Category Archives: 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.

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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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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Early Days of Transition: A Phenomenology of Change

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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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The Paradoxical Duality of Cat-calling as a Trans Woman

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It doesn’t happen often but last night I got cat-called. I was walking back to my car at a gas station and there was a group of guys standing around outside. Already on edge, one of them calls out “Hey sweetheart, how’s it going?” Many feelings rushed through my head as I answered back “I’m good” and tried to get in my car as fast as possible.

One of the feelings I felt was fear. I was afraid that my response “I’m good” would clock me cuz of my voice and that the man, having clocked me, would feel his masculinity is threatened and then proceed to beat the shit out of me, hence getting in my car as fast as possible.

Another feeling was disgust. I was disgusted at how piggish men can be towards women and felt a twinge of injustice in solidarity with other woman-identified people who get cat-called.

But here is the paradoxical feeling: In addition to fear and disgust, I also felt a boost to my self-esteem because being cat-called is an indication that hormones and my presentation are working such that people perceive me to be female. That is my goal, and it feels good to get positive evidence of getting closer to that goal.

I have seen TERFs talk about this as another example of why trans women have male privilege and don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman: according to them we like being cat-called. But that’s not true at all. The response is paradoxical because it contains within itself competing elements of fear/disgust and a positive feeling of gender euphoria at evidence of “passing” as your identified gender. It’s not that I liked being cat-called – I was afraid of being beat-up or worse and my deep feminist intuitions scream at the horribleness of cat-calling as a phenomenon that negatively affects women. It’s not so simple as either liking it or not liking it. But I would be lying if I said that I had zero positive feelings at being cat-called – the negative feelings were mixed into the positive feeling of gender euphoria, at feeling like I am passing and attractive.

I would be curious to know if cis women ever feel this paradoxical feeling as well e.g. feeling like your outfit and hair must be killing it today because you got cat-called which is unusual for you but also feeling disgusted at the misogyny on display while also feeling fear. I’ve never asked a cis woman about this so I don’t know for sure but I would wager that some cis women do in fact feel the paradox as well.

But I would also wager that for trans women the paradox is felt to a greater extent. For many trans woman, including myself, passing is of great importance and sometimes it’s difficult to garner “objective” evidence that you are passing. Cat-calling is a form of evidence and thus brings with it a positive feeling associated with feeling like you are passing. Nevertheless, we need to do a better job of raising young men to also feel disgust at the practice of cat-calling and call-out and shame fellow men for doing it when they see it.

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Hyper-vigilance in the Gender Machine: What It’s Like to Be a Trans Woman Who Doesn’t Pass 100%

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Did that customer just “sir” me?

When he said “Thanks man” would he have said that to a cis female or was that just for me?

Did that person just say “dude” to me in a gender neutral way or not?

Is my co-worker going to use the right pronoun for me at the end of this sentence? Is there any hesitation in their usage of “she” pronouns for me or is it natural, automatic?

Did that customer just include me in their reference to “ladies?” *internal leap of joy*

Pronouns are the primary fuel of the gender machine. The gender machine is the whole apparatus of gender, the constant way in which life on Earth is filtered through the lens of whether you are a man, a woman, or something else. The gender machine is omnipresent, though if you aren’t paying attention it can seem like it doesn’t exist at all. The gender machine is brutal and impersonal: you are subject to it regardless of whether you want to be or not. The gender machine is deeply metaphorical: it provides the foundation for our entire understanding of culture, pop culture, songs, movies, etc.

Before I transitioned, I only had a passing familiarity with the gender machine. I knew it existed, of course, and was obviously a product of it and regulated by it, but I didn’t really know it. I never paid much attention with occasional exceptions: being read as a male with long hair and ear piercings was sometimes interesting. Getting punished by my parents as a young child for wearing women’s clothes certainly made me aware of the gender machine and the rules of what boys are “supposed” to be like. My relationships with women exposed me to the gender machine a little bit. Being a husband made me self-conscious of my role within the gender system.  I had read a bit of gender theory here and there but didn’t really understand the gender machine on a super personal level. I was like the proverbial fish who lives and breathes water but doesn’t has a concept of water because it surrounds them 24/7.

But nothing prepared me for what it’s like to be a wrinkle in the gender machine, a nail that sticks out, an anomaly, a person who was first assigned male, raised male, and regulated as male but who eventually pushed back and bucked the system, who self-consciously rejected their position in the gender machine and chose another path, the path towards womanhood.

But violations in the gender machine are highly regulated by misgendering, transphobia, and enforcement of gender conformity. If you don’t look and sound “like a woman” then the gender machine will refuse to play along and you will get hurt. You will get “sirred”. You will get nasty stares as you walk out of the bathroom. You will be harassed, threatened, or maybe even violently assaulted or killed. The gender machine will attempt to chew you up and spit you out. You will be called “freak” and seen as less than human. You will be called slurs. You will be slandered as a pervert. Your sanity will be called into question. The gender machine has it especially out for nonpassing trans women and non-binary trans femmes due to the way masculinity and femininity is strongly regulated for those who are assigned male at birth. Any hint of a assigned-male person dabbling in femininity is brutally regulated so much so that trans women repress their desires for decades, or even repress them forever.

Does my adam’s apple stick out too much at this angle? I worry about this as I stand at the counter and adjust how I’m standing so the customer won’t see it right away. I maximally “prime” them with my available gender cues, minimize the cues I want to hide, and slightly adjust the way I’m standing and holding my head to hide my adam’s apple. But I know they’ll eventually see it. They always do. That or my voice will reveal my history of being exposed to testosterone. What will they think of me? Not how will they treat me. Most people are nice. But how will they internally think of me? “Oh, there’s one of those ugly trannies. Freak.” Or worse. My paranoia about this runs deep. It affects my relationships with people I don’t know extremely well. Many TERFs these days are hardcore TERFs but keep their opinions to themselves. That’s almost worse. The fake smile. The deference with the pronouns, but secretly thinking “You’re a man.”

“Hi, what can I get started for you today?”, I speak over the intercom in a strained voice, desperately doing all I can to avoid the inevitable “Sir”. Often I don’t get it. But sometimes I do. I wonder if I would get misgendered more if we lived in a time when the gender machine regulated gendered communication and encouraged “sirs” and “ma’ams” at all times. Nowadays, thank God, people more lax on the honorifics. I personally try to never use them unless absolutely necessary. What’s the point? They do practically no good and often cause much harm to trans and gender-nonconforming people. My voice is the Ur-factor in how I am perceived within the gender machine. It determines everything. Unfortunately, I know my voice is not perfect and still gets read as male to those unsuspecting strangers who might expect something else out of my mouth based on my appearance or dress.

I wake up super early for work to placate the gender machine with makeup. I know many cis women across the world are pressured by the gender machine to wear makeup to work in order to be seen as “professioanal”, “hygienic”, or even “competent”, but I am pressured into waking up extra early to shower, shave, and put on makeup in order to maximize my available gender cues, minimize the negative ones, and ultimately reduce my chance of getting misgendered, avoiding dysphoria as much as possible. With my voice and my adam’s apple and my masculine features, makeup is a defense mechanism for me, a way to reinforce the gender cues I give off. But what I’d give to have the option to just wear a bare face but still be so effortlessly feminine that no one in their right mind would question my status in the gender machine.

Whether I eventually get misgendered or not depends on many factors, mainly to what extent these people are self-conscious regulators in the gender machine aka transphobic assholes. But it’s also ignorance. And not paying attention. But still. Regardless, the most common thing that happens is that people don’t gender me at all. I get greeted as female all the time but rarely depart as an acknowledged female. When others around me get pronouns, I often get none. Which isn’t too bad I guess. Could be worse.

My coworkers, or “partners” as we call them at Starbucks, are my literal life blood. Their acceptance of me as a woman and their automatic usage of “she” pronouns are my primary coping mechanism for dysphoria and misgendering at work. The small little genderings that happen through the day literally sustain me. It means so little to them, yet so much to me.

Life as a non-passing trans woman for me means constant vigilance within the gender machine. Professional pronoun detector should be written on my business card. Constant awareness of all things gender defines my worldview. When I am hanging out with cis males, I can’t help but notice their masculinity and define myself as apart from them, down to tiny little mannerisms like the small inflection they put on the end of a word, or how much space they are taking up. When I am around cis females, I can’t help but compare myself to them and get self-conscious about every little feminine detail that comes so naturally to them. Even hanging out with butch lesbians does little to make me feel better because even they are so dripping with womanhood that I can’t help but feel “less”. Such is life as a non-passing, late transitioning trans woman.

The gender machine is fueled by pronouns, and regulated by conformity. It is all around us. Even in today’s post-modern liberal society of increasing LGBTQIA diversity awareness, the gender machine is working harder than ever to regulate gender. It might seem like we are now living in a laissez faire world when it comes to gender, but don’t let surface trends fool you: The growing acceptance of trans and GNC people in society has done absolutely nothing to placate the gender machine. It is still hungry – it still needs to feed. It simply finds a new tactic, a new way of regulating gender, new rules, regulations, associations, connotations, expectations, etc.

Gender is still all pervasive, as any trans or observant person will tell you. Some gender theorists like to talk about a future, hypothetical society where the gender machine is no more. But that’s a thought experiment only. A fantasy. A utopia that will never come to be. All we can do is force the gender machine to evolve in small, hopefully progressive directions. But despite the gender machine’s dominance and finality being out of our control, we can as individuals take self-conscious steps towards understanding our place within the gender machine and working to make sure everyone feels safe as they can be within the machine. Respecting pronouns and reducing the usage of honerifics is a huge part of this and definitely something cis allies can do. Good luck.

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

I Am a Monster

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I am a monster, a hybrid, a construction, a bio-hacked assemblage,  a coming-together-of-parts, a body without organs, a realization, a far-off dream. My body is a mismatch. My brain is an amalgamation of many intersecting contradictions. I am a monster – hear me bellow, listen to me pull myself apart and put myself back together again. My identity is fractured. My self-knowledge is clouded. I am a wolf-pack, a multitude, a colony. I am a refusal, an unregulated biomass, a gender terrorist. I am not a person – I am a becoming, a process, a field, a flow of atoms. I am monstrous star stuff.

My only stability is my desire for change, my desire to become someone (whoops – I mean “something“) I am not, a desire to evolve, mutate, and self-assemble. I refuse to be comforted by the soft glow of identity. I don’t want to be a subject – I want to be a force, a physical manifestation of quantum reality. My brain is continuously devouring itself, recreating itself in a new image. My brain sends feelers out into the world to touch what it is not, to gather information about the reality I crave to inhabit. These tentacles also reach back into myself, creating an infinite hallway of mirrors, a blackhole of subjectivity that keeps turning in on itself, warping itself into a field of potential.

Monster politics seeks to destroy the integrity of the human body. Technology is our saviour. Monster politics seeks to destabilize the metaphysics of gender. Gender cannot save us – we must escape from it at maximum velocity. Not everyone is a monster, not everyone wants to be a monster. But monsters feed off the fear of not wanting to be a monster. It is the fuel which drives us to be even more hideous, to cast off the shackles of evolution to become cyborgs, beings that transcend the mere human.

The hormones flowing inside my body are not produced within my body. They are products of technogender bio-hacking. These hormones are right now as I write this working to deconstruct and reconstruct my insides, turning me ever more into a monster.

The problem with monsters is that everyone thinks they are ugly. But on the contrary, monsters are beautiful creatures. Monsters inhabit the part of reality that no one else can. We inhabit the liminal spaces, the in-between-ness, the dimensions that exist outside of the comforting confines of the gender binary. My gender is a mess. It cannot be reconciled with the old transsexual narrative of being a woman trapped in a man’s body. I am a monster trapped in a non-monstrous body. I am a contradiction imprisoned inside a stable field of containment. I am taking hormones to shatter the prison cell, to escape from normalcy. I am experimenting on my body not because I am in the “wrong  body” but because I aim to see just how far my body can change. I want to push my body to its extreme hormonal limits. I want to unleash the biological creativity lurking inside all my cells.

The traditional explanation of transgenderism is that I am “uncomfortable in my body”. My explanation is that my body is not enough for me. It just doesn’t cut it. Discomfort is a watered down way of saying that I want to become a monster, a hybrid, a field of intersecting biological contradictions.My body cannot be reduced to a single category. My body refuses easy definitions. My body is an act of terrorism. It strikes terror in the hearts of those who cannot see the body for what it is: a field of potential, a virtual hyper-space of biological possibility.

I am a monster. But that does not define me. Monster politics recognizes that monstrosity itself is monstrous, it cannot be contained within easy conceptual organizations. And don’t tell me I am not a monster. Don’t tell me I am pure and whole. Don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. The wolf-pack inside me will not listen – it will simply attempt to devour you.

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Filed under My life, Trans studies