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!

Workin’ on My Fitness

Howdy Folks!

These past few months, while I’ve been working on the book, my workout routine has fallen off quite a bit.*

While it was necessary in the beginning for me to concentrate my time and efforts solely on writing (to get a good and consistent practice in place), now I can bifurcate my attention (and spare time) to the dual focus of writing and exercise.

So, since fitness is frequently a hobby of trans guys (as our bodies, with hormones and surgeries, get more in line with what we’ve always wanted them to be), I thought I would post my routine, in the hopes that to someone it might prove helpful.

Some caveats:

I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER.  OBVS.  I am of moderate ability, in an average body.  I have no physical handicaps (other than some shoulder/knee issues).  Please exercise caution during all physical activity.  Use my workout as a base, and modify it to suit your goals.

I am not new to working out, so if you are, please start slow (lower reps than me, less time for cardio), consult a doctor, etc., etc.  I stress: modify my routine to fit your body type, ability, needs, time, etc., etc.

I hate going to the gym.  HATE. IT.  I like how I feel after, but dread going because of all the typical reasons: takes too long to get there, cardio is boring, weights are boring. Oh yeah, and if I’m doing it right, it’s hard.

I like this home routine I’ve created because using body weight is more fun to me than using traditional weights.  With this routine, all you need are two chairs and a broom stick (and a body and 30 minutes).

I chose 30 minutes to start for a duration, and when I did it this morning, I was plenty out of breath, and it took almost exactly 30 minutes (30:45:06 to be exact).

You’ll notice I do the bodyweight routine at home three days a week, and cardio (jump roping in the basement, more convenient than going to the gym and, for me, WAY more fun than a treadmill or elliptical) three days a week.  Even God took a day off, so I do too: it’s 20 minutes of yoga at home, so it’s pretty chill.  It’s not hot, or meant to double as cardio–it’s just meant to be some healthy bodily self-love at the end of the workout week.

Eli’s Weekly Workout Schedule

Body Weights: M/Th/Sa

Perform all exercises as a massive superset. Rest 3 minutes between. Repeat 3 times.

-Squat (10 reps)

-Plank (60 seconds)

-Pull-up (10 reps) (This is how I do pull-ups at home)

-Pushup (10 reps)

-Tricep Dip (10 reps)

-Wall Sit (60 seconds)

-Lunge (10 reps/leg)

-Crunches (15 reps)

Cardio: Tu/Wed/Fri

-30 minutes jump rope

Yoga or Lake Walk: Sunday

-20 minutes on the mat

Are you a gym enthusiast?  Have some pointers or feedback?  Let’s see it!

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*There are other reasons, too: an injury, cold weather.  I just wanted to note them here to act as camaradic** fodder.  If you gave up a little, let’s get back up together!

**Why yes, I did just invent the adjectival form of camaraderie, thanks for noticing!

My Invisibility Cloak Came in the Mail! I Mean, in a Vial!

Hello friends!

Well, this past February marked 2 years on T.  I’ve been busy, so busy writing my book that I have had little time for this type of transition writing.

But I did want to check in, and write a little update, and talk some about today, the trans day of visibility.

First, to continue my cavalcade of odd anniversaries, here’s my 25 months on T update.

As far as physical transitions go, I am steady on my dosage, still doing IM injections on my own, and so the changes at this point are gradual.

My voice seems to have settled into a much deeper but still sometimes squeaky range.  I think the squeaking has more to do with operator error than range.  I have to push more air out, with greater volume, for deeper and more even results.  I can’t speak from the same place in my throat that I did before testosterone, nor can I use the same amount of air.

My chin remains the dominant place for hair growth for me, but my sideburns are slowly coming in.  The mustache is still struggling, but he’s there.  K talks about the “hair” on my chest occasionally, but I think she’s just being supportive.

Muscles are dependent on my gym routine, which has gotten more sporadic because of a knee injury.

Socially, I am 99.9% of the time read as male, with only the occasional “miss” from behind, likely because of my short stature.  I don’t care at all when I’m mis-gendered; it no longer feels like a deep personal wound.

The territory I’m moving into is of the “stealth” trans person.  And as today is Trans Visibility Day, I thought I would take some time to write a little about living a stealth life.

Most of you know I live in Chicago.  I believe being able to afford to live in a major city is a privilege when one is trans.  I’d like to write a little bit about the other ways I am privileged before I write any more about living a stealth life.

I’m white, and a trans guy, so as I pass I have the patriarchy on my side big time.

I’m able bodied, and I’m in the economic middle class.

Oh, and I’m conventionally attractive.

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Not bad.

In short, I’m privileged as fuck.

So going forward in this conversation, know I know this.  I know when I talk about my experience it is a charmed one.

So, carrying on:

The other day I was at work, and a new co-worker and I were chatting, some issue of women’s clothing came up, and she made some comment to me, the jest of it being, “you boys don’t know how tough it is to be a lady.”

It was just idle workplace chatter, but it was nice to be affirmed in my gender.  I have been stealth for a little bit, but when a comment is made by a person who just reads me as male, without knowing me as trans, it’s still affirming and feels good.

I could have very easily said back to her, “Actually, I wore bras for years, and I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

But I didn’t say that.  Why?

Because sometimes it’s nice to not be a trans talking head.  Sometimes it’s just nice to be a man.

That’s what being stealth affords me: it affords me the privilege of blending in.  It allows me to “pass.”

God, I hate that word: passing.

And stealth, I hate it too.

Because stealth makes it sound like I am hiding.  Like I’m ashamed to be trans.

Let it be known: I AM NOT ASHAMED OF BEING TRANS.

But I don’t want to talk about it every time my maleness is innocuously brought into conversation.

Sure, I “pass,” but what exactly does that entail?

Passing is, in my case, short for passing for a man.

It implies I’m not a man, that I am an imposter.

And that’s not true.  It’s actually the opposite.

Actually, for so many years, I “passed” for female.  I responded to female pronouns, and a female name, and I used the women’s bathroom.  But it was always fake.  I was always faking it, and so I “passed” for female.

Now?  My body and my presentation are aligned with my internal sense of self.  The world is able to read me as the man I always have been.

“Passing” and “being stealth” aren’t indicative of a mis-aligned body; they’re indicative of a maligned system, a system that only reads gender in strict binary ways.  We have to work to broaden the terms, so men who can’t afford surgeries or DON’T WANT THEM can still be read as men.  Maybe some trans women don’t want hormones; they should still be addressed as women.

I think I’m starting to ramble, so let me say this:

I like being trans, and I’m happy to answer people’s questions about the trans community, as much as I can, because I can’t speak for all of us.  Sometimes I am just going to be a dude, and so sometimes that means I’m not going to bring up my trans-ness in conversation.  And thank god, because who wants to listen to lectures all day?  I guess I’m just growing up, meaning, I’m settling into my male body and in that way being trans doesn’t come up so much anymore.  However, if someone says some ignorant thing about the trans community, or the queer community at large…or about women, or people of color (because more broadly it’s about intersectionality, isn’t it?  We have to have each other’s backs, don’t we?), I would surely speak up.

And so this blog, and its role in my life is changing as well.  MLWT is still relevant, in that I am still trans, but the physical stuff, the hair growth and voice change and sex drive are no longer the crux of my transition story.  It’s more anthropological than biological at this point in my life.

So as things arise, I will still post here, but this blog is taking a bit of a backseat to my other writing project.  Feel free to still comment, as I will still happily respond to them.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

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

Remembrance: Matt Kailey

I first came across Matt Kailey‘s Tranifesto two years ago when I started this blog.  At the time I was certain about top surgery, and actively trying to talk myself out of testosterone.  But that argument felt a lot like the one I had with myself before I decided on surgery: I was going through the motions of a half-hearted, losing fight.  So I wanted to start looking for examples of dudes my age on testosterone: I wanted to see how it would look for a female body in its thirties to take testosterone, as I knew all the examples of kids in their 20s, with their high metabolisms and evolving bodies, would not be reflective of my transition.

Tranifesto was a revelation: TRANIFESTO in bold block lettering atop a brick wall, Matt standing confidently in front of it, eyes looking into the camera, looking at me.  Tranifesto a blog not just with his personal story, but also one with tabs for resources and links and trans FAQs.  He has a section for his bio and the bio of Tranifesto, he has a section for his public speaking and his books.  I spent a long time poking around, looking up his posts with testosterone tags, and his voice was reassuring.  Here was a guy who was a little older than me, had been on T for a while, and he was healthy.  Hell, he was thriving.  Matt’s life assuaged my fear of dying young from testosterone’s complications.

As I moved further along into my own journey I spent less and less time on Matt’s blog; what started as a weekly occurrence (I would read his Ask Matt posts religiously every Thursday) dwindled down to checking in sometimes as his new posts would pop up in my feed, and as my time allowed and interest was piqued.  I was becoming my own trans man, writing my own posts on T shots and answering questions from readers of my blog.  As my voice was taking shape, Matt’s was moving into the background.  But it was still always there, reassuring me.  One particular post of his deals directly with the fear of taking testosterone injections without any long-term studies to bolster the patient against the fear of fatal side effects.  In that post he writes,

“The one thing I do know is that you will never get out of this life alive…You will die of something, and my philosophy has always been that I would rather die after having lived a full and authentic life than after having lived as someone I am not.”

And that line, “you will never get out of this life alive,” has been a huge comfort to me. I wrote about this post of his previously here.  We all die of something, and even if testosterone is the indirect cause of it for me, at least I got to hear my real voice, look at and touch and have touched a chest that I am proud of.  I have been addressed as sir and moving in the world and being recognized by the world as a man have been perhaps the greatest joys of my life.  Clearly Matt has been a huge help in my personal transition, a soothing voice, a self-assured internet buddy, and I might not be the man I am (or might not have gotten to be him this soon) without Matt Kailey and Tranifesto.

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Matt Kailey (Image courtesy of Tranifesto)

As I was preparing my wedding and honeymoon, I’ve spent little time on WordPress recently, and so I missed that Matt died of heart failure in May.  I’m sad and his passing is a huge loss for our community.  His death, at 58, also stokes the embers of that old fear, the one of dying early.  So I let that fear sit with me for a half day, then I let it go.  In that same blog post Matt goes on to write,

“There are honestly a ton of trans guys over 50 out there. Some of us might not be as visible because we have assimilated into the mainstream and are not visible as trans men, or because we are not as Internet savvy (or as interested) as the younger guys who grew up with technology.

So don’t freak out about dying young. I can’t guarantee that you won’t, but I can guarantee that you will hear more about people who die than you will about people who are living, because death is almost always a shock, and when someone dies, people will talk about it.”

And here I am talking about it.  And even in death Matt manages to act as confidant and teacher; it is his early death that forces me to look at my own life and determine its length is in my hands.

Matt’s blog is still up and available, in fact his most recent post is about Tranifesto turning 5.  I suggest you go check it out if you’re not familiar, and if you are, take a moment there to say your goodbye.  I did, and it felt right and good.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

The Advocate has a lovely Op-ed on Matt here.

And fellow blogger American Trans Man has a short goodbye here, with links to Matt’s blog and books.