My first shot of T is on Tuesday.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I am feeling sad, and uncertain, and scared.  I want the end result, but change is hard.  I have gone through the pros and cons.  I know I want the pros (deeper voice, more muscle, facial hair, fat redistribution), and I know the cons are minor (acne, mood shifts) or unlikely (hair loss, cancer, heart disease).  I have circled around and around in my head, and the only reason not to start T is fear of the unknown.  So I am going to start it, try it, and I can always go off it if something doesn’t feel right.  But the only way I can know for sure is to go on it.

Some of this sadness isn’t just about fear, though.  Some of it is because I am saying good-bye to the person I have been seen as my whole life, the person I have tried to be: a girl.  I was a butch one, for sure, but I always checked the F box, and it never really felt wrong to do it.  I never felt any animosity toward being female until I came out as trans, because I didn’t think about my gender at all until that coming out: I ignored it, ignored all the discomfort and anxiety that comes with being seen and treated as something I wasn’t because denial is easier than facing the fact that, although I was physically female, I was mentally male.  But being read as a dyke was pretty close, for a long time, and I made that ill-fitting costume my home.  Now, I’m taking that one off and I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into.

So this post is about saying good-bye to that girl.  Of course, many of the parts of me, my sense of humor, my intelligence, my kindness, and (some of) my insecurities will remain intact.  But the world will use different hands when interacting with me as I start to be read as male.  I couldn’t really begin to understand what that might feel like.  I know that will change me, will shape me into some different kind of person, into a male version of this self I have been honing for three and a half decades.  But I imagine I am making a bigger deal out of it right now than it will be to me, practically speaking, in the future that will become my present.  The changes will happen slowly, and I will be pleased with them, or be able to cope with them as they arise.

I know I am jumping around a bit, and I do feel scattered in my brain.  I want to record here that I believe T will calm me in many ways, and that my anxiety will lessen as I settle into my new body and societal role.  I think some of the self-doubt and confusion I feel daily will be quieted.  I think I’ll get some more confidence out of this.  And because these changes will happen slowly, I might be saying good-bye to the girl I have been, have tried to be, and have been seen as, over many posts over the upcoming years.  This is the start of that good-bye.

It’s strange that as I look over this post that was supposed to be about the past, I am continually making room and excuses for the future.  Let’s step back and do this right:


You served me well.  You were well-liked and made many friends.  I learned how to speak up for myself while playing you.  I learned how to be empathetic as a female-presenting person.  I leaned how to read maps and take pictures and appreciate art while living in your skin.  I learned how to listen in your ears.  I saw the Rocky Mountains through your eyes, and went to Paris in your body.

I smoked a lot of pot with that mouth, and kissed some very pretty girls.

You hands wrote beautiful poems, and touched your grandmother’s hands.  She is gone now, and my new hands will never know that feeling.  Your hand shook Buzz Aldrin’s hand.

I walked through the Rodin garden on your feet.  I walked up and down Chicago.  I ran to catch buses and went sledding with those legs.

Those arms held your niece when she was just a day old.  Those arms protected you in many a mosh pit.  Your abdomen has been a place for Violet to sleep for 7 years.

Your ears have heard Pearl Jam at Alpine Valley, Ani DiFranco at the Aragon, Bill Clinton in Iowa, and the World Trade Center collapse through your living room television, clutching your knees to your chest.

Your body has been rained on, touched gently and harshly, been rested and tense.  You have been tattooed and burned and massaged.  You have done some things in this world, but you have hidden from this world, also.  And so now I have to go.

I thank you for your service, and parts of you will come along for the duration.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Choosing a Transgender Life

Blogger Periphereality has caused a bit of (presumably unintended) stir with his post here about his ideas on the limits for the parameters of  transgendered definitions.  That is, his argument concerns the liability, or fairness, for a transgendered person to label themselves with the gender of their preference.  I am butchering his argument and so I will stop paraphrasing him now.  I do ask if you go to his blog, that you respect his right to free speech and take special note of his disclaimer, at the very top of his post:

“Before reading, please note that as a philosophy student it is my job to logically and objectively look at both sides of two arguments. My opinion doesn’t supersede science, so much as discuss the value or worth of science. Also, I do not wish to offend or sound insensitive, and if you feel as though I am, please stop reading for I don’t wish to offend. You need to understand that this blog isn’t written and posted on a transgender support group – the context is not the same. If you aren’t comfortable with that, then please accept my apologies and move on.”

I found this post linked on Kira Moore‘s blog, where she also responds to Perpih’s post.  Kira’s response is touching, and sincere, and I find it deeply moving to read a post about such intimate and well, primal, pain.  I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the validity or problematic features of Periph’s post.  I also don’t want to address what a MTF or FTM individual may or may not say in response to Periph’s post.  As I don’t classify myself as strictly FTM, I find it unfair and misleading to attempt to be a voice for that community.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am finding myself these days somewhere on the boarder between man and woman, and thus trans is the label I claim.  So I will speak from a transgendered perspective.

This post topic, actually, has been on my mind since before Peripherality’s post was brought to my attention, the idea of claiming male or female status without having been socialized as male or female throughout our lives.  I never felt that I could claim being male not because I didn’t have the right to, or because of some invisible patriarchal hand oppressing my true gender identity.  Nor did I feel ashamed or ill-equipped to claim male because I didn’t “always feel” that I was male.  Because, of course, I have always “felt” male.  But really, what the hell does that mean when I have never been treated as a male?  I was socialized as female, grew up with the same standards of beauty and misogynistic oppression afforded all the other little vagina-havers.  I got my period (even though I detested it), I grew female breasts (even though I am removing them next month), and have been referred to with female pronouns my entire life.  Of course I didn’t like it, but I have had a decidedly female history.  So how do I know what it means to “feel male?”

I am okay with this history.  I am working toward the human I want to be, in the form I believe best represents my psychic identity.  I find my evolving gender presentation is just one facet of my identity, and because its changes are visible and tangible, essentially corporeal, it is a kind of change I can watch happen.  The capacities of aspects of my identity that are just as important to me as my ability to express gender (empathy, compassion, insight, wisdom) change over time and I can’t (noticeably) experience that change.  It happens too slowly, and in a largely invisible way.

For example, in my twenties, I remember being more concerned about being funny than being kind.  I was great at parties but I was cruel to my friends, and I am not proud of that.  I know I am a much kinder person now because over these years I have come to the realization that kindness is important to me, and have daily, at a near glacial pace, worked to be more kind (I am still just as funny, but in different ways. ;)) and so I know I am a different person.  But I can’t point to my history and say, “there, see it there, and there, those are examples of me changing” because human emotional maturity happens over a lifetime, not under a scalpel.  I can of course point to historical examples of me behaving differently than ways I behaved in the past, but those moments are illustrative of the results of change, not the act of change itself.

Am I troubled that I will never be “a real boy?” That at the genetic level, I will always be female?  No, it doesn’t bother me in the least.  Because for me, I am very happy to claim the transgendered label.  I want it to be known that I have never felt the benefit nor the burden of being a biological man.  And I want it to be known I know what it means to withstand the oppression of being raised female.  I want to be recognized as having lived a transgendered life.  I want all the respect towing that hard line bestows, because that is the life I am living everyday, no matter how much I sometimes might wish things were different [read: easier on my gender preference].  Do I wish the gender binary wasn’t so suffocating?  Probably.  But I also don’t know what it means to live outside a system that has always been in place.  Go ask the fish how the ocean temperature feels and he won’t know what water is.

I don’t judge anyone who feels they were assigned the wrong gender*, whether they have known since birth or since yesterday.  But I also know I want human suffering to be alleviated through more tolerance and equality no matter the minority status you might claim.  And I’m not going to get that equality through assimilation into a severely broken system.  I want equality for transgendered individuals?  Then I have to stand up and fight for transgendered individuals.  And for me, part of that fight is identifying as transgendered.  For others, part of that fight is claiming their rightful gender as they see fit, and that sometimes means assimilating into the broader culture via “passing**” as their preferred gender.

I am not only the sum of my parts, I am the sum of my biological parts and my personal experiences.  I am a work in progress.  I am a living creature and that’s what we do, we change and change and change and we only stop changing when we die.  And even then our parts, our molecules and DNA and scars and hormones convert into food for the earth, and I take great comfort in that.  I take pride in it too: I want to be good to myself, and to others, and I want to be nourishment for this place in which I have experienced so much love and joy and wonder and heartbreak.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*I want to reassure my transgendered brothers and sister who identify themselves as male or female, that this is not an attack on their identity or desires or most deeply held convictions.  This is my attempt to clarify, for myself, my place in the gender spectrum.  I believe my thoughts on this topic have no bearing on your own experience or identity, not should anything I write serve to alienate you in any way.  My deepest apologies if I have offended any of you.  Of course, as always I welcome your comments.

**”Passing” sounds so sneaky to this ear, and it is obviously NOT what those who “pass” intend to do, to “pull the wool” over anyone’s eyes.  J.C. Prime has a good post on passing, or rather, “being read as” a gender other than the one assigned at birth.  I think his post complicates the issue at hand here wonderfully.

A Reader Reaches Out: Let’s Give Brysen Our Attention!

Brysen left this as a comment on one of my posts, but I thought it better as a post of its own, and implore you all to give Brysen the benefit of your time and experience:

Brysen writes,

“At 42, I’m at an impass. I myself was my fathers son/daughter. He not unlike others, had no idea how to relate, nor did my mother. I was abused by my father as a child and my mother hid from his alcoholism and his abuse of others in religion, forcing my sisters and I to follow suit. Decades of therapy and “two middle fingers” (thanks for the loan, lol!) have healed most of the damage and trauma. due to the religous fear, and all around fear of rejection, I lived in hiding of being gay until I was 30. Living in hiding sucked. I wasn’t just “not out” I was not out, not dating, not involved, and filling my life with my career to avoid facing what I was missing.
Here I am at 42. I am once again tired of hiding. I’m a masculine lesbian that is niether male nor female within but as so eloquently put recently…some where in between,…and I like it. It is who I have been my whole life and he/she/we are dying/living to get out. I don’t consider myself trans, but I don’t like my chest as well. I’m totally cool with the bottom bits ( Your terminology cracks me up) but I am NOT good with my name. I have started calling myself Brysen and have mentioned changing my name to one of my friends and my twin sister, I’m not sure what to do. I feel like it’s the right thing for me, but who changes their entire name at 42. I live in good ole conservative southwest Florida, and for the first time I went out as myself today. Unshaven legs in shorts, unshaven armpits in t-shirt, my handsome short boy hair styled, and armed with anxiety I greeted the world with a smile. Thankfully I was in turn greeted with a smile.
At this point I’m at an impass of what to do for me. Change my name? live out loud? Let go and be honest of who I am? Any and all advise, relation, experience, suggestions would be sooooooo appreciated. From any and all brothers/sisters at arms.”


My advice, Brysen?  Who changes their name at 42?  You do, it sounds like.  And why is that not a good enough reason?  Doesn’t your desire count?  I’m 34 and I’m changing my name because it is right for me, and if anyone has a problem with that, they can fuck the fuck off.  I know what’s best for me because I spend a helluva lot of time contemplating it, and discussing it with the ones I love and trust, and I came to a conclusion.  I decide what is right for me.  And Brysen decides what is right for Brysen.

What I have found in my early encounters in coming “out” in public (with unshaven armpits and hairy legs) is that I care about it a shit-ton more than anyone I meet on the street does.  No one notices it but me.  Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal area populated with lesbians.  Maybe it’s because I am from Chicago.  I don’t want to advise you to be unsafe, but I really don’t think  you’ll be run out of town by pitchforks and torches for wearing cargo shorts in public.  Butches are strong in numbers in America.  But now let’s look at the LGBT scene in “southwest Florida”

-The Gay Social Network is a site dedicated to providing a social scene for gays and lesbians in SW Florida.

– A Siesta Key and Sarasota Area LGBT resource page can be found here.

-PFLAG chapters in Florida can be found here.

What do I recommend, Brysen?  I recommend you get an LGBT-friendly therapist.  (a list of which can be found here for Ft. Meyers, here for Estero).  I recommend you get used to living a life you want to lead, and I recommend you start thinking seriously about who you are authentically, because it’s the only way worth living.  I recommend you start unpacking all this baggage you have been carrying around with you, because you are going to be spending a lot of time in this new skin, this new identity, if you work for it and want it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re 42 or 62 or 82: you are alive, friend, and I want you to start believing you deserve the space you take up, the air in your lungs, and the love you feel in your heart for yourself.  i want you also to give yourself a break, to know this is a long road of self-work in front of you, and know that you are doing the best you can.

I speak boldly because I am in a position to do so: I have been spending a lot of time with my therapist (who I found on the same website I linked to above) unpacking my own shit.  I have a supportive partner and friends who have known me a long time and care about me.  Do you have those kinds of people in your life?  Be honest with them, be honest with yourself, and your whole world will shift in ways you never imagined.

Good luck, Brysen, and know I am here to support you.
-Your Pal Eli


Readers, you all are good and kind and intelligent people, and have a helluva lot to say about gender.  Let’s help out our friend Brysen.  What advice do you all have to give?

What This Fear Is Good for

And now, after coming out to my therapist, and my girlfriend, and my parents, now, after entering a new community online and creating a blog and writing real and intimate details about myself to an unfiltered audience, now after contacting a doctor and making an appointment and arrangements for surgery, now I question, do I really need top surgery?

I am not worried I might change my mind.  I will not change my mind since I have never wanted breasts, there is nothing to change back to: I have always wanted a male chest.  This chest, the one I am approaching, was always mine.  I am not worried about what other people think: people I don’t know won’t care, and the people that matter to me, are important in my life, are supportive.

I am worried about surgery: look, I know this might sound ridiculous to some of you, but I am worried about dying.  Ugh.  Even reading it now as I type it I cringe.  I sound like a little bitch.  This surgery, as I understand it, is fairly safe: how many boob jobs are happening right now?  How many people are having liposuction right now?  How many people, in the United States alone, today will go home without an appendix, or with a new penis?  They gave Dick Cheney a new heart, A new HEART, for chrissakes.  A DOCTOR PUT HIS HANDS INTO DICK CHENEY’S CHEST CAVITY, REMOVED AN ESSENTIAL ORGAN, AND PUT A NEW ORGAN IN.  THEY TOOK HIS OLD VAMPIRE HEART OUT OF HIS CHEST AND PUT A NEW INNOCENT ONE IN AND SEWED HIM UP, AND HE’S LIKE 800 YEARS OLD, AND he survived.  I will be fine.

The thing is this, that I have a switch in my head that is stuck in the “on” position.  The switch is labeled “overactive pessimistic imagination.”  And it is in this position because I had it rough as a kid.  It was traumatic and ugly a lot of the time.  A lot was taken away from me that shouldn’t have been, innocence, my ability to trust, things of this nature were damaged in largely irrevocable ways.  And so you find the nervous adult before you.  One that has overcome quite a bit of that trauma, but also one who hasn’t forgotten that this world we live in, guess what–it isn’t fair and shitty things happen to good people all the time.  I’m not in that house anymore, not terrorized by those people anymore, but that fear, that gut-level instinct sticks with me and colors how I navigate the world I live in now.

Now, my life is the best it has ever been: I have a good job that pays my bills and is only as stressful as I make it.  I am writing regularly again.  I am in love with a kind and supportive and intelligent and really fucking hot woman.  She loves me back the same and I am embarrassingly happy with her.  I am more comfortable in my skin now than ever before, in large part due to the acknowledgments I have made to myself and to others about my gender, and in large part due to the upcoming surgery.  So with this OPI switch on, it seems only natural, and almost inevitable, that because everything is better than it ever has been before, that it will likely all be taken away from me.

I am in good physical condition for surgery.  I am vegan, and go to the gym at least three times a week (but usually five), and I don’t smoke or drink.  I get an appropriate amount of sleep most nights, when I’m not lying in bed worrying about things I can’t control.  I have a healthy sense of humor and laugh a lot.  I will live through surgery.  But, I still ask myself, is this surgery worth risking my life for?

I have said it before, I was comfortable “enough” with breasts, but I can’t go back to that, to ignoring my body.  The way I was living before was about repression, and just like coming out as gay, I can’t go back into the trans closet.  I can’t unlearn everything I have found out.  I can’t bind for the rest of my life in public and hunch my shoulders at home.  I don’t want to spend the summer months under multiple shirts and never go to the beach.  I’m a Pisces for God’s sake–I want to get in the water.  I want to have sex with my girlfriend with the lights on.  I want to come out from under all these covers.

When I squint into the horizon of my future, and see the blur of what life is like without tits, I see not only good posture but also what that symbolizes.  I can feel some of the tension leave my body, and the tension that is released from this surgery is an old tension, one I have been carrying around for decades.  One that reaches out and sticks to other insecurities in the air, and weighs me down.  I know surgery is not some magic potion.  The magical is often mysterious and misunderstood and that is why it is magic–how it works is hidden.  But I know how surgery works: I go in, my breasts are removed, I come out and am able to be in the world in the form best suited for me.

Is it worth it?  Ask yourself: everyday of your life you are mistake for someone else.  You look in the mirror and see someone else’s reflection.  You start to feel like that other person, you think, but you can’t be sure if this is how that other person feels or if that’s just what you think that other person is supposed to feel like.  That uncertainty becomes part of you.  You start to hate that other person for trapping you like this.  You are given the chance to have surgery that would correct the mistake.  This is not about controlling how other people see you, as we can do very little about how others choose to interpret us.  But after the surgery you would be able to see yourself, for the first time.  In the mirror, at home, in the world, you are no longer haunted by the reflection of that other person–now it’s just you there looking back.  So of course it is worth it:  the risk of this surgery to me is minimal.  I might have a greater chance of being hit by a car crossing the street to get to my bus stop than dying during top surgery.  If I turn tail here, if I change my mind then I am not only a coward I am also a liar.  And I want more for my life than that.

What I risk by not having top surgery is far more terrifying than death: a life full of doubt, doubt of myself, doubt about what I could have had, what my life could have looked like to me.  I risk losing respect for myself.  I risk finding out who I really am.  I have this opportunity in front of me, to be honest and brave in a way few people ask of themselves.  We watch t.v. and go on Facebook and eat a lunch that is too big and yell at strangers and we do all this to avoid looking at ourselves.  I am not pretending I am not here anymore.  I want to learn how to look.  I am trying.  And maybe through this practice, the practice of looking at the fear and acting anyway, I will finally start sleeping through the night.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

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,

The Trouble with Boxes: A Rounded Boy

Last night at the gym I was watching the ponytails on the treadmills bounce and the mouths at the weigh machines grunt.  Those people doing cardio are girls, I thought, because they are wearing pink and reading Cosmo and are not interested in building muscle–they just want to be thin.  And those people lifting weights are guys, because they are wearing basketball shorts and listening to metal on their iPods and want to bulk up.  Boys want to take up space, girls want to get out of the way.  Most girls are sheepish when lifting weights and most guys are embarrassed to get on an elliptical machine.  So what am I, on the treadmill, looking forward to my weight routine?  What do I call myself?

I have never liked the term lesbian.  I think I dislike it for the same reasons other gay women do: it’s etymologically confusing and sonically displeasing.  I used to call myself a dyke, and some of me still is.  Dyke sounds tough for a girl and I like the reclaiming aspect of its presence in the gay lexicon.  But that some of me bit, some of me is a dyke?, that is confusing to most people.  It’s one thing to recognize that of course, the large majority of people on the planet don’t fit into one neat gender box: few of us are inhabiting the completely masculine or completely feminine hue on the grey scale of gender identity.  So we do some rounding, right?  We round up to girl, or round back to boy.  We dress the part.  We pick up the social cues, we play the role.  But it is different when the defining markers of that rounded gender are missing: I am a girl with no tits.  A boy with no pecker.  I am ok with this.  Many others are not.

So I must be trans, then, right?  But I don’t want to take T, and don’t want bottom surgery, and like both pronouns.  I don’t feel trans enough to claim the word trans as my box I round to.  I’m right on that dyke/trans borderline.  After surgery, I think I will be more willing to accept the trans label, but it’s all about outward justification.  I do feel trans in my head, I mean, I’m mostly a boy with a little dash of girl, but the girl part dominates according to society, because I was born female-bodied, so society does the rounding for me: they round me up to girl while in my head, and for my whole life, I have been rounding myself to boy.  But as a girl with no tits, more people will accept that I am rounding to trans, more people will feel I am justified in my claim.  What I have to work on is realizing I don’t need their justification to validate my own identity.  And I never have: did the female pronouns ever stop me from all the boy behavior I was displaying?  Of course not.  I didn’t wait for an invitation into the boys club; I picked up the football and joined in anyway.

Let’s take it for a test drive: I am trans.

I am trans.

I’m trans.  That feels pretty good…

Or am I genderqueer?  There is something too fashionable about the word genderqueer for me.  It sounds like a term made for the kids, for individuals hipper than I am.  It sounds exuberant and neon, thick framed and cool.  Genderqueer reminds me of American Apparel models.  And although it technically applies, I don’t like how it feels in my mouth; it’s just too trendy.  It’s the same problem with different reasons that I have with the word lesbian.  In both instances the terms have cultural implications I’m not willing to accept as part of my identity: one feels too old for me, the other too young.  And here I am back at rounding myself to trans.  But after considering the alternatives, I feel better about it, feel more suited for it.

I’m trans.

Yes, I’m trans.

Maybe I’m queer?

Queer has a good feel to it because it doesn’t pin down too much, but is honest and fair: my orientation and identity are left of center, period.  I find myself getting a bit defensive about this because I lack the privilege of not having to defend my identity at all: oh no, I’m a minority all over again!  Where did this brand new closet door come from?  Oh, I see, it’s the same one I’ve been carrying around since that wishing well incident.  I like queer because it feels non-confrontational and true.  But it is still lacking something.  In getting top surgery, in changing my name and taking both pronouns, there is something inherently political in all that, and so maybe queer isn’t charged enough for my identity.  Maybe queer doesn’t claim enough, doesn’t identify enough of what about me is different.  And so queer, it turns out, doesn’t feel queer enough for me.

Fuck it, I’m trans.

“Fuck it” as in, I am through trying to make my existence more acceptable for everyone else, not “fuck it” as in I give up.  When I stand up for myself, when I allow myself to be myself, I am trans.  And in that motion of letting go and just being I have found myself: I’m trans because I am defiant, strong, capable, and resilient.  I’m trans because my body does not fit into any box.  I’m trans because I am in-between gender identities and I am at home there.  When I stop trying to dissect and analyze my body, when I stop trying to box myself in for the sake of identification to others, when I let my emotions and thoughts and good nature out for use and display, in essence, when I am being myself, I am trans.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Doctor Who

So, I have narrowed my surgeon choices to these two doctors:

1. Dr. Medalie at Cleveland Plastic Surgery  in Cleveland, OH

2. Dr. Garramone at The Aesthetic Plastic Surgery Institute  in Sunrise, FL

Dr. Medalie is my top choice for the following reasons: his post-surgery outcomes, his commitment to the trans community, his fair price, and his geographic proximity to K’s* dad, where we will be able to stay for free in the comfort of a spare room of a supportive family member.

Dr. Garramone has stellar outcomes, competitive prices, is transparent about his involvement and commitment to the trans community.  People rave about both these doctors, and I would feel very confident to be under either of their care.

I am also considering Dr. Fischer in MD, Dr. Brownstein in CA, and Dr. Steinwald in IL.  For now, I am pursuing my top two choices, and if they become less viable, I will contact the others and expand my search.  They all seem to be fine doctors to me: they all have great reviews, all have well-documented expertise, all have satisfactory after shots of top surgeries performed on transbucket.  I think they each would do a fine job with my chest.

Dr. Raphael at the American Institute for Plastic Surgery in Plano, TX is not on my list because he requires in-person consultations, and I can’t afford to fly to Texas for a consult.

After shot results, previous patient reviews, price, acknowledgment of the trans community on their websites, and general gut reaction to their wording and site appearance all played deciding factors in my decisions.  I am an average B cup, and believe a double incision to be the best method for my chest, from which I will get the most aesthetically pleasing results.  Of course I look forward to talking over all my options with my surgeon.  And of course I would love to hear about your top surgery experiences, dear reader, with these or other surgeons.  Or if you are in the same position as me: what considerations have I forgotten?  What angles are most important to you?

Up until today this surgery has just been in my head, just been writing on a blog, just been conversations with my friends and K and DR. M.**  I have been afraid of top surgery, what it would mean for my body, what it would mean for my identity.  Would I get lost?  Be disfigured?  Be forever scarred?  And I have been eager for it, excited to feel good about my body, looking forward to seeing what I think about myself in my head reflected in a mirror, for the first time in my life.  Think about it, those of you lucky enough to be male between your ears and between your armpits, to be female in your head and in your pants: what does it mean to be the same person inside as outside?  What would it feel like to have that stability, that identity, taken away from you?

This surgery gives me myself in a way I never dreamed I could exist, because I was too afraid of what that desire meant: that to be a butch female and not want breasts meant I was wrong or ugly or a monster.  An hour ago I sent Dr. Medalie some chest pictures (that’s right, topless photographs of me exist on the internet.  I know, it creeps me out too, but it’s for the greater good.) and a medical history form.  I feel pretty fucking awesome about it.  Like really excited and not scared–just like I’m moving forward in a direction that is right for me.

And guess what?

I’m proud of me.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*K=the girlfriend.  The best one ever, actually.

**Dr. M=my therapist.  The best one ever, actually.

The Bottom Line

Why not bottom surgery?

I just don’t feel the need or desire to have bottom surgery.  While there is a trans component to my identity, I don’t think I am a man, or need/would like bio male matching bottom pieces.  I have always felt discomfort with my chest, always felt it incongruent with my self-image and identity.  But I never really felt that with my lower half.  I am butch, for sure, and I am most comfortable in my skin when identifying as something in-between.  I am a dyke who does’t want to have breasts, and let me tell you, there are loads of us out there.

When I think about my body as having a nice flat chest, with whatever pectoral definition a good weight routine, a smart diet, and my own genetics can give me, I feel that to be my appropriate upper body.  I had a hysterectomy 4 years ago (uterine cancer, and effects of that on my gender will probably be another blog post altogether) and to have female bottom bits with no menstruation feels just right to me.  I don’t mean to be unduly vulgar, but for me, it’s a cunt, and I think about it, have similar feeling toward it, as men do for their cocks.  That is, it’s not an approximation of a cock, it’s the butch bottom piece for a dyke.  It is not a vagina, or  a who-ha, or whatever ridiculous names women give their sex organs when they don’t want to acknowledge them or won’t claim them.  My cunt is proactive, dominant.

When I was a kid I absolutely wanted to be a little boy; but that was before I knew there were other options for those of us bio little girls who were romantically interested in other girls and who were tomboys in spirit and action.  Now I know I don’t have to be a man to be masculine, don’t have to have a penis to have a flat chest.  The only requirements I am putting on myself involve being true to myself, whatever bodily form that truth inhabits.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

The Oppressions and Privileges Afforded Me

So, what I’m going for is this:

Pronouns: female or male
Name: male
Top parts: traditional male
Bottom parts: traditional female

And this makes for some interesting cultural intersections, namely those of the privileges afforded and oppressions determined by my gender.

Likely, and depending on the environment, I will be “mistaken” as either male or female*.  But I don’t correct pronouns, I correct attitudes.  Meaning, I don’t mind being called either pronoun, but when people see me from behind, call me “sir” then over emphatically apologize when I face them and turn out to be a girl, well, I make sure they understand I like both pronouns.  No embarrassing displays of multiple apologies in the grocery aisle are necessary.

Right now I get female pronouns a disporportinate amount of the time, and would prefer more of my “maleness” to come through, and top surgery I think will likely correct some of that for me.  The flip side is that it will occasionally confuse the general public.  I am neither alarmed by nor concerned with that confusion.  For example, I will continue to use the women’s bathroom, and am sure I will get little resistance there: no one makes much eye contact in the bathroom, and last I checked, there are tons of flat chested women in the world.  It’s not like I’m going in there with my strap-on at full mast.

Before we get into a discussion of my trans identity and how I navigate the world, a small disclaimerOf course, the following comments are mostly generalizations, but they are also examples of specific instances I have found myself in over and over again throughout the course of my butch-identifiying life.  I am speaking about cultural stereotypes, cultural norms, and how my trans identity works within these pre-existing parameters.  I am happy to receive your comments and engage in a discussion about my experiences, but do understand I know not all men are violent, in fact very few of them are, and not all women are weak, and of course very few of them are.  But this culture we are in, this media that propagates it, would have us believe these things, would have us reproduce these stereotypes.  I am not defending them, of course, I am just responding to them and examining how I have navigated them throughout my life.

Let’s look at the privelages afforded a butch female that a male-IDed person lacks:
-I can make comment on other women’s appearances with general impunity.
-I am not seen as a potential threat.  Meaning, if a woman walking alone on a street at night was walking toward me, she would probably not cross the street.  If I were a man walking down that same lonely street, she might be moved to cross to the other side.
-Running my mouth (e.g. talking shit in a way that would get a man suspended for making his female co-workers uncomfortable)
-Public displays of weakness (e.g. crying and then getting sympathy when a man would get disgust)
-Public displays of anger (e.g. yelling or using fowl language in a situation where a man likely would be perceived as dangerous)

Yes, I can, for the most part, say whatever I like and see little or no repercussions for those remarks.  Unfortunately this is because women are, at a broad cultural level, seen as weak and not taken seriously. I am crass, and loud, and women find it sometimes annoying, sometimes entertaining.  In fact, my mouth has gotten me more than one date.  Men are not threatened by me (not only am I female bodied, but I am a small one, a daunting 5’4″) and usually they enjoy my foul mouth: it allows them to hear aloud what they (sometimes) think and cannot say without being perceived as threatening.

But what about the gay thing?

Yes, so I can’t get married, and I can be discriminated against, and I am the target of homophobia.  But I do live in Massachusetts, not, say, Tennessee, and so I don’t feel particularly discriminated against on a daily basis.

But what about the girl thing?

Yes, I do identify as female, or something close to it, so I don’t get paid as much as my male counterparts, and I am seen as inferior.  But again, I don’t feel that discrimination during practical encounters, and have always been female, so if it’s there, and surely it is, then it’s just what I refer to as “life.”

What’s weird is this: in situations when I am perceived as male, I will be receiving some invisible privileges: I will be treated differently, I will be given the benefit of being seen as male, and I will be a white male at that.  In situations when I am perceived as female, I will really notice no difference, it’s what I’m used to, but when I am seen as something other, something confusing, as transgender, that is where it will get well, rowdy?  Tense?  I don’t know, I couldn’t know yet.  

I did want to raise the issue now, wanted to lay some foundational groundwork for some new experiences.  I want to be able to investigate them when they happen, and so recognizing the potentiality for some interesting interactions, some new privileges and oppressions, is what this post is about.

The thing is that once I have top surgery, I will have to consider how the world is reading my (new) gender, and might have to alter my approach.  I might be seen as more male, that is, after all, the point–right?  I might have to go a bit easy on the crass comments, might have to, well, girl** it up a bit.  I don’t want to appear unduly aggressive and I don’t want to alienate my peers.

I am curious if anyone reading this has some examples of their own status shifting in the public sphere through their gender evolution…

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

* Once, at a diner in New Haven, I was called a “boy girl” and that has been, by far, my favorite gender descriptor.

**Be a bit more considerate of other’s feelings and opinions.