Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"A Dame That Knows the Ropes Isn't Likely to Get Tied Up"

I had a shocking experience with body dysmorphia last night, after the gym. As I undressed, I caught my profile in my full length mirror and was alarmed to see breasts. Really fine ones, too. I think the workouts that boost my pec size are giving my boobies a generous elevation. I observed these breasts with two minds: one was remarking on the general sumptuousness of said jugs whilst the other was panicking, fleeing from the scene, dissociating from this vision it could not make sense of, this vision of two breasts on a man, on MY BODY.

Is testosterone enhancing some interior sense of being, or am I finally allowing myself to experience what has always been true? I have had breasts since 1977 but I thought my head would explode yesterday. It was so dissonant, such a horrible joke. Have I woken into a bad dream?

I used to work for a glbt rights lobby. I had several volunteers that were MTF. They seemed sweet, but they were all troubled, on tons of meds, with abusive boyfriends, all the symptoms of a metastasizing low self-esteem. I watched friends in the lesbian community transition. It was baffling to me. We had created a space for gender fluidity, playfulness, political activism – why can’t you stay a woman within those elastic perimeters? It didn’t make sense, and if one could be said to be for or against transitioning, I was possibly against.

I had a brief but electric affair with a woman who had been a man. I could see the vaguest outline of a man in the body because she was tall and densely boned, but there was little male energy signature. She was incredibly powerful, so gentle, sweet, funny and smart, as mysterious and beautiful as only the opposite sex can be. She had in her embrace all the qualities that make a woman irresistibly alluring to me, and yet her trans-status was the elephant in the room, always. I found myself unaccountably agitated sharing the space with this politicized pachyderm.

In 2005 I sponsored a young woman in transition. She lived in the woods and tramped around the country the way folks used to ride the rails. Women I had thought highly of would come to me after meetings and say “so and so is uncomfortable because Robyn is using the women’s bathroom!” No one ever wanted to say anything directly to me, or to her. I got a taste of what it might be like, to present as something others struggle to see, or even wince and balk at seeing.

But I always separated myself from those experiences. It wasn’t happening to me, right?

Around 2000 I was herding a team of homo telemarketers for the lobby, when a friend of one of my team members barged in drunkety drunk looking for him. As I introduced myself, he took my hand, made some comment about all my tattoos, and pretended to be driven to the floor by my Popeye Dyke strength. It really upset me. Asshole jerky drunk guy. I was visibly shaken, and pointed the finger at the sot. My co-worker said “You’re homophobic! Your own butchness* is freaking you out!”

I thought “She’s right! I AM homophobic! Why am I so repulsed by my own butchness? What does that mean for me?” I never wanted, never want, to be perceived as butch, even as I was stomping around in Docs, ciggy stuck to my snarl. So now, I ask myself, have I always been a lesbian homophobe, or was I so invested in being read as “female” because anything otherwise was completely threatening to this carefully constructed woman (albeit tomboy) template I’d (with tons of help) imposed on myself?

It still saddens me that I’m read as “butch dyke.” I want to relate with women like a man, or better, a transman. I’m not interested, nor have I ever been, it turns out, in being a woman with another woman. My butch friends seem so comfortable within that lesbian hegemony; by all appearances anyway they have found a dynamic where they are in confident evolution as themselves. Will I find that space? Is it the Land of No Breastesses? Please, pass the Sport Scent Speed Stick; it’s sticky up in here. **

*There’s a breed of butch I’ve never been comfortable with. I recognize an aesthetic snobbery; I came out in the 70’s when women looked like rugged hell for the revolution, all bitter around the mouth when I wore eyeliner and ran away from home to find Patti Smith.

**Okay, really? "Sport Scent?" That's like amyl nitrate labeled "Locker Room" being sold as a "room odorizer."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Unce, Tice, Tee Times a Mady

Being on testosterone is like having a V-8 engine in a V-6 frame. I feel like I’m revving at higher speeds, which, being as it boosts metabolism, I guess I am. This has the unfortunate effect of boosting my already jacked-up levels of stress and anxiety. Here’s the dramatic backstory:

In January 2008 I decide to clamber into the diving bell and drop deep into my wakening consciousness. Reports from the depths indicated that this human might actually be male. I decide to investigate these reports with characteristic zeal and curiosity. These traits almost always impel me into waters I will have heretofore found murky, impenetrable, even terrifying.

I dive into this “I think I might be a man-thing.” Meantime, I’d made the decision, as an older lady, to go to college. I mean 47 aint even MILF-land anymore. It’s post-MILF. (Hey, I could’ve been a mother! Fine, I wasn’t even near that country; you get my picture, smartass.) I’m old and in frickin Community College, which frankly is also not a tad terrifying for me.

I’m starting full-time college, when the woman I’m pretty sure I want to spend the rest of my days with leaves me. Now, in her defense* her departure probably had nothing to do with my decision to go all trans-nova and such. But when one has committed to profound life changes with the implicit trust that one is supported by one’s partner…well shit. We’ve all been there – made the decision to go ftm and had our loved one dump us.

Anyhoo, so that’s happening. I’m literally waking up every morning thinking I’m going to have a heart attack and crying – nay, sobbing – at every mealtime, and this is before I start injecting the T. Fortunately, I’ve begun to connect with other transguys, and cling to them in what have become extremely choppy waters. I don’t know that I’ve met one guy who was in a relationship that wasn’t dumped when they decided to be themselves. I know that’s not unilaterally true – it’s just that the Universe put men in my life that I could relate to and draw strength from. The Universe is cool like that.

I begin gender therapy. It’s required: you must do 12 sessions of therapy in order to get your man papers** so you can get your hormones. In April my closest friend dies. In May my other dear friend gets gravely ill and I travel to be at what might be his death bed. I am fuckity fuck fucked UP.***

Buried beneath these successive heartbreaks, I’m also freaking out about becoming a man. I’m not sure I want to do this thing. Two months after being on T, I’m waking up going “what the fuck am I DOING!? I WANT TO BE A WOMAN!” This is unsettling.

In this place, I am completely alone. I meet people who are sympathetic, but no one is put in my path who has had this experience. I am praying for guidance, for clear signage, a billboard maybe with David Beckham and his enormous package on it (although how would I interpret that – I want to be him, or I want to do him?). “Please God, I’ll do whatever the fuck you want, you know I will – just fucking tell me if you want me to be a man or a woman!” That, by the way, is a typical and fairly effective prayer, should you need it.

I’m confused. I’m grieving the loss of my (me) woman, but it’s complicated by all these other transitions, passages. I think I might just die myself. I think I might just wake up dead one morning.

My therapist tells me that for me, being a woman is like staying in a bad relationship. You have a couple good days and you fall prey to the comforting delusion that it aint so bad, after all.

Going somewhere else, liberation, is too frightening. I’m clinging to the rock I know, even as it’s become increasingly slippery with seaweeds and goopy creatures, which as a guy you think I’d find interesting and indeed I do, but it’s time to loosen the grip. The water is actually fine now.

Jesus I’m scared. She tells me I should say these affirmations, that I am “a strong and courageous man.” She tells me to say them in first, second and third person. I wince; my personality balks at well, this kind of crap. But I do it. It’s a testament to just how miserable I was that I will say what I now call my Manfirmations. And by golly, something shifts. Within days of repeating my Man-tra, it occurs to me to create a checklist for when I’m doubting my transition, which looks like this:

Do you feel as though you have man stuff hanging twixt your fleshy thighs? Strangely, yes!

In your mind’s eye what does your body look like? Kind of…manly, actually!

Did you or did you not say that being a woman is “something you finally figured out how to do” like it’s a shtick? Aye, that I did!

Do you think real women have these thoughts, about their intrinsic gender, their body image? Nay, it’s unlikely Laddie, unlikely!

And there you have it, in a nut sack.

*and I did defend, sometimes! There’s this interesting phenomenon: when you’re heartbroken and devastated, sensitive people intuit that it’s ripe time to tell you how they really feel about your ex. I'm quite sure she received her share of "well meaning consolation." Bless us.

**this is a letter from your counselor saying that you meet the qualifications of “gender identity disorder,” that you’re – beyond being a big ol’ trannyman – of sound man-mind if girl-body. I was calling my letter my “man visa” in the hopes I could get it stamped at titty bars and NASCAR.

***Those friends that DIDN'T DIE are the best friends ever. Without Jessica, Judith, Kevin, Hadley; sans Betty, Jerilynn, Aakara, Keith and Eric I surely would've upended upon that rock. R.I.P. David Clay, the sagest, "zoomiest" most genius guy role model I've ever had the privilege to be in love with.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Look What the Cat Dragged In or A Scientific Chin Wag

Some cat owners don’t neuter their toms until after a certain amount of puberty. They like the fullness of the cheeks, the fat face toms will develop if left testicled for a time.* I swear I am getting this face. My face is thicker, down where it meets my neck. I’ve been hitting the gym hard and my neck and shoulders are thickening…so is this fatty face a result of that, or is it testosterone? Certainly my capacity to lift more is T – I’d pretty much maxed out my ability there as a 47 year old perimenopausal CHICK, much to my chagrin. It was really depressing, that I couldn’t pound more iron without hurting myself.

I spent my evening with two scientist friends, who wanted “scientific information, dispassionately.” “Tell me what’s changing! Do you drink milk straight from the fridge!?” Duh. I don’t even mop that shit up when it hits the floor, much less my greasy shirt.

I offer my chin for tactile inspection. “I don’t feel anything” states Mattie. “You’re totally emasculating me Dude!” I pout. This is the thing: people ask for evidence and when you give it to them they’re routinely disappointed. They want, even more than I do I suspect, a full beard, a merkin. I proffer my (fat) chin again. “Look” I say. Hadley, attempting diplomacy, says “oh yeah, I see! Is that more than before?” because we lived together and she knows I was a bewhiskered woman. Kee-RYST. This is what I get for presenting myself as a human freak show. Nonetheless, the changes are there. They’re both subtle, and immense.

For most transguys, the evolution generated by imposed hormones come too slow. K says “I wanted sideburns! I was fixated on sideburns!” I am amazed that after 3 months, there are differences at all, and while they may not present themselves to others, to me they are stunning and significant. Imagine you are sitting on the toilet, and you look down and realize there are hairs on your legs that weren’t there a week ago. Fancy that you are in your car, playing that last Shins album and you can no longer hit the high notes. In a matter of weeks. My voice cracks crazy when I’m singing; I’ll sing high just to hear it and cry myself out of hysterical laughter. In a matter of weeks. Hormones are a powerful, powerful thing.

I cried yesterday. I needed to, and hadn’t been able. There’s a plunge, days before my dose, that dips me into an old depression so deep I cannot tap an outlet. An hour after I shoved that needle into my leg I wept and wept and wept. So much for stereotypes.

*"left testicled for a time" Isn't that DELICIOUS!?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Since When Do I Believe What I'm Saying?

I spent my morning, like any 47 year old single white guy*, at the playground watching 2 year olds. I was hanging out with my friend Jessica and her stunningly beautiful baby Gus. And, of course, taking the opportunity to do some research.

I got into a discussion with one of the moms about the appearance of gender delineation, like when does that happen, isn’t it interesting that some of the observable differences really seem to be innate and appear quite early, etc. Jessica remarks “what do you do, like walk up to people and go ‘I’m Sam and hey, I’m transitioning! (puts hands on hips) Whaddya think: boy or girl!?’”

But I live in Carrboro, NC, where trannies are the new gay, meaning every 10th person in frickin C-berg is, well, FLUID, and so introductions of this sort are superfluous.

This young woman, who is the mother to two obviously advantaged, charming children (Lucien 2, Isabella 5) tells me that Isabella has a schoolmate whose presentation is not “typically male.” This boy, who is 4, prefers pastel colors, pinks and purples and peaches, and doesn’t play like the other boys. “Is he trans, do ya think!?” I ask eagerly. “Who can tell what he’ll be” she says sagely, like a mother who has already seen every possible variegation. “Do you think he’s trans?” I ask again – I’m dying for her to jump on my tranny-wagon – I don’t even know why but I’m very excited. “Who knows?” she repeats, shrugging and turning to the kids, who are now, with the exception of Isabella (the only female child) magnetized by the arrival of two awesome hot wheels.

I might have been a gender ‘tweener, I’d say. Boy play was too rough for me; Tonka toys, hot wheels, blowing up frogs, forcing girls to remove their panties (this is my experience, kids!) just didn’t appeal - it required a level of aggression I not only didn't have, I shunned. On the other hand, I was rarely earthbound – I was often up a tree. I played football on the boys’ team. I was tough and athletic and girl-crazy by 4. I could hold a spider, make things in the woodshop; as mentioned I favored G.I. Amazon Explorer.

Girl games were anathema to me. They literally made my skin crawl. I have this same phenomenon when someone tries to get me to shop in the Women’s clothing section of any major department store. Cold sweat, shakes – I wish I was kidding. What was the appeal of Barbie, exactly? Beyond that she could be on the explorer team with Johnny West and G.I. Joe, and, some years later, do sexy times with same in a bowl of hot water I was calling “the hot tub” – what was it she did, precisely?

The mom shares that she sees her husband speak differently with each child. He doesn’t hear it; he insists he talks to his kids, boy or girl, the same. It’s nuanced, sometimes, the way these differences assert themselves. I try to be gender-neutral with kids, but stuff sneaks in. I am appallingly chock-a-block full of ideas, stereotypes, prejudices, phobias – about men, about women, about boys, girls, trans people, homosexuals, butches, femmes, queens, jaysus you name it. I have a lot of ideas and many of them are wrong.

*time telescopes when you’re a single guy without kids or animals. I thought I’d created a life like that so I had some freedom, some lebensraum, but what it actually looks like is I’m the default sitter for other folkses kids and pets. I reckon it keeps me off the internet machine.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Feist dates Danzig, and is not Entirely Repulsed.

The American obsession with breasts is heartbreaking to me. That it prompts unnecessary, even insane surgery, makes me want to lay my head on an unadulterated chest and weep and weep. I regard my own breasts, not without affection, as “sacks of fat,” but that perhaps says more about their superfluity to me than anything else.*

Nonetheless, this posture may feel ungenerous from someone who has what some may find to be an overabundance of tattoos and scars, and is now embarking upon the ultimate in body modification. What does it mean, to alter one’s body so dramatically? I’m watching myself at the gym and I see a guy who is really very concerned with what he looks like. Part of this transition holds a desire to conform (within reason?) to a vision in my head. Like many men, my vision looks like Brad Pitt. Also, like many men, I actually do look like Brad Pitt.

I see these guys at the gym; they’ve got the arms cut off their shirts to reveal...what exactly? Something they’re evidently very proud of! You can see the hint of muscle, you get what it is they’re flaunting, but you know what you’re seeing is not what they see in their guy-mind’s eye. I flex in the mirror – sometimes my woman comes out and is like “oooh, lumpy. That’s getting better but oooh, you need to drop about 20 pounds.” But other times I’m sitting, doing shoulder presses with my 30lb dumbbells and I’ll be damned if I haven’t gotten huge in the chest and shoulders, and if that chick at the ab machine doesn’t keep checkin’ me out. This Bicameral mind is not only delusional: it thinks in stereotype.

When some woman drives past me and does a double-take, I always hear my brain say “that’s right, check it out, yeah you want that**,” but the rational, Female part of the mind just shakes her head and gets on with it, noting the more likely possibility that the person in the car actually knows me. My brain halves are so married.

But there it is, the larger question: why are we all needing to change our bodies? The difference between “elective” implant surgery and having one’s breasts removed is profound, but both serve some social purpose, no? Yes I deeply desire my chest sculpted to a more conventional masculine form, but there’s also a social component to that. I don’t want to be perceived as a guy with boobs. That’s not okay for me, although perhaps in the future it will be. I know guys with boobs. I don’t mean moobs, I mean transguys who keep their breastesses.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: transgender people are part of the algorithm by which humanity solves its complex relationship with itself, with gender, with sexuality, with loving. There may come yet a day, when we’re all really okay with ourselves, who we are. I mean, I’m okay with myself, who I am, but I still want the titties chopped. That’s okay too. At the end of the day, I don’t believe I am participating in some social cancer, some malaise that tells women they need different breasts and men that it’s okay to make women feel like crap about their bodies. I believe I was born with a bicameral brain, and the senate is now in session.

*I am also sooo That Guy that wakes up one random Groundhog’s Day morning with boobs and he’s like “YES!” I love my breasts, but not like you’d think…

**I wish I were kidding. I’m hanging my head in shame RIGHT NOW.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trans I am, I am trans, or The Planet That Went Ape.

I heard this guy on NPR talk about how he developed an unforeseen interest in physics after being on T for a while. I regarded my own burgeoning interest in sciencey things. I’ve always been a fan of pop culture science writers, much as I’m a fan of historical novels – meaning, I’ll take that there learning with a little fancy storytelling dressing on it thank you very much. I feel a cerebral shift, a lean towards science. My dendrites are definitely moving towards some new sun – perhaps there are two suns now, like Planet of the Apes.

I also see that I was enamored of science, particularly biology, as a child. One of the things you can read about transitioning is that place, that intersection, where personal reality caroms into social construct. I’m starting to recall those neighborhoods, streets, where I was maybe playing (G.I. Joe, Amazon Explorer! My brother’s – purloined of course!*) and then the big ol’ pink touring bus of “So You Think You’re a Boy” came like a juggernaut down my side of the road. It smeared me all over the pavement in ways I’m only beginning to appreciate.

It’s almost incomprehensible, what this demolition does. After the “accident” someone - your parents, a teacher, all your friends, or maybe just your own untidy head – comes and scrapes you up, patches you together and puts you in a cylinder labeled “Female.” It’s a confinement unlike any other social template: I speak from vast experience.

My friend K says “when I realized I was a lesbian, I thought ‘oh! That’s what’s wrong with me!’ And then later when I realized I was an alcoholic I thought ‘oh, that’s it!’ But when I figured out I was trans, everything clicked in to place like a fantastic puzzle and I realized ‘there’s nothing wrong with me at all.’”

The pieces of my puzzle have been so widely scattered, but I have felt them over these last 5 years be pulled inexorably towards some center. Nonetheless, I have a deep sadness over relinquishing my woman, my woman’s body, my lesbian. I tell my therapist “I want to be a woman sometimes because I love women so much! I love their ways, their bodies!” She says I’m letting go of a whole way of relating to women.

The science interest, for me, is probably not a result of hormone injections. It’s that I’m finally allowing myself to be who I really am.

What is perhaps a result of T is an interest in things automotive. I want a shirt with a Trans Am on it, I want muscular, oil-smelling, gasoline soaked boy things. Dear God please don’t let me buy a pair of Oakley sunglasses! There’s so much BAD heterosexual male fashion! Please God, no New Balance! I told myself I would NEVER, EVER wear a polo shirt – I loathe and despise them as the pinnacle of fashion mediocrity – and now I have TWO. Okay, one has an oversized argyle pattern on it and I adore argyle and the other is this stunning deep blue…nonetheless if this keeps up, along with the wearing of dirty clothes, I’ll be wearing SOCKS WITH MY SANDALS. Jesus, I don’t even own sandals.

*he never missed it. He was too busy crying during the “Miss America” finals. He’s a theater guy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More than either you, or perhaps I, asked for.

So some of my friends have evinced some interest around my trannying out, like “what’s changing, exactly?” Interestingly enough, much of the curiosity has not been entirely prurient or puerile or even other P words, but seems to be more about behavior, brain function. For this I am extremely grateful, for as intoxicating as it is for me to chat in depth about my bits and pieces (which with some of you I am only too willing to do), what is more amazing to me is, well, the other stuff.

I got the testosterone in May. It comes suspended in sesame oil, which makes it terribly viscous* and a bear to suck up with your needle. Hence, the intramuscular needle is ENORMOUS. Fat and long. That’s the only time I’ll type those words together, I promise. You squeeze up a nice handful of, if you’re me, your ginormous working-class Euromutt quads and jab that juice deep, every other week. My therapist wants me to go on T every week to minimize the hormonal swings that injections give, and which I have to say, I suffer from. Try getting your period right after your shot, Dude. It’s like the battle of the Visigoths and the Huns right there in your own head, only the Visigoths are actually ladies, and they’re trying to hold their book club and look after the children at the same time that the Huns are riding bareback through the village with torches. These bitches have no fear. Menses is like "you can mess with my Oprah approved chick lit but don't fuck around the kiddies!" Huns be like "What."

Much has been written of the libidinous effects of testosterone. Suffice it to say, free internet porn is now my new best friend. Without the leveling effect of my new friend, I might truly be a vicious asshole. Kind of like PMS but not at all.

Several weeks after my first shot I noticed this almost yearning to wear dirty t-shirts. As a woman I was clean – not neat, but definitely clean. I would chuck a shirt for a stain or smell, even if I’d worn it for a few hours. I liked clean laundry.

But all of the sudden, I wanted to wear dirty clothes. Not just wanted: desired. It was an URGE. I wanted to wear the same shirt all week long. I wanted to feel it soften and ripen on my torso…smell me….delicious. It made no sense to me, but I did tell some people “now that I’m a dude I can wear the same shirt for days at a time!” Women were horrified. The only thing that could break my mandelusion was my sponsor reporting frankly, “Women don’t like that.” That’s something a guy can wrap his dirty laundry around.

Perhaps even more than libido detonation, rage has been touted as a side-effect of hormone injection. This has not been the case for me. Some guys say it even chills them out – therapists refer to it as the “Teflon effect.” My observation is that it may be the guys who, as chicks, were pretty tightly wound – now they’re way less confrontational. They’re more confident, less interested in proving a point, because the point is made. They have, as a man, a voice. It’s just a given. That’s my theory anyway. For me, the anger piece surfaces as impatience. I bark at people from my driver’s seat, something I rarely felt impelled to do BT**. But nothing like rage, just barking. My fuse is shorter. Lines and human behaviors in them can disturb me, and that’s new too. Fortunately, the program of alcoholics anonymous has rewired me. When I get fussy (that’s what it feels like, like I’m a fussing baby) I usually crack up afterwards. Nothing untoward has happened yet.

*Viscous and itchy. My ex used to call me her “itchy boy” because I’m generally kind of allergic and itchy anyway, but this is crazy. A guy told me the itching was actually the fat cells redistributing themselves, which they do on T. You get "male pattern" fat distribution. When I told my therapist this she cackled. “It’s the sesame oil it’s suspended in – you’re all allergic to it!” Fat cell redistribution is so way cooler.

**Before Testosterone.