Monday, October 19, 2009

Little Peepee, Little Toes

“Men are pussies when it comes to pain!” a pal of mine insists.

This begs a word-by-word deconstruct and is nearly pure Dada in juicy ridiculousness. Are we implying that men are women’s pudenda or sweet, madcap furballs? And what, if anything, does pain have to do with this?

Ha. I jest. It’s a shibboleth of sorts that men are pervious to pain, and in fact will revert to toddler in face of same or illness. My own family was uniquely stoic in the face of any illness or trauma – I’ve seen my father pick digits off the garage floor beneath the table saw and laugh that he guessed he had to get to the emergency room. I remember opening up my own hand with a hand saw (and that’s why they call it a “hand saw” kids!), watching yellow globs of fat slide out from over tendons and cursing my bad consumer luck for having to now test the “urgent” in “Urgent Care.” I hate more than anything, having to wait.

I have been held hostage, for over a week now, to the mordantly exquisite pain of a fractured, cavitous tooth. I loped around it for nearly a month, gobbling ibuprofens and eating to one side, but it bested me last Thursday where at 2a.m. I woke up thinking the devil had exposed my dentistry and was digging through my teeth with red-hot claws like Madeline Kahn at the sale bra table at Macy’s one forlorn Christmas. The Madeline Kahn reference is true, by the way – according to an ex who used to work there, Maddy snapped a bra from another shopper with the kind of triumphant zeal only the holidays can evoke.

On the other hand, I always thought of my brother as a “lap baby,” one of those children who have figured out how to get nurturing from the immaternal by being consistently ill or in crisis. Here was the child who was allergic to everything: dust, wheat, dairy, chocolate for godssake, for whom we had to line mattress and pillow, drink powdered milk, eat carob, who had to go every week to Bethesda to our weird, basement cave-dwelling pediatrician for every child’s nightmare: the shot. My brother managed to tease a tenderness from our mother - a woman whose answer to my questions about what menopause was like was a strident, “I don’t know - I was too busy” - that I have never seen from the same woman who told me once, “I don’t know why people like to hug me when they greet. I rarely even see these people.”

Nonetheless, I hear from my besties that their husbands and boyfriends are big babies when ill. I suspect my own intolerance for discomfort and pain is linked to years upon heaping spoonfuls of opiated years, and that persistent painkiller addiction has sucked dry the well of serotonin for this ex-junky. I will attest that since detoxing off of methadone in 1994, I have occasional ingress to an experience of pain that would make Pinhead from Hellraiser moist with pride. (I just envisioned a Top Chef-type scenario involving Hellraiser minions as judges but have chosen to edit this fantasy to this aside…)

What do pain and illness have to do with gender?

I’ve been considering the difference between hating one’s body and true dysmorphia. Most of us who have been women in America know firsthand what it’s like to hate, or at least be disgruntled with some part of our body. I just gave in about my thighs – even when I was a skeletally thin Screaming Skull coke-head you could still spot the random thigh dimple. And my ass looks like an infant’s, no matter what exercise I enslave it to.

Dysmorphia, on the other hand, feels less like loathing and more like confusion. What is that and how did it get here!? It’s like – well, imagine waking up one fine morning and discovering you’ve got a tail. And not a cool, Nightcrawler tail – a freakish, fleshy tail of no aesthetic value whatsoever. Dysmorphia is the reverse of the phantom limb syndrome- it’s the itch of a living thing attached to your body, it’s the itch of being trapped in a body, like a cast, that isn’t actually yours yet you cannot escape.

The doctors at my local hospital won’t do my top surgery. It’s perceived as cosmetic, elective, and they "don't do cosmetic." The difference between “I can’t live with this nose” and “I can’t live in this body” is the difference between someone looking outside for validation, and someone who cannot even know the meaning of the word validation. There’s been nothing to validate but an immaterial longing, as if heartbreak was something one was born with. I understand how poignant both desires can be, but comparable? I think not.

Anyhoo, these are my thought when I’m not thinking “tooth.” Which is all I’m thinking these days, until tomorrow at least, where the good dentist shall scrape this wanton, shamelessly attention-courting nerve from my fractured face.

Men, women, and some of us interstitial: we’re all big pussies. At some point, for something. Let’s jump in a big pussy pile, like Max and the Wild Things; let’s howl together in righteous indignation to a god that would give us this strange neurochemistry, and let’s thank it for something too. Pain tells me to change a situation, and dysmorphia tells me to change the world. Together, we can do this thing, a tooth, a gender, and let us not forget a haircut, at a time.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I’m Just a Boy Who Can’t Say No

Since I got sober, really sober, less than a decade ago, I often feel like I’m coming up from under ground, post-apocalypse. If you’ve ever been on the metro escalator in Dupont Circle, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s a whole world talking, and it’s articulating faster than I can listen, much less process. This sometimes feels like a brutal contrast to my own personal life, including my transition, which seems to evolve rather slowly and even begrudgingly, like a teenager asked to pick up her room. Time and time again, I watch (and with undisguised joy, I might add) guys sprout Amish beards, get surgeries, swagger on in to the men’s room – while I hunch and cave and compress the breasts, and curry my tiny face hairs, urging thickness in the one and diminution in the other.

This is how it goes. And I promise the next person who lets “it is what it is” fall unexamined out of their gaping maw shall be subject to an “it is what it is” tranny fine payable to me, Sam Peterson, in the currency of the realm. If you’re my friend, you can just turn around and come back in again. If everyone is saying it, it’s not deep anymore.

I was at a grueling meeting of the transpeeps last week, where two guys were expressing their fears about getting clocked as “non-actual-dude” in the men’s restroom. Frankly, it’s hard for me to empathize with that. They’re getting in the men’s room. Another gender-vague person and I had to emphasize that we don’t use the room of our choice. We fear outing, we fear violence. “I could probably take a chick on if I had to,” I assert with my usual sensitivity, thinking that if it came to fisticuffs around bathroom decisions, I’d fare better with my birth kind. Much of this fear is between the ears, too – nobody’s in the men’s room, checking the direction of someone’s feet; conversely, I doubt anyone would even give me a second glance if I went to the men’s room at school. I only don’t go there because so many people there know me as a “woman,” and I chafe at the thought of having to explain to my fellow DTCCers what me and my micro-penis and testosterone-flaccid boobs are doing in “their” bathroom.

My friend exists in a state that would be intolerable for me, who is a loud, gregarious, non-secret-y Sagittarian. They (I find ze and hir troublesomely academic, but in 6 months time I’m sure I’ll be ze-ing and hir-ing all over the jernt. See above for “begrudging evolution.”) work in a rather conservative environment, and have done so for years. They let other co-workers choose their pronouns for them. They’re not “out” at work. They live the double life we’ve come to recognize on Maury and Oprah - but when it’s up close and personal, it ceases to be entertainment and becomes unyielding heartbreak and humiliation. At least, for me, watching it. My friend is quiet, private. They conceal their life with every unspoken sentence, or reveal with the easily quashed quiet of the shy. If I have a thought, it’s out of my mouth like a gumball in a penny candy machine, no censor, sweet, cheap, delicious and possibly stale.

But I know the ignominy; my ears burn red at slights - strangers may never know they injured with their gendered assessment of me, who is now weirdly caved in from an indignity I can carbon date to the birth of my brother, who had something substantial by way of his diapers and proved me a girl. “This is your sister,” said my father to my baby sibling; I choked on it then and I’m still gagging now.

It is what it is. I embrace, with varying degrees of success, my gendered presentation. We’re all somebody else in our minds, anyway, aren’t we?

I think about a double life. I’ve cheated on partners, and I’ve been a drunk “sober” person – those lies made me sick like a steady cold drip from a window on a perfect fall night led to pneumonia one October. And I was drunk on those lies, too – they were mouth-watering and at the expense of another, an innocent one. But the double life of a transperson costs everybody. It’s a backwards cheat. I’m sitting here thinking “why am I denying anyone my fabulousness? Everyone needs a little shotglass of tranny!” – and while this is a truth for the ages it would be ingenuous and even criminal for me to insist that transpeople rub themselves on the eyeballs of the half-awake world. Much of the world has a violent, even lethal response for people who challenge their shibboleths.

Still, what’s the reward for silence? Like nicotine produces a toxin of euphoria, what’s my prize for keeping the good news to myself? What am I so afraid of? Is this my transphobia, or my default to people-pleasing? Yes and yes and I’m a little ashamed.

So I’m counting on you, Sister-brother. I am going to lean heavy on your broad back, and let you fireman carry me at least a bit of the way. I can’t do this alone. I need you out there. Help me be an honest transman – and if honest requires I bide my time and bite my tongue I will but help me. I’m not in this thing to be a dilute version of me – I know when the time is right they’ll want all my verve and zest and snap, a reduction even, sharp and savory and sweet. So take me by the hand please; push those doors open like a cowboy at the saloon Sweet Friend and let me in. And lastly, after we’ve washed our hands at the sink, careful not to look at one another, you’ll bravely remind me to zip.