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!

Three Months

Tomorrow (February 7, 2014) marks three months that I’ve been on testosterone!

It’s been quite a journey. And I’ve finally gotten my first lab results back (a lab visit, a lost test result, a second lab visit, and two weeks later) as of Monday, which has been great. I’m continuing on my initial dosage, since my progress has been good (estrogen is negligibly above the goal level [or was, back in December, and is less than half what it started at], and testosterone is well within the goal range [more than ten times where it started]). It’s nice to have some concrete numbers to back up the changes I’m seeing and feeling day to day.

Things that have changed in the last three months:

  • My voice. Holy shit, my voice. (Pop down two posts for a sound clip comparing November and January: it’s even a bit deeper now.) My voice was the thing that most bothered me prior to starting on T (and was one of the only things that made me dysphoric), and I am loving the changes I’m hearing. I’m much more comfortable answering the phone at work, and although I’ve been singing in a high tenor range for years, it’s gotten a lot more comfortable.
  • My hair. Mostly, there’s more of it. On my stomach, my arms, my legs, my back (not so happy about this recent development), and on my face. Up to this point I mostly just have peach fuzz on my face, but there’s been enough of it that I’ve shaved a few times, and I’m noticing more dark hairs coming in between shaves, particularly on/under my chin.
  • The distribution of my body fat. My butt is smaller. My hips might be, too (though not much…thanks to my skeletal structure I’ll always have wide-ish hips). My stomach is maybe a little bigger. They’re not huge changes, but they’re big enough that I’ve noticed.
  • My appetite. Prior to starting T, it wasn’t uncommon for me to skip meals, either out of distraction or because I simply wasn’t hungry. I joked that I had the metabolism of a stationary boulder. After starting T, I was suddenly hungry ALL THE TIME. It’s evened out a bit (finally…feeding a teenage boy is expensive), but I still am hungry way more often than I used to be.
  • My need for sleep. Whether it means I’m a teenage boy or an old man, I’m not sure, but I’m going to be earlier and waking up later than I was before.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the changes I’m seeing. While I don’t love everything about it (like the handful of back hairs that have shown up, or the fact that I can never seem to get the injections in my right leg to go as smoothly as the ones in my left), I definitely don’t have any regrets about starting down this road. I look forward to seeing what new changes lie ahead!

Bipolar Adventures in Transition

So I’m Bipolar. Specifically, I am diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, which means I deal cyclically with highs and lows, but not quite to the extreme that someone with Bipolar I would deal with. I take an anti-depressant to help the lows from getting unbearable and a mood stabilizer to keep the highs from getting dangerous, but the meds do not erase the highs and lows completely. They’re still there; they’re just more manageable: it’s still a challenge to function during the lows, but function is possible, and it’s hard to hang onto money during the highs, but again, it’s possible.

One of my personal Bipolar quirks is that sometimes, my brain will be plodding along, and I’ll think I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on — after all, I’m a pretty introspective and self-aware person. But then I’ll hit a particularly intense bout of mania, and my brain speeds up, and suddenly all of these things that were just vague notions and disconnected pieces before click together all at once into something much more concrete (and often overwhelming).

Specifically, this has a tendency to happen with thoughts related to my gender identity.

At first, I refused to trust these thoughts. After all, mania has a way of making absurd, unwise, and/or otherwise misguided ideas seem like great ones. But I’ve noticed in the past several years that there is a difference between my harebrained manic schemes and these moments of introspective epiphany.

It happened when I decided to try out the name Alyx. I was idly pondering what I would change my name to if I ever transitioned (which was a pretty big “if” at the time, as it was so impractical that I didn’t even consider it as a possibility). Alexander James was the name that immediately popped into my head, and before I knew it I found myself asking my partner if ze thought Alyx could be a reasonable nickname/derivative of my given name. I never had that period of adjustment where I didn’t always respond right away to my new name. My brain had made the shift before I even realized it was happening.

It happened when I decided to start on testosterone. I came to the conclusion that I needed to make a change before I even realized that I was really thinking about it. I held back. I waited and thought and was much more mindful about what was going on in my head, and I conferred with my partner and with friends. I didn’t trust that gut impulse that I got when everything suddenly shifted into place. But in the end, it was right.

And over this past weekend, it happened again. Once again, my identity is shifting, not in a totally different direction, but in a more focused one. My single greatest hesitation with physical transition was the fact that I am convinced that the world does not need another white man running around. It’s been hard to reconcile this with the fact that I am profoundly uncomfortable being read as a woman. I can’t get around it: I am becoming a man. Whether I identify as a man to my core doesn’t really matter: this is how the world is going to start to see me. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really do identify as solidly masculine, and that I can be a man without being a “Men’s Rights Activist”, that being a man doesn’t have to mean being oblivious to my privilege but can actually be a place from which I can (I hope) use what privilege I have to try to make other dudes aware of their privilege.

And as all of that clicked into place, I started pondering pronouns. My team at work (and a handful of other folks in the office who have caught on) refer to me with he, him and his. Friends generally refer to me using singular they, which I’ve been claiming as my preference for a couple of years now. It’s equal parts hard and terrifying and exciting, but I’m realizing that the more I hear myself called “he”, the more I like it. It’s increasingly comfortable, and while I certainly prefer “they” over “she” (and, truly, don’t mind the gender neutral variants), I’m realizing that my preferences are changing.

I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever have a truly stable identity. I’m fairly certain that the only part of my identity that’s remained consistent over the past four years is the part that claims “queer” as a label. In the past five years, I have been many things: a straight, cisgender woman; a queer, cisgender woman; a queer, genderqueer individual; and now, a queer, transmasculine dude…a trans man. My current identity doesn’t invalidate any of my previous identities. Who I am now is real; who I was then was real, too. And I think this is the hardest thing for people to grasp: it would be so much simpler if my identity was black and white, or even greyscale. But it’s not. It’s an entire fucking rainbow of nuances and experiences and even if that makes it harder to understand, I wouldn’t have it any other way.