Thursday, January 31, 2008

beard, scars, etc

Time for another visual update!

First with the face shot.
I'm putting this one up because it rather nicely showcases not only my beard, but also the brand new smile-wrinkles I'm getting around my eyes. While it's true that I'm not a spring chicken anymore, I doubt that I'd be showing my lines quite so quickly if it weren't for the testosterone. As dermatologists and other assorted doctors will tell you, it's estrogen that makes your skin soft and smooth and glowy and young looking. I don't mind- it's frankly nice to see some signs of maturity on my face after feeling for so long like I was staring down a 14 year old every time I looked in the mirror. I was just commenting the other day when I saw a pre-T picture of me that I had such a baby face! Ro pointed out that my face still has some of the same shape- I haven't really lost the roundness that most people associate with babyfacedness. But what I really meant was that my skin no longer has that estrogen-plumped smoothness to it, that made me look like such a young boy (or, of course, a girl). Now, my face is starting to roughen, not least because of the facial hair, and I like it.

Next we have another beard view, and also a straightforward chest shot, though you can't really see my scars too well from this angle. You can see that my wispy chest pelt is growing, though!

Here's a better look at my chest scars. This is, let's see, just about 18 months since I had surgery. I've regained a lot of sensation in some of the areas of my chest between my scar and my nipples that were numb right after surgery, but there's still a wide swatch of numbness along the top of the scars themselves. Also, my nipples are still pretty numb, though I can feel pressure, and some sensation, and they do get hard and soft quite nicely, mostly as a reaction to temperature changes.
I used the flash for this one, and it reveals that I had just rubbed oil onto my scars. I'm using Dr. Palmer's Scar Serum ($9.99 at RiteAid) these days, and I try to do it twice a day when I remember, though I often only do it in the morning since it stays sticky for a while and I don't much like wearing a shirt to bed.
Here's another angle. You can see that the scars have faded the most along the front, and are still darker along the ends up under my arms. I think that's because there was more stress placed on the scar there, because I was moving my arms and moving the scar tissue more as it was healing. Also, you can see between the two shots that the visibility of the scars really depends on the angle that you're looking from, and the lighting. In bright light (and sunlight), they're much more visible, but they're also less visible when you're looking at them straight-on; they tend to blend into the curve of my pectoral muscle.

At any rate, I'm exceedingly pleased with my healing, and my chest as a whole. It's hard for me to remember what it was like before surgery- as in, the memories are fading, and also, it's hard because I don't like trying to remember. And it's harder still for me to wrap my brain around the idea that I might have not done this, that I might still have breasts today. This feels so natural, which I suppose is the pudding that contains the proof, or whatnot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fatherly Wisdom

My sister and I are going to visit our father who art in Massachusetts in a few weeks. We're going to head up to his place for the weekend and do a little candlepin bowling and then all watch the SuperBowl together, which seems like it'll be a nice little trip with enough pre-planned activities built in to keep all of us from stressing.

I really like spending time with my Dad, probably because I don't do it that often, but especially now that I have the perfect excuse to pick his brain for knowledge on everything from electric razors to what kind of tie to wear on a job interview (something with personality! show them you're not a drone of a worker bee!). We get along better than ever since I've matured into being his eldest son, and I sort of feel like we need to make up for lost time with the whole Father-Son thing.

Not to mention the fact that he's a guy who's been around a few different blocks a few times, so he's pretty familiar with what's what and who likes it that way. That being said, he's not of the same radical, consciousness-has-been-raised crowd that I generally spend my time with. So I feel like his perspective is both informed but also quite different from my friends/peers, and I appreciate getting his take on things.

I remember back in the early days of my transition when I fretted a bit to him about what I was going to "end up like." I don't even recall if I was talking specifically about my appearance or my identity or what. He came back with something like "Well, I don't know if this makes much sense, but it seems to me that as you go through with this, you're going to end up more and more like yourself."

Which was, of course, spot-on. These days, I feel more like me than I ever have before, even if I still have the same old post-college-grad "who am I??" crises about what I'm doing with my life. At least I know whatever I'm going to do, I'm going to do it as me.

Anyway, I keep meaning to write down as much as I can of the little bits of fatherly wisdom that I pick up when I'm with my dad. After all, with masculinity being the learned social construction that it is, when I'm around a teacher I ought to at least take good notes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Trans Health Conference Proposal

Well, I just submitted a very last minute (technically late, since the deadline was yesterday) proposal for a workshop to the Trans Health Conference that happens every spring in Philadelphia. This year it's over Memorial Day weekend, I think. I went last year, and thought it was a reasonably good conference. There was some talk online in an FTM forum that I'm a part of about the Chest Surgery Show-and-Tell that is a perennial favorite workshop, where guys can take off their shirts and tell their stories, and folks who have not yet had surgery (and often their partners and families) can get a chance to see some results and ask questions.

I think it's a great resource, and I would've liked to be able to go to one (or more!) before I'd had surgery, to get a chance to see some 'real live' results, and get a better sense of what I was in for. Last year, I participated as a 'show' volunteer, which had its own rewards in terms of my own voyeurism (how do all the other Brownstein guys look?) and vanity (hey, all these people want to see me shirtless! sweet!), as well as feeling good about getting to be a resource.

I felt like the format of the workshop, though, could use some help. The organizers invited people to come up in groups according to which surgeon they'd visited, but then had each person give a sort of 2 minute spiel about their experience, which was nice...except everyone in the audience had to sit through every single introduction, many of which did not stick to 2 minutes. I felt like it was totally useless to someone who, for instance, wasn't considering Double Incision as an option to hear so many DI stories, and likewise useless for someone who was only thinking about going to an east coast surgeron to hear all of us Brownstein guys talk about our experiences. Not to mention, I had to wait through everyone else's presentation before getting my chance to get up there and take my shirt off, and (as Rochelle can attest!) that made me really fidgety and impatient.

Some of the guys on the forum I was reading about were complaining about the format as well, so it can't have been just me who was frustrated. So I sent in a proposal suggesting that the workshop be held more as an interactive, circuit-based situation. Here is the description that I included in my proposal:

I would like to present a Chest Surgery Show-and-Tell, but organized differently from such workshops that I’ve attended in the past. Rather than have everyone who wishes to share stand at the front and present one at a time to the entire audience, I believe it would be more efficient and useful to everyone present if the people who wished to display their chests and/or share their stories broke up into groups around the room according to surgeon. Everyone who comes to the workshop would then be free to circulate around the room, asking questions of the people who have had experience with the type of surgery or particular surgeon that the individual is interested in learning more about.

While this may result in the volunteers having to repeat themselves, it will prevent the entire audience from having to listen to everybody’s information, whether or not it is relevant or useful to each person in the audience. Furthermore, it will allow for more in-depth conversations to occur, as it is easier to ask for clarification and follow-up questions in a smaller group. Likewise, it will be easier for shyer individuals who might be shy to participate in smaller group settings: where they might be uncomfortable getting up in front of a large room, here they would only have to interact with the individuals interested in hearing their particular story.

I will make announcements at the beginning, and lay down some ground rules, including:

1. It is imperative that we all respect everyone and their bodies. There will be NO tolerance for disparaging or insulting comments, or judgments about anyone’s identity, transition choices, or surgical results.

2. No one is required to share more of their body or their story than they feel comfortable with; volunteers may take their clothes off or not, as they feel comfortable, and give out as much or as little personal information as they choose.

3. Please keep questions and information relevant to the topic at hand.

4. When sharing information, speak from your own experience: don’t make generalizations or spread unsubstantiated gossip.

We'll see if they even consider the proposal, since I missed the deadline. And maybe there were other show-and-tell proposals that sound better organized, or from someone with more experience moderating show-and-tell workshops. But I figure it was worth a shot to try out a different format, and see if it's more satisfying for both the volunteers and the audience members.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

keep away from small children

I heard this from a friend the other day, while the friend was describing reasons that their recent ex had given as to why the ex didn't think they could be together long term: "And then he said...and don't take this personally...that he didn't want to raise a family with someone who has a transgender best friend."

I didn't really mind the "don't take this personally" bit from my friend, because I know how hard it is to think clearly when one is in the midst of heartbreak. One is entirely liable to say things that amount to "my ex-boyfriend wouldn't want his children exposed to you, but don't take it personally." When you are in love with someone, it is possible and even easy to overlook or forgive or even not clearly hear what they're saying when they come out with such a an astonishingly ignorant and offensive statement.

What I do mind is that this is a guy whom I shook hands with, spent a bit of time with, invited into my house on more than one occasion, and generally considered an all right guy. And now to hear that he wouldn't want me around his children? I can't figure out if I'm more appalled that I was friendly to someone who has such thoughts, or that there even ARE reasonable, intelligent people in this world who even HAVE such thoughts.

It's such an alien concept to me. I mean, I get that there are plenty of people who think I'm fucked up. I get that I'm blessed to live in relative peace, with an entirely loving and supportive network of family and friends. There is no one with whom I am truly close who responded to my explanation of my (trans)masculinity with anything worse than confusion or (relatively gentle) questions about whether I knew what I was talking about.

I know that there are people (plenty of 'em!) in the world who think I'm anything from wrong to confused to sick to laughable. I believe that it's mostly due to confusion and lack of knowledge on their own part. Sure, trans people are unusual. We're not common, we're not like most people, we are a minority. We are not, technically speaking, normal. But I don't think it should take all that much common sense to grasp the concept, with a bit of education, that just because we're not just like you doesn't mean we are WRONG. I mean, this is elementary, right?

It's the people who can't get over that, and persist in turning their confusion into fear and then into belligerence or aggressiveness or hateful/hurtful sentiments that I just don't really understand. Just like the anti-gay marriage folks, with all their "hate the sinner, love the sin" crap. I think that's pathetic. You can't parse me into little bits like that, it's a ridiculous game of semantics, and it's even MORE ridiculous to classify some of those bits as "wrong" because they're unfamiliar and thus scary. You really don't have anything better to do than worry about how my sex life is going to ruin your marriage? Really?

So ditto to the transphobes. Am I too optimistic by nature when I believe that the bigotry is just stemming from lack of knowledge and exposure? I guess I'm just not used to discovering that people with whom I have normal, totally pleasant interactions are (apparently secretly) harboring such hurtful, awful opinions about me. Because I would think that a reasonable, educated person, when meeting and interacting with a reasonable, pleasant transsexual person, who is held in close esteem by his partner, might revise his previous opinions about not letting the scary transsexuals near his children.

Monday, January 14, 2008

a few for the blog

Been almost a month since I've posted- whew! If my pattern holds, expect a flurry of posts in the next day or so as I catch up with everything. To start off, here is a mishmash of moments I've had in the past few weeks that have all ended with me thinking "well, there's one for the blog."
While at home for the holidays, I went for tea at the Pied Cow (fave Portland coffehouse) with an old friend from high school, her girlfriend, and a few of their friends I'd never met before. At some point, the conversation turned to having babies, and being old enough to have babies- I think we were talking about teen pregnancy, maybe- and two of the girls were saying "Wow, pregnant in 6th grade? That's crazy! I didn't even get my period til 7th grade!" "Yeah, me too!"

and without thinking, I chimed in "Yeah, me too!"

The comment mostly got lost in the flow of conversation, but one of the girls I'd just met gave me a funny look, of the "What are you talking about, bro?" variety. I guess maybe she thought I was just trying to be funny. Or maybe she heard the note of sincerity in my voice and thought I was just talking about when I was first old enough to be fertile. I don't know, is there a corresponding milestone for non-trans dudes? Is it when they start having 'wet dreams' or whatever that health class euphemism is? Or maybe she is actually a super trans ally and was giving me a look of "oh hey, you're a dude who used to menstruate, then? cool!" and I just misinterpreted it. somehow I doubt it.

It was a reminder of some of the things I still have in common with most women: some cultural references and shared historical experiences. I do, for instance, know what it's like to choose amidst the dizzying array of feminine hygiene options (maxi? thin or ultrathin? with or without wings? dri-weave or plain? good lord!). I acknowledge those similarities, and I further acknowledge that those are commonalities that are not shared by most men. But I don't think those few shared experiences are enough to keep me forever in the girl camp, either, despite what the womyn-born-womyn folks would have one believe.
Just this past weekend, my sister and I had another uncomfortable encounter with an apparently well-meaning but incredibly offensive individual. We went to a birthday party at a champagne bar (woo, fancy!) for one of my sister's friends from Smith College. The birthday girl's partner is on the transmasculine spectrum, and pretty much everyone there was gay or queer, which might lead one to believe that everyone there is pretty much on the same page, re: how not to be a jerk. but hey, surprise! no such luck.

Apparently there was a girl there who was in a writing class with my sister, and who therefore had heard some of my sister's writings, including some about me and my transness. This girl had apparently been offensive then, too, though I didn't get all the details- but something about how she came up to my sister and went on about "wow, that's so crazy! your twin is so trendy! i don't understand, why don't those tranny bois just keep being dykes?" etc., to the point where my sister just walked away from her.

So she comes up to where my sister and I are standing, and starts making small talk, etc. My sister introduces me with "This is Eli" and we shake hands. More small talk, and then the girl says "So, how's your twin?"

Not with a malicious emphasis, exactly, but definitely not a neutral tone- with a bit of a smirk, as if at a private joke.

My sister just gestured to me, and I took my cue and said dryly "I'm fine, thanks."

The girl gave a bit of a start and said "oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realize it was you! haha..." and made a little more small talk before beating her retreat.

We rolled our eyes and moved on, but then later she came up to my sister and said "Oh, I'm so sorry about my faux pas earlier! I didn't realize that was your brother! I mean, I guess I'm just saying- and my girlfriend agrees with me- that he's the most convincing we've ever seen!"

My sister managed to avoid being downright rude to the girl, and extricated herself quickly, but as we took the subway home later, we tried to figure out what could possibly be going on in that girl's head that she would not only think it okay to say that, but that she would offer it up as a positive, placating remark.

Does she not realize that she is in effect offering up her judgement and on something that she has no right to police? That she is trying to tell me that, wow, I almost meet her standards for masculinity, gosh, she was almost never would've known that I'm a not a real guy, just a fake/freak/imposter who is "really convincing!"

We tried to think of how to respond to such a situation, which (as I'm sure I've mentioned here before) comes up not infrequently. Do you say "Yeah! and you know, you're very convincing as a decent human being! not quite though. maybe next time."

Or would it be better to ask them what they mean by that, and keep asking questions until they are forced to say out loud all of the condescending and offensive words and assumptions that are riding on their semi-innocuous comment. That might work- worked for Socrates!- but never underestimate the power of people to ignore their own privilege/offensiveness.

It's so hard to respond to shit like this, particularly when you're not expecting it, particularly in the middle of a social situation or party where you want to take the high road, and respond gracefully, and not make a scene. Do you just be the better person and ignore it, even if it means missing out on a teachable moment to possibly try to make the offensive idiot in front of you into a better person by pointing out their ignorance?

So hard to decide what to do! But if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that there will be a next time. I guess we can practice our witty repartee til then.
So, last but not least, I was very nearly America's Next Trans Model for a minute there. I heard from someone who works with OUT magazine that they are doing a trans-focused issue soon, and they were looking to find some trans folks to be the models for a photo shoot to go in the issue. One of the standard fashion photo shoots that they usually do, except with (amateur, clearly) trans folks as the models. I was initially a bit dubious- the first contact email had the subject line "tranny photo shoot" and I was immediately squicked, in no small part because I think the word tranny is pretty much juvenile and degrading in any context, and I have a hard time taking anything seriously that uses it in a non-mocking/satirical context. I've been known to use the word myself occasionally, but only in very heavily tongue-in-cheek manner, and pretty rarely. Not to mention the fact that it didn't initially mention the name of the magazine, and I've gotten a couple of dubious contacts before from people over the internet looking for sexual/naked pictures of me, so I'm always just a bit wary of random email contacts related to trans stuff.

But! I learned more about the person who contacted me, who seemed very cool, and I heard a bit more about the project, which also seemed like a good plan- why not have a wide variety of trans folks as the models? It'd be a great change of pace from their usual hardbody chelsea boy models! And when I heard that it was for OUT, which I consider definitely a legitimate organization, I agreed.

I went to an initial meeting, and meet the person who was contacting me, who was indeed cool, and the photographer. There were four other guys there, and I was pleased to see that there was at least a reasonable range of diversity- about half and half on hormones, more than half white but at least not ALL white, a few in our 20s, a couple older (30s and 40s, maybe?) , some clean-cut, some scruffy/punk looking. Seemed like it'd be a good mix, and I was definitely excited to be part of a professional photo shoot.

But then I got an email this morning saying that the photo editors had decided to keep it down to just two or three models, and the photographer had decided to go with a more "genderqueer" look, so it turns out I was going to be needed for the shoot after all. Which is fine, if a bit disappointing. But editorial decisions have to be made, etc.

What makes me a bit dubious is the notion that the photographer wants a more "genderqueer" look. That's a legitimate artistic vision, of course, and it fits in more with some of the other photos of hers I'd seen.

But...I guess I just got the wrong impression, that it was going to be a trans* focused photo shoot, because it seems a bit odd to try to pare down a reasonably diverse group of transguys to just the genderqueer ones if you're trying to present images of the transmasculine community in general. In fact, it seems like the sort of thing that would get one's hackles up, with conspiracy theories about 'lesbian' photographers shooting for 'gay' magazines only wanting to take pictures of the 'visually transgressive' guys who are still 'blurring gender binaries' and don't look 'too straight' and still look hot to dykes and still look like non-threatening 'others' to gay men. in other words, not guys who look like to a large extent.

that said, at the meeting they did emphasize that no decisions had yet been made about the style or content of the shoot. I don't know anything about what kind of discussion or decision making actually went down, so it's entirely possible that they just decided that they wanted to only represent more 'genderqueer' folks in this particular shoot.

And maybe here again is the problem of trying to push together all sorts of people under one big 'trans*' umbrella. You have everyone from genderqueer people to people with transsexual medical histories all being looked at the same when really, we all have quite different needs and perspectives and opinions, and it can be damaging or insulting to conflate us. Everyone's needs are distinct, but there's enough blur and similarity that it's also damn hard to parse everyone out. Like me, for instance: I identify as male first, transsexual second, but I also acknowledge that I had female/dyke experiences, and I also have genderqueer leanings, albeit from within a male framework, such that they tend to get expressed as drag queen tendencies. So that's a little complicated, right?

Anyway. The moral of the story is, I'm not going to be in OUT magazine. I'm not too worried, though, since I've been in OUT magazine before (one of the OUT 100 in 2001! woot.) and also because it's not really my business how the photographers and photo editors at OUT choose to cast their photo shoots. I'll be interested to see how the shoot turns out, though!
and while we're talking about super fashionable transsexuals, here's a shot taken while I was home in Portland, in the middle of an intense muffin-baking binge. I believe I'd just taken my third batch of the night out of the oven. You can just about almost see my chest hairs poking out above my homemade Oregon pride a-shirt.