Stand and Deliver

I’ve been using the men’s room now for, oh, almost a year.  It still feels a little strange; that is, I still feel like a foreigner…sometimes.  It’s not like one day you feel up to using the men’s room, and go in, and are forever changed and just own the place.  In some situations I still prefer a unisex stall: it’s about comfort and safety. All men’s room are different: some are obviously cleaner than others, some have different, um, let’s call it energy.  The men’s room at the Metro has a different energy than the one at Lincoln Hall.  Those of you that live in Chicago will inherently know what I mean.

I guess it’s more about the anxiety in my head that makes them different: I am worried I will be found out.  You don’t worry about that?  Don’t get nervous?  That’s call cis-privilege.  Enjoy it.  I don’t worry about it *too much* because I have the benefit of living in a major city with a strong queer presence.  So of course I don’t think, realistically that I will be discovered and thrown out or shamed or worse.  No, but I think that concern must float around in every trans person’s head, to some degree, when they are using a public restroom.

Last week when searching for a bathroom in a public place, I came across a unisex stall, and for the first time checked to make sure there wasn’t also a men’s room, because I would have rather used that.  I found that impulse interesting, and as I was washing my hands I wondered why I did that.  Sure, I was becoming more comfortable with using the men’s room, but when I thought about it, the impulse to use the men’s room over a unisex stall was because I didn’t want to take up space that I didn’t need.  I wanted someone who preferred the unisex stall to have that option.  It’s nothing profound, but it does illustrate the degree to which I am settling into my male identity.  8 months ago I would have been elated to find a unisex stall and not searched for the men’s room.

The thing that causes me most anxiety while using the men’s room is specifically the stall issue.  I used to make a big production out of blowing my nose to add a little more male noise in the stall once I was in a peeing position.  My feet are facing the wrong way, you see, and what kind of guy sits down to pee?  Actually, I have heard lots of guys sit to pee, and some of my male friends have told me they prefer the stall to a urinal.  But nonetheless, I’m the one waltzing in there without the usual equipment.  I’m not bothered by this too much, but bothered enough to start investigating STP devices.

What’s an STP device, you say?  Stand-to-pee devices range in price and complexity, and allow people with vaginas the ability to, you guessed it, pee while standing and not get urine all over themselves.  Hudson’s Guide has a full page on STPs here, and FtM Essentials has some nice models here.  For me, I just want something that will allow me to stand in a stall and pee.  I don’t want something I have to pack all day, nor do I want something with lots of parts to keep clean.  I just want something that lets me pee standing up that I can wipe down/rinse off and put back in my pocket.

To that end, initially I was torn between the Pstyle or ridiculously named Go-Girl.  Ultimately I went with the Pstyle, as I read uniformly positive reviews of it on multiple sites.  The unfortunate part of using STPs is that you don’t know which one is right for your body until you try it, and of course all sales are final, so there’s a costly trial-and-error period to start.   But being able to stand to pee in public would be really convenient and psychologically satisfying.  The Pstyle starts at $12.00, so it’s a financially low-risk place to start as well.

Oh, and I’m still off sugar!

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Eulogy

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:

Emily,

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

Poolside in Lincoln Park (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, when I was trudging through the fifth circle of the hell, where the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn “into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe,” (this plight is also known as looking for an apartment in Chicago in August) the only refuge I had from my days’ nightmarish encounters was the comfort I found by staying with an old friend, D.  D was my religion professor at that expensive private school in which I spent my undergrad years*, he also is active in the LGBT community in the form of bassist extraordinaire in a hip post-punk trio.**  He is a champion for all minorities, and one of my personal heroes.  We had fallen out of contact after I went to grad school and he started teaching in NYC, but my Facebook account finally made itself worth having when D friended me there just weeks ago.

So, I was having a shit time the first few days of apartment-hunting, and was pretty stressed about it, when D told me he was going swimming and had an extra pair of trunks. K*** encouraged me to go and so I thought fuck it, I’ll go!  And then I thought, no I couldn’t!  Or, could I?

Hmm.  Well, lemme try on the trunks…they fit.  Also, D is a great person to go try my new chest out with.****  I have a immense respect for D.  He is incredibly intelligent and very compassionate and really stands up for what (and who) he believes in.  I felt I would be safe with him.  When we got to the gym and D signed me in as a guest, it was cracking me up to watch this poor kid at the desk read my ID and register my legal name and gender and all the while D, so naturally, is all “he this” and “Eli that” and it makes perfect sense to him and to me (and I didn’t even have to, for once, go into the long explanation of transgender issues when coming out to D***** as trans) but this desk kid kept trying to steal glances up to me, while being discreet, and it was a great deal of fun to watch someone else squirm for a change.  I don’t mean to be mean-spirited, but she was perplexed and couldn’t quite figure out who she was signing in, her only saving grace being that D and I were the only ones standing there, ergo, I, Eli, the confusing he-she, is the one being signed in.   D also asked for the key to the family changing room because he knew I would be more comfortable there, and well hell, this whole sweet exchange of watching D just treat me like a regular person was nearly enough to choke me up.

Here I was, on the precipice of going topless in public for the first time with my new chest, and more to the point, my new identity, and I felt pretty safe and secure and more confident than I had in recent memory when trying something new and scary.  Dare I say…I felt entitled.

Not this kind of entitled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But rather, the kind of entitled that comes from feeling liberated from marginalization.  I felt entitled to be treated humanely.  I felt I deserved the respect with which I was being treated.  I felt like one of the people, you know, just a regular person going swimming with his buddy.  I felt like I had done nothing wrong by existing.  That kind of entitled: entitled to the space my body needs just to exist.

That day, when D and I were changing into our trunks and he was showing me how to spit into my goggles to keep them from fogging up, I felt like I belonged.  Even with the F on my ID and the lack of a top piece to my swimming suit, I felt like I had just as much right to swim in that pool as everyone else did.  My gender incongruence felt accepted.  No one at the pool gave a shit whether of not I had a top on–they were more interested in their own day at the pool than my wardrobe.  And that is as it should be.

I had a great time: D and I did some laps (I did 7!  7 whole laps!  That’s 300 yards, people.), and talked in-between about stuff, my gender choices, his band, our experiences with the queers and I just fucking relaxed for a change.  The water felt great on my body, and the laps opened up some of the tightness in my chest from the surgery.  I have already found the gym I am joining when I move home, it’s a little further away than I would like, but it has a pool.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*And, it should be noted, was one of those professors that believed in me and encouraged me and was really fucking awesome.

**Trust me, they are way cooler than I make them sound.  I sound like their mom/press agent.

***Remember that graduate degree?  Well, we can’t all afford to be flying here and there looking at apartments, so when the time came to move home, I was chosen as the one to go be the eyes on the ground, as it were, because, as K and I both know in our hearts, I am “the picky one” and God helps us if K were to go home and pick a perfectly fine apartment but one that had a neighbor who played their t.v. a little too loud, or one that had a centipede here or there.  Eli would fucking lose it.  For the length of a lease.  And don’t nobody wanna hear all that shit for months on end, not even Eli.

****Of course, K is the perfect person to go try my new chest out with.  But D is equal parts fearless and logical, and so it was his bravery I was tapping into to give the dude trunks a try.  Actually, in much the same ways K is those things, fearless and logical, and so without her there, D is the perfect person, in this situation, to try out the new chest.  I love them both in different ways for some similar characteristics, I guess is what I am trying to get across here.

*****One of the people in his band is a trans dude, and D has been a part of the queer scene for a very long time, and so this is not his first day on the job, as it were.

Takin’ Off My Water Wings (Part 1 of 2)

Take One: Puffer’s Pond

So, a few weeks ago K, our friend BB, and I went to the local swimmin’ hole here in Western Mass, Puffer’s Pond.

Photo courtesy of the city of Amherst (amherst.gov)

We had planned for a week to go, and then, of course, on the day of, after a full seven days of sun and heat, it clouds up and fakes like it’s gonna rain all day.  So, I figure, we will hang out on the beach* and when it rains we will go do something else.  I didn’t wear my swim trunks, and was utterly unprepared when it actually didn’t rain.  BB and K were prepared, however, so they went for a bit of a swim.  The area there at Puffer’s is really very pretty, actually, there’s a nice rock formation and lots of trees.  I was feeling at ease by myself, relaxin’ on the beach, when I thought, hey, you could take your shirt off, you know, if you wanted.

I looked around…there was a dude swimming with his family (composed of a ladyfriend and a few elementary school aged kids), two lesbians a little older than me sitting on a log about 8 feet behind me and chatting, a retirement-age couple floating around on inner tubes, and a few single adults a little further down the beach, and K and BB swimming quietly away to explore the rock formation a little ways down the pond.  Not exactly the throngs of bodies you might find at home on a similar day at Hollywood Beach, but still, public topless sunbathing…was I ready for it?

Turns out, I was not.

I decided to keep my top on and mope about feeling like there was no place for bodies like mine now that I had decided to have surgery, but not take T.  Even without tits, I still present very much like a female, because, well, I am still in a female body, just a female body without protruding mammary glands.

So on the “beach” that day I felt like a trans sore thumb, not ready to stick my still healing scars out into the real world for observation and judgment.  And that made me mad, it pissed me off that my body, now that I have started to claim it as my own, started to mold it in a way that reflects how I see myself internally, now it would be rejected.  Or so I presumed.   Fact of the matter is, I rejected myself that day: by keeping my top on I never gave the other people on the beach the chance to reject me or (and this is much more likely what would have happened) to not give a shit at all and continue enjoying their day.

Eli sat on the beach and felt sorry for himself that the world doesn’t make space for his kind.  Truth: Eli doesn’t make space for his kind by keeping his top on.  It is not up to some “world” out there to make my life comfortable for me.  It is up to me.  So last week, I got another chance to swim, and I didn’t bitch out.

Next time: Take Two, Poolside in Lincoln Park

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*Beach (in Western Mass): n. a small, hard area of land near a tiny body of water, usually man-made, that might have once been made of sand, but currently feels like matted dirt, on which to put a blanket because you don’t want your towel to touch it.