Transforming the Dialogue at Simmons College

Hello Friends!

The fine folks at the Simmons College* MSW program reached out to me last week and asked if I would like to participate in their new program aimed at educating their population on trans* issues.  Of course I’m happy to help!

To be more specific, Megan, the marketing coordinator for Simmons, informed me that Simmons is “the third US women’s college to accept students who identify as transgender,” and also told me the college is “embarking on an exciting initiative that aims to educate the masses on trans* lives.”  Neat!  I’m in!  But first, let me let Megan finish explaining what exactly this project entails.

She continued, “[t]his spring, we are launching “Trans*forming the Dialogue,” a campaign designed to shift the conversation away from the problematic questions that are often asked of the members of the transgender community and foster a more progressive dialogue.”  Any readers interested in seeing the final project can find it here in June.

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So, I am one of a few bloggers she has invited “to be a featured voice in this campaign and provide [my] unique perspective.” To that end, I answered three questions:

1. What are the do’s and dont’s when asking a trans*person about their experiences?

Well, I like to keep it simple: keep it respectful.  Speak from a place of integrity.  I guess what I’m saying is, it’s actually really easy to talk to trans people about their experiences if you come to us as a person first (that’s why you start from a place of integrity), and as a trans person second.  Ask yourself, before you ask me, why are you about to ask me the question you are going to ask?  Is it to learn about me, or is it to objectify me?  Is the answer to the question necessary for the interaction we are having?  The thing that I think trips up some cis-gender people, people who are allies and who want to get this right, is that they are so worried about embarrassing themselves or saying the wrong thing that they end up embarrassing themselves or saying the wrong thing.  Remember the golden rule: treat me how you would want to be treated, and interacting with trans* people, or any minority culture or person different from you, becomes much easier.

2. What are 2 – 3 questions that one should NOT be asking a transgender person?

Do not ask me what my “real” or “birth” name is.  It’s none of your business (in the case of my birth name), and actually, you know what my real name is, it’s the one I introduced myself to you as.

Do not ask me what surgeries I’ve had.  The state of my medical transition, if I am transitioning medically, is also none of your business.  Just like cis-gendered people do not have to justify their gender presentation to me, I do not have to justify my gender presentation to anyone else.  This is why coming to me as a person first, and as a trans person second is important. While my gender identity is important, it is only a part of the whole.  Treat me like a whole person, and we got no problems.

3. What are 2 – 3 questions that one SHOULD be asking a transgender person?

Please feel free to ask me what pronouns (if any) I prefer.  Sometimes people play with the gender norms, confound them, complicate them, fuck with them, and we might not be aligned with the traditional gender presentation our preferred pronouns would have you believe. Meaning, for example, sometimes dudes have breasts, sometimes ladies have stubble.  I would never be offended if someone wanted to know how I preferred to be referred to.  See how that’s different than asking me if I have a penis?

I am also always happy to answer the kinds of questions Megan has asked here.  Let’s talk about how to start a conversation, let’s talk about cultural norms, let’s talk about opinions and experiences.  I am very open with my transition, duh, I’m spilling the beans on a public blog. But not all trans people want to share their lives with the whole of the internet.  Start from a place of respect, a place of integrity, and let us lead you to how far we are willing to go with the divulgence of personal information.

I’m sure I’m missing some things, but that’s why I’m not the only blogger they approached.  I want to thank Megan for reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity.  Thanks Megan! And I applaud Simmons College for engaging the trans community: it’s this kind of willingness and effort that is the starting point from which we can foster real and meaningful dialogue across the sometimes too-silent gulfs between discourse communities.

Also, in closing I want to give a shout out to Simmons’ queer group, SWAG.  In the sea of poorly-chosen queer acronyms, SWAG knocked it out of the park. Great job people!

If this was your first time here, thanks for stopping by, and as always,

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli


* Woot-Woot Massachusetts!

An Excused Absence: NaNoWriMo

Hello Friends!

It’s that time of year again…NaNoWriMo!  For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, click this.

Official National Novel Writing Month crest.  Image courtsey of http://nanowrimo.org.

Official National Novel Writing Month crest. Image courtsey of http://nanowrimo.org.

Yes, my participation in National Novel WrIting Month last year was, ahem, abysmal at best, but this year I’ve got new resolve and a functioning plan.

That project I’ve been hinting at in my recent posts?  Well, it’s a writing project. A big one.

It’s not a novel in the traditional sense, but it is large in scale, and would benefit from some deadlines and structure.  And NaNoWriMo is just the place to get encouragement and resolve.

So far, I’ve created a Pages Doc with to-do lists for the days leading up to Nov. 1st.  I’ve also made a calendar with writing prompts for each day in November to keep me on track.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Between now and then I have the following to do:

Plan secret surprise for wife (this will be revealed in December…)
Organize notes into one Pages Document
Write blog post alerting readers to my impending and epic absence
-Research & fill out calendar w/ notes for each daily prompt

Yeah, about that last crossed off one…

I’m taking a month off the ol’ blog.  I want to utilize November and get a large chunk of writing done when I’m energized and excited, and I just can’t focus on both this project and MLWT at the same time.  I love you guys, and will still respond to queries and comments and emails, but the posts will have to wait.

You guys know how hard it’s been for me to find a good writing practice.  It’s been so hard I’ve made private most of the posts in which I’m bitching about my writing practice because I sound like a preening ass in them, and so I have nothing to link to for this reference.

And I have a great project right now, honestly, you’re all going to be so impressed if I can make the most of November and come back in December with something great to show for it.  So I have to go.  But I will be back.  And we all might just be really proud of me.

Trust me.

And, in the meantime, be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Greatest (T)its

Dear Readers,

I’ve missed you!  I didn’t post these last two Fridays because I’ve been busy with another writing endeavor, one secret at this point, but as the project evolves, I’ll consider some sneak peeks…

I thought, in the meantime, I’d do a top ten list of the most viewed posts.

The Homepage, at 25,800 views, is killing it, and my About Me page was in the top ten as well.  I took those two out of the list below, as to limit to only posts and not pages.

And so without further adieu, let’s start this party off right with…

10. Post-Op Depression: Ugh. Ok…that was a rough start.  Anyway, on to number 9…

9. Photo Comparison: Face Shape on T: Wherein you get the pleasure of gazing upon me.

8. At Home in the Underground: Departures and Returns: Where your hero says goodbye to an old friend.

7. 11 Weeks Post-Op: What a slick baby!

6. Blog Brothers: Some of the dudes I looked to for fraternity and inspiration when I first started this journey.

5. Day Six: First Look at the New Chest, or Parade of Photos! Gross.  But informative!  (Still gross.)

4. Two Weeks Post-Op: You guys are really into the topless pics, you old pervs.

3. The, as it were, titular post.

2. Top Surgery How-To: Compression Vest and Bandages Daily Regiment: Boring.  But if it makes you happy, I’m supportive.

And the number one most visited post, with over a thousand views is…

1. Top Surgery Check List! Hooray!

You have a favorite that didn’t make it on the list?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  Have a favorite trans blog you’d like to inform me of?  Leave it in the comments!

Thanks for reading, friends, and be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

For My Readers:

So, I wanted to thank you.

Yes, you.

The one reading this right now.

As of today, My Life with Tits is 13 months and 13 days old.

This is my 150th post.  And through those posts, I have been able to reach out and situate myself within a community.  I have been of help to some, but mostly lots of you have been so very helpful to me.  My life has been enriched though this blog, because it has brought people like J.C. Prime and Karen and Mr. Pinkie and Transman and Tam and Maddox and Juno and A and about a hundred other really incredible people into my life.  I am a better person because of your guidance and encouragement, and I thank all of you so very much.  You have made the world a better place by being yourselves, and by helping me to be myself.  I cannot overstate your importance to me.

As of today, I have 21,000 views and 1,200 comments.  You really know how to make a guy feel loved.  June 19, 2012 I had the most hits.  It was a heavy traffic day on my Top Surgery Checklist post.  And that makes me feel pretty good–I am happy to be of use, to be of some guidance to folks considering the surgery or the hormones or whatever.  To be a person other people can glean some bit of knowledge or comfort from–it’s important, you know. It’s the most important thing in this life–to be of some help to someone else.

As of today, I have 306 followers.

Are you kidding me?  God, you people.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for caring enough to come back.

And while many of you read and choose not to comment, and some of you comment occasionally, and some of you comment frequently and we have moved into phone conversations, or actually met in person, there is that other group, the one I didn’t count on being a part of this blog.

There are the people I know in real life, my friends and family, who read and sometimes comment.  And I wanted to speak to them for just a moment, to offer them some space here, as I so frequently focus my posts on trans folks.

A co-worker commented on my last post, and jokingly called it “internet staking.”  Moo was kidding, of course, but there is a modicum of voyeurism going on: my blog is public, and I linked it to my Facebook account, so anyone I know (or don’t know) can access my blog, can read about my transition, can see pictures of my body as I heal from top surgery and read about my depression after that surgery.  It’s pretty private stuff, sure, but I do it for a record for myself, and to be of help to others.  I want to be a part of the trans community, so I have to put something out there, you know?  You all can look and read as much as you like, all access, and can do so completely without my knowing.  And I like it just fine that way.

Yesterday a different co-worker, in passing, said to me, “I’ve been reading your blog, and I feel like I know a lot more about you.”  And she’s right, she does know more about me now than she did before, but she also knows more about me than I do about her.  And again, I’m ok with that.

What I’m getting at here is that sometimes it’s hard to ask a trans person about their transition.  It’s personal, and private, and you as a co-worker, or friend, or family member, might have questions that you just don’t feel comfortable asking me in person, because, oh, it’s hard to look someone in the eye and ask them about their sex change.  Or maybe you’re not skeeved out by asking me about hormone injections, but we’re on the sales floor and my testosterone is none of the customers’ business.  You’re right.  But I want to give you space, free of the inappropriate context of the workplace, or the tension of a face-to-face interaction, to ask me anything you want.

And this blog is just the place; it’s part of the reason I started it.  I don’t just want to help myself, I want to help others.  I want to put a little more understanding into the world.  Let’s demystify this then, yes?

So, to anyone reading this: ask away.  Ask me anything; I’ll do my best to answer it.  If it’s not within reason, I’ll politely let you know, and likely I’ll tell you why the questions isn’t reasonable, but I won’t get mad.

I do ask that you leave your initials, or a first name, or whatever you feel comfortable with leaving on a public blog, just so I can know who I’m talking to.  But beyond that, any identifying markers are unnecessary.  And if you’re a co-worker, let’s leave the workplace name out of it, yes?

This blog is a safe space for the gender neutral, gender fluid, gender variant.  But it’s also a safe space for allies to ask any serious or silly thing they wonder about.  So let’s get into it. 🙂

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

For My Readers, From Brysen:

I received this message from Brysen today, and it really is for all of us, so I wanted to share it with you folks, and remind you how thankful I am for your support, and knowledge, and to let you know you have made some good in this world today, in (at least) this way:

Brysen writes,

“Hi all! As all of you were such a huge part of where I am today, I thought I would share some unbelievably happy news.

My father and I have always had a less than positive relationship. He was a abusive alcoholic. I actually spent my twenties and half of my thirties with almost no contact. In the last two years he and I have come to a new understanding. (he quit drinking 15yrs ago). Over the weekend I told him via text (I know lousy way, but I still respond to him poorly during conflict) about my name change and a whole list of other things going on with me, encompassing my lifetime thus far. I was expecting the worst. Instead, I received this via text, ” I LOVE YOU. If this is what makes you happy and is right for you, then it is right for me and it is what I want too.”
Acceptance. Saturday April 14th 2012, after years of so much ugliness and separation…I have acceptance.
Now on to accepting myself.
Thank you ALL!”

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

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?