Category Archives: My life

Interview with Marina Spriggs, M.A., LPC-Intern

 

I really enjoyed our discussion! We talk about why I left academic philosophy and a bunch of trans stuff. Be sure to subscribe to her podcast, Always Another Way, on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And leave a review for her podcast if you enjoyed our discussion.

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Interview with Cassie Brighter

 

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An Explanation of Why It’s a Ghost Town Around Here

Working on the book. I really want to share with you guys the new essays I’ve been working on….but I am going to save them for my book! I’ve also been expanding/revising the older essays and they are so different polished up a little! My biggest goal is to make the collection intellectual stimulating – a smorgasbord of tiny, interesting ideas.

 

In other news, I’ve just been really busy with work. I’m working like 55 hours a week or something crazy like that. Making good money though. But it’s exhausting – and not giving me much time to work on my writing. I dream of supporting myself through publishing one day. But in the meantime, just working the grind.

Life with Jacqueline is good ūüôā We have a lot of dreams and hopes and plans, some more concrete than others, but we are both wanting to get out of Missouri and get to the West coast – sooner rather than later. So making that a reality is a big priority right now. I’m also trying to save up an emergency fund. But otherwise things are looking pretty good financially. We are starting to think of ourselves more as a dual-income household and that’s pretty exciting and ties into a lot of the hopes and dreams we are discussing.

For some reason I feel like it’s really taboo to talk about finances out in the open. About “doing well” or whatever – or discussing exactly in numbers how much you’re making. There’s a stigma around personal finance and makes it so that only a certain class of people talk about money, and then, only with other people in the class of people who talk about money i.e. bankers, finance people, old rich white dudes, etc., etc. But we should all be talking about personal finance, budgeting, saving, retirement, credit, debt, etc., because all these things play a HUGE role in how well our lives goes.

 

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Support me on Patreon!

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https://www.patreon.com/transphilosopher

Hey everybody! I am really excited to announce that I am working on a book:

 

 

On Being an Angry Tranny

It’s going to be a collection of the best essays from this website, heavily revised, along with whole new essays keeping in the same blog-style format. Topics include gender, queer studies, intersectional feminism, trans phenomenology, gender critical feminism, the psychology of gender, and much more!

In order to afford the publishing and marketing costs, please consider supporting me on Patreon with $5/month. Not only will this help me get my book to a wider audience, it will support me in writing more content for this site! If you appreciate what I do here on Transphilosopher, becoming a Patron is the best way to support me as a writer.

Thank you so much to all my readers for supporting trans philosophy!

https://www.patreon.com/transphilosopher

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Lust, Loss, and the Logic of Love – Valentine’s Edition

 

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Many people have bitter feelings surrounding Valentine’s day. And I don’t think it’s¬†just due to the jaded corporatism surrounding the strong social pressure to spend lavishly to show your love. Rather, I think part of the frustration comes from a deep cynicism in our culture surrounding the topic of romantic love itself – the issue at the core then is not the corporatism but the very nature of love as a mental state.

Romance continues to be a popular genre but it’s often treated as a form of escapism because in the regular world most people seem to be skeptical about love as an emotion worthy of guiding major life decisions. Many people have been burned before and have thus, quite appropriately, become jaded about the whole idea of, e.g., grand and romantic gestures early in the stages of a relationship.

For example, when a newly in love couple announces they are engaged after only 2 months of dating, my guess is that most people would be polite and congratulate the couple but secretly think “Oh boy, that’s doomed to failure”. The feeling of doom comes from the general opinion in our society that love is irrational and any major life decision done in the grips of New Relationship Energy (NRE) is not done on firm epistemic ground.

Love and logic are often pitted against each other as opposites. People think it is¬†risky to fall so strongly in love because you end up making rash decisions. But rashness doesn’t of course refer to just the short time-frame nor is it merely about how things happen to turn out: it essentially implies a decision made without enough evidence to¬†rationally decide. We can always get lucky, of course, but the massive risk implies irrationality built into love-dominated decisions.¬†And that’s what people say about this type of love: “You’ve only known each other for three weeks! How could you possibly [insert action]?”

And I think we all understand this skepticism at some core level – there is a sense in which it’s quite obvious that love is a biased decision making vector. From the outside perspective it’s easy to look at a couple in love and see them as being swept up in an irrational delusion that they will be together forever. We all know the statistics about divorce. I have certainly had skeptical thoughts about¬†other¬†couples – so I don’t fault people for having those thoughts towards¬†me¬†when I am in the grips of love.

But this raises the essential epistemic issue: we can’t ignore our own standpoints when making decisions. From the¬†inside,¬†everything makes sense. This creates a phenomenological sense of isolation akin to the Facebook algorithm bubbles we all live in: we will never break through the private barrier of mental life and understand the full context of someone else’s decision. Hell, we stand pretty much zero chance of properly understanding the scope of even our¬†own¬†decisions. So why would we expect to have any sense of why a couple actually decided to U-haul? This is why our own individual standpoints, histories, values, beliefs, and emotions must be accounted for in terms of accessing the rationality of decisions done under NRE.

You can never truly know the full set of information someone is utilizing to make a decision in the “throes” of love. When communicating to others “why” you two have decided to, e.g., move-in together, it becomes impossible to convey the full scope of relevant information in a digestable format. You end up just gushing out a soundbite like “we’re just crazy about each other”. Or at least that’s how it comes off to someone else: crazy.

Coming back to risk, there are individual differences in how much risk-tolerance each of us is comfortable with. There are also different kinds of risk: emotional risk, physical risk, financial risk, etc. These all interact with each other in complex ways. But just like in the investing world where some people are comfortable being highly leveraged, some people are ok taking great relationship risks in order to help bring about an even greater reward. What’s the possible max pay out? A life of happiness. Sounds great doesn’t it? What kind of risk is that worth?

But of course the best situation is where there is a low risk and a massive reward i.e. little downside, big upside. With relationships this can happen where there is liquidity to the relationship. This is often facilitated by neither party coming into the relationship out of a sense of pragmatic desperation. So here you can make an investment where, if things go sour, it won’t be the end of the world, but if things go well, it could make a massive positive change in the direction of your life. This is the sweet spot.

So according to the sketch of standpoint epistemology I just laid out, it is fully possible for a decision dripping with NRE to be fully rational according to a mutually beneficial rational alignment of values that can only be fully assessed by the two relevant parties.

Sounds romantic doesn’t it?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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U-hauling, Radical Vulnerability, and the Existential Feels of Queer, Poly Love

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Question: What did the lesbian bring on her second date?
Answer: A U-haul

Queer women are known for a phenomenon called “U-hauling” which is basically falling in love pretty much instantly and quickly setting in motion a Complete Entanglement, physically, financially, domestically, emotionally, etc.

In contrast, the stereotype for gay men is the tacit imposition to “not catch feels”. So why do queer women fall in love so hard and practically sprint up the relationship escalator whereas queer men tend to engage in more casual poly networks (at least according to well-known stereotypes)?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I have found myself radically in love with a girl I met…uh…three days ago? And of course the feeling is reciprocated because she is also a very gay woman and while quite new to lesbian dating is falling right in line with every stereotype. I too am a living breathing embodiment of this stereotype – especially since I just got out of a fairly serious relationship…three days ago.

I am a big advocate of thinking “coincidence” is an adequate explanation in more instances than commonly believed because the universe is often random and if you get enough people together in a room someone is bound to flip a coin heads ten times in a row. Series of relationships strung together can be just as random as starting/stopping a relationship only a few times a year.

But I have been toying with a tentative hypothesis to explain why queer women and not queer men have the stereotype of U-hauling. The story is something like this. Queer women are already on the margins of society both culturally and morally. While the tide is definitely turning there is SO MUCH hatred out there and queer women around the world get harassed and violently assaulted or even murdered on a regular basis in virtue of being queer. This process of marginalization leads to a radical vulnerability. Note: I am explicitly using “queer” and not “lesbian” because I don’t want to erase the experiences of bi/pan women.

But that’s half the equation. The other variable is the style of communication common among women. It involves deep honesty, sharing our vulnerabilities, trauma, insecurities, fears, but also our dreams and hopes and what makes us capable of still laughing in the grip of patriarchy.

As someone who has lived on both sides of the gender spectrum it is undeniable to me that there is a communication style more commonly used by women and this style facilities an openness that I think is hard for men steeped in machismo-culture to achieve. The “masc-for-masc” trend in cis gay male culture is indicative of the fact that gay men are¬†men¬†and in my humble opinion men and women tend to have much different communication styles.

But why is that? It’d be naive to think hormones have nothing to do with it. Most women are estrogen dominant, and again, speaking from personal experience, the emotional valences work differently and work towards facilitating a more intense resolution of conflict. Those who have lived with both Testosterone-dominance and Estrogen-dominance often report that on T they are more numb. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the person. But for me the lack of numbness has led to an overall more soft and empathic response to conflict that has fundamentally changed my communication style especially in relationships

And of course, it’s not just a one-directional causality for hormones. Reductive and overly simplistic models of behavior are just that: ideal models. But socialization and learning are definitely playing a role in shaping the gender gap in communication style. But this is of course a classic chicken-and-egg question aka the old nature vs nurture chestnut. But as everyone knows the answer is both unhelpful but also the only real Truth: it is nature¬†through¬†nurture and nurture¬†through¬†nature. It is both. Interacting. In a very complex manner. Everything else is just details.

Having said that I want to turn to another cultural stereotype within the lesbian community and that is the high emphasis on monogamy culture. By that I mean emphasizing things like Soulmates, Eternal love, the One and Only, My Everything, Us vs the World, etc., etc. You can see monogamy culture working in the U-haul phenomenon because it is the sense that you suddenly have found your True Lesbian Lover that is going to satisfy all your needs until the day you die and you need to Lock That Shit Down as fast as possible otherwise it could possibly fall through your hands and you’ll die lonely and gay.

As someone who puts a high personal value on ethical nonmonogamy I am simultaneously drawn to monogamy culture and repulsed by it. I feel the temptation to use very possessive language and draw up mental entitlements to my partner’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior. But my belief in something akin to relationship anarchy makes me naturally skeptical of formal hierarchy in relationships including boundaries on what we allow ourselves to experience or not experience. Which is not to say I am against the idea of having a nesting partner(s). I am almost certainly someone who has a very strong nest-building instinct. But nesting is different from hierarchy and it is different from monogamy culture. Nesting is about mutually beneficial living arrangements but monogamy culture is about setting up toxic boundaries on our emotional openness.

And of course, I am talking about monogamy¬†culture¬†and not two rational and consenting adults entering into a healthy monogamous relationship which is totally possible (but maybe for less people than one might assume based on the culture we live in). Monogamy culture is toxic but monogamy itself doesn’t have to be so long as there is still radical honesty, communication, vulnerability, and empathy.

At the end of the day, U-hauling exists because queer women often spend their lives looking for something they didn’t know existed until they have their first queer relationship. As someone who has dated straight women and queer women, there is a subtle difference in virtue of relating to the shared trauma of marginalization. That background serves to make genuine connection that much more cherished and leads to the rapid emotional escalation common to lesbians and bi/pan women.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, My life

Transition Timeline – 2.5 years

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April 24 – 2015

This is the last known picture of me with a beard.

The gender dysphoria was getting to be so strong that I could no longer live a dual life. My inner feminine self needed to breath and I’ve never looked back.

In May of 2015 I started my social transition. I’ve written about my early days of transition here.

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May 27 – 2015

Quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was scary and I had to quickly figure out clothes, makeup, hiding beard shadow, my voice, mannerisms, unlearning socialization, passing, dealing with social anxiety, getting clocked, dealing with legal ID issues, being part-time, coping with dysphoria, not to mention my studies and teaching. How would I present to my students? How would I tell my department? How fast would I make a transformation in presentation?

One of the very first things I would do after starting transition was get laser hair removal on my beard. I eventually got 8 sessions altogether. I still plan on getting more when I can afford it. At the time I just put it all on my credit card because it was so urgent in terms of letting me live my life without dsyphoria and anxiety about passing.
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June 5 – 2015

This was still pre-HRT and representative of the androgyny that became my safe-haven before I could live authentically 24/7. I skirted the boundary between both genders. I figured it would be more safer to present as a feminine/andro man than a totally non-passable woman. This strategy would serve me well for a long time.

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August 10 – 2015

I think all trans girls get bangs at one point in their transition. I ended up hating them and regretted them almost immediately. My hair has a natural curl and they were SUCH a pain to style. Never again.

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September 1 – 2015

This is me at the doctor’s office getting my first script for HRT. I started on estradiol oral pills, spironolactone, and finasteride. I would eventually drop the finasteride and switch to injectable estrogen. I also recently added progesterone into my regime. I also switched doctors because my first doctor ended up being a conservative old fogey who is stuck in the past and refuses to give the best care for his trans patients.

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October 2015

I met AJ and started my first relationship since transition. They were terrific and it was a beautiful time we spent together. We eventually parted ways amicably.

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December 2015

In the middle of December, right before I went home to Florida for Christmas, I met Ashley who was one of the great loves of my life. She was my first real lesbian relationship and it was a major period of personal growth and development in my transition. We were madly in love and u-Hauled it in classic lesbian fashion. We soon got engaged and lived in a beautiful little bubble in her downtown loft.

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April – 2016

I get my legal name change. Turns out legal dysphoria is a thing and it absolutely sucked to have to use my deadname to get into bars, do my banking, or any other adult activity. Getting legally recognized as Rachel changed my life in so many countless ways. It was definitely a significant milestone in my transition.

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October – 2016

A little over 1 year on HRT.

Ashley and I split up. It was for the best.

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December – 2016

I had been dating this trans girl I met, McKenzie. We met in October. It was great. We fell in love. She moved in right away. Things got serious. We even got matching tats:

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April 7 – 2017

I dyed my hair purple!

Still with McKenzie at this point.

In my personal life things had changed quite a bit. I had decided to drop out of my PhD program and leave the pursuit of academia. I started working at Starbucks in February. Around this time, I also renewed my interest in fitness and got my certification to be a personal trainer. I underwent my own fitness transformation as well:

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In October of 2017 I also ended things with McKenzie. It just wasn’t working out.

Shortly after, I met this cool lesbian poly couple and I’ve been dating them ever since. Things are good. I’m not involved in a serious primary partnership at the moment and that’s OK with me.

I recently gave up on the personal training business. Just wasn’t making enough money and wasn’t finding the work rewarding. Still working at Starbucks. I recently picked up a second job delivering pizza. With the second job, things have been looking up financially.

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October 7 – 2017

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Nov 4 – 2017

(These are my girlfriend’s dogs btw)

Things are good. I’m happy with my transition. I still have some more medical things I’d like done eventually but I’m not in a rush. I don’t pass 100% but my dysphoria is pretty minimal. I still get misgendered and clocked sometimes but I’ve come to peace with it. I can now sometimes pass as female over the phone if I’m using my customer service voice.

Emotionally, I am really at peace with myself right now. I’m living on my own, paying my bills, feeling more autonomous than I have in a long time, and feel like I’m in charge of my destiny.

Even though I am no longer pursuing academia and I am “merely” working at Starbucks/Domino’s, I still have big intellectual goals. I want to keep blogging, maybe start working on a book. My eventual goal is to make a living from my writing. In the meantime I am content with working in the wage economy while having the freedom to follow my interests in my free time. I’m only 30 years old. My dating life is good. I have a nice apartment and good pets. My stress levels are low. I’m in a good place mentally and physically.

Here’s to hoping that my 30s will be my best decade ever.

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Butterfly or Acorn? Becoming the Woman I Never Was

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When a caterpillar wraps itself in its cocoon it completely dissolves into a goo. The butterfly emerges out of the goo. Is the butterfly the same entity as the caterpillar that existed pre-goo? Or is the butterfly a whole new entity? It’s easy to think of the butterfly as a new creation that sprung forth from the goo. In other words, the caterpillar didn’t turn into a butterfly, the caterpillar died and the butterfly was born anew.

In contrast, when an acorn turns into a tree it does not die. It merely grows from the inherent potential within itself. We say the acorn developed into the tree just like a child develops into an adult.

As a trans woman, I relate much more to the butterfly than I do the acorn.

Before I go on, I must insist that I am only speaking for myself. The experiences of trans people are incredibly diverse and many trans people might relate more to the acorn. The question isn’t about who’s more valid: acorns or butterflies. I believe both are valid. The right question is rather: what is your story?

The acorns of the trans world are the people who were sure of their identity from a very young age. Many of these same trans people ascribe to the “born this way” narrative where they focus strongly on genetic and biological explanations of their trans identity that places the emphasis on it being innate, a fundamental part of who they are since birth.

In contrast, I am much more of a butterfly. The way I view my journey is that I was for all intents and purposes a man prior to transition. I performed the social role well and this performance did not conflict with my identity. I was, however, a gender nonconforming male who had a feminine side I had been exploring from a young age. I played with this juxtaposition for many years until my marriage ended in my late twenties and an opportunity for further gender exploration opened up.

The more I explored my femininity the more I realized desires were emerging that told me I could no longer live a dual life. I needed to make a binary transition into womanhood. This was largely the result of living in a society that makes it very difficult for a male-identified person to make a complete social/physical/presentational transition while still holding onto their male identity.

Like it or not we live in a binarist culture where manhood and womanhood are associated with certain stereotypes. I began to realize that I wanted nothing to do with manhood and the toxic masculinity endemic to our patriarchal culture.

Hormone therapy activated emotional circuits that allowed me to feel empathy in a way that I previously was unable to.

Social transition provided an opportunity to learn about systemic oppression and taught me solidarity with folks of all stripes. My eyes were opened up to how fucked up this world is and how oppression really functions in this society.

My loss of male privilege gave me new a new epistemic and moral perspective from which to analyze the world. Direct exposure to rampant transphobia gave me insight into the power structures that are actively working to maintain white supremacy, cissexism, ableism, patriarchy, etc.

Transition made me aware of what it’s like to fear walking down the street by yourself. It taught me to fear men. In so many ways transition has changed my entire political/social worldview. I went from being one of the most privileged people on this planet to someone who can now understand what solidarity really means.

But transition also was the catalyst for my metaphormophis. Transition turned my male identity into a goo out of which emerged a woman exploring her identity.

I relate to the butterfly instead of the acorn because I don’t like to focus on the innate factors that predisposed me to explore femininity in the first place. I prefer instead to focus on the interpersonal-social-environmental-learning-cultural-reflective-introspective factors that led to the breakdown of my male identity and provided the matrix through which my trans identity developed.

I worry that the “born this way” narrative is dangerous fodder for conservatives and TERFs hellbent on trans genocide. If we find a biological cause of trans identity, would some parents screen and terminate their babies if they thought they’d turn out trans? After all, many people see it as a medical condition or disorder of some kind. Whether its a psychiatric disorder or endocrinological disorder doesn’t matter – if it’s a disorder why wouldn’t people try to eradicate it from our species?

This is one of the reasons why I prefer to focused on the non-biological factors at play in the formation of my trans identity. Obviously there was¬†some¬†biological factors at play because it’s¬†always¬†a mixture both nature and nurture. But in so many trans narratives we see a reluctance to talk about the non-biological factors. There is a fear that if we admit such factors people will either think we’re phonies or that we can just go to therapy to cure ourselves of the desire to transition.

I reject both claims. Just because there are non-biological factors at play does¬†not¬†entail that conversion therapy will work. The presence of non-biological factors does not mean that we can just consciously choose to be trans. The question of “is it a choice” is over simplified because we have to distinguish between unconscious and conscious cognitive processes. The unconscious feeds off many non-biological factors same as the conscious system. The existence of choice does not mean that it’s willy-nilly and can just be consciously overridden.

Furthermore, nobody is born with a “doctor gene”. But obviously if you choose to be a doctor that doesn’t make you a phony doctor. Similarly, there is probably not a single “trans gene”. But choosing to become a woman doesn’t make you a phony woman. It’s the performance of doctorhood that makes you a doctor and for me it’s the performance of womanhood that counts. Moreover, “performing womanhood” is not the same as performining¬†femininity.¬†You can violate every stereotype known and still perform womanhood authentically.

And once you perform a role long enough it becomes automatized, habitualized, unconscious, and thus “natural”. It becomes part of the unconscious schemas that structure your total personality.

While in many ways I am still quite similar to the man I once was, in many more ways I am a new person. Going on the classic Lockean model of personal identity, there are enough significant psychological discontinuities with who I once was to warrant thinking I am a whole new person.

I have become the woman I never was.

I was decidedly not a woman born into the body of a man but rather a man who turned into a woman. I was not a woman peering out from behind the eyes of a male. I was a gender nonconforming male who had a complex set of new desires emerge from a period of gender exploration in my twenties. This desires included a desire for a feminine name, she/her pronouns, hormone therapy, laser treatment, and a complete change in appearance.

My sexual desires also changed. I went from being bi-curious to pansexual.

All my feelings about my body changed. I did not have significant body dysphoria before transition. Transition precipitated most of my gender dysphoria. It was not gender dysphoria that caused transition but transition that caused the dysphoria.

Again, I want to emphasize this might not be true of all trans people. We all have our own stories, our own life history, and what’s true for me is might not be true for anyone else. The “born this way” narrative absolutely resonates with some people and it’s not my place to take that away from people’s stories. But for me, the “born this way” narrative is stifling and ignores how my journey actually unfolded.

But I think we do a disservice to ourselves by focusing too many on acorns while ignoring butterflies. Both are beautiful. Both are valid.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, My life, Trans studies

Trans on Trans Love and Why Cis People Just Don’t Get It

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I’ve been dating another trans girl¬†for a little over 5 months now. It was practically love at first sight. We first met last summer at a local support group for trans feminine people – I was immediately fascinated by her¬†but I was in a relationship at the time. After that ended, I was single again and we happened to hang out together with some friends one night after the trans support group got together for our usual Wednesday meetings. We ended up staying up to like 4am talking and connecting – I could feel serious chemistry between us. After she went home, I messaged her on FB saying that I felt like kissing her when we were saying goodbye but I chickened out at the last minute. To my surprise, she echoed similar sentiments.

We set up a date for the next night. We went to some little cash-only hipster bar next to a place called Steve’s Hotdogs. We were feeling each other totally. I was intoxicated by her presence. I don’t even remember what we talked about that night but I knew right away this was something special. She came home with me and spent the night. It was amazing. After I drove her home the next day we immediately made plans to hang out again later in the day. And the pattern repeated the next day. On the third night we were lying in bed after crazy good sex and whispering sweet nothings to each other. I could feel myself falling in love. It was intense. I knew she was feeling the same thing – I could see it in her eyes and in the way she was talking to me. She said “There’s something I want to tell you but I’m afraid of saying it…” I knew instantly what she wanted to say but I beat her to it: “I love you” I say. She returns the sentiment, saying “I love you” back. This was unusual for me. Usually it takes weeks or months for me to be capable of saying those three words and sincerely meaning it but with her it was like some supernatural force came over me causing me to fall deeply in love.

I didn’t want her to go home, ever – at the time she was living at her parents place. Sensing that she wasn’t comfortable with her living situation at home I impulsively asked her if she wanted to Uhaul it with me, to move in right away in classic lesbian fashion. She said yes. She couldn’t wait to move out. It was an admittedly crazy proposal. We barely knew each other. It was irrational, impulsive, rash, short-sighted, etc. But it worked. Five months later and I couldn’t be happier. The risk paid off. Big time. Turns out we are very compatible domestic partners.

I’m convinced that part of our success is the fact that we are both trans girls. When we first met she was actually boy crazy. Wasn’t even on her mind to consider the possibility that the love of her life would be another trans girl. But now that we’ve both experienced trans4trans love we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s amazing to be with someone who knows exactly what your own dysphoria feels like. To be with someone who you don’t have to feel weird about being so excited when someone gendered you correctly at the supermarket. Someone with whom you can share the small joys of transition and know that they understand perfectly what you mean. Someone who understands your identity in all its complexity because they’ve gone through the same evolution.

With her I can share my doubts about my own identity without worrying she will take me any less seriously as a woman. With her I can discuss my own internalized transmisognyny without risking her reinforcing my own internal shit. With her I can discuss my fears and hope and dreams relating to my transition without worrying that she will not understand me. With her I can obsesses about the smallest details of transitioning without worrying that I am being “obsessive” about gender. When I get misgendered I know she will empathize fully. With her I can be fully myself and at ease. If I don’t feel like sitting down to pee I can do so without my feeling I need to prove anything to her about my womanhood. In my past relationships I felt like I had to be more guarded about being maximally feminine. Now, I don’t have to feel self-conscious about my voice not being as feminine as my cis partner’s. I don’t have to worry about constantly effecting a higher pitch. I don’t have to feel self-conscious about the femininity of my body next to hers. I don’t need to “pass” better for her. She gets it on a deep molecular level.

Cis people will never truly get it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not always black or white in terms of either being 100% cis or not. Gender is messy, fuzzy, and sometimes people can struggle with their gender and question their identity while still maintaining their connection with their assigned gender. These questioning cis people might have a little insight into what it’s like to have gender dysphoria but most cis people don’t struggle with their gender at all. For them the reality and firmness of their gender is simply an undeniable fact that they have totally accepted and internalized, as real as gravity and reinforced by 100% of their experiences growing up. I call the cis people who have never struggled with their gender “basic cis”. It’s the type of cis-ness that fuels the gender binary and cis supremacy. Basic cis people will never come close to understanding what it’s like to have gender dysphoria. They just can’t imagine what it’d be like to look in the mirror and not just be dissatisfied with your appearance but¬†perceive the wrong gender.¬†

It’s an eerie phenomenon, like looking in a funhouse mirror, except the distorted mirror doesn’t just stretched your physical proportions to be grotesque but rather shifts them such that you look like the “opposite” sex. A typical funhouse mirror is like anorexia: being thin but perceiving yourself to be fat or vice versa. But gender dysphoria is more complicated than a simple shift in physical dimensions: it’s a shift in our fundamental metaphysical status as gendered beings. Gender dysphoria is like a snapchat filter on steroids applied to all the hundreds of little features that physically separate the sexes. It’s very difficult for basic cis people to understand this because they are so basic.

t4t usually refers to the craigslist section where trans people and crossdressers try to hook up with each other. But for me, “t4t” represents the queering of romance, an escape from cis-supremacy and the shackles of cis-heteropatriarchy. The way our bodies interact during sex defies easy categorization. Our bodies are not binary and neither is our love. t4t represents a departure from the limitations placed upon us by the old trans gatekeepers, who used to think that the only “successful” transition for a trans woman would involve her getting married to a cis straight man. Anything else was considered deviant and mentally disturbed, a sign of maladjustment to a woman’s place in society. But fuck that noise. t4t is beautiful. Trans lesbians are beautiful. Trans gays are beautiful. Trans guys with trans girls is beautiful. Trans girls with enbies is beauitful. Trans guys with enbies is beautiful. Enbies with enbies is beautiful.

Trans love is a way of showing the cis world that we don’t need them to define our worth.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under My life, Trans life

Early Days of Transition: A Phenomenology of Change

metamorphosis

When I reflect on my early days of transition I often cringe so hard it feels traumatic. The way I would act, my thought processes, the outfits¬†I would wear…It was embarrassing. I had no idea what I was doing. Imagine spending your whole life learning how to act one as one gender and then switching all of a sudden. It’s maddening the thousands of small things that I had to learn and unlearn in the process of transition so as to adjust to my new social reality. Luckily I didn’t have to adjust to wild changes in mood as I started HRT – I remain to this day very stable in my mood. But the learning process was overwhelming at times. Imposter syndrome was in full swing.

One of the primary mechanisms of gendered behavior learning is attention: who do we pay attention to when we are consciously and unconsciously asking ourselves “How should I act?” Do we watch the men or the women? The boys or the girls? Who are the “role models” we look to in times of uncertainty? Having spent my life socialized as male I always looked to the masculine people in my life to imitate their behavior. I was fairly good at this and eventually it became internalized, though I was never super macho.

The decision to transition changed all that. The focus of my attention shifted away from men. What was internalized for cis women after decades of practice seemed 100% natural to them. I had a lot of catching up to do. It’s painful to reflect on my memories of the early days of transition where I didn’t pass very well and still retained much of my old habits and thought processes. It took months and months to eventually find some sense of myself as a trans woman that was natural and intuitive. Nearly two years lately I am still learning to be myself. Nothing feels as awkward as it once did. I have developed my own sense of style and feel at home in my new body. I like being me.

In reality there’s not a¬†whole¬†lot separating the genders. The performative aspects can be learned in no time if you’re a quick study. The part that took longer for me was to internalize the outer performance as part of my personal identity, to truly accept myself as a woman. For many reasons I still don’t quite fully identity as a “woman”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I don’t have a strong sense of sexual identity and my gender identity is nebulous at best. I just feel like myself, a consciousness staring out behind my eyes, beholding the world.

By now I play the part well enough. As I write this I think about how TERFs would twist my words to argue that “Look! This trans woman admits her femininity is a fabricated artificiality of conscious design!” But my response would be that this is true of everyone not just me. Although the unconscious does the bulk of learning, consciousness is still involved in very important types of learning and I believe some of the learning is about gender and gender roles. While one might argue that certain innate neural dispositions are genetic much of human development is learned. The human brain is a fantastically powerful learning machine and it stands to reason that much of our gendered behavior is learned as well and that our consciousness works to direct some part of the learning process.

The thing that makes my learning process different is that it’s done late in adulthood where my consciousness and brain are already fully developed. In some ways this gives me an advantage and in some ways it is a disadvantage. The advantage is that I can largely skip much of the “awkward teen years” of experimentation and get that done in months, not years. As an adult my learning process is sped up because it’s being aided by my full sense of consciousness. The disadvantage is that the “natural” route of learning everything in childhood seems to make it more intuitive because the learning process is so ingrained. Also, children learn about gender more unconsciously whereas I have¬†the advantage of an adult education.

TERFs like to think that the first, say, 10-20 years of our life is our learning destiny, that if we are raised male and socialized as male then we’ll always have those “male-like” tendencies that arose from that learning process. But I think this is a dim picture of the powerful capacity of the human brain to change itself. Learning chess changes the brain in deep ways so surely learning a whole new gender role also changes the brain in deep ways, as does changing the primary sex hormone that your brain runs on. The combination of HRT and gender role change works to reshape the basic way the brain looks at the world.

When I reflect on who I used to be, it seems like a strange dream. I barely recognize myself in certain ways. In other ways I am the same person, with a “new look”. So what is it? New person or not? Has enough of me changed to warrant saying I am a “whole new person”? Philosophers are of no help in giving a decisive answer: it’ll depend on who you talk to. Some might say I am the same biological entity as I was since birth and that grounds my identity so my personhood has never changed. The more “brain-based” theorists might tell me that transition brings about enough significant psychological changes to warrant personhood change.

Some trans people insist that in transition they didn’t change their genders, they changed their bodies to align with the gender they’ve been since birth. But for me, I don’t think I really had a well-defined sense of gender at birth. It had to be shaped into existence by the regulations of society on how boys and girls are “supposed” to act. Don’t get me wrong: I am not talking about “men are from mars and women are from venus” type nonsense. I think there are probably more ways in which men and women are alike than they are different. But there are very different power structures at play in the oppression of women and how women are socialized. To downplay the differences and emphasize similarities is not to deny that there¬†are¬†many stark differences between how men and women act. Man-splaining, man-terrupting, taking up space, etc., are all examples. ¬†As someone who has been in the trenches of a gender transition for the past two years and is hyper-vigilant to gendered differences, I can attest to the numerous differences. But many of the differences are differences that stem from different learning experiences not differences in innate “male or female energy” or any bio-social essentialist nonsense that rad fems like to talk about.

I don’t believe childhood experience is destiny. The brain can keep on changing for the rest of our lives, sometimes in profound ways. Trans people are testament to that. Biology isn’t destiny and experience isn’t destiny. Nothing is destiny. We all contain within ourselves the capacity to change greatly. There’s been a lot of dribble spewed lately about how trans women aren’t “real” women because our childhood experiences were different and we likely received different learning histories growing up. But the thing is gender happens to be one of those metaphysical categories that is amenable to metamorphosis. And surprisingly, so is sex. The combination of HRT and social transition is remarkably powerful at changing people to their cores. It certainly changed me, for the better I might add.

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Filed under Gender studies, My life, Trans life, Transition