Big News!

I’ve got a surgery date: May 25th with Dr. Medalie in Cleveland!  All systems are go for this: the good Dr. M is ready to write me a letter, and so today I am checking out plane tickets! Also, last night I sent out my mom and dad’s letters: I’ve not heard from dad (likely he hasn’t checked his email) but mom was incredible: teary over “how hard this must have been for [me]” to hide being transgendered growing up and feeling different and not having anyone to talk to about it.  She was wildly supportive and reminded me many times of how much she loves me. And called little sister S and told her the story as well: she too was very supportive and said many kind things.  The most touching of which being that she is proud of me.  I recognize how lucky I am to have such a loving and accepting family. So now!  On to the planning!  My checklist includes: -Purchasing plane tickets -Contacting HR and getting part-time disability set-up for June.  I plan on taking four weeks off work, as my job is labor intensive (I am a ground level shelf-filler for a wildly popular groceries store chain) -And so if I am taking a month off I suppose I should tell my supervisor about this too.  K and I talked this strategy out during a long bus ride along the Connecticut river: I plan to tell my immediate supervisor and the store manager.  I will also tell a few close friends at work, and let the news make the rounds organically.  My workplace is full of people who “enjoy their privacy” [read: can be cold and uncaring of others, but also just enjoy their privacy, which I respect] and so I see no reason to share my private life with them.  I will tell my friends, and will not force them into a closet: they can tell who they want, and I trust them to not share with malicious intent. -Investigate whether or not my insurance company might pay for some or all of this surgery: since I had uterine cancer at such a young age and have a few other contributing factors, it is plausible this could be considered preventative care.   Then, all the little things: setting myself up for post-op care, including the purchase of steri-strips, getting some sweet reads for while I’m laid up, and removing everything I love from the top shelves.  You guys have any advice for post-op care?

Be nice to yourselves, Your Pal Eli

When I Grow Up I Want to Be…

The other day K and I were in the kitchen when she asked me,  “Why do you refer to yourself as a boy or a girl?”

Initially I thought this was a trans/male/female issue, but that’s not what she meant.

“No, why on your blog do you write about feeling like a boy or a girl, when I would never think of you that way?  I would think of you as a man or a woman.”

Oh.

Hmm.

I never really noticed that I was doing that, naming myself (or refuting) the term “boy” or “girl.”  When K asked, I thought, well, boy and girl feel general to me, as if they were synonyms for male and female.  But that’s not true, is it?  Male and female are the general terms in our language for the poles of sex, boy and girl are specifically for children.  So why am I referring to myself in that way?

I had a conversation with another trans person, X*, via email last week and remarked that I thought of X as  my “trans older sibling” even though X is about a decade younger than me.  X remarked that they are “older than [me] in trans years.”  And I think that is important to note: in “trans years” I am just a kid.  I am just reading about our history, just getting started in the community.  It is a funny feeling, to be young in a life I have been living for 34 years.  I think of myself as a competent adult in my everyday life: I can hold a job and navigate a transit system and have obtained a Masters degree.  But I make sloppy conclusions about gender sometimes that don’t reflect my capabilities as an adult, but rather betray my naiveté as a freshly out trans person.

Do I think this means I should rethink my decision to have top surgery?  Is this choice just the whim of a young trans kid?  Absolutely not:  I have used those analytic skills, the ones I have honed over the decades, to make my decision to have top surgery.  Just because I make some linguistic mistakes regarding gender, or my logic stumbles when thinking abstractly about gender performance and pronoun preference, that does not mean I can’t make informed decisions for myself and my own gender identity.  Those mistakes expose my lack of  experience in communicating the shades of gender available to us, not a lack of understanding of my own gender expression.

I know I have been trans since I was a little kid.  First I thought I was a boy, as I have grown I have seen there are other options for my identity.  I am trans, now, and I believe myself to have always been trans.  I didn’t have the language for it as a kid, and I am trying to bring my history up to speed.  I am in the process of reconciling my history as a closeted trans person with my present as an out trans person.

I think more to the point, I had a lot of trauma when I was young (alcoholics and a schizophrenic reigned over the house I grew up in) and so I have always felt small, out of control, and yes, inconsequential in the choices of my own life.  I always defer to someone else, always believe another will know better than me.  And this may be the root of the boy/girl issue.  What is interesting to me is that I feel my choice to have top surgery, my decision to tell my family and friends, all make me feel much more like the grown-up I am.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*X=another blogger

 

Dear Dad

Dad*,

I am going through some big changes right now, and I wanted to write you a letter to tell you about them.  These changes are things I have been dealing with my whole life, but I am only now, at this age, capable of admitting to them and processing them in a healthy way.

You know I have always been a tomboy, never interested in wearing girls clothes or dating boys.  So I am sure it came of no surprise to you when I came out as gay.  I know that isn’t always an easy thing to hear, but you dealt with it in your own way and I appreciate that you have never treated me differently for it.

I remember once when I was a kid, you and we were coming out of Sun Drugs at Northgate one night and someone addressed me as a boy.  I got upset and you said, “Well, maybe if you didn’t dress the way you do, he wouldn’t have thought you were a boy.”  But you misunderstood: I wasn’t upset that he addressed me as a boy.  I was upset that me being addressed as a boy was a problem for everyone else.  I have my whole life felt like a boy on the inside–every time I had to wear a dress felt like a humiliation, felt like a costume that didn’t fit me.  I couldn’t conform – the feminine role and expectations just didn’t fit who I was.  This inability to fit in as a woman has brought me great distress my entire life.

I’ve tried to compensate for this by avoiding the issue: I pretend that being butch and ignoring the parts of myself that I don’t like is a good enough way to live a life.  But I’m 34 years old this year, and as I reflect on this, I realized I’ve never been content with who I am. I’ve never felt comfortable in my own skin. I’m tired of fighting, compromising, and simply trying to ignore this problem.  We only get one chance at this life and I have decided to be myself honestly and fully.

As a result of this decision to be my true self, I sought help. I have been going to a therapist for over two years and am finally capable of admitting I am transgender.  That is, my brain is much more male, while my body is female.  Scientists are still trying to figure out how this happens but most research points to hormonal imbalances during pregnancy that impact the fetus.

I explored the treatment options available to me. It appears the best outcomes are those that end up aligning the brain and body. Doctors can’t “re-wire” the brain so the only alternative is changing the body to match the brain.  I will be having what is called “top surgery.”  That means I will be removing my breasts in order to have a more male looking chest.  But I do not identify as male.  I know this sounds confusing, and I’m sure you have heard of individuals having a sex change.  But I am in the middle: I don’t see myself as a man, but I am not fully a woman either.  And there are a lot of people like me in the world.  Removing my breasts feels just right to me in order to express my gender as my brain sees it.  I still use female pronouns, and you can still call me “Em.”  I have sent mom a  letter too, and please feel free to talk to her or S** about this.  I ask you not to mention this to your side of the family, however, because I fear it will just encourage gossip and slander.  I would prefer you not have to defend my decisions to a hostile audience.  My medical choices are none of their concern.

Please be certain: I love you and am willing to answer any and all questions you have about this.

-E

*Thanks to my new friend Tam, whose own letter to his family I borrowed snippets from to help shape my own letter here.
**S=my little sister.  The best one ever, really. 😉

Coming Out, Again

Hey Mom,

I am writing you today to tell you about some important and exciting changes coming up for me.  I wanted  to tell you about them in a letter because I think these things will be easier to understand and process in this format.  A letter lets you think about what I am saying without being put “on the spot” or feel pressured to respond.  Just sit back and enjoy the read! 🙂

You know I have always been a tomboy–always been interested in sports and playing outside rather than playing with dolls or having tea parties inside.  I loved going fishing with Grandpa when I was little, and always wanted to do everything he was doing.  So as you watched me grow up, and saw how “boyish” I was, I remember you telling me it was no surprise to you when I told you I was gay.  And I am eternally grateful that you have always been so supportive of me, never judged me or abandoned me.  I have always felt loved by you, and that is something lots of gay kids can’t say about their parents and their reaction to their sexual orientation.  So thank you, mom, for always loving me.

Well, just like I never wanted to date boys, never wanted to wear dresses, I have never been really comfortable in this body I was born in. Remember the wishing well at East China Inn?  Remember I wished I was a boy?  Well, that has always been in the back of my head–I’ve never felt really comfortable or right being a girl.  And for most of my life, wearing pants, and playing sports and dating girls has been enough for me.  As I have gotten older I have come to know more about myself through my own reflection and through therapy.   And while I used to think that the way I inhabited my body was “enough,” that I was content enough to wear boys clothes and watch football on t.v. and have a butch attitude, it’s not enough anymore.  It’s not me, it’s not who I really am, and I don’t want to pretend anymore.   I want to be myself honestly and fully.  And to do that, I can’t stay in this body the way it is right now.

I am planning on having what is commonly referred to as “top surgery.”  This means I am going to have my breasts removed in order to have a more male-looking, flat chest.  But I do not consider myself  “male.”  I am transgendered in that I see my gender not as girl or boy, but as a little of both, and it has always been this way, but it has taken me a long time to figure that out, to accept that part of myself.

When I was a kid, when I made that wish at East China Inn, yes, I did think I was a boy.  It was very hard for me as a little one to try and reconcile the way my mind thought with the way my body looked.  I was a boy in my brain but a girl in my clothes.  That was very scary for me, I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t see anyone else like me, so I kept it a secret because I thought there was something wrong with me and I might get in trouble for it.  But now I know there is nothing wrong with me, some people are just this way, like some people are born left-handed and some people are born gay, I was born transgendered.  As I’ve grown up I’ve seen that boy and girl are not the only options.  When I was little I thought I was a boy.  I realize now I am transgendered.  I am in the middle.  And there are a lot of people like me in the world.

Although I am removing my breasts, I am not trying to “pass” as a man.  You can still call me E, still use female pronouns.  Right now, I am just a person that sees their gender as a little of both, some girl, some boy.  With an all-girl body I feel like a fake, a fraud, and I have always been uncomfortable with it.  Having this surgery will make my outside body fit better with my interior mind.

K is supportive of my decision, and we have been talking about this for a about a year, as I have been discussing this change with my therapist also.  I have good support and feel ready and excited for this change.  It has been a long time coming.

I understand this is a lot to take in, and I want you to know I am here to answer any questions you may have.

I love you,
E

We’ve All Got Scars

After seeing my chest pics, Dr. Medalie had noted he would perform the peri-areolar incision for my surgery, rather than the double incision (DI) method.  While I was thrilled to get a message back from his office accepting me for surgery, I was not thrilled with this surgical option.  Let me explain:

There are tons and tons and tons of resources explaining the difference between the double incision and peri-areolar methods, so I am not going to go into the details here.  But for me, the major difference is aesthetics versus sensation.  WIth the peri I would retain most of the sensation in my chest and nipples, with the double incision I might lose some sensation in my nipples and some in my chest.  But the aesthetic look of the results from the double incision method is more appealing to me than the peri results.  That is, in the peri approach, the nipples are left larger and sit lower on the chest: this is the difference between a male and female chest, aside from the size and shape of the bumps–nipple size and placement.  With the double incision, my nipples would be reshaped and repositioned on my chest, to reflect a more male-looking chest.  I am most interested in having a good looking chest rather than a chest that retains all sensation.  But beyond the sensation issue, part of the aesthetic concern is that the scars are different.  While the contour results of the DI method are more pleasing, DI does leave much larger scars: long ones under each pec where the breast tissue and glands will be removed.   With the peri method, the scarring is minimal, and located around my nipples.

After my hysto, I was left with a huge raised scar.  My oncologist attributed this to an allergic reaction to the internal sutures.  Dr. Medalie suggests it might be hypertrophic scarring.  I find that to be a plausible diagnosis: Medalie says internal sutures don’t cause allergic reactions, and my scar sure looks like the hypertrophic examples I’ve seen online.  It could also be a keloid scar, and in either case, I would treat the scarring with the same methods.  If it’s true, and I do produce keloid or hypertrophic scars, well, it sucks, but not enough for me to change my mind back to seeking the peri approach.  Hypertrophic scars just mean I’ll have this to look forward to.

Also, after my chest settles, I plan on getting a large chest tattoo, in order to help mask the scars and because it will look rad.   I always wanted a chest piece, but never thought I would get one because I hated my chest.  Huh, funny that. 😉

But there’s this: actually, I am not going to have a male chest, in that I am not taking T and will not be able to develop the pectoral definition that a man my age could, spending the same time in the gym that I am.  So I am going to have a trans chest.  That sounds good to me, but what exactly does it mean to have a trans chest?  It means smaller muscles and less sensation (potentially).  And it means scars.  It means two long scars under my pecs that will again, and like my tits, speak before me.  They will tell the world I used to have a female chest.  Of course this will only be apparent if I have my top off outside, but I do have to think about how that will make me feel, because I someday want to pick out a spot on the beach with my girlfriend and lay down a towel and take off my shirt.

When at home, in the mirror, I imagine I will be really into my scars: because beyond less muscle and less sensation, they also mean survival.  They mean self-determination.  They mean bravery to be myself.  I know I will love my new chest, especially compared to the old female one.  But I imagine I will like my scars very much also, hypertrophic or not.  So the tattoo will take a lot of considering.  If I want to be proud of myself and my community, maybe it means redefining, or reinterpreting not only what gender means, but also what having scars from the process of shaping ones gender means.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli