A Holy Endeavor

Buckle up, dear readers, because this week I’m returning to the roots of this blog and talking about my life as a trans person.

This year, at least 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation. There’s a lot that’s fucked up about this. Just this week in Arkansas, a bill was passed that bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors. The (Republican) governor vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach.” The legislature overruled his veto with a dishearteningly large majority vote. Make no mistake – this bullshit that’s marketed as “protecting children” will actually do devastating harm. Taking away a trans child’s access to affirming healthcare isn’t going to make them not trans. It will just make them miserable. (I will again post this Twitter thread that makes some really good points about all of this.)

Today at work our Pride ERG hosted a half-hour hangout where people could come and sit with each other and with our feelings about what happened in Arkansas. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate the other people who showed up, but even as I felt seen in a way that was validating, I felt…exposed, in a way that was less comfortable. I am the only trans person I know of at my company, and I’m out as nonbinary there. Most people at work respect my pronouns (which are they/them, by the way, which is at least the third time my pronouns have shifted in the last decade, which I am not apologizing for, because identity is fluid and can be complicated) – no one is actively disrespecting my identity, but sometimes people forget. I do my best to educate people and stand up for myself and for the people around me. And it’s exhausting.

Inextricably tied to all of the feelings I’m having about trans identity being up for legislative debate are feelings around bodily autonomy. One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons I have learned in the ten years since I started coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in fact, cisgender, is that my body is my home. It’s a home that I struggled for years and years to relate to, until I realized it was mine to change and mold into a shelter I could feel comfortable in (at least some of the time). This has shown up in big ways – the changes from testosterone, and having gender-affirming top surgery – but it’s also shown up in smaller ways. I can paint my nails. I am currently sporting what feels like a super queer haircut that I love. In the middle space between those extreme examples, I can get tattoos.

I knew I wanted tattoos by the time I was in my teens, if not before. I got my first one eleven years ago this month, just a couple months before I turned 22. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm. I wanted a reminder that the parts of myself that so often felt fractured – body, mind, and spirit – were all part of the singular being that was me. Four years later, I got three tarot cards tattooed on my left forearm: the Hermit (because I am an introvert and I believe in both finding my own truth and in lighting the way to help other people find theirs), the Ace of Wands (because I am a person with a lot of creative energy who finds joy in making beautiful things), and the Nine of Pentacles (which is my constant reminder that my body is the home that I am creating for myself). A couple of years after that I got a few more, which had less in-depth meanings, in some ways (there’s a leaf on my right ankle that I got because it was pretty; I have a classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on my right arm, and an earth/air alchemical symbol that reminds me to stay grounded and breathe under that), but all of them were ways to exercise my bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, I got my sixth (or eighth, depending on if you count the tarot cards as one tattoo or three) tattoo:

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have been a big part of my life over the past few years – through them I’ve connected with people I might never have met otherwise, and I’ve found so much joy in collaborative storytelling and getting to play with my friends as an adult. Just in the last month I started DMing my first game, and it’s been a blast. I knew that I wanted a D&D-themed tattoo to capture some of that. I told the artist (who has now done the majority of my tattoos) that I wanted “some sort of dragon and dice situation,” and I could not be happier with what she came up with. This little dragon clutching its d20 is better than anything I’d envisioned ahead of time.

As I was chatting with the artist during the tattoo, I mentioned that as a teenager I had sketchbooks full of dragons. I drew them because no one could tell me “that’s not how a dragon looks” – it was one of the things I loved about fantasy. She asked me what drew me to dragons, and I honestly didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve continued to think about it since then. I think there’s something about the wildness of them that called to me. In all the fantasy novels I read, there was this sense that you couldn’t really tame a dragon. Even in the ones where dragons and humans got along, it was because the dragons chose to treat the humans gently. There was something about that power that was appealing, for a whole host of reasons I’m sure I could delve into with a little help from my therapist.

Last fall, I wrote an autobiographical song that I kind of set aside after that songwriting session was over, but the chorus has been stuck in my head the past couple of days:

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

I don’t know that I have a huge sweeping point in all of this, except to say that trans people (like all people) are sacred, and the act of self-determination and self-discovery is a holy endeavor. I was raised with the idea that humans are created in the image of the Divine, and while I have a lot of complicated feelings about the picture of Divinity I was raised on, I think trans people are every bit as much a reflection of the Divine as anyone else. I am angry and sad and disheartened that there are so many people in power in the world right now who refuse to see that.

Trying

Readers, it’s been a week. I’m wrestling with some sort of upper-respiratory nonsense that I hoped was just allergies but that kept me home with a fever yesterday. I feel pretty gross, and I’m really glad I had a doctor appointment scheduled for today anyway.

But let’s take a step back. I want to tell you about my weekend, when I did not feel like my head was trying to explode.

Friday night, I picked up a rental car. Saturday morning, I got up early, packed my knitting and some snacks, and hit the road to go visit my grandmother in northeast Iowa. I had not seen my grandmother in almost seven years, though we’ve been writing occasional letters back and forth for a year or so. In her last couple of letters, she expressed a desire to sit down and talk with me in person. About a month ago, when I got her last letter, I contacted her and said I would like to come for a visit, and we agreed on this past Saturday as a date.

I started on testosterone five and a half years ago, so a few things had changed since we last saw each other. I had sent her a picture of me a few months ago, so my appearance wouldn’t come as a total shock.

I really had no idea what to expect from this visit going in, but overall it went better than I could have hoped. She greeted me with a hug. We went out to lunch and she caught me up on all the latest family news. When we went back to her apartment, the talk turned more serious – she had a lot of questions about my life, and I tried to answer them honestly. I learned that her little Baptist church had recently done a study on LGBTQ issues, because their pastor recognized that we’re not going away and felt the church should decide how they were going to respond. (She sent the books they studied home with me – I haven’t read them yet, but I do want to know where she’s coming from.)

The big takeaway of the visit was that we love each other and we do want to be in each other’s lives. It was a very long day (ten total hours of driving, plus the four hour visit), but worth it. We’ll see where we go from here!

Five Years

I completely missed it when I posted last week, but on Friday, Accidental Fudge turned five! For five years I’ve written and posted a blog almost every week. That feels like a pretty big accomplishment.

Accidental Fudge started as a blog to document my gender transition. I had enough weird and amusing anecdotes in my first month on testosterone that I thought it would be fun to share them with the world. And that was great, to start. It quickly became apparent, though, that there wasn’t going to be a “here’s a weird thing I’ve noticed about my gender” moment every single week. The blog pretty steadily evolved into me telling you all about how my weeks were going – a brief newsletter of sorts. That’s also been great.

Every time the blog is another year older, I think it’s worth pausing to reflect on whether this is still something I want to invest my time in. While I often feel like I don’t have anything of value to say, I do still enjoy the challenge of coming up with something each week. And I love hearing from those of you who comment (either here or on Facebook or in person). It reminds me that I’m part of a much larger community than I sometimes realize.

So thanks, Accidental Fudge readers, for your support. Here’s to five years, and here’s to at least one more!

Coming Out

Hello, dear readers! This blog post is going up late today, because I did not write it yesterday and also because I stayed home from work today to catch up on sleep and fight off the headache I woke up with.

I’m also not really sure what to write about this week. They still haven’t caught the perpetrator of the two shootings in our neighborhood that I talked about last week, so we’re still a bit on edge, trying to figure out how to navigate our neighborhood in a way that feels safe right now. Also, on a national level here in the US, things are pretty overwhelming right now. (If you’re a US citizen and haven’t checked your voter registration or haven’t registered to vote, do so now. We need everyone to show up and vote in November. Voter suppression is a serious reality in a lot of places right now, and voter rolls have been purged in some states as a part of that, so check your registration even if you know you were registered before.)

We did have the lovely experience on Monday of seeing our friend Heather Mae play a show in our neighborhood. We got to spend a while before and after the show catching up with her and hanging out, and that was great. Go check out her music if you’re not familiar with her stuff – she’s fabulous!

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and today is National Coming Out Day. So I think to close this blog I’m going to combine the sentiments of those two days and tell you a little bit about myself that you may or may not know:

I am queer. Queer is a label I’ve chosen because it represents so much of who I am. It describes my orientation – I’m attracted to all sorts of people of all sorts of genders. It describes my gender – I was assigned female at birth, but realized in my mid-twenties that that didn’t fit; I’m now living and presenting in such a way that I’m read as male by the world at large, but in my heart of hearts I really don’t identify with binary gender at all. Queer also describes my brain – I have Bipolar II Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, both of which I was finally diagnosed with 9 years ago, and which I’ve been medicated for ever since. A few months ago, I had to seek out a psychiatrist to get my meds adjusted – I was manic and anxious as hell for a solid month. It was miserable, and I still don’t know how I managed to get anything done during that time. Since getting my meds adjusted, I’m feeling much more capable of handling all of the anxiety that comes from life right now.

I choose to be out and proud about all of these intersections of my identity, but I can make that choice because I live with a great deal of privilege. I have safe, nurturing spaces where I can be myself. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re struggling with whether or not to come out today, remember that your safety comes first, and that your identity is valid regardless of how public you are with it. I see you; you’re real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. May we all work toward a world in which “coming out,” whether it’s in regard to sexuality or gender or mental health or anything else, doesn’t carry so much weight and fear with it.

Dysphoria and Dysmorphia Monsters

I had a weird day yesterday. I had to get up early to go to PT before work, and that was fine, and then I missed the bus I was hoping to take to get to work on time, which wasn’t a huge deal – I knew I’d have to stay about half an hour later than usual, which is annoying, but not impossible.

But then I got to work, and little things seemed to throw me way off-kilter. (Like when I walked in and discovered that whatever facilities person was working the night before had left my trash can on my chair after emptying it. Who does that?) I was irritable, and easily flustered. And most of all, I felt really, really unsettled in my body.

It wasn’t until I got home and caught an unfortunate glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror in which I felt I looked like I still had breasts that I started realizing what the problem might be.

Dysphoria is a hard thing to explain, even to other people who experience it, sometimes – because while there are common threads of experience, everyone’s relationship with their body is different. A lot of people are familiar with the feeling of body dysmorphia, but dysphoria is…well, it’s different. Sometimes related, but different. It’s not so much having an objectively inaccurate perception of what your body looks or feels like as it is the knowing that some part of your anatomy or physiology is wrong, and feels like it doesn’t belong to you.

When I first came out as genderqueer, I didn’t really experience body-related dysphoria, but I hated my voice. It made me feel so utterly wrong in my body, like it wasn’t even my voice at all.

As time went on, I did start to experience body dysphoria, but I didn’t think I could call it that, because it looked different for me than it did for other trans folks I knew. It wasn’t so much that I hated my body as it was that parts of it (my chest in particular) felt like they weren’t mine, and I didn’t know what to do with them.

Things have been a lot better in general since I had top surgery, because that directly addressed the greatest source of my dysphoria. I think because I hadn’t had really intense feelings of wrongness in my body since then, I kind of let myself get lulled into this false sense of security, like it was over and I didn’t have to deal with it anymore.

But when I think about yesterday, and how uncomfortable I felt in my body, and how viscerally I reacted to seeing a reflection that didn’t feel accurate…well, I’m realizing now that it was a visit from the fraternal twin monsters of dysphoria and dysmorphia. Surgery wasn’t a magical fix for everything, which I knew, but kind of forgot. Same with hormones. Because of the person I am and the body I have, I will probably always struggle with these monsters from time to time. Which is…not fun.

I debated back and forth about whether I wanted to write about this at all, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it took me years to recognize what dysphoria looked like for me because everyone else’s story sounded different from mine, and I feel the need to remind folks that every trans person’s story is different (just like every cis person’s story is different). We all experience the world and ourselves in different ways, and we need to make space for that.

Big Days in Transness

Yesterday felt like a big day for me.

It was National Coming Out Day, which I have complicated feelings about – I feel like there can be too much emphasis on the importance of coming out and not enough on the importance of personal safety. Not everyone is privileged enough to be able to come out safely, and they shouldn’t feel like they need to do it “for the cause” if it means that they’re jeopardizing themselves.

I do have the privilege of relative safety, though, and I do feel like it’s important for me to be out and proud as much as possible, because I have seen firsthand the powerful change that can come about in people’s perspectives when they realize queer people and trans people are people they know, and not just nameless, faceless statistics.

After the election, I decided I was going to make a point to be more out at work. I was terrified, but I also felt like it was some small way that I could reclaim some power in what felt (and still often feels) like a hopeless situation. And then we added a new member to our department in the spring, and I decided that I wasn’t comfortable coming out to her, because we share an office and she seemed quite a bit more conservative than I am, and I didn’t want to make things awkward.

Two weeks ago, this coworker thought they had met a trans person for the first time, and she was freaking out about this person using the women’s restroom, and (probably assuming that, since I was a young, gay man, I could do this) she asked me to “explain transgender” to her.

I admit my initial reaction was not great – I laughed. What else could I do? So many of my coming out experiences have felt forced, and here was another. So I told her I was transgender (to which she responded, “No, you’re not!”). I told her we just need to pee like anyone else, that nothing was going to happen to her because a trans person was using the same restroom she was.

We haven’t talked about it since, but now I feel compelled, once again, to be out and proud wherever I can. I have so much privilege in that I am read 99% of the time as a cis man, and I’m white on top of that, and I need to use that privilege for good.

Aside from being National Coming Out Day, yesterday was my one-year post-op anniversary from chest masculinization surgery. It feels simultaneously like it’s been more and less than a year – on the one hand, I feel so much more comfortable in this body. On the other hand, I still vividly remember what it was like to bind every day (and my lungs remember, too), and when I am tired and have changed out of work clothes have occasionally had to remind myself that leaving the house again might mean putting on pants, but it doesn’t mean wrestling my way into a binder anymore.

Surgery was not a thing I thought I was going to want when I started thinking about transition, but it was definitely the right decision for me. I am still grateful and blown away that my insurance wound up paying for it. The fact that I had surgery doesn’t make me more trans (or more legitimate) than anyone else, but it was a way that I was able to make my body feel more like home, and really, that’s something I wish for everyone.

Counting Down

The countdown to surgery is officially in the single digits, now. All the paperwork has been submitted, insurance has approved it, and I’m all set to go.

It still doesn’t feel totally real. But it’s getting closer to feeling like reality every day.

I’m excited, but it’s not a particularly exuberant excitement. I’ve got some pre-op jitters, for sure, but for the most part, I’m feeling pretty calm. It’s a quiet sort of excitement. It feels right. It’s been a long time coming, and considering the fact that binding is increasingly painful (even just in the past few weeks), it’s definitely the right time to do this. (On that note, I saw this study on binding going around on Facebook, which has also been a long time coming, and I hope to see more like this.)

There’s an awareness suffusing the excitement of the fact that there’s no going back from this. Not that I want that as an option, but I’m aware that this is a level of permanent change that could keep relationships with certain members of my extended family from ever coming back. I don’t know that most of those relationships are salvageable, anyway, but this does feel more…final, I guess.

I’ve been binding for five years as of this month. I’ve squeezed myself into various rib-crushing configurations of compression shirts almost every single day of that five years. When I started, I thought it was going to be a thing I just did occasionally, to play with gender. I didn’t have any idea how much I would like my flat-chested silhouette. The first day I wore a binder, I spent most of it aware of how much harder it was to breathe, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it again. The next morning, I put it back on without thinking much about it. There were times when the particular type of binder I was using caused so much pain in my ribs that I had to stop binding and switch to sports bras for a few weeks, and that was almost more agonizing that the rib pain. Thankfully, binder technology has come a long way in five years, and thanks to gc2b I’ve been able to bind much more comfortably (and, presumably, more safely) for the past couple of years. But I am so, so ready to be done.

I am ready to be done wearing a binder plus and undershirt plus a regular shirt every. single. day.

I am ready to relearn what it’s like to breathe to my full lung capacity.

I am ready to be done with aching ribs and chest muscles.

And most of all, I’m ready to be able to look in the mirror and see a reflection that matches my mental image of myself.

Music Break!

I don’t have a lot to write about this week. Truthfully, despite the fact that I get a bunch of days off this month and the weather has been beautiful and I’m very nearly done with the sweater I’ve been working on, I’ve been feeling a little down. This week, though, we’re planning to go to three shows to hear some of our favorite musicians perform, which seems like just the pick-me-up I’ve been needing.

Since music is sort of the theme of the week for me, rather than write a regular blog post, I thought I’d share a song I wrote back in June and just finally got around to recording the other day. Enjoy!

Balance

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.

 

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.