Gratitude and Grace

May has been an interesting month so far. This week has been particularly full of surprises:

  • I woke up feeling pretty miserable last Thursday; when I tried to say I’d work from home the second half of the day, my boss convinced me to take it easy and actually rest so I could recover. I wound up taking Friday off, too, and by Saturday I finally felt like a human being again. I made good use of my convalescence, and got a ton of knitting done for our friends’ baby who’s due to join us in this great wide world in about a week.
  • Sunday night we wound up at a concert at a super Irish pub (by which I mean probably 80% of the patrons were from Ireland, as were the folks behind the bar).
    • Somewhere along the line my partner got to talking with a woman at the bar who informed him that her kid had just recently come out as trans. We didn’t hear much of the concert (both because it was loud in the bar and because we were distracted), but spent the whole evening talking with this woman and her friend (a rather drunk Irishman who laughed a lot), who bought us several rounds. (I think I had more to drink Sunday night than I’ve had in the past two months put together…)
    • I can be a pretty cynical person a lot of the time, but I found myself telling this woman repeatedly that her kid was going to be okay, because progress is happening everywhere. And this kid is just going off to college – just imagine how much farther along we could be by the time they’re done!
    • Rather remarkably, I woke up feeling pretty great on Monday.
  • Tuesday night after songwriting class, I was invited out for wings and drinks by some of the other guys in the class. It was the first time in my life I had the experience of just being “one of the guys” in a non-queer context. It was a little weird, and pretty wonderful.

Which is all to say that life is good, and I have a lot to think about and a lot to be grateful for. I’m a seriously lucky guy.

Transition, Present Tense

I was struggling to find a topic for the blog today, and then I remembered a conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago that I had thought would be a great topic for a post. (Thanks, KW!)

My friend asked me if I thought of “transition” as a past tense verb for myself, here in this stage when I have the ability to grow awesome sideburns and am read more and more frequently as male. The immediate answer was a resounding, “No!” There are still things I’m waiting for, like the arrival of a full beard, and concrete steps I still want to take in terms of physical transition at some point in the future, like top surgery. I am still very much “transitioning” – present progressive tense, dynamic and ever-evolving.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized…I don’t believe that “transition” will ever be a past tense verb for me. I think I will always be evolving and learning, shifting and growing. What allows me to feel comfortable in my body today might not tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or five or ten years from now. I am transgender, and queer, and those things won’t change…but precisely what those words mean to me just might.

It’s entirely possible that this outlook is a product of where I’m at in life. The six years that have passed since I took my first tentative steps out of the closet have been packed with change. Every six months or so has brought with it another world-shattering revelation. Every time I think things have slowed down and I have achieved equilibrium, something else comes up. It’s been quite a wild ride, though in retrospect I wouldn’t give up those big revelations for the world – I’m so much happier now. Still, it’s hard, from my current vantage point, to believe that things will ever really slow down. I could very well be wrong. This is another thing the past six years have taught me – I do not know everything about anything, including myself. There’s always something more to learn.

In any case, this is where I am for the moment – in transition, present tense.

March Mayhem

I am, at the core, a homebody. Given the choice, I could spend days on end in my house, curled up with books, movies, and knitting (although if I’m forced to stay in my house due to illness, injury, or inclement weather, I do go a little stir crazy). There are a number of other personality traits at play here – I am an introvert, and have a tendency toward laziness. But mostly, I just really love being in my own space.

This aspect of who I am is often at war with another part of me – the one that wants to do ALL THE THINGS. This month, this latter part appears to be winning.

As of this week, aside from my usual 37.5 hours of work, I will have, on a weekly basis:

  • Guitar classes Monday evenings, and an approximate 10:45pm return home,
  • Songwriting classes Tuesday evenings, arriving home around 11pm,
  • My volunteer gig at the Old Town School of Folk Music‘s Resource Center Wednesday evenings, arriving home around 10:30pm, and
  • Knit Night at Windy Knitty Thursday evenings, arriving home anywhere between 9:15 and 10pm.

On top of all of this, I decided this week to start getting up at 5:30am each morning and attempt to do some sort of home workout – Pilates, weights, stretches, that sort of thing. I fully believe that “health” is a pretty nebulous concept, and it’s absolutely not my goal to hit some arbitrary numeric value that a doctor will deem “healthy”. However, I am increasingly frustrated with how quickly I tire out, how hard it is for me to keep up with people, and how frequently my back goes out due to a lack of core strength. I also know from past experience that being more physically active is better for my mental health. So, I’m easing into increased activity.

I also need to work practicing guitar and writing a song into each week. Plus the things that need to get done around the house.

I will be honest: last week I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, in light of the battle I was having with DepressedBrain. I ended up needing to leave the office early on Friday to avoid having a total meltdown at work. Thankfully, Friday evening brought with it the arrival of a new binder, which helped to mitigate some of the dysphoria that was making a significant contribution to DepressedBrain. (The binder, by the way, was ordered from these guys and is amazing – equivalent binding power to an Underworks 997, but replacing the fear of permanent ribcage damage (which was the reason I had to switch to the much less effective 982 a while back) with something so comfortable I almost forget I’m wearing it – and may warrant an extra blog post for a review at some point in the near future.)

I was feeling rather better Monday morning, but I have to admit, I still didn’t really believe I was going to be able to handle this schedule until shortly before I started writing this post yesterday afternoon. I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got home Monday and Tuesday, and yesterday I had a hell of a time getting myself out of bed. As the day wore on, I was pretty sleepy, but I think I hit the point where I started to remember how to work through the fatigue. I am convinced that, eventually, being more active will mean that I will have more energy. I just need to stick with it long enough.

Part of me continues to wonder what on earth I’ve gotten myself into. But mostly, I’m feeling optimistic. And that’s a nice change from the past few weeks.

Never Saw It Coming

I’ve known that I was Bipolar for close to six years now. In those six years, my cycles have typically followed a fairly predictable pattern. I’ve rarely jumped with no warning from one end of emotion to the other: usually, there’s a ramping up or a sliding down that happens and warns me of what’s coming.

I don’t know if it’s because there were sad things that happened while I was manic, which made things weird, or if it really was just very sudden, but that wasn’t how this most recent turn to DepressedBrain went. There was no easing my way down into darkness. I didn’t see it coming. It hid just out of sight and jumped out at me from behind a corner and suddenly, out of what felt like nowhere, I’ve found myself at one of the lowest points I’ve hit in the past year or more.

I wrote last week about the fact that I’ve recently started battling with body-related dysphoria for the first time. I’ve spent the past week trying to deconstruct what that means for me, what it feels like, why it’s so hard for me to figure out how to work around it. I don’t have any easy answers, but these are the best words I’ve found for it so far: after I started on testosterone and my body started changing, I experienced a period of time where I felt more comfortable than I ever had before in my skin – like I fit in my body for the first time that I could remember. There was this sense of wholeness, and rightness, to it. But now dysphoria has swooped in, and I’m back to feeling fractured: it’s not so much that I hate my body, but that it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. It doesn’t fit me anymore. And that’s maddening and heart-wrenching, particularly after having experienced something better for a while. I don’t really know what to do with it.

I wonder if, maybe, the best thing I can do is take my focus off myself and onto other people. My sister was in town last weekend. (We don’t share any genetic material, but many years of shared experiences. Her family of origin treats her in ways no person should ever be treated, and I’ve had my own frustrations with my family of origin, so we’ve pieced together families of our own, and they include each other.) Neither she nor I nor my partner felt particularly up to venturing out of the apartment and into the cold (or for a host of other reasons), so the weekend consisted of a lot of me cooking a lot of good food and all of us sitting in the same space reading books and reminiscing. I was reminded how fulfilling it is for me when I am able to create a safe space for someone I love. Being a host stresses me out to some extent, because I always worry that I’m not being entertaining enough. But knowing that I am creating a space where we can all be ourselves mitigates that stress to some extent, particularly when I’m taking care of someone who I know has too few safe spaces in their life elsewhere.

I may not know how to take good care of myself in this moment, but at least I can still take care of other people. It’s not a long-term solution (or, really, even a solution at all), but it feels like it’s helping.

My Brain is Unpredictable

My brain is unpredictable. This is nothing new. I am Bipolar, and have been aware of that fact for almost six years. I have navigating my way through unexpected brainspace down to a fine science.

In the past week, though, my brain threw me for a loop: this week, I was unexpectedly visited by the dysphoria monster.

I should have known it was coming. I mean, I’m a trans guy. It had to happen eventually.

It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with dysphoria. Not entirely. But my whole previous experience with dysphoria was centered around my voice, and how uncomfortable that made me, and with the introduction of testosterone into my system, that faded into the background.

No, this is a new experience. I knew I was incredibly lucky, up to this point, to not have experienced a great deal of body-related dysphoria. I’ve seen many people near and dear to me go through it, and was grateful to have dodged that bullet. It seems, though, that my relationship with my body is changing.

On the one hand, I’ve reached a point where, for the first time in my life, I actually like myself. I’ve gone from loathing to tolerating to feeling benevolently indifferent to actually liking who I am as a person the majority of the time.

On the other hand, I’m finding myself increasingly anxious about how I’m perceived by the rest of the world, particularly because of certain realities about my anatomy.

I bind my chest pretty much every day (unless I’m not leaving the house, and even then, I might). But I can’t wear binders that are especially tight, because I have an enormous ribcage, and the tighter the binder, the more my ribs hurt, and the more I’m at risk for causing myself some serious medical problems. Lately, I’ve felt like the binder I have that I was satisfied with a couple of months ago just isn’t cutting it anymore: every day I’m more conscious of the fact that I often look like a butch lesbian with sideburns. (Which is not to say anything against butch lesbians – I think they’re delightful – I’m just not one of them. I’m not a lesbian at all. I’m a [very] queer man.)

Before I started pursuing HRT, I went over the course of about a month from being reasonably okay with the fact that the world was insisting on seeing me as a woman to having daily panic attacks because I was terrified that no one would ever see me as anything else. I haven’t gotten back to the point of panic attacks, but I’m worried that it could be lurking right around the corner.

My brain hasn’t been too bad a place to live in for a while now. I don’t love that I’m going to have to relearn some coping mechanisms that I’ve let slide since the last time I had to wrestle regularly with myself. But I guess that’s all part of life in transition.

Confessions of a Storyteller

I’ve always loved books.

There is a video, somewhere, of me at age two, sitting on the floor, surrounded by what was probably the majority of the books that usually lived on my bookshelf, holding one upside down in my chubby little hands as I looked at the camera and declared (in the present tense), “I read!” several times before launching into a story that I’m certain made sense in my head but was entirely incomprehensible out of it.

I still remember the moment when I actually did read for the first time. I was three years old, in my parents’ bathroom, studying the pages of Green Eggs and Ham, and as I looked at the book, suddenly the sound of the word in my head (I had the book memorized) connected with the letters on the page, and I realized I was reading. It was magic, and I was hooked.

I was the child who broke the heart of more than one teacher who was forced to tell me to stop reading, because I was also the child who would inexpertly try to hide whatever book I was currently reading behind the textbook I was supposed to be studying in an effort to get through a few more pages during class. I never had a huge number of friends at school, but that rarely bothered me. I had a huge, active imagination, and books were the catalyst through which I could visit exciting new worlds.

Really, I’ve just always loved stories.

I knew, even as a child, that stories had the power to make otherwise inscrutable concepts accessible, to create a shift in perspective, to bring laughter into dark and dismal places. As an adult, I am even more impressed by the power that stories have to effect change. Particularly as a queer, transgender adult whose life doesn’t fit nicely into the generally accepted queer, transgender narratives (“I knew I was gay in kindergarten!” or “I knew I was trans when I was three years old!” – not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with these narratives)…I am increasingly convinced that it is imperative that those of us whose stories differ from the “mainstream” of queer culture tell those stories, because as more of us claim our own narratives, fewer of us feel alone.

I’ve been telling my story in bits and pieces for years – I took my first fumbling steps out of the closet almost six years ago, and have used storytelling as a means to process my personal evolution. However, last week I received a request from a family member for a narrative of my journey from straight, cisgender woman to queer, transgender man, and I realized for the first time that I have never actually written it all down in one place. (Granted, the story is ever-changing, and there will never be one complete account. But it had never crossed my mind that I’ve been working exclusively in vignettes, capturing a moment here and there, and never a longer story arc.)

So over the weekend and into the beginning of this week I’ve been writing it all down. As I am writing this Wednesday morning, I have more than 3,200 words…and while I have the bulk of the major events of the past six years down, it is still far from complete. It doesn’t include many of the vignettes I’m sure I’ve written down before – like coming out to my best friend from college when I had the world’s biggest crush on her, or how I started identifying as a gentleman years before I ever identified as transgender or genderqueer, or what it felt like the first time a stranger called me “sir” (which also happened well before I identified as anything other than cisgender).

I’m an inveterate storyteller with a story so full of plot twists that I’m having trouble telling it in a way that is both coherent and complete. I suppose, if I have to pick one over the other, I’ll go with coherence. (Choosing coherence over completeness will also increase my chances of getting this sent out within the week, like I promised.) Still, now I feel like, at some point in the near future, I need to at least try to get a (mostly) complete narrative down as well, even if it’s only for me. Particularly as I move into the strange new world of male privilege, I don’t ever want to forget where I’ve come from.

Adventures in Self-Advocacy

It’s been an interesting week.

On Tuesday, as I was waiting outside my office for the bus, one of my coworkers called a goodbye to me as she crossed the street: “See you later, Alexis!”*

There was a pause, then: “Alyx! Alyx.”

Thankfully, at that point traffic picked up, and I didn’t feel like I needed to respond with more than a casual wave. But as her words slowly sunk in, I found myself more and more upset. This was not the first time I’d been misgendered by this coworker. She routinely refers to me as “she,” and while she usually corrects herself, it’s still immensely frustrating. Had I seen another trans person in the same situation, I would have spoken up a long time ago. But self-advocacy is hard, and I have, historically, been extraordinarily bad at it.

Being called the wrong name, though, crossed a line. Something in my head snapped, and I realized that I had to do something. My inner drive to avoid drama was finally overtaken by my desire to be treated with respect.

So I emailed my manager and direct supervisor, and told them what had happened, and asked them what they thought I should do. They were both extremely supportive and handled the whole situation better than I could have hoped for: they encouraged me to contact the individual in question directly about the problem behavior, offered their support in any way, and pointed out that HR needed to be alerted to the issue, even if I was able to resolve it with direct communication.

I asked if they thought it would be okay to address the issue in an email to this coworker, since I express myself best in writing. My manager responded that he thought she would be least intimidated by a face-to-face conversation, slightly more by an email, and more still by a moderated conversation, but that my comfort was the primary concern. Her comfort was secondary, and he thought I should proceed in whatever way made the most sense to me.

So before I left work yesterday, I sent an email to my coworker, gently but firmly explaining that her behavior was hurtful and inappropriate and requesting that she henceforth put a concerted effort into using the correct name and pronouns.

And then I went and had coffee and debriefed with a former coworker, and chose to ignore my phone every time it buzzed to tell me I had a new text or email.

When I got home, I found a response waiting for me.

It wasn’t a great apology – it contained a lot of excuses. But it was still an apology, and I am going to try to take it in good faith as sincere. It’s a start, at least, and now I have a written record I can bring back to HR if the behavior continues.

Self-advocacy is hard. But my supervisor pointed out a very important aspect of it that I tend to forget: if I am being mistreated, it’s entirely possible someone else is being mistreated as well. I tend to have this twisted perspective that advocating for myself is a sign of selfishness on my part (though I wouldn’t say that about anyone else’s self-advocacy). But it’s not. By speaking up, I’m not just speaking up for myself; I’m speaking up for anyone else who might find themselves in the same situation in at present or in the future but who might not have a voice. I have an incredible support network and a host of resources at my disposal. If someone has to be the sacrificial lamb for the sake of transgender sensitivity education at my workplace, it might as well be me.

I don’t know what, if anything will come of all of this. I hope that my coworker will truly make an effort to change her behavior. I hope that HR will be open to the possibility of providing some sort of transgender sensitivity training (we’re a big Jewish organization, and while the vast majority of people have taken having a more-or-less-openly trans person on staff, I think it wouldn’t hurt). I hope that if my coworker’s behavior doesn’t change, HR will have my back as firmly as my manager and supervisor do. If I am placing myself in a position where I will find myself needing to educate people along the way, then I hope I can serve as a catalyst for positive change. I hope that, whatever happens, things are easier for the next trans person that comes along in the agency after me.

I may not feel brave, but I am choosing to be bold.


 

* This was problematic for multiple reasons: chiefly that I have only gone by Alyx at this job, and any names I may or may not have had prior to this job are irrelevant to my relationships with my coworkers, but also because I have never, at any time in my life, been an “Alexis.” This was a major assumption on her part, that she could deduce from my current name what name I may have gone by prior to transition.

Some Things Change; Some Stay the Same

It’s the first Thursday of November.

The first Thursday of November last year, I learned how to self-administer testosterone injections, and gave myself my first shot.

It’s been a year.

A year ago, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I was making the right choice. I was convinced, however, that I had to do something, and since starting HRT was suddenly an option that was open to me, I went for it.

And after a year, I have to say…I haven’t regretted it for an instant.

It’s not that I hated being a woman. I just…wasn’t particularly good at it. This body that I recreated with the help of hormones fits my soul in ways it never did before.

I am infinitely more comfortable and confident now. This doesn’t mean that I am comfortable and confident 100% of the time, but I waste much less energy on self-loathing than I used to.

The sound of my own voice rarely causes me to cringe anymore. On the best days, I love it. On the worst, I just realize that old speech patterns, just like any other habits, sometimes die hard.

I have an ever-increasing volume and distribution of facial hair. I realized this week that I have actually reached the point where I can shave in the morning and have stubble by the end of the work day. I’m sure there are men who find this annoying. I think it’s wonderful. And I’m learning to feel a sort of benevolence toward the hair sprouting pretty much everywhere else on my body. The hair on the top of my head may not be growing as quickly as it was…and it’s possible that I’m losing it more quickly than I used to. But I’m not any more afraid of balding than I ever was of going grey (which is to say, I’m pretty sure I can rock it however it plays out).

I’m still soft, and I have curves, but they’re distributed in some different places. My lower body is much more compact, where my upper body feels more solidly built. And for the first time since, well, the onset of my first round of puberty, really, my weight hasn’t fluctuated more than five pounds in the past year.

My Bipolar cycles have evened out to some extent. They’re still there, and still noticeable, certainly…but I have fewer days lost to feelings of madness, and it’s much rarer for me to feel like I’m out of control.

In a couple of weeks, I have a court hearing scheduled to legally change my name. I still have a few loose ends to figure out, but everything feels like it’s clicking into place.

I’ve been unspeakably lucky. I have a supportive partner, supportive friends and chosen family, and even a largely supportive work environment. I have dear friends on their own similar journeys who have not always been so fortunate, and I hope I never lose sight of how much of a privileged life I lead.

It’s been quite the ride, but I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Here’s to a year of adventure ahead!

Happy Anyway

I’m sick. I tried for a while to convince myself it was just fall allergies, and maybe it started that way. But it’s become evident in the last few days that I do, in fact, have a cold (which may turn into something even less fun today, since I got my flu shot yesterday).

On top of that, it’s been pretty overcast the past few days. Yesterday’s dreariness in particular made me acutely aware of how much my mood and general ability to be an adult are influenced by the weather. When it’s cloudy for more than about 24 hours, all I want to do is hide in a giant blanket nest and not come out again until it’s sunny.

But you know what?

I’m still pretty happy.

Because, really, life is pretty good. I might be feeling under the weather, but there are still reasons to smile:

Tomorrow is Halloween. It also marks three years since I first tried on the name Alyx and found that it fit. It fit so well that it was briefly terrifying, because I knew exactly what sort of precipice I was stepping over. But the terror quickly gave way, because it felt so…easy. Comfortable. Right. Pronouns may still be a weird thing for me to navigate, and I’m not always sure exactly what is going on with my relationship to my body, but my name? That’s mine. There are no questions there.

In a few weeks, I will legally become Alyxander. I will have an ID card that matches my actual identity. And HR now knows and has told me what they need from me to change things over in their systems. I have all of the prerequisite paperwork together; it’s just a matter of waiting, now. I’m nervous, but mostly, I’m excited.

And, though it’s an exceedingly silly thing, I bought aftershave for the first time this week. It smells kind of like it belongs to a curmudgeonly old man, and I love it. This may be the thing that pushes me into shaving more than once a week. (Not that I don’t like shaving, because I actually do: I have a wonderful double-edged safety razor that I bought myself as a “yay, I started testosterone” present, and a brush and some great soap that I got from my partner as a Christmas gift last year, and I find the whole ritual kind of soothing. I’m just lazy. Not so lazy that I won’t link to all of my shaving gear in a blog post, apparently, but lazy enough that I only end up shaving when I look really scruffy, which takes about a week these days.)

Little Soul

This is a rough recording of the song I wrote for my songwriting class this past week. I’ve made a couple of minor changes since class on Tuesday, but it’s mostly here.

I am inordinately proud of this song. First of all, I did some cool things with chords, and I feel like I exercised a lot of what I’ve been learning in my songwriting classes. But aside from that…I love how my voice sounds. I have never, in all my life, been so pleased with a recording of my singing voice. My voice in this recording sounds like I want my voice to sound in my head. While I have dreams of being a baritone, I’m quite pleased with this solidly tenor sweet spot I’ve settled into for the moment. And so I’m sharing this sound clip with you, because while I’m not really using this blog to document my transition process anymore, this is a pretty big personal milestone.

(A funny story about this song: on Sunday, our neighbor’s cat escaped and wound up darting into our apartment as we were headed out the door. Since I hadn’t yet written my assignment for my Tuesday class, my partner jokingly suggested I write a song about the cat. So this song may sound like it has some depth, but really, it’s a pretty song about a cat who got loose.)