Thursday, March 27, 2008

two minor bodily complaints

I 'misfired' this past Wednesday morning while giving myself a shot. That's the only way I can think of to describe it- it's something that's happened a couple of times before. I'll give myself a shot, with no trouble, maybe a little bit of pain but nothing out of the ordinary. But then, the next day, I'll start limping from some pretty bad stabbing pains in my leg. Not stabbing, so much, as feeling like I've been stabbed and whatever stabbed me is still in my leg. Which is pretty accurate, I guess- I can only imagine that it's because the T isn't dispersing through my muscle properly or some such, and so it hurts because I've got a bunch of viscous oil taking up space in my leg muscle. But it's not pleasant, and it radiates all the way down to the knee of whichever leg it is, which gives me unpleasant flashbacks to when I mucked up one of my knees in college. Each time this has happened, I've had the same thought progression: 'Oh god, did I strain my ligaments again? No, I haven't done anything sporty....oh crap, is it the Lyme disease returning to get me? I hear it can manifest as joint pain! Oh It was shot day yesterday, it must be that."

I haven't conclusively found a pattern- it's only happened three or four times in this whole year that I've been giving myself shots- but I wonder if maybe it's when I inject lower down in my leg, towards the middle instead of the upper quadrant. I've gotten conflicting advice about injections, some say upper outter quadrant, some say the middle third. Perhaps I can ask my Doc again when I go in for an appointment in April.

Fortunately the pain, though quite crappy enough to make me limp for two or three solid days, usually disappears on the third or fourth day. Being cranky and in pain for those few days sure gives me new appreciate for how much chronic ailments must be difficult to live with.


Complaint number two is of a totally different variety. I've got a distinctly hourglass figure, which I noticed again the other day while gazing at myself in a mirror. (a habit which I guess is relatively harmless but which I've done more in the past two years than the rest of my life combined, and which I can only imagine will fall off someday in the future, once the newness of my bodily state wears off for good: somehow I suspect most non-trans folks don't spend so much time scrutinizing themselves. Though I could be wrong!)

I've got a smallish waist, not insignificant hips, and enough of a muffin top to seal the deal. I know that it's nothing to be worried about, I know that no one but me would probably notice, I know that it's certainly not at all noticeable when I'm clothed, but I still can't help wishing that I didn't have such a divot on each side of my torso. It makes me feel feminine in a way that I don't have control over, which is the basic uncomfortable feeling driving my entire transition, one that I'd hoped not to have to deal with any more.

Of course, it's a very very diminished feeling! An hourglass-ish waist is tiny small potatoes compared with the breasts, etc, that I am no longer burdened with.

Still, if we're cataloguing complaints with our bodies, which it looks like I've taken the opportunity to do in this blog post, that would be mine. I wish my torso were more straight up and down.

Sounds a bit ridiculous when I say it like that, and it reminds me to practice letting go and not sweating the small stuff...even as I plot ways that I could reduce the effect. (Since I'm stuck with the shape of my pelvis, I figure I could a) try to lose a little weight, which would probably shrink the muffintop, which would probably be taken care of by my other option, b) work out more, concentrating on gaining mass in my upper body to counterbalance the hips, and working on my abs and obliques to add some bulk to my torso to disguise the feminine narrowness of my waist.

Anyway. Neither here nor there, nor of any great consequence, but the great thing about having my own blog is that it's my perogative to spill whatever inconsequential self-criticisms I've got all over these pages. Score!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

born in the wrong body

My mom had a chance to meet some of our distant relatives from Norway this past weekend, who were visiting the States. Three people came over- an old man who was her father's (my grandfather's) first cousin...their mothers were sisters. He brought his daughter and his granddaughter with him. He understood English quite well, but couldn't speak much, but his daughter and especially his granddaughter were apparently quite fluent.

Everyone was poring over family photographs, and trading family histories, and at some point my mom decided to explain the discrepancies, saying something simple but clear like "As you can see, I had two little girls when they were younger, but now I have a boy and a girl, they both live in New York," etc, while pointing to recent pictures.

Apparently, there was some momentary puzzlement, followed by a brief moment of eye widening and then nodding; the youngest said quietly and matter-of-factly, "Ah, born into the wrong body."

Ha! Just like that, barely the batting of an eyelash, but as soon as everyone understood what she meant, it was just completely accepted and then everyone moved one. Wouldn't it be nice if that were the universal reaction here, as well?

I guess the Scandanavians are pretty darn progressive when it comes to trans issues. I did a scosh of research just now and found this website that's apparently the national trans organization- it's all in Norwegian, but down at the bottom on the right there's a link that says English that translates some of the page.

It turns out that WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (formerly known as HBIGDA, the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association) is having it's biennial symposium in Oslo next year! Read a little on that website, and you'll find out that the Mayor of Oslo (which I will risk reminding y'all is the capitol and largest city of Norway, in case my agoggedness doesn't seem warrented) is going to personally address the conference and offer welcoming remarks.

Somehow I doubt that the Mayor of Chicago personally addressed WPATH last summer when the conference was being held there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

more sex thoughts

[another half-finished post finally rescued from limbo. I'm really on a roll today! also, as with all sex-related material on this blog, I'm going to post the disclaimer that people who might read this blog but with whom I don't usually discuss my sex life, please feel free (nay, encouraged!) to skip over this entry, or at least pretend that you still don't know anything about my sex life the next time we're face to face.]

I just read a very interesting article from an old issue of NY Magazine, about porn and feminist attitudes about it. I thought this was the most interesting (and, to me, resonant) quote:

"But does all this sexual imagery in the air mean that sex has been liberated—or is it the case that the relationship between the multi-billion-dollar porn industry, compulsiveness, and sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity? If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so."

I'd never thought of porn quite like that before, but it's an analogy that I think really works...particularly in the sense that while I don't always agree with how some arguments are laid out ("junk food makes you FAT so it's BAD!" or "porn is full of DELUDED, EXPLOITED WIMMIN so it's BAD!"), I do agree with a lot of their underlying premises (for food: processed foods don't really deserve to be called food, are involved in a lot of economically shady, environmentally criminal supply chains, and are definitely not as good for you as whole, local food, etc; for porn: there is a lot of misogynist, exploitative porn out there, watching a lot of porn will definitely affect one's sexual inclinations, substituting porn for a real sex life probably isn't the healthiest thing, etc).

And I'm bringing it up in the context of this transition journal because sex drive and sexual habits are something that get examined a lot when testosterone comes into play.

My experience through the past two years of taking testosterone has been that the quality of my sex drive has definitely changed. By that I don't necessarily mean good or bad- I'm neither more nor less pleased with my libido. Just that, qualitatively, it is a different animal. It's increased slightly in frequency, but that's sort of like saying I went from thinking about sex frequently to thinking about sex REALLY frequently, so that's not saying much!

Probably the main difference in my libido is that I jerk off these days, which I never used to do before. Well, I did very infrequently, without much success. Whatever combination of body dyshporia or differently structured sex drive I had going on, it meant any masturbatory efforts were just not very fulfiling. My pre-T sex life was awesome when it involved other people (though not as awesome as it is now, by god. I thought it was good then, but I had no idea!), but solo efforts were not at all successful. I was not so pleased with my own body, so I wasn't particularly interested in having sex when just that body was involved. Over the past two years, however, I slowly discovered that that is no longer the case- whatever happy re-arrangement of my libido has nicely combined with my steadily disappearing body dysphoria to open up a whole new world for me, a side effect that I am definitely pleased with.

So, mostly, what's happened is that my sex drive has become more insistent/urgent, but at the same time, easier to satisfy....or if not satisfy, at least nourish. By which I mean, I find more things stimulating or sexy than I used to. I'm more visually stimulated than before, and less choosy about the things I find stimulating. If it's sexual, it's probably sexy to me, to at least some extent.

My porn consumption has definitely increased, particularly now that my solo sex efforts are more successful, and it does get me thinking about what kind of impact such consumption is having on my arousal patterns, etc. "Junk food" porn is more appealing now than it was before, just because most things are more appealing than they used to be, and I hope I'm not doing myself any permanent harm! Then again, I'd imagine no more harm than most guys do to themselves (I gotta stop with the harm remarks, too many pun capablities) during their first few years of puberty, as they get used to new sex drives.

Anyway, one thing I do want to be clear about is that I do NOT believe it is true that testosterone gives one an "uncontrollable sex drive." Yes, it has sharpened and made more urgent my libido, but it is still ultimately something over which I have control and for which I have responsibility. (I'm resisting the urgh to add "Duh." to the end of that sentence.)

something's lost, but something's gained in living ev'ry day

[I started writing this post a few months ago, and just got around to finishing it today. interestingly enough, the sentiment about gains/losses it ties a lot into thoughts I've been having about babies, and the thoughts about the changes I've seen in libido have stuck with me, too- both thoughts which I've started exploring in other half-finished posts.]

As stated so succinctly by Dolly Parton (though I guess Joni Mitchell said it first), life is all about the give and take. Certainly transitioning has brought immeasurable improvement to my life, but not all of the changes have been exactly 100% positive.

So, here are some things that I feel are different for me now as opposed to 2 years ago- things that I can't prove have been directly caused by my transition (or, more specifically, by using testosterone) but that I nonetheless feel are caused in large part by my transition. This is all largely qualitative, subjective, anecdotal information- I haven't charted anything, haven't so much as tried to keep track of grumpy days and less grumpy days. I will say that about 6 months ago I started injecting my T on an 8 day cycle instead of the 7 day/weekly cycle I'd been using...I'd been one day late a few times in a row and noticed that I seemed to be less irritable, so I kept up the pattern. Who knows if it's really better than a 7 day pattern or not? I will say that my acne is better on the 7 and 8 day cycles than it was on the 14 day cycle- that is a definite!

1) Attention span
I don't have the attention span that I used to. It's harder for me to focus on something, and harder to follow through on a task. This could be due to post-college drop off in flexing my brain, of course! But it feels different than that. I'm much more likely to just bounce up and get a snack every 20 minutes when I'm trying to do something, or to start a project and then start thinking about something else and start a totally new project without resolving the first one. [or start writing blog entries and get distracted and let them sit for 4 months!]

2) Irritability
Oh man. This is a pretty big one. I've got a much shorter temper than I used to have. I used to be able to let most things roll off my back, and I still let a lot of things go, but it's much harder, and I can't let it all go.

It's a weird feeling, too- I'll start to get irritable or defensive about something and I can feel myself tightening up and closing off and getting irritable, but it's very hard for me to just defuse it and let it go, though sometimes deep breathing helps. Even when I literally say out loud to myself "Eli, you're being irrational, you're being defensive, just let it go!" it's hard for me to get back to normal without snapping a bit, which usually immediately defuses my feelings, but often makes me feel bad.

On the other hand, it has helped me be more forthright about my needs- if anything, I was a little TOO meek before, and liable not to speak up on my own behalf. I don't always like the way I go about doing it (words spoken irritably are not the most effective, or the kindest way to do things), there's no question that I am speaking up for myself more now.

3) Patience

This ties in pretty closely to the previous point. Not only am I more liable to get irritated/defensive about things, I have less patience than I used to. I noticed it first in very specific situations: restaurants, where the bill or the food wasn't coming fast enough. Particularly when it seemed to me that there was no real REASON that it wasn't coming. Whew! I get impatient much more quickly these days. I was a pretty intensely patient person to begin with, though, so I'm not TOO worried about it. I'm still more patient than the average bear, I think. But I can tell a difference.

4) Sex drive!

Yes, it has increased, but not a huge amount. As I've mentioned before, I still think about sex just as frequently as I did before. It's just much more insistent than it ever was before. I think my Dad said something once (and maybe he was quoting someone) about how women think about needing sex like needing chocolate: you want it, you like it, sometimes you absolutely crave it. Men think about needing sex like needing food: you prefer really good to mediocre, you prefer to have it frequently, but the bottom line is that it's necessary for survival.

It occurs to me to wonder if this might have something to do with what I mentioned above about my attention span. I'm much more likely to let thinking about sex distract me from a task or project than I was before, maybe because of a double whammy of more insistent libido and less focused attention span?

5) Verbal ability

This is the one I'm least sure of, and most scared of. I can't say for certain, but it feels like my verbal fluency has decreased. Again, who knows how much of it is my brain languishing post-college, but even if you look at my blog posts, I feel like there's a difference in my ability to be articulate between two years ago and now. I'm just not quite as fluent...I have a bit of a harder time expressing myself. And that includes my feelings, too, which I've found in a few so-cliche-could-it-really-be-true? moments when having conversations with my partner about 'processing.'

I feel like my spelling has gotten worse, and it just feels harder than it used to for me to string sentences together into a coherent whole. I wish I could back that up, but I can't. And maybe it's all in my head! Just wish I'd had some kind of increase in spatial reasoning or something to make up for it!

6) Reaction in upsetting situations

I used to be prone to tears when faced with stress. Now, I will still feel stomach-clenching distress, but I no longer have that sense of tears threatening to break lose. I'm more likely to get angry than watery eyed. This is both good and bad- I feel much more in control than I used to. I hated the feeling of tears threatening when I was upset, particularly in public. It made me feel so weak, and like everyone who witnessed those tears was thinking me weak as well. Reflectively, I think that's too bad, and clearly part of this notion that we have in society that tears are only okay when you're (legitimately) sad, not when you're just upset or freaked out. Especially for dudes! And really, tears are a great reliever of stress and adrenalin and whathave you, and now I sometimes wish that I could just cry and get it out. And it's not so good because, while being angry may make me feel less weak, ultimately it's not a preferable reaction- I don't think clearly, I'm much more likely to say something I'll regret, or do something that doesn't improve the situation.

Anyway. Now, when I do tear up (and it's often in sort of funny moments, like when reading about an underdog sports team), there's a momentary flash of heat and wetness in my eyes, but it very rarely blossoms into actual tears. I cried one solitary tear when I went to see that movie "The Savages" even though the sad and upsetting emotions it raised in me were pretty intense.

more media coverage

There was an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine last weekend about a transguy who goes to Barnard, which is a women's college. I've met the guy a time or two, and he seems like a good guy, so I'm particularly glad that this was, on the whole, quite a good article.

It brought up the 'trans issue' not in a sensationalist way, but rather as a thoughtful examination of an interesting ramification: the issue of non female-ID'd students at women's colleges is a fraught topic, and I am sure that it's going to continue to be in years to come. The author was respectful, did good work talking to a variety of folks, and generally produced a good, informative piece.

Still, I found a couple of things to take issue with. There's that note about "asked that his given name not be printed to protect his privacy." That implies that, had he not asked about that, the newspaper would have printed the name. Why oh why do journalists (of all stripes, not just print media types) feel the need to print trans people's old names?

Hard as it appears for some folks to understand, I changed my name because I didn't want it used to refer to me anymore! Why do you think it's appropriate to ask me what it is? Let alone print it in a public forum! I personally am rather fond of my old name- it was a beautiful name- and haven't taken great pains to hide it, but I'm still not comfortable with it being used to refer to me, and I'm certainly not comfortable with complete strangers who didn't know me in the past knowing it.

Also, what's with the gratuitous bottom surgery reference? Towards the end of the article: "He received no “bottom surgery,” as it is known — few transmen do, in part because the operation is thought to be too rudimentary and in part because many transmen view it as unnecessary."

These references to transguys not getting bottom surgery have become the party line, and it is only a bare half step better than previous references to The Operation or The Sex Change, which imply that manhood is contingent squarely upon one's crotch. I'll be the first to say that it's supremely irritating when one surgery (and usually without even acknowledging the variations and options that exist within that surgical procedure!) is used as synecdoche for an entire transition, and I'm glad when stories about trans folks don't focus on lacking/seeking to obtain the 'proper' genitals.

But actually, maybe it's not better. It's good to acknowledge that not all transfolks choose to pursue the same options/surgeries as part of their transition, but statements like this swing much too hard in the opposite direction, and really marginalize men who DO choose to pursue lower surgery of some variety. Besides the fact that statements like "it's too expensive and it doesn't really work" are hurtful and insulting to folks who have already gone through with such surgeries, there remains the equally important point that such tropes perpetuate an outdated, fearmongering perspective that brings with it its own form of peer pressure.

Surgery is really expensive, yes, and that sucks, but to imply that a surgery is "not worth the price," whatever the price, is to place a value on the happiness and fulfilment that can come with eradicating (or at least ameliorating) dysphoria for a lot of guys. That kind of relief, as the cliches and commercials will tell you, is priceless.

Furthermore, there are a wealth of surgical options contained within the terms "lower surgery," (check this site out for some basic introductions) and those options are being practiced and improved and expanded upon by a variety of highly skilled and experience doctors every day. Leaving aside the irritating assumptions about what constitutes "successful" or "functional" genitals, surgically modified or not, it's just not true that "very few" transmen pursue these surgeries, or that they "don't work." The techniques are changing and improving all the time, in no small part because the surgeons are performing them frequently!

So while it's certainly not something that needs to be considered a limiting or trumping factor in transitioning, and it's true that it's not something that everyone pursues, it's still frustrating to see lower surgery constantly insulted in print like this.

Which leads me to the original point- why does this guy's surgery status or ambitions even need to be mentioned? There is plenty of material to talk about in an article about a (trans)man attending a women's college without inviting the readership to peek into his underpants.

That being said, I do try to understand why journalists/interviewers routinely employ these offensive tactics such as dredging up old names, or bringing up surgery, particularly genital surgery. This article is actually quite good, in comparison to many- it's positive in tone, respectful and consistent with pronoun use and appropriately gendered terminology, it doesn't harp on the surgeries.

And so if I'm being generous of spirit, which I usually try to be, I wonder if maybe this is the only way journalists know how to broach a daunting or unusual topic to a wider audience. To most people (and thus, most of the readership of this article, though I imagine that the NY Times readership might be a little more up to speed than, say, the Spokesman Review of Spokane, Washington), transgender people are a complete unknown. The only thing they're familiar with and understand is that boys will be boys unless they cut their dicks off and go on Jerry Springer and then they're Sex Changes.

So to try to bridge the gap between that world and the trans-savvy world, where we are familiar with terms like gender identity and transition process and the nuances of people who are not comfortable with the sex assigned to them at birth, journalists have to try to keep us trans people grounded in framework that the rest of the world still operates under, that framework that believes the doctors when they say "It's a girl!"

So references to our former names allows people to understand that I used to "be" a girl, and while now I "am" a man, I'm not a normal one and pretty much never will be.

There are some folks, I know, who believe that the answer to this is to try to limit such journalism, try to stop bringing the details of trans life into the public spotlight because it makes our lives harder when we're trying to be normal people. A little bit of information is a very dangerous thing in the minds of a still-mostly-misinformed public, and when somebody reads something about trans people somewhere, whatever information or assumptions they cultivate from that article will henceforth be projected and branded onto any trans people they happen to encounter in the future.

And that sucks, and agree that it probably DOES make our lives harder.

But I still don't think that invisibility is a good approach. It's harder to go increase the education so that people aren't still making and projecting those frustrating limiting assumptions onto us...particularly when there isn't exactly common agreement about what information that education should consist of. It'd maybe be easier to just try to keep quiet and not broadcast info about trans folks. But I think it'd only be easier in the short run.

Friday, March 21, 2008

tres fashionable

So the trans issue of Out Magazine has hit the stands, and looks to be pretty good. The photo shoot that I was almost a part of (alas!) is actually really good. I was a bit wary when I heard that I didn't 'fit the look' that the photographer was going for, because I know that to a lot of people, I don't look particularly "trans" anymore, in the sense that most people automatically read me as male, and I don't have a particularly androgynous or "boi" look. I was worried that the photographer was going for that look, because I think it would be a disservice to misrepresent transguys to the readership of Out as being uniformly androgynous/still-sort-of-dykey looking.

It'd be particularly problematic in Out magazine, I think, because so many LGB people think they know what the "trannyboi" thing is all about, with all the "dykes who want to be boys"- I'm still smarting from interactions I've had with Gay people who were so sure they they got it, that I was one of those boyish dykes. Anyway, I think it's pretty problematic that a lot of people have this androgynous/boi image in their heads when they think of "transguy" and it is limiting and unfortunate to the community at large when those sorts of images are the only ones presented.

At any rate, that isn't what ended up happening for this photoshoot, and I'm glad to see it. There is a very nicely diverse range of guys modeling in the shoot, and the photos are gorgeous.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

you know the T is working when...

I had a few flashes of insight this morning into things that I take for granted now that now fly under my radar until something happens to jolt me into reflection.

The change in my upper body strength, for instance. I've never been one for really working out (despite frequent thoughts and plans and mapping out of three day workout splits), and in the past 2 years, my musculature has increased significantly. I've mentioned before how funny it was the my biceps seemed to show up overnight, and my chest- which seemed so worriedly sunken and ill-defined immediately post surgery, has filled out considerably in the time since.

I was reminded of my muscle gains this morning when, in a fit of resolution, I decided to finally start doing the daily push-ups/sit-ups regimen I've been thinking about for months. Not having done a push-up since well before the end of 2007, I was able to crank out 10 with no effort, 15 before I started to feel it, and 20 before my arms got shaky. Not great numbers in the grand scheme of things, but it reminded me of how two years ago, I couldn't do three consecutive push-ups. Same diet, same exercise (or lack thereof) in my life, but presto! Different muscles.

It reminds me of how envious and weak I felt in my early teenage years, hanging out with my cousins and their friends, all boys, all 1.5-2 years older than my sister and me, and all carrying around seemingly effortless muscle that I couldn't hope to match. Of course, they were all active with the hiking and the basketball and the wrestling and the climbing everything they could find...and some of them 'pumped iron' as well. I remember especially vividly one of our late night shenanigans which involved climbing up onto the roof of the local elementary school. They all hoisted themselves up to the dumpster, then the ledge, then the roof, and while I was still struggling to find purchase, ,one of them reached down and basically hauled me up after him. It wasn't unpleasant- it's a bit exhilarating to be lifted through space by someone so much stronger than you- but it was a bit embarrassing even then, while I was still blithely accepting the label of adolescent girl, to be shown to be so clearly different from these boys I unconsciously compared myself to.

Now, seeing how much easier it is to gain and keep muscle with a body powered by testosterone, it makes sense to me and doesn't rankle. I have more respect than ever for female athletes, particularly female bodybuilders, who make the most of their bodies at what seems to be to be a comparative disadvantage to their male counterparts. It was frustrating to me, before T, to work out and see slow/agonizing progress in strength; I invariably quit my few brief forays into training. Now, though I still don't much exercise (which may reveal more about my willingness to commit to training than my capacity for muscle gain!), it's much more tempting, and more rewarding when I do. If some of the external factors go away (like living in this crazy city demands fast busy living, or the fact that I don't wake up in the same place every day), I think I'll be more willing to work out. It pays off better these days!