Tag Archives: transition

Hyper-vigilance in the Gender Machine

A Day in Gender

gender

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 of gendered social norms are highly regulated by misgendering, transphobia, and enforcement of gender conformity. If you don’t look and sound “like a woman” then the mahine 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 feminine 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 GNC 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 social norms 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. 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 regulatation, 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 Trans life, Trans studies

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

Autogynephilia, the Gift that Keeps on Giving

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content warning: this article contains transphobic ideas and terminology

 

Autogynephilia is the gift that keeps on giving and by “gift” I mean “punch in the face”. Autogynephilia is the theory from hell, a literal weapon of the anti-trans brigade to delegitimize trans women and prevent them from transitioning, restrict their access to healthcare, and eradicate their existence from public life. In a nutshell, the “theory” of autogynephilia, or AGP, says that there are two essentially distinct kinds of trans women: those exclusively attracted to men and everyone else. The ones attracted to men are seen as “legit” by the AGP crowd because they are essentially just oppressed femme gay men who are struggling to survive and find men as dating partners.

But what about the trans women who are either bi/pan or exclusively into women? Those people, according to AGP, are just perverted “adult male late transitioners” living out some fetish they have where they get off to the idea of themselves being women. They’re freaks. Deviants. Confused, twisted heterosexual men who transitioned merely to get their rocks off and abdicate familial responsibility. Furthermore, according to the larger ideology of the AGP crowd, letting “autogynephiles” transition was a big mistake and has invariably started the new movement of “genderism” which says that you don’t have to pass as a cisnormative woman in order to be valid as a woman. Genderism has now led to The Modern Era of trans rights, the “tipping point” so to speak.

Really? That’s all I got to say about AGP. As someone who knows many bi/pan/gay trans women, as someone who is a “late transitioning” pan trans woman, this “theory” is totally invalid as a plausible description of the dozens of bi/pan/gay trans women I know. Most trans women I know lead boring normal lives like any other boring normal citizen in America. The idea that trans women would spend hundreds of excruciating hours and thousands of dollars getting facial hair removed as part of a “sexual kick” is the most ridiculous idea ever. The idea that trans women would voluntarily put themselves through so much shit merely in order to enhance their sex life is laughable.

Furthermore, for the way the AGP crowd talks you’d think that gay and straight trans women are from two different planets. While yes some things are statistically different, such as average transition age, with straight trans women transitioning earlier, but the way AGP folks talk you’d think that all trans kids are straight and all trans adults are gay. But the average age for straight trans women to transition is like 30 and for gay trans women it’s about 35 or 40, which isn’t really all that different. It certainly doesn’t suggest they are entirely different species just because of who they are attracted to, which is the only significant difference between the two groups. The AGP crowd likes to talk about how all gay trans women are “pigs in wigs” and all straight trans women are pretty and feminine, but besides being grossly transphobic, I know many counter-examples to that statement and you just can’t read off someone’s sexual orientation from their “passability”. That’s the whole problem with AGP “theory”: it attempts to make massive generalizations about an extremely diverse group of people all based on a simplified account of sexual orientation.

Zinnia Jones and Julia Serano have both dissected and debunked the “science” of autogynephilia in much more detail than I ever aspire to. My point in writing this article is merely to ridicule the theory, to laugh at how absurd it is to say that trans women persist in their transitions merely in order to live out some twisted fantasy. AGP ignores the large swath of trans women who are simply asexual or who have such low libidos as to be practically asexual. There is nothing sexy about being denied healthcare or being forced to go through the gatekeeping system simply to get access to hormones or life-saving surgery. There is nothing sexy about getting murdered in the street. There is nothing sexy about getting your facial hair removed. There is nothing sexy about facing laughter and ridicule by co-workers, friends, strangers, etc.

As Serano has explained, many trans women, before they transitioned, do have what she calls “female embodiment fantasies” – but if you were experiencing dysphoria about your gendered body wouldn’t you too have an active imagination that revolves around the idea of having your correct body? And as Jones points out, when you are forced by circumstance to explore your gender in secret behind locked doors there is going to be an element of novelty and excitement that goes away once you have the freedom to be yourself 24/7. Transition and hormones typically transform female embodiment fantasies into what doctors call “mundane reality”.

There is nothing especially fun or thrilling about being a bi/pan/gay trans woman in 2017. Sure, it’s better than the alternative: being forced to live as a man and suffer your gender dysphoria in silence. But that in no way makes post-transition life some kind of thrill ride of sexual adventure and arousal. The idea that people could think that about such a large and diverse group of women suggests they are not really creating their theory from the data but using propaganda to stigmatize trans women in order to further their political ideology of morally mandating trans women out of existence.

The theory of AGP actually does accurately describe a small segment of the population but it’s not gay/bi/pan trans women: it’s cis men who self-identify as autogynephiles. Such people do exist. There have been books written about them, chronicling their narratives. A very small percent of that population does go on to transition but essentially identify as AGP males. But most true AGPers identify as men but have “crossdreaming” fantasies of some kind. Whether or not they’d actually change their bodies to fulfill their fantasy if given the option is another question. And yeah, it’s great that some people positively self-identify as AGP. But don’t turn around and say it must be true of all trans women either.

AGP just makes no sense as a theory of why trans women go through all the trouble of transition. Can it really be true that out of the millions of trans women across the world they call all be strictly separated into two mutually exclusive groups with no overlap? Could it really be true that the primary reason why trans women transition is either to become “super gay” and attract men or because they want to live out a sexual fantasy? Or, maybe, just maybe, trans women transition for the same reason trans men do (who are TOTALLY left out of AGP theory building, btw) i.e. gender dysphoria, the sense of incongruity between your gender identity and your birth assignment. Furthermore, trans women have existed for thousands of years in cultures all around the world – all that culture is nothing but the product of sexually deviant minds? That would be too incredible.

AGP is the kick in the face that keeps on kicking because it can’t be falsified. Any evidence to the contrary is spun into an epicycle and explained away by the transes being “deceptive” or essentially in bad faith. The AGP crowd has never explained what exactly it would take to prove the theory wrong even though it does not sit with the available evidence. But it fits into a convenient narrative that is spread by both the gender critical crowd and fundamentalist conservatives: trans women are sexual predators and they shouldn’t be allowed in women-only spaces. This is the narrative at the heart of AGP. It’s why the theory is so pernicious. AGP and bathroom bills are two sides of the same coin. They are spun from the same fabricated cloth. The only way bathroom bills are going to die is if AGP also dies a painful death.

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans studies

How do I know I am trans?

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It’s an interesting question, and not at all obvious. Clearly my knowledge of my transness cannot come from mere external observation. There is no clear empirical evidence in the same way I know my height or my weight. For knowledge of my weight I simply step on the scale. But how do I know I am trans? It’s not the same type of self-knowledge such as knowing I am hungry. In the stomach there are nerve endings that can detect my hunger levels which then send those signals to my brain which interprets them and I gain self-knowledge of my hunger. But my gender identity is not clearly physiological in the same way. There is no instrument, to my knowledge, which can be pointed at my brain and it determines my gender with certainty. Gender is essentially a subjective process, known only through introspection.

The only known way for others to know my gender is for me to tell it to them. They cannot read it off my dress or my behavior or whatever. Such things do not deliver gender conclusively, though they can certainly be cues. Is that where my own knowledge of my gender comes from? Observation of many many clues and then inductively piecing together the conclusion I am trans? Or does my trans knowledge come from a more direct introspective source in the same way I just “directly” know whether I am in pain? I don’t have to infer that I am in pain – I just know I am in pain. Similarly, do I just know I am trans? Or do I have to infer it?

In my own case, and all I can do here is speak for myself, my trans knowledge certainly seems more like an inference than it does direct knowledge. I’ve never “felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body”. I didn’t have a clear and distinct female identity in childhood. It’s never been something that is obvious to me. It was a hard-fought introspective battle to reach my current state of knowledge regarding my trans identity.

To this day my own gender is not obvious to me. I have proclaimed before that I am gender agnostic: I claim no certain knowledge about my own gender. Am I a special type of man or a special type of woman? I do not know. It does not seem important to me. What matters more is self-knowledge concerning my desires to continue transition. I desire to keep using female pronouns, shopping in the women’s section, taking HRT, using the name “Rachel”, etc.

Just like I am aware of my desire for food I am aware of my desire to keep transitioning. This is the knowledge that grounds my knowledge of myself as trans. I know I am trans because I know I never want to go back to being a testosterone-based creature. I know I love estrogen. I know getting gendered as female by other people makes me extremely happy and being perceived as male/man makes me extremely unhappy.

But I didn’t always know that I loved estrogen. Before I transitioned, I did not have certain knowledge that I would love estrogen. So how did I gain enough self-knowledge about my desires in order to be confident enough to start transitioning? In early Spring of 2015 I was exploring my gender-bending and crossdressing more and more, taking things to the next level in terms of trying to pass and going out into public. The feeling was intoxicating. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking my dog around the block in a dress for the first time. I was hooked. I didn’t want to stop dressing in femme, but I also didn’t want to interact with the world as a man with a male name and a male body, being seen by everybody as a crossdresser or pervert. And let’s be honest, few groups of people in this country are more derided than male crossdressers. In my opinion, if you are not part of the drag community it is harder to be an out and about public crossdresser than it is to be a trans woman. The reason is that trans women usually go on hormones in an attempt to blend into society. But if you’re a male crossdresser you are stuck trying to pass with your AMAB body – and unless you are very lucky – it’s going to be difficult to blend in without doing all the things associated with transition such as facial hair removal and HRT.

So I had a choice. Attempt to subvert traditional gender roles in an attempt to be an openly crossdressing male or adopt a trans identity and transition, blending into society as a woman-identified person. I think I made the right choice. The longer I transition the more confident I am that I did the right thing for my happiness and well-being. Never again do I have to choose between expressing my masculine self vs my feminine self. I never have to hide my femininity in the closet again. I never again have to feel ashamed of my femininity. I have the freedom to be exactly who I want to be and no one is stopping me. It’s a wonderful feeling, the feeling of liberation from the gender role I was assigned at birth, liberated from the body I was born with, free from the thought patterns I was socialized to think, free from the shackles of masculinity. I can be feminine!

It’s surprising to me just how deep my desire for femininity runs. It’s part of my DNA, part of my deep wiring. While it is possible that I could have lived a life as a very feminine male, I do not think I would have been able to express myself in the same way I have unless I fully transitioned to take on a female identity, with female pronouns and a female name. When I think of my birth name it gives me a strange sensation, like having a ring of familiarity but still seeming quite estranged. I can’t imagine that I would have lasted long if I had tried to live life as a feminine male. Femme males are spit up and chewed out by society. They are torn down, beaten down, and sometimes even killed. Though I don’t pass perfectly and thus expose myself to a similar risk of being clocked as a man in drag and thus a target for violence, I blend well enough that if I keep my mouth closed I can pass as a woman in society without raising too many eyebrows. This gives me existence a kind of security that I otherwise wouldn’t have if I had tried to express myself without transitioning.

Deep down I am a gender agnostic. I do not know with confidence if I am male or female, man or woman. But I do know I am femme. I am a femme person, that much is clear. But it’s so much easier to be femme with a government ID that has a female name and “F” on it. It’s so much easier to be femme with the help of HRT. It’s so much easier to be femme if I tell the world I am trans. Which is not to say that being trans is an easy path, or without its own set of inherent problems. Being trans is no walk in the park. It can be a hard life. But it is also very rewarding. I get to enjoy the feeling of joy of self-determination, the joy of picking a pathway and walking down it with my head held high, the joy of having a vision for how I want my life to go and being able to follow it. It’s an indescribable feeling. Cis people can of course feel the same feeling when they choose a career or whatever, but gender transition is an example par excellence of autonomy and self-actualization. Trans people fight against so much just to be true to their deep inner selves. They make so many sacrifices, giving up friends, family, and career opportunities just for the chance of authenticity.

So, for me, I know I am trans because I have knowledge of my desires. Knowledge of my desires allows me to make a grand inference: whatever my gender is, it’s different from the gender I was assigned at birth. Thus, I am trans.

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Filed under Gender studies, My life, Trans studies

Transition Timeline – 15 months HRT

Hey guys today marks exactly 15 months on HRT so I figured I’d celebrate with…you guessed it, a timeline!

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X-mas 2014.

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April 2015. This is officially the last picture of me ever with a beard.

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May 2015. I decided to start transition. I knew basically nothing about makeup or how to dress myself. Early days of experimentation.

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September 1 – 2015 – Day 1 of HRT!

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October 2015 – second month of HRT

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November 2015 – third month of HRT

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December 2015 – fourth month of HRT

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January 2016 – fifth month of HRT

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February 2016 – sixth month of HRT

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March 2016 – 7th month of HRT

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April 2016 – 8th month of HRT. Got my name legally changed!

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May 2016 – 9th month of HRT. Really starting to get into makeup more. This is one of the first pictures of myself I truly loved. I felt so on point that day.

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June 2016 – tenth month of HRT.

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July 2016 – 11th month of HRT.

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August 2016 – 12th month of HRT

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September 2016 – 13th month of HRT. I got my hair highlighted!

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October 2016 – 14th month of HRT. Met my current girlfriend.

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November 2016 – 15th month of HRT. Started injectables!

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November 27 2016

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Decemeber 1 2016 – Today! Got my second shot of estrogen. Finally bought a choker like a real trans girl.

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Filed under My life, Transgender

Embracing Ambiguity

When I get right down to it I am a mixture, a blend of both the masculine and the feminine. I have long hair but a deep voice, smooth skin but an adam’s apple, breasts but facial hair. I wear makeup while my face is androgynous. I wear women’s clothing while being tall and muscular. I am a contradiction. An anomaly. I challenge people’s expectations everyday. Who is this person before you who looks like a woman but sounds like a man? Why does that woman have a prominent adam’s apple? Why are her arms so muscular and her hands so big? Why is her hairline so high?

Like most trans woman, I often feel like passing is everything. We all strive for more of it. More blendability. More stealth. Less ambiguity. More fitting in. Not violating expectations. Safety. Avoiding being misgendered. Fighting social dysphoria. We all strive for it but few trans women ever get to 100% passability. There’s usually something about us that makes us clockable upon closer inspection. For trans women this is often our voices. In my experience few trans women ever achieve 100% passable voices.

So what do we do? We have to cope somehow. Regardless of whether we pass will still have to go out into the world and buy groceries and run errands. We have to strengthen ourselves to accept reality. To accept that we will like never live up perfectly to the cis-normative standard. Maybe one day I will afford to shave my trachea down. Or maybe I will be able to get professional voice therapy one day. But for now I need to come up with practical coping strategies to deal with the fact that I don’t pass 100% and yet I still have to live my life.

One such coping strategy is to embrace ambiguity as a positive ideal, to embrace the idea of confusing people, of challenging people’s expectations of what it means to be a woman. Or going even further, challenging the notion of what it means to be a person in today’s modern society where gender transition is a real phenomenon. Though I would prefer to be gendered correctly and seen as a normal female person I know this is not going to happen all the time. So how do I cope? I have been trying to develop the attitude of (1) not giving a fuck and (2) embracing my androgyny as a positive trait. Some people are actually attracted to androgyny so I tell myself even if I don’t pass 100% it doesn’t make me less attractive or valid. Some people like mixtures, blends. They enjoy the fact that my body is a contradiction. A field upon which competing elements battle. This knowledge of my body being ideal to some people is a great comfort because when I get into relationship it helps dispel my fear that they’re just going to abandon me for a more attractive cis partner.

Many men are attracted to trans women specifically because of their trans status. In the community these men are called “chasers”. But I have never liked that term because it erases the possibility of a category of people who are specifically attracted to trans people without that attraction being fetishistic, objectifying, or problematic. I call these people “trans amorous”. And it’s not just men. Cis women can be trans attracted as well. But I think women are socialized to be more polite about it whereas men are overly blunt.

My other coping strategy is actually indirect. It’s through relationships and friendships. If I am in a relationship or friendship and that person has only known me as Rachel it really helps battle the dysphoria because I see them unconsciously using “she/her” pronouns because people who know me know those are obviously the most correct pronouns – it’s what is the most natural if you spend time with me. And that’s a good feeling. It says: I see you. I know you. You are valid. Don’t worry about your ambiguity. It’s ok. I like you and see your womanhood as valid. Building up a social circle of people who automatically gender me female has been an important part of my transition. This is why I enjoy hanging out with trans people. They usually have an above-average ability to correctly gender people regardless of what they look like or how they present themselves.

So in a nutshell, my strategy is to embrace ambiguity. To relish in it. Will this strategy completely dispel my dysphoria and social anxiety? No, not really. That’s too much to ask. But it’s a weapon in my arsenal. It’s a useful perspective to keep in mind.

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Coming out as trans, pan, and poly

Today is National Coming Out Day. There are three things that I have to come out about: being trans, being pansexual, and being poly. The trans thing has long since been a non-issue. My coming out as trans went really smoothly – I did it on FB last Spring and got nothing but love and support and my parents have now accepted me as well. And I am not living stealth at all – I don’t pass well enough for that – so I almost never have to “come out” as trans in real life because people can just tell from interacting with me as soon as I open my mouth. On the internet it’s a bit different but in my online dating profiles I am always upfront and honest about my trans status. So these days I don’t spend much energy thinking about coming out as trans. Sometimes of course I get self-conscious especially when I am hanging out with cis women (I feel like an outsider) but for the most part my gender status has become a non-issue for most of my life (with the exception of the occasional misgendering that happens, which sucks but is not a big deal).

I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly come out as pansexual anywhere but transition changed my sexual orientation such that I would now be willing to date men (before transition I dated exclusively women though I hooked up with some CDs awhile back). I still prefer women largely and I am much pickier with men but I am interested enough to give it a shot.I think this change of orientation is something that happens often to tran women who spent most of their lives pretransition dating women. I almost never see the equivalent though, trans women who date exclusively men prior to transition rarely seem to become bi/pan after transition and start dating women as well – they stick with their original orientation. I think part of this is compulsory hetereosexuality. Living as men trans women might feel reluctance to date men but as transitioned women it’s a lot more acceptable in society – it’s normal for women to be “boy crazy”. Same thing with trans guys – it’s more acceptable to date women than it is men. Some of it might also be the hormones themselves changing deep preferences but my guess is that the change in orientation is more due to social/learning forces than it is changes in neurological function.

And everyone knows, the dating scene for men online is a nightmare. Men are for the most part not very good at online dating and it’s a chore browsing the same boring/short messages like “hi” or “what’s up” or “hey beautiful”. Then there’s the fetishists (chasers). But that’s a whole other post. So far I haven’t found a guy I’m willing to date but hopefully in the near future that will happen.

As for the polyamory, that is the last thing I normally come out about. I am not usually frank with my parents about being poly though part of that is that I am not seriously dating more than one person right now so it hasn’t been an issue. But sometime in the future it’s highly possible I will have two partners and I will have to navigate the politics of coming out. Poly is still taboo in American society. There are all sorts of misconceptions and myths surrounding poly. One myth is that poly relationships are doomed to fail. For one, that’s true of many non-poly relationships too. Second, many people are able to make poly work for them. In my most recent now-ended serious relationship we tried to make poly work after being monogamous for 8 months but it didn’t work out and we have gone our separate ways. But now that I’m free from that relationship I don’t think I am going to allow myself to get into another monogamous relationship anytime soon. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment right now.

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Crossdressers

Look, there are many kinds of crossdressers.

Some CDs do it for purely sexual reasons because it’s arousing.

Some CDs are “sissies” who use their CDing to satisfy a sexual kink.

Some CDs do it to express their inner feminine selves – for them it’s not arousing at all and more of a way to be comfortable in their femininity. These CDs are almost like bigender or genderfluid and use CDing to express a “second self”.

Some CDs are crossdreamers who fantasize about transitioning.

Some CDs are mixtures of each category.

Some CDs can’t be pigeonholed into a category at all.

From each group of CDs it is possible for their feelings and desires to change as they get older such that they later end up on HRT and socially transition.People grow and change as they get older. Desires change. Opportunities change. Brains change. There is greater awareness now that medical transition is an option for trans women of any age. Sometimes it can take decades to figure all this gender stuff out. There is no one single trans narrative.

Don’t assume that just because someone has a history of CDing that they can’t later on transition and assume a binary trans female identity. Their journey of gender exploration is just a valid as Jazz Jennings or anyone else. Stop the judgment. Stop the holier-than-thou trans olympics of whose more transy than everyone else. Stop putting people into hierarchies. Don’t assume. Don’t judge. Accept. Empathize. Everyone is different.

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Metal Me vs. New Me

 

On the left: Me, in 2009, age 22, when I was at LSU doing a Masters in Philosophy. I was definitely going for the metalhead/white Jesus look.

On the right: Me, today, age 29, without any makeup, 9.5 months into Hormone Replacement Therapy, with 8 sessions of laser hair removal under my belt. 6th year PhD student at Wash U St Louis’ philosophy-neuroscience-psychology program.

It’s super weird looking at old pictures of myself. I recognize myself but at the same time I don’t recognize myself. I understand who I was in the past because I have memories of those times. I even partly still identify with that old person because we both share many of the same core values and beliefs. I’m still as atheistic as ever. I still have a philosophical disposition to question everything. I still love blogging and writing. I still love my long hair (though now I take much better care of it). We both still love metal. I am still disposed to occasional bouts of psychosis. Still a Zen Buddhist at heart. Still love cannabis (though I recently quit smoking). I am still very much a utilitarian at heart (though I’ve grown to be more deontological with a focus on autonomy).

But now I’m a much better feminist than I ever was. I am a better humanist too. I have a better appreciation of the true diversity of humanity, the wonder of humanity, the darkside of humanity. I have discovered a newfound solidarity with the LGBT community, especially with my trans femme sisters. I have found new purpose in life. My career ambitions have changed. I am focused more on my relationships (sounds sexist, but it’s true – gender transition made me care less about getting a tenure-track professorship and I realize I would be happy doing almost anything so long as I have the time to enjoy my relationships and write). I have a newfound love of makeup and beauty culture though I am approaching that whole culture with a skeptical but appreciative eye.

I’m both the same person and a whole new person. I changed my gender, which changed my brain at every level, but I still have a psychological connection to my past. My past as a “man” shaped who I am as a person and I will always be grateful to that man for not fucking things up too bad to get me where I am today, a very privileged, well-adjusted, confident, and happy trans woman in her late twenties.

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My Many Privileges

First, I have the privilege of being white. I’m not going to elaborate on this privilege because if you don’t understand how being born white in America is a privilege then you’re probably just a racist bigot who won’t be persuaded by what I write anyway. But I recommend listening to the voices of #blacklivesmatter activists and listening to their stories of discrimination and violence at the hand of the police state as well as the systematic discrimination of white supremacy in the good ole US of A.

Second, I have class privilege insofar as I was born into the working middle class. My parents were never “rich” per se but they worked hard and could always provide food on the table and a roof over our heads as well as enough money for amazing Chistmas’s, birthdays, etc. I had a nintendo and LEGO and bikes and they bought me a car at age 16.I was fortunate to inherit money from my grandmother on my dad’s side. My middle class privilege has provided me numerous opportunities in life. Although I worked hard in school and was “smart”, my socio-economic status helped me get into a decent university while also having my family support me in countless financial ways through my young adulthood.

Part of my socio-economic privilege was that I was able to build up a good credit score which has allowed me to finance my transition, including paying for 8 sessions of laser (~$1,700) as well as buying a whole new wardrobe for all four seasons of St Louis weather (granted, I do shop at goodwill a LOT), buying a shit-ton of makeup, etc. I live a comfortable life for the most part. I have a lot of credit card debt but I managed to spend 11 years in higher-education without racking up any student loan debt.

I feel privilege that I was able to get so much university/graduate education before starting my transition. Some trans people feel like they would have been better off transitioning before puberty or during their teen years. But personally, I am glad I was not out-as-trans during highschool or college. For one, I would literally be a different person. And two, I probably would have faced outright bullying and intolerance. And I was able to use my “male privilege” in order to power my way through grad school without ever having my intelligence second-guessed just because of my sex.

But I can only feel that last one (late transitioning)  as a privilege because my genetics have made it such that when I did start transition, at age 29, after only like 5-6 months of HRT and a few laser sessions under my belt I started passing pretty well and now, 9.5 months on HRT and 8 sessions of laser, I pass probably like 80-90% of the time which is a HUGE privilege. It allows me to blend into society relatively well. My passing privilege allows me to be gendered correctly. To avoid harassment. To avoid danger, violence, insults. I don’t pass perfectly, and I am still clockable – but my genetic luck (and the laser) has made it such that I can go outside the house to run an errand without spending two hours putting on makeup to downplay my masculine features. I am lucky in that I don’t have to perform femininity to the extreme in order to be accepted for the person I am (although I do LOVE makeup and all things feminine and generally identify as a very femme person). But it’s not necessary to my survival. I also started transition with long hair and that helps a lot for avoiding misgendering.

Most trans women are not as privileged as I am. They struggle with suicidal thoughts. With homelessness. Rejection from family and friends. Depression. Anxiety. I don’t deal with any of that.  I haven’t been forced to turn to survival sex work just to pay for my hormones. I managed to get my legal name change ($175 court cost) without too much hassle. I have a good credit score.

I managed to find love and acceptance in my partner. I am happy and engaged. I found true love within the first year of my transition. You know how rare that is? I never take it for granted and count my lucky stars every day.

Sometimes I feel guilty – like survivor’s guilt. I want to make a difference – but who cares what a “stuck up white bitch” like myself has to say? I’ve been told I’m the “epitome of white passing privilege” and that I’m “just like Caitlyn Jenner”. But I still feel like I have important things to say. Important things to write. I want to help my fellow trans folks who are not as fortunate as I am. I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I never want to talk over people though I’m afraid I do that all the time as part of my privilege.  Please correct me when I’m wrong. I will listen. I’m all ears. I identify as an intersectional feminist. I want to listen to the diverse narratives of trans folks of all stripes so that I can boost their voices.

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