My Grandmother’s Lighter Case

The one heirloom I treasure, a talisman, you would never have given me. I found it in a jewelry box in your dresser while we were cleaning out your apartment. A metal lighter case with two bits of turquoise, the only scrap of Santa Fe style I found in your home. It’s an anachronism, a piece of a city where you dwelt but never lived.

Everything else was old country, old country. Books in Hebrew, English, Spanish, Ladino and French; old photographs; your mother’s fur coat. There are heirlooms you would have approved of: the Sephardic cookbook you gave me, your wedding ring, now on my mother’s hand.

I don’t know if you even used the lighter case. I imagine you buying it on a whim one day on the plaza, smoking a single cigarette with a sense of satisfaction, and putting it away, forgetting about it. Now I cling to it with a little desperation, like I hear your voice in click-whoosh of a conjured flame.

I don’t see your eyes in shine of that thin metal. I see you in the ruffling feathers of a sparrow settling into her perch, in the frost crystals that crackle across my window. If you reincarnate, I hope you come back as a butterfly.

I heard that four generations of monarchs live and die in their forest sanctuary in Mexico before they turn north to make their great journey once again. Is any heaven superior? I wish you the beauty of that brief existence, a reprieve from all migrations, home, home, home.

I guess the lighter case gives me the suggestion that you did, once in awhile, open your eyes and behold the strange land where you spent your last years, the country where I grew up. I’m playing connect the dots; you can get here from there, however imperfectly. A sprout’s first tentative tendril, your wavering writing after the stroke, a fragile bridge from your world to mine.

Love could only seldom connect us. Vice, at least, is reliable.

Would People Transition In A Better World?

In a gender egalitarian world, would people still transition? Clare Flourish recently asked me,

If women could be as manly as a Harlan Coben hero or John Wayne character, without everyday sexism and micro-aggressions claiming she is “bossy and aggressive” rather than “commanding and assertive”; and if men could be as feminine as Marianne Dashwood- if you have not read Jane Austen, pick another character, you know what I mean; would any of us need physically to transition?

This questions crops up, in one form or another, in so many places. So I thought I’d give it a proper treatment. This post is not a response to Clare specifically–she is simply the most recent person to voice the question in my presence. Short answer: I think people would still transition in utopia. Onto the longer answer.

First, gender expression is not gender identity. I do not believe that people transition primarily because their gender expression is devalued. This is born out by the many gender-nonconforming people who have no wish to transition and by the many trans people who are visibly gender-nonconforming after transition. Rather, people transition primarily because their gender identity and deepest sense of self are incompatible with their gender role and physical sex traits.

Being the manliest woman is different from being a man, and being the most ladylike dude is a different from being a woman. Cisgender readers may find it helpful to imagine whether living as a feminine man (if you are a woman) or a masculine woman (if you are a man) would be a trivial change, assuming you were shown respect and acceptance, or whether anything important would be lost.

I think something very important indeed is lost, and I would know, because I tried living as a masculine woman for as long as possible. This experience would undoubtedly have been nicer if I were in a society that truly valued gender-variant people. But it’s worth noting that I was in a tolerant environment and had the full support of family and friends. Yet I could not manage it. Even with the enthusiastic support of the wider world, I don’t think I could have managed it. I find it intolerable to live as some special type of woman. I still felt intense alienation from my body, and I still saw myself as “one of the guys” and wanted to be recognized as such. In fact, the more I allowed myself to expressed my masculinity, the more it became clear that I saw myself as a guy and wanted others to see me that way, too. No amount of support had any perceptible effect on that.

The body issues are important. Dysphoria caused by a subconscious sex/apparent sex mismatch is real and acutely painful. Wherever the technology is available, there will probably always be some people who seek out medical treatment to alleviate this pain.

The question also contains the implication that by transitioning, we are somehow attempting to be more socially acceptable or fit into gender norms. Stigma may be a factor motivating transition for some people. But it’s important to note that transitioning people are not spared by the gender system–far from it. Rather, in going from visibly nonconforming people to more conforming people post-transition–if that does indeed happen for a given person, as it did for me–we merely swap one type of marginalization for another. For example, I no longer get harassed on the street, but now I have to deal with a healthcare system that ignores the existence of bodies like mine. At the same time, a huge portion of trans people don’t look gender normative after transition; they may appear just as non-normative as before, or may trade the appearance of conformity in their assigned sex for visible variance in their congruent sex. Either way, transsexual people are among the most marginalized members of our society. I don’t believe large numbers of people are fleeing into that category to escape stigma.

The aspect of the question I find most troubling is the value judgment against transition. Not only does the question misjudge the motivations for transition, it implies that transition is somehow undesirable. If some way of living is perfectly fine, would one raise the question of whether it would exist in a perfect world? I don’t think so. For example, people often wonder whether we can achieve a society in which there is no poverty, child abuse or war. I never hear people wonder whether we can achieve a society in which there is, say, no friendship. To ask the question–would people transition in a better world–implies that there is something wrong with transition itself, like it’s a symptom of a sick society. It suggests that we should be working towards a world in which transition disappears.

I am not on board with that. I suggest, instead, that we work towards a world in which injustice disappears.

Creating space and acceptance for masculine women and feminine men is an essential project. But it is no substitute for transition and for engendering respect and safety for transitioning people. In any gender egalitarian world worthy of the name, trans people must be respected, including transsexual and other transitioning people.

None of this is to say that transition might not look very different in an egalitarian world. Here are a few ways that gender equality and acceptance of diversity might change transition.

  • More diversity in transition paths. With widespread acceptance of gender variance, it would be a lot more feasible and safe for a person to have a mix of male and female traits. We would probably see more nonbinary transitions as well as more people taking unique paths in their transition to male or female.
  • Different people might transition. There may be some folks who have transitioned today, who would prefer to live as a gender-variant member of their assigned sex if given the option. On the other hand, there are probably also some people who are too scared to transition today, who would do so in a more open-minded world. So the group of people who pursue transition might be different.
  • Fewer people would be “stealth.” Many people are private about their trans status. This includes me. Most transsexual folks I’ve encountered are open with a small circle of people, but don’t discuss being trans at work, in certain social groups, etc. In a more accepting world, people could be more open about their transition history.

What do you think? Would people transition in a perfect world? Would you?

7 Gems

Child’s charcoal drawings
Sketch out something missing
Born perfect
Or hopelessly malformed?

Grimace
Edge of water

Firstborn
Sondaughter

Circular rainbow
Gemstones in my pocket
Intersex beings
Bathed in light

I never intended all this
You were meant to be a prince

Sisterbrother
We share one
Fathermother
Nothing else is true

And brothersister
I am you

A Few Thoughts On My Dick & Healing The Mind/Body Split

[This post includes frank discussion of my body.]

Growing up trans created a catastrophic rift between my mind and my body. Years into transition, I can recognize myself in the mirror, but I’m still healing the split. Little bridge over a great chasm, I cross it slowly, slowly, over and over. Someday I will actually trust it to hold.

An important and intimate part of this reconnection is my relationship with my junk. As I’ve written before, I have no plans for bottom surgery. I have a dick and I am quite content with it.

For years, I was told that I didn’t have a penis, never would or could have a penis, except maybe through (expensive, painful) surgery, and even then, I was told, it wouldn’t really count. I still encounter content on a routine basis that states that trans men who have not had bottom surgery don’t have dicks, which really bugs me. I’m realizing how deeply this psychological castration has affected me. And I’m learning about how my miraculous reverse castration (if you will) changes the way I inhabit the world.

It’s weird to have atypical genitals, a body that doesn’t fit perfectly in either box. I’m not thrilled about sitting down to pee. But I really don’t care that much, because what I’ve got now is such an improvement in terms of my comfort, identity, ability to be naked without vomiting, etc. And I am able to recognize and experience my body as male.

It occurred to me recently that, were I a woman, my body would create intense dysphoria. I’ve been aware that my voice, face, body shape, etc. are clearly male. But I’d held out on acknowledging how clearly male my junk is. My junk is a bit surprising for a man, sure. But, cissexism being what it is, my junk would be way more surprising for a woman. This was a weirdly comforting realization, a confirmation of how far I’ve come.

My doctor remarked on the changes in my genitals after a recent physical. Several years ago, while I was in a storm of changes from testosterone, she asked me how much my “clitoris” had grown. I felt pretty irked by the language–that’s my penis, thanks–but I answered, holding my fingers a couple inches apart. This recent check-up was the first time she’d seen me naked since I started hormones, and afterwards she made a rather confused comment, “There’s been a lot of growth in your, uh. Whatever you call it.” She couldn’t bring herself to describe my junk with female words any longer; it just doesn’t fit. I felt pretty delighted by this. Doctors are so often the arbiters of what words “really” describe our bodies, and mine had just acknowledged that it’s impossible to examine my groin and use female terms with a straight face. I felt like my dick was finally official.

People make a lot of noise about size, but personally, I just don’t give a shit. I’m happy with myself, and I have a partner who loves me and is attracted to me the way I am. So my dick is more like a baby carrot than a regular carrot, more like a baby zucchini than a large zucchini, more like a baby dill pickle than one of those giant pickles they sell at the movie theater…you get the idea.

Edible metaphors aside, the growth I’ve experienced surprised me. It’s tough to find reliable information on this sort of thing, but I had the impression I would grow a lot less. I don’t know if I’m bigger than the typical trans guy, or if I just got the wrong idea, or if I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Probably nobody knows; again, lack of information. For any trans guys who are wondering what to expect: I noticed growth in the first month or two, and it continued through the first two years. Today, my dick is similar in size and shape to my thumb; it ranges between about 1″ and 3″ (I haven’t actually measured, ha) depending on the temperature, whether I have a hard-on, etc. Most importantly for me, my dick is the most, er, prominent feature of that part of my body.

What’s really surprised me is how much the growth has shifted my sense of my body. I lived for more than 20 years with the constant pain of a phantom limb I didn’t know I had. I really feel like I’m slowly healing some deep wound as I relate to my penis. It’s not so much through sexual stuff–though I very much enjoy that–but more through ordinary experiences of my body. Changing clothes, taking a shower, crossing my legs–just seeing and experiencing myself. It’s important to me on personal, emotional, and sexual levels. But what strikes me most is this other, primal level, which feels like it’s rooted very deeply in a subconscious level of my mind. Beyond my wishes, transition goals, sexual desires, etc., is a preverbal part of me that knew what my body was supposed to look and feel like. A part of me that wanted to be whole.

Trapped In The Wrong Childhood

If I could have, I would have given you the body that you wanted.

So my mother told me, wincing sadly, in the first year of my transition. It was sweet of her to say; her intentions were good; and I didn’t miss the pained note of guilt, as if she ought to somehow have controlled this.

And yet the sentiment entirely missed the point. First, I have never blamed my mother for the fact that I’m trans, and I never would. God made me this way, and she had no say in the matter, or she surely would have made me different. Indeed she said as much: she wished she could have given me “the body that I wanted,” or as I would put it, the body that my mind and soul expected. In other words, she would have made me cisgender.

That’s not what I wanted from her, or from life, or what I’m hurt with her for. I wanted her to give me the right childhood. To recognize her trans son when he was still a boy, and to love him for it; to not wait for me to fight it out and tell her; to know somehow, and to raise me that way.

I do firmly believe I was created this way. I don’t regret being trans. It is my struggle, my uniqueness, my gift. Most importantly, it is my real life. This is the experience: to be gender-variant, to be different from other people, one of the strange ones, queer, to change my body to manifest my soul. We have always existed, and I think we are on purpose.

What’s not on purpose is the silence, violence, and rejection. That is human error. Deep in prayer on a recent occasion, I saw with clarity what it means that God made me like this. Like this: this body, this soul. Not what the world did with it. That wasn’t part of the plan.

I don’t want to be cisgender. I want to be loved.

 

You Are Trans Enough

If a dandelion makes its home in a crack in the sidewalk, who can tell its leaves not to stretch toward the sunlight? All beings possess a will to thrive and the intuitive wisdom to seek what they require. You are also turning towards the sun. But you have something the dandelion does not: shame.

As gender diverse people, we get a lot of shit from all sides. Some people love to judge us. They love to put us outside the bounds of what is real, permissible, legitimate, even possible. I suppose it serves to make themselves superior, briefly, in the distorted mirror of their own minds. Whether the naysayers are radical feminists, religious fundamentalists, or our own parents, the message is the same. Don’t be the way you are.

That’s not option, for us or for anyone. We are that we are. We have two choices: we can be in agony, resisting our own life-impulse, or we can be whole.

The incessant demand that we not exist is the root of a lot of our misery. It takes so many forms. There is the demand, on the one hand, that we conform to the countless dictates of our assigned gender. And on the other hand, the demand that all gender diverse people be “true transsexuals,” which is just an idea made up by a bunch of ignorant old white guys. We get crushed between these absurd requirements.

This dilemma is impossible. We’re trans: we will never fit our assigned gender. We’re human beings: we will never match up to a description in a textbook. If we need to transition to live well, we don’t deserve to live; if we do our best to live our own truth, we don’t deserve to transition.

This is a set up. We will never win this game. Let’s stop trying.

Don’t believe the propaganda. You do, in fact, exist. Go ahead and check. You are a being of unspeakable value. There is no reason, no test, no cause that should supersede your will to life. You are entitled to live and to do whatever you can to be healthy and whole. That includes an endless variety of actions and things: food, water, experiences, relationships, clothing, medicine. Whatever it is, do it, as much as you’re able. There is nothing special about the cluster of choices we call transition.

Let no one put arbitrary limitations on your quest to live–not even yourself. You must care for yourself, or no one will. This is our one glorious shot at life. We can’t settle for misery if joy is possible.

The paralysis that comes from the question of “trans enough” is exactly the point. They’ve set the bar for trans so high up, almost no one can reach it. That way they can let a few through, leave the rest for dead, and claim the system is just and legitimate. That’s a bunch of bullshit. When we beat ourselves and each other up like this, we’re singing their same old cissexist tune.

There is no such thing as not being trans enough. There is such a thing as being trans, and not being trans. That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. It may take some time to answer, but the question itself is a simple one.

“Simple” probably isn’t that first word that comes to mind when you think about being trans. Being trans is challenging, confusing, misunderstood, and so many heavy things. But it’s also quite straightforward, a single datum about a human being, one point on one axis of our lives. Because of our social context, that little fact has vast, reverberating consequences for every area of life. But the ripples are not the skipped stone.

Does your gender identity and/or expression fall outside the bounds prescribed by your society? You are transgender. That is plenty trans enough.

Now do what you need to do.

Should You Take T? 7 Suggestions To Help You Decide

To T or not to T? It’s a tough question. Testosterone is a powerful hormone that can radically alter your body and your internal landscape. For many trans guys and some nonbinary people, testosterone is a ticket to a new world in which body, mind, spirit, and social perception finally align. But how can you know in advance whether that new world is really right for you? And what if the ticket is one-way?

I have been on testosterone for 4 years, and I’ll probably continue for the rest of my life. I spent several years desperately agonizing about whether to take T, and today I can say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Here is the advice I wish someone had given me back when I was wrestling with this question.

1. Do your research. In my experience, trans people turn into veritable internet librarians when it comes to our transitions. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’ve read dozens of articles on the physical effects of testosterone, plus sought out hundreds of blogs, videos and photo timelines documenting others’ experiences on T. But if you haven’t done all that yet, do it.

2. Talk to a doctor. A lot of people–including me–make talking to a doctor the last step of this quest. In retrospect, talking to my doctor early on would have greatly simplified the whole process. Ask whether it would be safe for you to take T based on your other medical conditions, what the process would be to get a prescription, and whether you’ll need any referrals. This gives you a timeline and clear series of steps if/when you decide to move forward with testosterone. If your country uses a structured clinic system, find out what is required to qualify for treatment and how long it takes to access hormones. This info will clear up a lot of the stressful questions that make this process such a challenge, such as, Will I be able to get a prescription? What tests will I need? How long will it take? How much will it cost? Do I need a new doctor? With that out of the way, you can focus on figuring out what you want and need.

3. What will you regret? Suppose you start testosterone tomorrow. Imagine yourself in 10 years. What might that person regret? Now, suppose you never take testosterone. Again, 10 years down the line, what might you regret? Nobody knows the future, but I found this a very helpful exercise. I realized that my greatest fear was never taking this opportunity, looking back and wishing I’d started T as a young guy. On the other hand, I couldn’t muster any real fear about, say, being perceived as a boring straight guy or not trying harder to live as a butch. (I tried as hard as I could.) Look into your heart; there may be helpful answers waiting there for you.

4. Do you want the whole package? Testosterone is a gamble. Each person responds differently based on dosage, genetics, length of treatment, and possibly magic. Think carefully about the effects of T, and ask yourself whether you are open to the whole range of possibilities or really only want some of the outcomes. The changes can happen to varying degrees and in different combinations. You might go in imagining yourself with a deep voice, toned muscles, and smooth skin, and wind up a chubby tenor covered in hair from head to toe–or vise versa. A lower dose will cause subtler and slower shifts, maybe no visible changes at all. But basically there are no guarantees, except that you’ll generally move towards more male-typical traits. Are you looking for the whole experience, external and internal? Or are there just a few specific changes that you want? If, for example, you want a more masculine physique and voice, and are wary of any other changes, you might want to experiment with diet, exercise and voice coaching before you try hormone therapy.

5. Seek guidance from a higher power. With a decision this big, it’s a good idea to turn to whatever sources of wisdom you find meaningful. Does your culture have traditions for gaining insight, beginning a journey or making a hard decision? Do you find meaning in prayer or meditation? Some places you might turn include scripture, religious leaders, faith healers, wise friends or family members, mentors and mental health professionals. This could take many forms depending on your beliefs and culture. A few ideas to get you thinking: get your Tarot cards read, set aside a day to meditate on the question, ask God for help, ask for the answer to come in a dream, create visual art exploring your feelings, go hiking or camping alone. The point is, you probably need to get outside of your mind to find a real answer. Find a way to access higher wisdom or deeper insight that works for you. Whatever resources you have, call on them now.

6. Whatever you do, do it for you. You’re probably facing opinions and pressure everywhere you look. Transitioning is taboo, so you’re probably feeling some pressure not to modify your body, to make it work in your assigned gender (possibly for the sake of feminism, the children, or something), and/or not to do something “artificial” or “unnatural.” On the flip-side, there’s also a strong norm that if you’re going to transition, you better transition to be a normative man or woman, including hormones and surgery. So you’re probably also feeling some pressure to follow a certain path through transition, including a dose of testosterone that will put you in the typical male range. It’s almost impossible to think clearly in this hurricane of social sanction. But, as much as you’re able, try to sort out your own needs and preferences, and make your choices from a place of self-love. Whether you decide to take testosterone or not, do it for you.

7. Go for it. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and go with your best guess. You may find that you’ve taken plenty of time to think, done thorough research, and reflected deeply on the question, and you’re still not sure what you want. Make an educated guess and move forward, knowing you can change course if needed. If you’ve spent a year or five reflecting and you just can’t stop thinking about testosterone, you’re probably going to have to try it yourself to be satisfied. Let your fears slow you down and make you careful. But don’t let your fears paralyze or stifle you. It’s okay to venture into the unknown. In fact, it’s wonderful.

What questions do you have about testosterone therapy? For those who have been on T, how did you make your decision? What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

Because You Exist

And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold–very good!
Genesis 1:31

To the ones built a little different
Who know the taste of pillowcases soaked in saltwater
Who know the desperation of disappointed rage
That makes us wonder whether we should bother to live

Know that your difference is not meaningless
You are a sacred variation
The indigo glow of twilight
The world would be less beautiful without you

To the ones built a little different
Who’ve been called false, wrong, and so many other names
Know that your true name is Holy Vessel
And your true sound sings

Discard the rejection of confused beings
Hold the affirmation of this:
You exist
The Creator bestows no greater compliment

5 Tips For Trans People Looking For Love

Ah, romantic love, the source of so much joy and so much misery. For many trans people, seeking a partner isn’t just hard–it’s completely baffling. I see this confusion crop up over and over in our community. As a trans dude who lucked into a great relationship, I thought I’d offer a few pointers for trans people trying to figure out where to even start.

Sweetheart cushion made as a love token by a sailor, circa 1900. Source.

1. Safety first. Sadly, this needs to be said, as I’m sure you’re aware. Dating can be dangerous for trans people. Be choosy about the who, how and when of disclosing your trans status. You may want to gauge their views on trans people, like by mentioning a trans celebrity or TV character (something we can actually do now!). Tell loved ones where you are going and when you’ll be back. Trust your gut. It’s a good idea to disclose as early as possible in a new relationship. Choose a place where you know you’ll be safe, like in a restaurant or at your place when your roommates or family are in the next room.

2. Consider other trans people. The late, great Matt Kailey used to say this often in his advice column. Many trans people find love with another trans person. Obviously, other trans people are a lot more likely than the average to be informed about your identity and experiences, open-minded about your body, and willing to see you as more than your trans status. Given our glorious diversity, whatever you’re into, there are probably some trans people who’ve got it. And you’re guaranteed to have something in common.

3. Bi and queer folks may be your best bet. I’ve noticed that a lot of trans people find partners who identify as bi or queer, including yours truly. It’s no coincidence. Bi and queer people, both trans and cis, are generally open to a range of body types and gender expressions. They’re therefore less likely to see trans people as a threat to their own identities. I also think there’s something about the shared experience of being oft-ignored members of the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, there are plenty of gay, lesbian, straight and other people who are not transphobic and would be happy to date you. Nonetheless, bi and queer people can be a good place to start.

4. Love yourself. Ok, not to get super corny here, but it’s true–loving yourself is so important. As trans people, self-acceptance and love are often challenging. Whether you’re partnered or single, loving yourself is the foundation of bliss, in relationships and every other part of life. Some ways to get started with self-love include surrounding yourself with supportive people and doing one thing each day just to be kind to yourself. When you’re getting ready in the morning, you can look at yourself in the mirror, smile, and say “I love you.” You will feel really silly, but seriously, it helps. When you’re rooted in self-love, you can enjoy the single life, and you’ll be equipped to know a good thing when it comes. Plus, the confidence and positivity that come with self-love are extremely attractive.

5. Hold out for the real thing. Don’t spend years of your life with someone just because they show you a minimum of decency and are willing to use the right pronouns (and don’t even get me started on people who don’t meet that low bar). You deserve a great relationship with someone who shares your values and really gets you–a mutual partnership where you can love and be loved, challenge and be challenged. It’s the real deal when you feel deeply respected and the relationship helps both people to grow. Don’t settle for less. You’re worth it.

Readers–what advice do you have for trans people who are seeking that special someone? Please also feel free to ask questions and share stories about dating while trans.