Thursday, October 30, 2008

ought I mention...?

So, my sister is a writer, and has written several beautiful essays about my transition and how it's impacted our family, etc. We talk frequently about co-authoring a book. She has had a piece accepted by the NY Times which will be published soon, and I couldn't be more proud of her.

I'm also faced with something of a quandary. I haven't mentioned to anyone at my new job (or in my new town) anything about my transsexual history. I'm very chatty about my queerness, as is my wont, since that figures much larger in my day to day life than my transsexuality does. I think my queerness is in many ways more of a defining element of my character, though, as always, teasing out my queerness from my transsexuality isn't always the easiest or most fruitful task.

Anyway, the moral of the story is, I don't know whether to mention anything to my coworkers/friends that in a few days, there will be an essay about me and my transsexuality in a major national newspaper, which mentions me by first name. My full name isn't in the piece, but my sister and I have the same last name, which isn't terribly common, and it mentions the city I've recently been living in, as well as our home state, so, well, I don't think it'd be terribly hard to put two and two together.

But on the other hand, I really have no idea whether anyone would put two and two together and connect it with me. One thing I've found is that for most people, the concept that someone they know (especially someone whose gender/sex is not particularly ambiguous or androgynous) might be a transsexual is waaay far down the list of things that cross their minds.

So I figure either a) no one who knows me will read the piece (unlikely, since I work in a University, and academics tend to enjoy the Sunday NY Times); b) folks will read it and see my name but not see my last name in tiny print on the byline, so will make no connection to me (distinct possibility); c) folks will read it and also read the byline and think "Huh, that's funny! I know an Eli with that last name! What a small world." (strikes me as a distinct possibility); d) folks will read it and think "OMG, I know that guy!" followed either by "No wonder he's so knowledgeable about trans/gender issues!" or "I never would've guessed he's really a she!"

Clearly, it's that last option that has me wondering whether I should do any pre-emptive disclosure, and it's the two very different scenarios that have me really wavering back and forth as to what to do.

Ideally, I'd like to be open about my transsexual history in a matter-of-fact manner. I'm not ashamed, I'm not a particularly private person, I do think that my transsexual experiences have given me the occasional interesting and useful perspective, and it's a fact of my life that I grew up being perceived and treated as (and believing myself to be) female. While I don't consider it anyone's particular business how my body is configured (which is mostly the only thing still relevant about my transsexuality, given that I live as male now), I do like talking about myself, and sometimes it's nice to say things like "Well, when I was a speaker at the Lesbian Community Project's New Years part in 2001..." and be able to provide appropriate context for why I had that experience. Not to mention the community service/outreach component of being known as a transsexual person and role model.

But the (sad) fact is, I just don't trust people not to have that latter, worrisome response- "Oh, that guy is really a girl?!"

Many, many people do not understand what it means to be trans, do not understand how to appropriately respond to transsexual people, do not understand about the varying relationships between gender identity and 'biological sex' (placed in air quotes because that's a phrase that's thrown around in uncomfortable ways, too. ). It's tiresome and painful and wearying to deal with that ignorance, and I (selfishly, maybe) don't want to deal with it.

Ah, but there's the rub. I don't want my cissexual privilege (as Julia Serano might say!) taken away from me. All of these people in my life have been assuming that I'm not a transsexual, because that's what we do in this culture- that's what cissexual privilege means. You are assumed to be cissexual (that is, not a transsexual) unless proven otherwise, which means that transsexuals are forever and ever the strange and invalid "other" to be contrasted with the norm.

And I understand that there is a somewhat circular operation in place here: if more people know I'm a transsexual- particularly people who already perceive, understand, and accept my maleness on a gut level- then more of those people are likely to let go of their ignorant, offensive notions of transsexuals as 'fake' men and women, thus diminishing the power of cissexism.

Now, it's possible to contest that cissxual privilege without putting my own body on the line by declaring my transsexuality at every opportunity. That's called being an ally, and being trans and being a trans ally are not mutually exclusive terms. I can (and already have- remind me to tell the stories of America's Next Trans Model coming up at the LGBT club, or talking about books to be used for the new proposed LGBT studies class) be an ally and stand up for trans education without disclosing my transsexuality and thus inviting people to strip away my cissexual privilege...which often involves mentally stripping me, because I pretty much "look like a guy" now, so folks who find out that I'm trans pretty much (I'm speculating here, but hey, it's likely) think "So this guy wasn't born with a dick?" and dude, I don't want everyone thinking about my dick all the time.

But it's also undeniable that being a transsexual role model can have a positive impact. And while I hate the narrative of "keeping secrets" that gets forced onto trans folks, I also dislike feeling the residue of that narrative. I do feel like I'm not able to be completely forthright with the people around me, and while that's not entirely my fault, it still sucks.

The problem with that 'secrets' narrative is that it implies that the 'secret' is that I'm 'secretly' not a real man. But really, at this point, I'm secretly a man with a transsexual history. There's plenty of incentive, as I've been mentioning, to keep that transsexual history secret, since the world at large still equates 'transsexual man' with 'not a real man.'

Anyway. The narrative of this particular post (screed?) has started to wander, so I'm going to stop, albeit not having found myself any closer to deciding whether to disclose my transsexuality to my coworkers.

I think the bottom line is that I'm getting to the point where I'm close enough with some of them that I'm comfortable enough and would like to be able to share my personal and/or medical history, so I'll probably end up doing that. And the folks that I'd like to tell are the folks that I'm friends with, whom I can probably count on to be decent, relatively sensitive folks. As always, I never know how much credit to give people when it comes to being sensitive. I've had people I've assumed would be really cool open their mouths and say incredibly offensive things (see, ANTM story, forthcoming) and I've had people I've assumed would be resistant turn out to be totally comfortable.

The thing is, as with any sensitive topic, if I tell one person, I have to be comfortable with the possibility that everyone would know. Not that I think my coworkers are blabbermouths, and not that my transsexuality might not come to light by some other, unknown to me means, but still- I believe that one oughtn't tell sensitive information to anyone without coming to terms with the fact that it could mean telling everyone. And, since I don't trust EVERYONE as much as I trust my new friends when it comes to not being offensive...well, I'm still not sure what to do.

beard follow up:

Who knew I had so much in common with T-Rex?

Monday, October 27, 2008


My beard continues to fill in, which is quite reassuring now that I live up in the cold hinterlands of New England. Snow is forecast for the next few days (before Halloween! What have I gotten myself into??) and while I was just missing my muttonchops the other day, and thinking about going back to a sideburns/goatee/'chops situation, I may hunker down and wait til spring before I mess around with exposing my face to the elements.

My beard still looks a bit scraggly to me sometimes, especially compared to some of the exceedingly thick and luxurious beards that some of my fellow New Englander men are sporting. But I also regularly see other guys with very similar patterns, and certainly when I look back to compare pictures of my beard from last year, I can instantly see how much it's filled in.

Here are some current pictures- it's been more than two and half years on T, so about two years since I started trying to grow my facial hair out at all, and about a year and a half since I've been able to achieve any reasonable growth at all.

Here are the requisite close-up self-portraits, the kind I might label "Tranny Photo Essay!" were I the type to use the word "tranny" casually, which I'm not. I get that it can be a cute and/or sassy way for trans folks to reclaim a historically hurtful word, and refer to themselves with some degree of levity, but I just can't ignore the condescension that, to my ears, drips from the word, and so don't ever use it myself. And I don't ever think it's acceptable for non-trans folks to use.

Anyway. Goofy self-portraits:
But look! You can see I'm finally starting to achieve my dearest facial hair wish: connection! My moustache is finally starting to connect to my beard.
Of course, at more than 5 inches away, one still can't really make out the Bering Strait of my facial hair.

And the connection, such as it is, isn't even as robust as that on my left side, where it's, erm, tenuous at best. But I'm quite satisfied.

For comparison, here's a shot from May '08- less robust facial hair, clearly. Gratuitous chest hair shot! That's been filling in, too, though not as much.
Then we go back another 6 months, to December '07. Again you can see how my moustache didn't connect at all, and whoa, you can really see how '08 has been the year of the hairy chest.
And finally, a shot from July of 2007, which appears to have been my first full scale effort to "grow out my beard." I didn't bother with the moustache, patchy as it was, and you can see that the beard itself was very much confined to my jawline.

Aww, in that last picture I was wearing my RUNT: Stick up for the little guy! shirt. RUNT was a party at a bar for short guys and their friends and admirers- I think it ran for much of 2006. At any rate, a bunch of us who used to frequent the Transmasculine Support Group at the LGBT Center in NYC used to frequently head over to RUNT after 'Group,' as we called it. Most of us were pretty short, so we fit right in!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

let me get this straight.

When I tried to change my name last year, I was denied by the judge because I hadn't provided "proof of a sex change" and I was going from (in his opinion!) a female name to a male name.

It makes me just spitting mad to think about the prejudice I (and many others) have faced when trying to do something as simple as getting a namechange....particularly when I read that this girl has no problems changing her name to "", or I remember that would-be Senator in Idaho who changed his name to "Pro-Life."

So, let's see. "" is a fine, valid legal name. "Eli" is not.

Many, many other trans folks have faced and continue to face this same problem- being pressured to provide "proof" of various and arbitrary medical procedures before being allowed to choose a different name for themselves, and having to jump through hoops and hurdles and obstacles, which they may or may not have had time to pursue. I was fortunate- I had a full-time, well-benefitted job at which I'd accrued personal time that I used in order to make the multiple trips down to the Courthouse during business hours. Eventually, I had contacts at the ACLU that allowed me to get a lawyer to file a brief on my behalf and let me get my name changed. Many other trans people don't have such resources and, more importantly, they shouldn't have to!

I believe CutOut and ProLife have the right to change their names to whatever they want, no matter how far-out their motivation. Because hey, guess what? If you're not trying to avoid debt or commit fraud, you are legally allowed to change your name to whatever you want!

It's just another example of how trans people get systematically discriminated against. No one asks you about the status of your genitals if you try to change your name, regardless if it's Jane Doe or VoteForObama McGee or Sugarplum PezDispenser...unless you're a transsexual! Then they want proof of what's in your pants.