The Last Loose Threads

I finally got my birth certificate amended. I’d been putting off dealing with it and finally sent in the papers a couple weeks ago. It arrived in the mail, shiny and official. I was born in Massachusetts, and I’d read online that I could expect a birth certificate with my birth name and assigned sex crossed out, and the correct name and sex written in. But when it came it was complete and perfect, just my name and the word male, no nonsense. Opening that envelope had a real thud of finality to it–the very last piece of paper to get changed.

I’m jumping directly into another legal transition of sorts and changing my name again. Alma and I have put a lot of thought into what to do with our last names now that we are married. I’ve decided to take hers. I’m pretty excited about it. I really wanted us to share a name; she is very attached to hers, and I’m not that attached to mine; and we’re not that into hyphenation for a few reasons. Any why shouldn’t a guy take his wife’s name?

So soon I will have changed every single name from what I was born with–first, middle, and last. I’ve managed to keep the same initials, SLB. Taking her name also allows me to make a gesture of cultural solidarity, as she has a very ethnically marked name. She’s converting to Judaism; taking her name is kinda as close as I can get to “converting” to be Chicano.

I’m finally getting ready to seriously pursue a hysterectomy. It’s been a long emotional process–I hope to give it a proper treatment in a post soon. At this point, I feel at ease with my body and my circumstances, and I want the surgery. I’m hoping to get it this summer.

Between these things I’m feeling like my transition is really ending, maybe over. My paperwork is all changed; I’m getting ready for my last surgery; the big changes in my life now aren’t about my transition; shame’s appearances get rarer and rarer. It’s a good feeling, a spacious absence, very quiet.

Married

We eloped! This is the reason for the relative quiet here of late. We had a short and sweet courthouse ceremony last Friday. It was a bit of a dare that neither of us would back down from. We had a magical experience and are extremely excited. We are planning to do a religious ceremony and big family bash in about a year.

Here are a few photos from our weekend.

We consider it good luck.

In addition to kissing we hugged and high-fived.

Yes, we were both wearing Doc Martens.

One of many beautiful sights from our getaway.

One of many beautiful sights from our getaway.

Against Asking “Male or Female?”

I’ve written before about my evolving relationship with my post-transition body. Last night while meditating naked (don’t knock it til you try it), I found myself staring at my junk, which is pretty typical. And suddenly I wondered, why the staring? What am I looking for? In an instant I realized that I am looking at my penis to confirm that I am a man. I am looking to my body to validate my transition, to prove I really am a guy, like I still need to convince a skeptical mother and bigoted society that my transition is right.

I began to laugh then, because, of course, my dick cannot do that. Of course my genitals don’t determine or validate my gender! Hello, I’m trans, I supposedly know this.

Yet once my body became congruent with my lived sense of self, I reverted to hegemonic thinking and demanded that my dick demonstrate my manhood. This left me scrutinizing my body for proof of maleness and any sign of femaleness. And this, in turn, left me rather uneasy and unhappy, blocking my ability to just be in my body.

Seeing this, I let go completely of asking the question “Male or female?” about my body. There was a sense of space and relief, like the refreshing burst of silence when a constant hum suddenly stops. Maybe for the first time in my life, I was inhabiting my body, naked, without subtly trying to categorize myself as male or female.

I saw much more fully then, like a fog on my glasses clearing away. And oddly enough, my body became more comfortably male to me than ever before. It was a relaxed, natural masculinity, with a violet aura of sacred queerness. I felt I was seeing my body as someone else might see it, just a body without the screen of pain and memory. I sat in an easy confidence, suddenly liberated from a terrible hunger that had been siphoning away my strength. My body is male, yes, and trans too, and above all, human and very ordinary, soft and olive and animal, covered in fuzz, not problematic in any way.

We’ve been taught to pose the question “Male or female?” constantly. It’s a core process of our society, the rigid sorting of life into these two constructed poles. As gender-variant people, we know this, and we see the violence it does. Yet it is all too easy to do the very same thing to ourselves, whatever our identity or transition status. It’s the path of least resistance, a conditioned habit deeply ingrained, a reflex we don’t even know we have. We ask and ask and ask, aching for an answer that will make us feel okay. The messages we get about ourselves hurt so bad, we feel like we need to hear the right answer or we will never be alright.

But the asking itself is the problem. The more we ask, the more we look for a definitive category that confirms our sense of self, the worse we feel, and the farther we get from our bodies, our lives and our truth.

We can only see ourselves when we look with eyes unclouded by judgment. We can only feel ourselves when we sense with hearts unburdened by need. Compulsively categorizing the world in terms of a male/female dichotomy undermines our ability to actually perceive. If we need some insight to navigate the field of gender, there are other questions we can ask.

So as soon as you can, just drop the question. Don’t answer it, don’t even disagree with it. Just let it go, like a dandelion seed on its parachute in the wind.

You’ll be glad you did.

Great Surprise

The crocuses are blooming. The first taste of springtime perfumes the air. Winds come to gather the last leaves left by autumn. They whisper in the breeze, beckoning.

I can’t wait for spring to come, a classmate told me. It’s here! I replied, and it is. Nascent, unfolding, the beginning of wings. Doves weave their nests in naked trees. Tiny yellow blossoms poke out of the litter of dry leaves, pushing the dirt up around them.

Just two weeks ago I wandered with a bittersweet heart, the heavy, nostalgic yearning for spring. Deliver us from the biting wind of winter. Wrap me in sunlight. I want to drink it.

Now spring is here and net yet here. Palpable in the faces of the little flowers, still rare, that dot the campus in overlooked places. Crocus, iris, daffodil. It’s not spring yet, but the whole glory of the season is somehow contained in this moment where one season gives way to another. Like the latent image on film exposed and not yet developed, springtime is present, complete, and invisible. It’s just starting to appear, mysteriously fully formed, encircled by the secret movements of light and wind.

We only become what we always were. The dawning of truer, freer selves is like the unfolding of spring. We reveal what was foretold before forms were given names and attributes.

How can we become what we are already? Paradox of this domain of where creatures move in four dimensions. We are casting off chains and clearing airways. Like the flower within the bud, we are ready to emerge.

I never wanted to be male
I wanted to be myself
To great surprise again discover
Today I am a man

Onionskin Heart

[A more personal post.]

I’m in grad school studying mental health counseling. Six weeks ago I started seeing clients for the first time. The experience has been amazing, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, overwhelming, exhausting… Basically it’s kicking my ass.

A soldier wears a gas mask while peeling onions. I guess that’s one way to avoid shedding a tear. Source.

I am confused and tired. It is strange to be suddenly doing the work for real, after a year and half of training. I feel a bit like an impostor, of course. I find myself acutely aware of my age, feeling both painfully young and oddly grown up. It’s the feeling I like to think of as “7th grade all over again.” The grade/age varies a lot by school system, but you know when you go from being the biggest kid at primary school to one of the youngest and smallest at secondary school? I feel like that, or like the first time you venture into the deep end of the pool. I’m treading water, but I can’t put my toes down anymore. Shit got real.

I absolutely love working with my clients. It’s fascinating, exciting, moving, captivating. I really enjoy it. I find myself extremely awake and present during the sessions. There have been times I was totally lost, and times when we connected and some real work got done. My biggest fear right now is, will I ever develop the endurance do this shit 40 hours a week without keeling over?

I have a wonderful, very committed supervisor who has been giving me great feedback. I am learning to breathe deeply and not rush the process. Interestingly, she pointed out that I seem more openhearted with my female than my male clients. I still carry a lot of “boys don’t cry” baggage and it gets between me and deep empathy with another man.

Sometimes I can observe myself swallowing an emotion in real time. It is so weird; the reflex to swallow, repress, so powerful, and then it’s gone. Not really gone, but no longer accessible, bound to come back later. One of the stranger times: Alma and I watched the very important and heartbreaking film Broken Rainbow. I got through the whole thing without crying, though it hurt. Then a year later, we were discussing the movie one night, and I just burst into tears, absolutely no warning. It felt like the very same tears I swallowed in the first place. I am still letting go of all my backlogged tears.

Flashes of memories of learning not to feel: my father’s exhortations of toughen up, determination, learn the difference between pain and discomfort, stop crying. I think my dad picked up on my masculinity and he trained me the best way he knew how. He taught me that you have to be tough or the world will destroy you. As a young gender-variant person, I keyed into messages of masculinity with a secret intensity, clinging to them for dear life. Onionskin heart, I dismantle one wall and I find another.

My world is changing. It essential to face the world with an open heart. Love is far more powerful than fear. The more I open to the world, the friendlier the world becomes. Strange how my family has changed. What would be dad be like if he were raising me now? Now that he seems so much less anxious and reads the Tao Te Ching?

Brick by brick, I keep dismantling. I will not compromise love.

Should You Transition? 3 Tips For Gender Questioners

We’re not the only ones who go through metamorphosis. Maria Sibylla Merian, 1705. Thanks to Alma for pointing me to Merian’s work. Source.

Whether to undergo gender transition is a profound and challenging decision. It’s a question each gender-variant person has to answer for themself. As someone whose life has been transformed for the better by transition, I wanted to share a few ideas that might be useful to those wondering where to go next.

First, a reframe. In most cases the question is not so much, “Should I transition?” but rather “How should I transition?” In the broadest sense, transition is a process of personal growth and change in which we adjust our lives, self-expressions, bodies and social roles to foster a healthier, happier and more harmonious existence. The list of possible transition steps is endless, and no two transitions are exactly alike. For some folks, transition in any form is just not feasible due to safety concerns or other circumstances. At the same time, more and more people are finding ways to trade out gender dysphoria for gender joy.

If you are profoundly unhappy with your gender status, chances are you would benefit from some form of transition–that is to say, some kind of readjustment, internal and external, to relieve pain and nurture contentment. What might that adjustment look like for you? How do you figure out where to start, and where to stop?

1. Forget the narrative. This is easier said than done, but seriously, as much as you can, disregard the dominant transsexual narrative. You know the one I mean–the one where you came out at age 3, where you take a specific dose of specific hormones, where you have specific surgeries in a specific order, where you look and fuck a specific way post-transition, etc. This is just as important whether you are a trans woman or man pursuing a conventional transsexual transition or a nonbinary or otherwise gender-variant person charting a different path. The narrative was not created by trans people; it does not serve trans people; and it will pretty much make you feel like shit regardless of who you are.

You are going to feel inadequate, illegitimate, not trans enough, not man or woman enough, etc. You are probably feeling this already, and it is going to happen over and over again. This is part of being trans in an intensely transphobic world. Recognize these thoughts and feelings for what they are: internalized transphobia. Don’t let them run your life.

2. Get playful. Gender questioning feels like a very serious business, and in many ways, it certainly is. These are life and death issues, after all. Yet when we labor under the weight of this great seriousness, we severely limit ourselves. It’s like trying to learn to swim with a bag of bricks on your back.

Instead, to whatever degree you’re able, take a playful approach to your gender journey. Somber, high-stakes, stressed-out struggling is no way to pursue happiness; it will only lead to more struggling. If we want to create conditions of ease, contentment, and harmony, we must begin to live that reality now.

What does gender playfulness look like? The specifics vary widely, but basically, you give yourself permission to explore, try things on and pursue what appeals to you in an open, low-stakes situation.

Say you’ve always wanted to wear panties or boxer briefs. You may agonize about what this means about you, what it indicates about your future surgeries and whether you’ll ever find love. That’s okay–given the cultural context, of course you feel that way.

You can also just buy the damn thing, put it on and see how it feels. You can do this without condemning yourself or attempting to predict the future. Just put the underwear on and sit there and notice how you feel. Then take it off. Then put it on. Then try one in a different color. Prance or strut around the room. Have fun with it.

Release your gender-variant inner child, who never got to run free and play properly. From a place of love and respect, let that kid run wild on the big open field of gender. Don’t build fences, chase them down or put a leash them. Let them play, trusting in their innate intelligence, like a wise parent who knows that the bumps and scrapes of youthful summers pose no serious danger. Then, see what happens.

3. Honor your responses. As gender diverse people, we have become experts in silencing, ignoring, repressing and mistreating ourselves. This has got to change if we are ever going to feel okay.

Learn to listen closely to yourself. Feel the subtle ripples of joy, shame, anxiety, and desire that move through you. Hear your body’s moans of pleasure and of misery; listen to the commentary of your chattering thoughts. Do this as you play with gender, as you go about your day, as people call you whatever pronoun, as you eat your lunch, do your job, etc. Notice when you feel scared, contracted, limited, and nauseous; notice when you feel relaxed, open, beautiful and whole.

All the information you need is already within you. Contained in the secret movements of your thoughts and emotions is everything you need to know to manifest your metamorphosis. The key is to start really listening to this information, and above all, to honor it. Let your heart and body be your guide. Follow the thread of joy with complete faithfulness.

Your own responses will tell you where to begin, where to move next, where to sit down and rest awhile, and where to call home. There is no other source of this wisdom. You must look within, and you must do so with a loving heart and an open mind.

Meditation is a wonderful tool for accessing the world of wisdom within you. Meditation has been a complete game-changer for my mental health and self-acceptance; it really helps me with internalized transphobia, dysphoria, and anxiety. If you don’t have a meditation practice, you might want to look into the contemplative wing of your tradition (if you’re religious), try secular mindfulness meditation or learn about other traditions.

Readers–what advice would you give to someone wondering whether and how to transition? For those who are questioning, where is your journey taking you today?

Forget About Gender

A moment of clarity recently. Sitting deeply in my body. Thought in the form of words, spontaneously.

I am a hermaphrodite. I have no idea why.

I laughed for a long time. I am baffled and I am whole.

I am letting go of the need to be as close as possible to the system’s ideal of a man. I am okay with my ambiguous body. I am proud to be a member of a secret tribe. I am comfortable moving through the world as a man. I am an undercover outlaw. It’s a condition of my life: very well.

I am a man. I see a man’s face in my mirror. Other people see a man when they see me, hear a man when they hear my voice. The best part about this is how little I care. Sometimes I feel a pleasant sense of affirmation and belonging; sometimes I feel the gnawing pangs exclusion and isolation. Both are okay. Most of the time, I just don’t think about it. What a goddamn relief. As Amy has said, the best part of alleviating dysphoria is forgetting about gender and just living.

I am not a man. Not because I am transsexual–because I am a soul. In my essence I am an open eye, perceiving, no content. In our deepest essence, no one is a man, woman, nonbinary person. I am a man, as much as anyone is, which is to say, superficially. Gender exists on the level of form; it’s about human bodies, human personalities, cultural lenses, social roles. Nothing wrong with that–it’s part of life. One part.

It’s good to do what we can to be genuine, to be at ease, to be ourselves, to enjoy life. But we don’t want a Pyrrhic victory in which we imprison ourselves in our bid to be free. So we need a right relationship with the project of self-discovery and self-expression.

The experience of being trans can potentially reveal what is transient and what is solid, what is real. This is a twofold realization. First, we realize who we are. We might be feminine, masculine, androgynous; we might be men, women, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, etc. It is healthy, courageous and invigorating to be honest with ourselves. We then begin a process of evolution and manifestation is which we express ourselves in the world. Beautiful. This is a very good thing.

But in itself, it’s incomplete. If we get trapped in a rigid idea of ourselves as our labels, we will be back in the box all over again, if perhaps a somewhat friendlier, roomier box than before transition. I have observed that trans men and women often run directly from the box of assigned gender to the box trying to fit in perfectly as the more suitable gender, trading a cage for a carpeted cage. (Not sure how this plays our for nonbinary people–let me know in the comments!)

This is what I did and it seems to be quite common. We get lost between competing false selves. After beginning medical transition, I became very hung-up about my gender, feeling a completely overwhelming desire to be gendered correctly by others and to be not one iota different from a cis man. It’s perfectly reasonable to try to express one’s gender and want others to recognize it. But the painful need to be seen, and, more troubling, to be the same, was actually rooted in transphobia. On some level, I accepted the bullshit line that being trans is inferior, that we are less real and less legitimate; I thought I needed to be as close to cis as possible in order to be okay. But I don’t. I just need to be me.

It is totally understandable that we try desperately to “pass”–our very lives depend on it, and assuming a person genuinely wants to live as a woman or a man, there’s no deceit involved, just the intense desire to express ourselves honestly at long last. The danger is getting stuck there. By getting stuck I don’t mean simply living as a particular gender–nothing wrong with that–but getting stuck in the belief that our very worthiness and even existence depend upon our gender.

We also need the second realization: what we are not. We are not our personal histories, our genders, or check-boxes on a form.

What are we? Deep, alive, mysterious. We are exactly how we’re supposed to be.

Here In The Shadow Of The Wall

I make my home right here, in the shadow of the wall. Mother of the desert, cover me with cactus fruit. Shaggy dog, wind-chimes, turquoise paint on wood. I find the secret place where waters gather. Coyotes, crickets, white flowers that bloom in the moonlight.

Call me and I will come to you.

She chose me and left a sacred scar on my soul. I am her peaceful warrior. The sons and daughters of the desert are my own.

Remember the forgotten people.

Outcast, misfit, don’t cry over spilled fortune. Don’t linger long at the gates of the city, watching the people who live their little lives between the walls. Don’t be jealous of their colorful costumes and precious security. Leave them to their small minds. Do not envy delusion.

Be a creature of the desert forest. Wild and alive. Savor all that is given to you.

You among all the others were chosen for this strange purpose. We are the people of the underbelly. Cry your wanderer’s tears. Smile your outlaw grin.

Memorize the mountains. Find gleaming garnets scattered in the dust. The treasures are wild and numberless.

Mother of the desert, pull the cactus needles from my skin. Kiss the tiny wounds, uncountable.

Cold air, pounding heart. Run through the hills by starlight.

Cut the fences.

Card-Carrying Transsexual

I am post-transition. It now seems rather impossible that I was once viewed as a girl. In the steady rhythm of a daily life in which dysphoria casts no shadow, things start to seem very solid, real, definitive, sensible. Of course I am a man.

And now I feel a strange, subtle weight upon my shoulders, something most unfamiliar: legitimacy. I am the legitimate transsexual, if you’ll permit such a paradox. Here I am: thoroughly, obviously male, confusing no one; comfortably masculine and heterosexual; expert-tested and little old lady-approved. I am the kind of transsexual you can take home for dinner: invisible.

Now that I have arrived on the far shore, shapeshifted once and ceased shifting, it all seems obvious, credible, inevitable. My transition, because it appears so complete, so, dare I say, natural, colors my whole life, past/present/future. The strangest bit is the way transition rewrites the past.

Two levels here. One, I appreciate: my secret truth, the burden I carried, is no longer my silent curse. Instead it is an open fact, and my retelling of my childhood now reflects that. As it should be. I didn’t grow up a girl; I grew up a masculine, gender-nonconforming kid deeply confused by the world’s insistence that I was a girl. The secret subjective has been brought forward.

The other level: very strange: the “true transsexual” narrative has been bequeathed to me, an inheritance, like a consolation prize from society. Now it appears that I always knew I was a trans man, that the signs were indisputable, that it was all very straightforward. I appear to fit the all-important narrative, the only story they’ve allowed us.

Hiroshige, Travelers surprised by sudden rain. Source.

I first realized this was happening when my counselor wrote me a letter for top surgery. She helpfully explained that I had a stable male identity from the age of 3. True trans narrative jackpot! I laughed out loud when I read it, because it is, well…not false, but not exactly true, either.

What I told her was that I lived under a strange fog of unhappiness from the time I was in preschool; that I had a deep, foreboding sense that I was not like other people; that I had a vague awareness that I was somehow a failure of a girl; and that, in retrospect, I can trace my many years of childhood unhappiness to gender dysphoria. But that’s a bit fuzzy and hard to explain. She cleaned my life up for me.

Missing were my desperate bids for girlhood, my deeply meaningful experience of living as a butch, my stubborn suspicion of the gender system, the subtle, spiritual quality of my masculinity, the dance, the very dance itself, the essence of all of it. Poof, gone. Replaced with a reassuring and convenient story. No more mystery. Like it was all obvious from the start. Nothing to see here, folks.

I am grateful–she knew the letter was a bullshit requirement for surgery, and she wanted to ensure I got what I needed. But how strange, how damn strange, to see the narrative reproduced and imposed in real time.

The narrative is not for our benefit. It helps the cis majority sleep at night. If I could have once appeared to be a girl, and today be so clearly a man, what the fuck does that say about the reality of gender? What does–what might–that say about other people’s genders? This is a terrifying prospect for those who’ve lived their whole lives in the security of the gated city. Better to smooth things over, keep it simple, say it was always clear, like anyone could’ve taken one look at me and spotted one of those people. That way, no one else has to worry about themselves, their loved ones, their children; no one need contemplate that horror of horrors, one of us in their own midst. Perhaps under their own roof, sleeping in their bed, in their own skin.

Sometimes the narrative divides us. I now experience the weight of legitimacy in my interactions with other trans people, in person and online. People early in transition, people questioning their genders, people who don’t seem to fit the narrow narrative for whatever reason, sometimes seem to regard me with wonderment or adopt a slight crouch of defensiveness. Sometimes it seems like I am the real deal, a card-carrying certified transsexual, and other people might be amazed (“How do I get that?”) or irritated (“Conformist.”) or afraid (“Am I real enough?”).

It’s a surreal experience, because I have been to all those places. I have been completely certain that I could never fit the narrow transsexual mold. I have believed that I would never change my body because of my feminist principles, and felt a strange mix of envy and betrayal towards those who do. I have felt awkward, ambiguous and afraid in the presence of post-transition men, as if witnessing some grand achievement. I have been sure I would never be one of them, and wanted to be one them, and not wanted to be. I have jumped through the gatekeeping hoops to get the care I needed. I have lied and oversimplified my story to professionals to ensure access. I have said, “I can’t be transsexual because…” I have said I would always identify as queer, stopped considering myself queer at all, and starting calling myself queer again. I have lived in the badlands between the sexes. I have transitioned. I have moved through the world in the form of a man. I have been the same person all along.

So let it be said: I am a card-carrying true transsexual, and I don’t fit the narrative, either. I played with Legos and I played with baby dolls; I dressed up in my father’s clothing and I dressed up as a princess; I kissed girls and I kissed boys; I struggled mightily with my gender identity; I never thought I would actually transition, or that it would all fit together so perfectly. I tried to express what I was feeling, but it took me many, many years to find the words say it.

I always knew I was trans, and I had no idea at all. The narrative can only be true after the fact.

Legitimacy doesn’t love you, respect you, or make you whole. Legitimacy provides a minimum of safety. Legitimacy is a raincoat. If you’re getting soaked, cover yourself up, if you can. Don’t mistake access to rain-gear for your own essential worthiness, for your right to live, for who you are.

And when the weather changes, take the raincoat off again.