at a small school, that's enough.

Clearly, he'd been filled in, whether through Facebook or the grapevine, or by the host of the event, because when I got there he said "Hey Eli!" and greeted me without a blink, which I appreciate, especially since there were folks who know me from my work there as well, and I really didn't want to deal with pronoun/name confusion in front of them.

Later, he told me about his work running a free health clinic, and asked a mildly curious question about the timeline of my transition (I can't quite remember his phrasing, but it was interesting, something like "So, when did you shift?" that was certainly respectful but rather unusual) which I was happy to answer. Then he wanted to ask me about what I think best about how they should ask about gender on their intake forms, and I don't think I gave a particularly straight answer.

Those two interactions are making me feel very keenly the edge between tokenization and education, and the rights and responsibilities of being trans. I have the right to be left alone, but the responsibility to help educate people in my community. It's important for people to educate themselves, but they often seek out and tokenize individuals when doing so, which places undue burden on any one person to try to be the spokesperson of the community. It feels like a double bind- if I don't speak up, then misperceptions will never be corrected. But if I do speak up, there's the weight of all of these notions suddenly squarely on my shoulders, and I know that I can't (and shouldn't try to) speak for all trans people in some sort of pronouncement.

I know that I do my part to try to be proactively educational (like when I participated in that panel a few weeks ago) but I don't always feel like being pressed for details about trans issues on the spur of the moment.

It gets me wondering about how much work I should reasonably be expected to do, and how much work people should reasonably be expected to do as allies. All kinds of people claim space as 'trans allies,' and I certainly think that being trans and being a trans ally are not mutually exclusive, though they often are. The work that I do when I try to educate folks is definitely ally-work, though it has different connotations depending on whether I'm being read as trans or not.

Advocacy on my own behalf carries different weight than someone else advocating on my behalf. I'm grateful for folks who are allies, but I don't know when that gratitude becomes too much. I don't think I should have to be grateful for common courtesy (like not outing me in front of strangers, as my college friend refrained from doing), since that's my right as a human being. But I don't want allies to feel like they're not appreciated for the work they're doing, because I don't want them to stop doing it!

Also, the trouble with being used as a resource (and I think this is a broader question, that extends beyond the interactions I've been describing here), is that one person's requests are another person's insults. The terminology which I find appropriate and acceptable to describe me may be totally different from what another person with a similar history/biology might desire. Makes having a cohesive trans community pretty tricky, but maybe a cohesive trans community oughtn't be the ultimate goal after all?

Friday, May 04, 2007

inching along

I'm not sure if there's any truth to it, or if it's transition-related or just still-in-my-very-early-twenties related, but Rochelle has suggested and I hesitantly agree that I may have grown a bit in height. Maybe half an inch to an inch, but we've both noticed, and while it's not enough to spring me out of my short-guy stature, it definitely warms my heart a bit. Particularly if it means I'll have an easier time finding pants...I have the worst time with my inseam.

Other than that possibly negligible effect, there's not much to report on the physical transition front. Puberty continues on as expected- facial hair is filling in, chest hair and belly hair are making distant threats of someday conquering my torso, and my voice seems to have dropped a tiny bit more. (latest voice post is from last week) Spurred on by reading the ftmfit livejournal community, and also visiting my sister and learning some of her tennis exercises, I've been doing some small, in-home bits of working out, and my musculature is responding with gratifying speed.

Gave myself another shot this week, and seem to be learning some tricks (higher up on the thigh, hold the muscle in a stretch for 30 seconds or so after the shot), because there was no pain or cramping at all. Excellent.

Acne seems to be subsiding slightly, but I've been making an effort to drink more water, have been washing my face semi-regularly, and have started taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin A, said to be good for one's skin. so who knows if it's T-related or not.