Having an internet presence is a constant balancing act.

I love having this blog. I love that it makes me slow down long enough to write every week, often about things I might not otherwise take the time to think about.

But it’s always a balancing act. How much do I put out into the vast expanse of the internet? How much of my life am I willing to share with friends and strangers? When can I let myself vent about specific people or situations, and to what extent, and when do I need to just keep quiet?

I’ve been dealing with some pretty major emotional stuff lately, and I haven’t known how much to share here. But I think I need to say something, because I have a feeling it’ll come up on its own sooner rather than later, and I want to give some context before it does.

I haven’t spoken to my family of origin since March.

I just wrote 1000 words of explanation, but I am not going to post them, because this is part of the balancing act: I do not want to contribute to further drama. Suffice it to say that right when things seemed to be getting a little better, they turned around and got a whole lot worse, and I had to cut ties in order to maintain my sanity.

I don’t regret the decision to establish some distance. (Boundaries are a thing I’ve always struggled with, and it’s become very clear that I came by that honestly.) But it hasn’t been easy.

I’ve also recently realized that I’ve been avoiding dealing with how I relate to my body. Dysphoria, for me, has mostly manifested in me being very detached from my body…of course, once I realized this, remaining detached got harder, and now I’m painfully aware of my discomfort with my body.

Starting next month, I’ll be on an insurance plan that will make it a lot easier for me to see a therapist, so that’s my plan at this point, because I have a lot of feelings about family and about my body that I need to process, and my partner shouldn’t have to be the only person in the world to listen to me blather as I try to work through those things.

So that’s where I’m at: seeking balance. Whether I achieve it is still hit or miss, but I think I’m getting there. Thanks for coming along for the ride.



It’s been a week full of lessons.

My grand plans to get up early and exercise didn’t see much follow-through beyond the first week (in part because I got slammed with a cold the second week and never got back into the habit, in part because I just didn’t have the energy in the long-term). I tried not to beat myself up about it too much – now that the weather is (kind of, sort of, maybe) getting nicer, I’m going to be more inclined to go for longer walks and generally be more active anyway. I did find, though, that I missed something about the way getting up early allowed me to ease into my day. I’ve often found myself rolling out of bed and running out the door in the space of about fifteen minutes. Last week, I was late to work almost every single day…only by about five minutes, but it still bothered me that I couldn’t seem to get myself going in the morning anymore.

Over the weekend, after poking around at various online resources, I signed up for The Alternative Tarot Course, because it seemed like a good way to get myself back into the business of meditation and reflection. One of the exercises for the course is to draw and meditate on a single card first thing every morning, as a way to get more familiar with the deck and the symbolism of various cards (whether intended by the artist or interpreted by you). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it, given last week’s track record with over-sleeping, but I wanted to try, and so far…it seems to be working. (Turns out it’s a lot easier to get out of bed to go quietly meditate and breathe and mentally prepare for my day than it is to get out of bed to go force my body to do things it doesn’t want to. Imagine that.) And the timing couldn’t have been better: that return to meditative practice has definitely helped keep my overactive brain from running wild this week…

…which it was especially tempted to do on Monday, when I heard a coworker misgender me to another coworker. This was not the person who I’d had an issue with earlier this year, but it was someone who has done this pretty consistently since I started at my job a year and a half ago. Usually, I just sort of shut down, but this time…this time, I got angry.

I waited until I was able to compose myself enough to be mostly civil, and then I sent him an email, the gist of which was:

I want to be very clear on something: I have never, in the entire time I have worked here, been a “she”. Referring to a coworker by the wrong pronouns is both unprofessional and enormously disrespectful. When it occurs persistently, it can also be classified as harassment. If this continues, I will not hesitate to call in HR – not because I have any desire to “tattle” on you, but because I believe everyone, including myself, has the right to feel safe and respected in their workplace.

It was hard to hit send, but I did it (though, admittedly, I waited to send it until just before I left, because I wanted some more space before I had to deal with any further interaction with this coworker). I received a fairly prompt response insisting that there was no malice behind his actions, that it was a totally unconscious thing, and he didn’t know why he did it. I figured that was probably the best I was going to get, and resolved to continue to advocate for myself if the issue came up again.

And then Tuesday rolled around, and he swung by my office in the morning requesting a meeting for that afternoon. I didn’t want to, but I said yes. And you know what?

I went to the meeting.

I remained aware of my body language and retained an external appearance of calm.

I made eye contact, even when he didn’t.

I didn’t explode when he talked about how his behavior was annoying to him, how, “it’s like a tic, really.” (I wanted to explode. I wanted to tell him to a) not use someone else’s disability as a false defense to hide behind and b) take some goddamn responsibility for his actions. But I did not.)

I was not aggressive, but I explained that I wanted to be sure he was aware that this was problematic behavior.

I thanked him for his apology.

I did not say the words, “It’s okay.”

It was obvious that he expected me to say them. He kept looking at me like he was waiting for more. And my first, socially conditioned response would have been to say exactly that.

But it’s not okay. It’s never okay. And I’m not going to pretend that it is. I am not going to sacrifice my comfort for the comfort of someone else when that person clearly isn’t interested in doing the same kindness to me.

It was kind of a revelation.

I can thank someone for their apology without saying that the shitty behavior that necessitated the apology in the first place was okay. I can be gracious, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut up and pretend the hurt never happened.

So I’m learning.

I’m learning to center and to ground myself in the midst of mental chaos.

I am learning how to get angry on my own behalf. Defending others is a wonderful thing to do, but self-defense is equally important.

I’m learning that self-advocacy is still hard, but if I remain grounded and centered, it’s possible to do it. It is even possible to look aggressors in the eye and maintain control of the conversation, if I stay focused.

I’m learning that I don’t owe absolution of guilt to anyone who isn’t motivated to change their behavior (and that a true change in behavior eliminates the need for absolution anyway).

I’m learning. And as I learn, I grow, and evolve, and slowly (ever so slowly), I am becoming the man I want to be.

On Visibility and Being Seen

This past Tuesday, March 31, was Trans Day of Visibility. I posted this on my Facebook Tuesday evening:

I have mixed feelings about Trans Day of Visibility: mostly, I think safety should come first and no one should feel pressure to be more out than they want to/can safely be. I am a white trans man; this means that it is safer for me to be visibly trans than it is for my trans sisters, and particularly for my trans sisters of color.

I also believe that it is important for those of us who can make the choice to safely be visible to do so, though: to show the world that we exist, but more specifically to show the ones who are still hiding that they’re not alone. I feel particularly driven to be visibly trans as a trans adult: trans kids need to know there’s a future out there for them. So often our stories end in tragedy. We need more examples of trans folks who are not only surviving (which is super important on its own), but also thriving.

Besides this, as a white trans man, I have found myself landing in a world of privilege. The way the world works, white male voices are heard when many others aren’t. It is my responsibility to speak up and clear the stage for those whose voices are too often shouted down, and to use my voice for good when it’s the only one someone will listen to.

I didn’t fit it into the Facebook post, but something I’ve been thinking a lot about since then is the importance, not necessarily of visibility, but of being seen.

I remember the first time a stranger read me as male. I was picking up lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings with my then-roommate. She finished relaying her order to the man behind the counter, and he turned to me and said, “And for you, sir?” I felt my chest swell involuntarily; I squared my shoulders and widened my stance.

I did not identify as a man then, or even as genderqueer. I identified as queer and as “a gentleman, just maybe not so much the man part,” but that was as far as I’d gotten in exploring my gender identity. And I’m certain that the man behind the counter was simply responding to the contrast between my femme roommate and me, in my baggy sweatshirt with the hood up. But that “sir” called out to a part of me that hadn’t yet been recognized elsewhere.

About a year later, two months into my relationship with my partner and a few months away from coming out as genderqueer, I was in Costa Rica visiting my aunt and uncle. My aunt took me along on one of her regular visits to a local nursing home. When she introduced me to one of the residents, the conversation went something like this:

Es su nieto? (Is this your grandson?)

No, es mi sobrina. (No, this is my niece.)

Ah, su sobrino! (Oh, your nephew!)

I just smiled and nodded.

Now, nearly sixteen months into testosterone therapy, I am read as male quite consistently (the sideburns are likely a major contributing factor to this). It’s not a given, though I sometimes forget this – just this week someone called me “she” out of the blue (and somehow, the less frequently it happens, the more it stings when it does) – and I still find that being called “sir” causes that unconscious squaring of shoulders. Because being seen for what we really are is empowering, particularly in a world where people (sometimes even people who are supposed to be on our side) insist that we do not exist.

As a dude who knits and wears a lot of purple, I would likely be read as queer by the world at large even if I wasn’t. And I’m out and proud in many areas of my life – I was so visibly “other” for a while that I reached a point where I could either live in constant shame or be loud and proud, and I went with the latter. But being visible so often amounts to being seen as “other,” as some sort of departure from the “acceptable” norms of society. And while it’s true that I do live outside those boundaries, and that I like it better out here anyway, being regarded by the world at large as a freak is tiring.

Being seen, on the other hand…validation is so important. It’s not that I need the validation of others to know who I am – I get to define that for myself and ultimately my validation of myself is what matters most. But where the pressure of visibility is exhausting, being seen is a relief from that pressure. It’s energizing and empowering and encouraging. And that’s something that we could all use more of, particularly those of us who belong to marginalized groups – and if this is true for me, who experiences oppression on a very small scale that is counterbalanced by a whole lot of privilege, it is even more true for those who don’t have those oft-unrecognized free passes that privilege offers.

Being told you don’t exist is an incredibly painful experience. Having your existence recognized and validated doesn’t make the pain go away, but the more frequently it happens, the easier it becomes to let go of those painful moments. If we started treating each person as the expert on their own identity, this world would be a much gentler place.

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.

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.

On the Validity of Self-Definition

A well-meaning coworker asked me several months ago if she could give my contact information to a young person she knew who had recently come out as transmasculine. I handed over my email, but I never heard anything from the kid. Yesterday, after coming into my office for a brief reprieve in the middle of her day, my coworker asked if I’d ever heard from them, and then proceeded to tell me,

She’s just confused. You know what she did for gay pride? She wore boxer shorts, and a…a…well, you know, a thing. But then she had no shirt, and suspenders and pasties. I mean, people who want to be boys, they’re not going to show their breasts! That’s the last thing they’d want to do. Right? She just doesn’t know what she wants.

She then emphasized her point by explaining that they all still called this kid by their given name, and they never said anything (though I can clearly recall her saying that they were really upset by the use of their given name over their taken name several months ago), so clearly, they’re not trans. They’re just confused.

And because it was in my workplace (which is not especially unsafe, but is still not a place I feel I can be particularly vocal about identity politics), I smiled a tight smile, and shrugged noncommittally, and muttered something about that being a hard age for everyone, and she finally left, with one last, “She’s just confused.”

Once it was over, my office, which I have worked so hard to turn into a place of calm and safety (for myself and for my coworkers), felt toxic. I felt physically sick. And I felt like a traitor, both to this kid that I don’t know, and to the trans community at large. Because implied in my coworker’s statement was the idea that I behave the way she thinks a trans person is supposed to act. And I hate that, because I feel like I’ve been assimilated into this toxic culture of gender essentialism that I don’t want to join, but to dismantle.

It’s probably true that the majority of transmasculine people aren’t super into showing their breasts off (in public or elsewhere). But though that may be the prevalent narrative of what transmasculinity looks like, it’s not the whole story (or even any of the story) for all transmasculine people. Who knows? For this kid, who probably can’t afford surgery and who maybe doesn’t have the strongest support system, walking around shirtless at pride might have been a way for them to feel empowered, to reclaim their body as their own. Or maybe they’re genderqueer or otherwise nonbinary, and wanted to express their own gender fluidity by contrasting boxers and a packer with pasties. The fact is that I don’t know what this kid’s motivations were, and neither does my coworker. But whatever the motivation, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter. Their body is their own, and no one else gets to decide for them what is or is not the “right” way to exist in that body.

There is not one right way to be a trans person, no matter what the media tells us, no matter what cis- and heteronormative culture tells us…no matter what we tell each other. Each one of us is the sole expert on our own lives, on our own hearts and minds and motivations. Anyone else who tries to define those things for us is doing a disservice both to trans people in general and to themselves, because those of us who have learned to define our own lives have a lot to teach the rest of the world, if only they’d stop trying to categorize us into nonexistence long enough to listen.

Weekend Reflections

One of the perks of working for a Jewish social service organization is that I wind up with extra paid days off for religious holidays that I don’t observe. This past week, we had Monday and Tuesday off for the last two days of Passover. I decided to take the opportunity afforded by a long weekend and take a little road trip up to Minnesota, mostly to meet my new nephew. My partner wasn’t able to join me for the trip, so I had a lot of hours of solo driving in the car to do some reflecting on what I was heading toward and, later, what I was coming home from.

The trip was full of excitement of varying sorts (my dad had an emergency appendectomy the evening I got into town, for one thing), but there are just a couple of things I really want to get into.

First, today (April 24, 2014) is the three-year anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He passed away Easter Sunday, ten days after his 90th birthday. Since his grave is in Rochester, MN (an under-two-hour drive from the Twin Cities) and I happened to be in town over Easter, I decided to get up early that morning and drive down to pay him a visit.

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I think a lot about my grandpa. He was a man of deep faith and quiet love, and to this day I respect him immensely. I found out five months after he died that my dad had told him that I was queer; I never knew that he knew, and it is one of my few major regrets in life that I never shared that part of myself with him. I was too afraid, and I thought I was doing what was expected of me.

I think because my grandpa never treated me any differently, I have sort of built him up in my head as being this paragon of tolerance, a rarity in my family. I’m not entirely sure that this is fair to his memory, though. I know that, ultimately, he loved me, and that was the most important thing. But I also know that he probably struggled with the idea of having a granddaughter who liked both boys and girls. About six months after he died, I adopted the name Alyx, and started walking a bit more boldly down the road of gender variant identity. As I stood by his grave (and in the car on my way back to St. Paul), I wondered how he would have handled the knowledge of my decision to start on testosterone.

I don’t have an answer. In the end, I don’t know that it matters. I have hope that the view from where he is now offers a greater sense of perspective, and that he’s able to be happy that I am happy. I hope that he is still proud of me, even though I know I am not the person he imagined his grandchild would be.

Being with my family this weekend was challenging. My mother very pointedly avoided using any names or pronouns in reference to me, though there were ample opportunities for both. My brother called me Alyx when talking to my nephew, but addressed me by my given name at dinner and apparently never gave it a second thought (he also called me “she” a lot). My dad is clearly trying, but it’s still hard.

But it was worth it for the handful of minutes I got to hold my nephew.

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I was crazy about this kid before he was born; I’m even crazier about him now. He is absolutely adorable, and I realized as I held him that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep this child safe. While it’s still frustrating that my brother has declared that I’m not allowed to be his child’s uncle (ommer is the title we’ve settled on for the time being), it’s something I’m willing to put up with if it means I get to be involved in the kid’s life in any way.

My strongest enduring memory of my grandpa is of the fact that every time we said goodbye, he’d give me a hug and say, quietly and earnestly, “You’re special.” As I said goodbye to my nephew on Sunday, I found myself saying the same thing to him. I hope that if I have any influence in this child’s life, it’s to teach him that he’s special and loved, no matter who he grows up to be.

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My Brain in a Five-Item List

I promise there will be a longer, much more detailed blog next Thursday. In the meantime, here’s another five-item list of what’s been on my mind this week:

  1. My Grandpa. My grandfather’s birthday was Monday. He would have been 93 years old. He passed away on Easter Sunday three years ago (on the 24th, which is one of the reasons next Thursday’s blog will be bigger). I still think of my grandpa often, but his memory is particularly close at this time of year.
  2. My nephew. This weekend, I’m heading up to Minnesota all by myself (my partner has to work, sadly) to meet the tiniest member of my family. I am the proudest of uncles ommers (ah, the joys of language in relation to non-normative gender identity), and I’m so excited to meet the little one, and to deliver the sweater I finished knitting today, which I hope will fit for at least a little while.
  3. My biological family in general. I don’t have the very best relationship with my biological family, for a lot of reasons. Things have been improving with my parents, but they’re far from comfortable. My brother and I don’t really talk, except (in the last six weeks since the baby’s arrival) about his kid, and I have zero confidence that he will ever consistently call me Alyx. (My relationship with extended family is essentially nonexistent at this point: my grandparents have said they will never call me Alyx, “because Alyx is an imaginary person,” and to the best of my knowledge are completely in the dark about the fact that I’ve taken any steps by way of medical transition. One of my aunts congratulated me on new-aunthood on Facebook after my nephew was born, and when I corrected her language, thanked me for the correction and called me by my given name in the same sentence, despite the fact that I have been Alyx (on Facebook and elsewhere) for almost two-and-a-half years.) Needless to say, there’s a lot of anxiety that builds up anytime I am going to be seeing my family, and so I’m feeling pretty tense at the thought of multiple days in a row with them. I’ll be seeing other people while I’m in Minnesota (some chosen family and my partner’s family, who are also chosen family, now that I think of it), but there will be more time spent with my family than there has been in a long while.
  4. Knitting. I tend to come at knitting in spurts. I’ve been in a dry spell for a while, but the pressure of finishing the aforementioned baby sweater before this trip has gotten me working on things again. Aside from the sweater, I’ve recently cast on for the second of a pair of socks, the first of which I knit in about two weeks at the beginning of December. I forget, when I don’t work on them, how much I enjoy knitting socks. Once I finish this one (I’m just starting the heel, and because I have small feet, the end of the heel marks approximately halfway through the sock), I’ve got another pair I started ages ago that I need to pick back up, and I keep looking at patterns and getting excited about possibilities, which has been fun.
  5. Finding ways to feel healthier better in my body. “Health” is such a nebulous concept, and being built as I am (short and stocky and round), I have no expectation that I will ever achieve someone else’s standard of what “healthy” looks like. I’m generally relatively comfortable being the size that I am, but I’ve noticed lately that I’m feeling less okay being in my body (in ways completely separate from dysphoria, which is thankfully not something that haunts me too consistently). I’m increasingly aware that I’m slower on my feet than the people around me. It’s harder for me to keep up than I’d like. I worry a lot about loss of mobility, between some issues with chronic pain and a history of back and knee problems. So I’ve been thinking a bit about steps I can take to do better. I haven’t been back to the gym since the whole misgendering fiasco, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t make myself go back, and that maybe a traditional gym setting isn’t ideal for me. So I’ve started looking around at other options, and have come back to an idea that pops up now and again, which is taking up Aikido. There’s an Aikido center here in Chicago that has a four-week introductory course that they say is appropriate for all body types and fitness levels, and there’s a session starting in July that I think I can work into my schedule. I’ve wanted to take up some sort of martial art for a long time, and Aikido’s lack of competitive spirit and focus on the safety of both the self and one’s opponent is really appealing to me. I’ve also started walking home from work (about 2.25mi) on days when the weather isn’t awful, and I’m finding even the handful of times I’ve done that have made a big difference in how I feel in my body. Admittedly, a lot of this processing is still very much just that: processing and thinking about change, and not a lot of actively making changes. But it feels like it’s paving the way for movement in a positive direction, and for right now, that’s enough.

Facing Fears

It’s been a long winter. I’ve had an on-again, off-again, annoying-as-fucking-hell cold for most of it. It’s never been more than an extreme annoyance, but it’s been there almost constantly for the past several months. Late last week I scheduled an appointment with my doctor for mid-April (the earliest she could see me), and crossed my fingers hoping that I could hold on that long.

And then, this past weekend, it happened: I went from mild discomfort to abject misery in a matter of hours. Saturday and Sunday I mostly stayed at home, fighting off fevers and hoping that if I could just lay low I’d be fine to go to work Monday.

No such luck. I woke up around 5am Monday morning knowing two things with absolute certainty: one, that I had less than a snowball’s chance in hell of making it through a day of work, and two, that if I wanted to make it to any other days of work this week, I needed pharmaceutical assistance ASAP. I was a kid with allergies: I know what a sinus infection feels like, and I know they don’t go away on their own.

Only…I don’t like doctors’ offices at the best of times. Part of that comes from the fact that I worked in a hospital for nearly five years and became very disillusioned with medical institutions in general. Part of it comes from the fact that I am trans and my legal name doesn’t match my presentation. When I’m sick, I like the thought of going to the doctor even less: I don’t have the energy to advocate for myself. It’s scary.

But there was no getting around it. I was getting worse, not better, and I knew I didn’t have enough sick time or PTO to cover more than the one day off from work. So I poked around on the internet and found a Minute Clinic near home, emailed my bosses to tell them I’d be out for the day, and tried to get a bit more sleep before facing my fears.

I dragged myself out the door and onto the train before I really had time to process what I was doing. By the time I got to the sign-in kiosk at the clinic, I was feeling pretty delirious. I grimaced as I typed in my legal name and gender, wishing I was at my usual clinic where I don’t need to deal with those questions anymore. I tried to smile when the nurse practitioner came out and called my back, thankful there was no one else around to hear her call my name.

She asked about prescriptions. I listed my psych meds, and left off the hormones. And then she asked about when I had my last menstrual period, and I realized I couldn’t dodge that bullet, so I backpedaled and disclosed the fact that I am transitioning and on testosterone. To my surprise, the nurse said she wondered, but didn’t want to say anything because she didn’t want to offend me either way.

The exam itself was painless enough, and quick; she concluded that yes, I did have a sinus infection, and wrote me a prescription for antibiotics. And then she asked if I had a different name that I went by, added a note to my file saying I used the name Alyx, and then told me that if I ever come back, I can check in under whatever name I want and just tell whoever’s working that I’m in the system under a different name. While I don’t know if her coworkers are as understanding, I was impressed and grateful.

(A side note: the pharmacist was not so understanding, and more or less shouted my legal first name when my prescription was ready, which was totally unnecessary as I was sitting RIGHT THERE. But oh well. Clearly, I can’t win them all.)

It made me think about the fact that so many trans people (including, at times, myself) go without medical care rather than dealing with the pain and shame and frustration that we often find attached to medical settings, and how lucky I was that things went well. Of course, this mostly just made me angry, because I shouldn’t have to think about how lucky I am that I was treated like a human being. That shouldn’t make me lucky. That should be commonplace. I’m all for gratitude, but I shouldn’t be overwhelmed by it simply because a medical professional treated me humanely: this is something I should be able to expect. I don’t know how to make the medical community a safer space for my trans siblings. I am encouraged by the progress I’ve seen, but it’s not enough. The entire healthcare system in the US is broken, and as we work to fix it, this is something we need to be aware of and work toward.

(To end on a happy note: the antibiotics are working, and I feel much more human now. Hopefully I’m done being sick for a very long time.)

Kind of Like Gym Class All Over Again

On Monday, I went to the gym.

This was a big deal for me. Aside from the two or so miles I walk Monday-Friday as part of my commute, I lead a largely sedentary life. I’m 5’5” and clock in at roughly 225lbs, which mostly means I am a short, stocky, solidly built human. I have a bad back and almost no cartilage left in my knees. I’m not as out of shape as I could be (see: the two miles walked each day), but I’ve been noticing that it is harder for me to get around these days than I’d like, and I’ve started to worry that if I don’t kick my activity level up a notch, mobility issues might become a serious problem. So when I saw that my insurance offered a deal on gym memberships, I figured, why not?

One of the locations in the plan was the Jewish Community Center that’s about .75mi away from my office and right along the bus line I take home. It sounded perfect…until I saw that the workout spaces were gender segregated. I decided to email the JCC and ask if it would be acceptable for a trans guy to use the men’s workout facilities. I heard back from the fitness director a few days later: she said they’d be happy to have me, and that it shouldn’t be a problem, and if I was masculine-presenting, she didn’t think I would need to clarify with the staff which gendered pass I would need, and that I could email her if I had any further questions or concerns.

I finally went in last Thursday to sign up, and while I was there, discovered an extra challenge: I would be using the card from my insurance to check into the gym…the card with my given (very feminine) name on it. I mulled over things all weekend. Sunday, I emailed the fitness director back, stated that I would be coming in the next evening after work, and requested that the front desk be alerted to the fact that a person they would probably take for a butch woman was going to be requesting to use the men’s facilities.

I never heard back. But I was committed to the idea, and I told myself it couldn’t be that bad, right? So I packed my bag Sunday night, and Monday after work, I changed into an athletic shirt and gym shorts, threw jeans and a sweatshirt over them, and trudged to the gym. Once I got there, I took a few deep breaths, walked up to the counter, handed my card to the man behind it, and said, “I need a pass for the men’s locker room, please.”

“I…I’m sorry? I can’t…” the man stuttered and fumbled around.

“I realize that the name on the card doesn’t match that.”

He then looked at my card for the first time. “Right, the name doesn’t match, and…I’m sorry, but I can’t…”

“I haven’t been able to afford to legally change my name.”

“Right…I’m sorry, am I to assume…are you transgender, then?”

“Yes. I emailed the fitness director, K, and she told me it would be all right.”

“You emailed K? And you told her you were transgender?”


“And she said it would be okay?”


“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be…It’s just that we have several orthodox members, and they might take serious issue with…”

“I understand that. But K told me it would be all right.”

“Thank you for understanding. I will call K on her cell phone right now.”

So he did. He called the fitness director on her cell phone. And that’s when things really went downhill.

“Hello, K? This is M. I have a woman here…she wants to use the men’s locker room. She’s a woman…she’s transgender, her name is [given name], and she said she contacted you, and you said she could use the men’s facilities? (At this point I jumped in with, “Alyx. I go by Alyx.”) Yes, she says Alyx is the name that she uses … Really? You’re all right with that? Thank you.”

I wanted to run. But I didn’t. He handed me the men’s locker room pass, and told me where to find the facilities. (If he had been a ’50s housewife, he would have been clutching his pearls, according to the look he was giving me.)

I went down to the men’s locker room, took a deep breath, and held up the little card to unlock the door. Once I was in, I threw my things in a locker, took off the jeans and sweatshirt, changed into my gym shoes, and put in my headphones. I spent a handful of minutes in the cardio room, warming up on an elliptical machine, and about 25 minutes in the weight room, hypervigilant, certain that someone was going to come in and scream at me, trying to focus on the music. I spent rather more time on each machine than I really should have, but I was determined to make it at least half an hour before facing the man upstairs again. Finally, I made my way back to the locker room, and rushed to pull the jeans back on over my shorts and to change back into my regular shoes.

I didn’t interact with anyone the entire time. There was one boy who came into the weight room and looked uncomfortable, but I couldn’t tell whether that was because of me or simply because he was an awkward, gangly teenager.

To his credit, the man behind the desk did have the sense to call me Alyx when I traded him back the pass for my fitness card before I fled the building.

The full weight of how horrible the whole experience made me feel didn’t truly hit me until much later. It’s Wednesday night as I’m writing this, and I still feel like I can’t process the emotions involved. It was…demoralizing. And humiliating. It was kind of like being in gym class all over again. And it was dysphoria-inducing, which, for someone like me, who doesn’t typically experience a lot of intense dysphoria, was a really big deal.

I haven’t decided if I’m going back next week. There’s a part of me that wants to, just to make the man behind the desk uncomfortable. But I honestly don’t know if I have the emotional energy.


An update: the fitness manager got back to me and was extremely apologetic. She’s offered to give me my own locker room key so that I don’t ever have to repeat that experience, and on my suggestion is going to talk with HR about sensitivity training for the front desk staff. So there’s a happy ending. 🙂