Educating Others

I am constantly surprised by how little the average person knows about trans people. This is particularly the case with people I consider to be educated about LGB issues, “good liberals,” and those that study in fields related to gender in some form or another. I am all about educating people, but I do find it tiring to hear people refer to “the surgery,” or need to be walked through the most basic things. It’s really puzzling to me, since people like Chaz Bono have recently transitioned so publicly and information is so readily available online. It’s 2013, if you’re curious about a topic than there’s a way to find out way too much information about it relatively easily.

I enjoy educating people about trans people, HRT, my own transition, etc. At least, to a point. This past year that I’ve been stealth I have more or less fallen off the “educating people” wagon, with the exception of the work I do online. I’m actually embarrassed at how little I’ve corrected people’s misconceptions and problematic language, simply because I’ve felt it was best to fade into the background instead of drawing attention to myself and having people question my connection to trans issues. Every time an otherwise well-meaning person says something totally ignorant about trans people, however, I feel like I can’t just trust that the information that someone might find online or learn from another person is enough. I feel like I need to speak up and actually start setting people straight.

It isn’t just that educating people might out me, though, I think that my main problem is that educating people is awkward. If people knew more about trans issues and I wouldn’t be such an oddity, I actually might be comfortable being out. I want to live my life normally, and being stealth allows me that. When I was out, people constantly looked to me to be a spokesperson, and brought their awkwardly personal gender questions to me whenever they saw fit (for instance, “when you have the surgery will you be able to produce sperm?”). The pressure is enormous, and frankly annoying. It occurs to me that there should be some sort of middle ground, some way for me to be open about being trans without it defining me and opening myself up for poking and prodding.

I’m thinking about this because I recently visited the Castro district in San Francisco and saw that it was an area in which GLB people (well, maybe just GL or just G, as an outsider it was difficult to tell) were able to be open and have their sexuality be just a taken for granted part of their lives. It is that freedom that I wish existed somewhere out there for trans people. Somewhere where people could just happen to be trans, without it being a big deal. I thought the Castro would be like that, and I think it is becoming at least a little more trans knowledgeable/trans friendly (at least judging from the level of trans inclusion in the glbt history museum there), but it still felt as though I was as alien as I was in any other part of the city (and the country….and the world). The only places where I have felt able to be both out and normal are at trans conferences, although those aren’t really my style.

This is a bit of a ramble, but what I THINK I’m trying to express is that there is some tension for me between educating people and my desire to live a normal life and not allow being transgender to completely define me. I am a lot of things, and a walking, talking encyclopedia on gender studies is not one of them. However I also see people’s ignorance and it cries out to me, like I should be DOING SOMETHING. I feel well equipped to educate people, and in a position where many of the people around me might actually listen. Still, it is my personal philosophy that the burden of educating others should not rest on the shoulders of members of marginalized groups. That burden is simply just too much. So, how can we educate others without sacrificing our privacy and comfort? What place does educating others fit in determining whether or not someone should be out or not? Do some of us owe it to other trans people to educate others?

I haven’t come to a conclusion on those points.

Thinking about the future

My partner and I have started talking more seriously about when we plan on having children (probably in the next 5 years/before she turns 30). That’s something I find difficult to think about, since I’ve always wanted to have children but have struggled with the pros and cons of the different ways that could happen for me. Ideally my partner and I could conceive just like any other heterosexual couple. I often forget that some couples can just accidentally get pregnant or decide to conceive on a whim and it’s painful to view our situation in light of that. We’ve discussed adoption, her carrying a child via a sperm donor, me getting my eggs extracted and her carrying the baby, and even (briefly) me getting pregnant and carrying the child myself. None of these let us have a child that is genetically related to both of us, but that’s just unfortunately an impossibility that I don’t see changing anytime soon. 

Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably need to get a hysterectomy somewhat soon. Before I do that, though, my partner and I need to figure out how we are going to have children and I need to either use my eggs or come to peace with the decision to undergo surgery that will render me permanently infertile. I’ve gone back and forth on this, examining it from a lot of different angles and I think I might want to look into getting my eggs extracted. I’ve been on testosterone for 2 years and have heard conflicting things about what that means for my fertility and potential for egg extraction. My doctor, however, seems to think that because I’m otherwise healthy and in my 20s that I should still have some good eggs left if I were to go off of testosterone. As seriously unpleasant as the whole process sounds (going off of T for 3-4 months, taking weird hormones, having surgery to extract eggs), and seriously expensive it would be, this is really appealing to me. I don’t know why it is important for me to have biological kids, but it is. I know it might not still be possible/feasible, but it’s something I would really like to at least try for. It also seems to be a really balanced and feel-good solution for us, since I would have a biological connection with the baby and my partner would have the powerful connection of growing the baby inside of her/being the birthmother. 

One of the frustrating things I’ve encountered, though, is the lack of information out there for people in my predicament. There’s not a whole lot of information out there in general about transgender parents, even less about people who want to get their eggs extracted after having been on testosterone. Although I probably wouldn’t plan on doing this for another 3 years or so (assuming it would take a year to get to the actual conception part and we want to be parents in the next 5 years), I don’t even know where I’d start or if it would even be feasible. Like, I’m legally male, would that mess things up? Would a doctor even entertain the idea of extracting my eggs because of I’ve been on testosterone, and how would I be treated by the medical establishment in this setting considering I’m very clearly male? Anyway, I wish that I could read about someone’s experience going through egg extraction post-testosterone or even someone’s experience as a trans man raising children conceived through sperm donation (without using his eggs, since that’s probably what we’d do if I couldn’t get my eggs extracted). I only know of one or two blogs by trans dads, I really wish there were more out there. 

Looking my age, feeling my age

Recently I shaved my beard because it was getting too out of control, only to find that underneath it I look quite a bit younger. I can’t exactly pin down what features make a person look young or not, but my partner and I both are frequently read as much younger than we actually are. This is pretty common for transgender men anyway, which I suppose is partially because age seems to measured in men by how long testosterone has been at work on their bodies. My boyish features are really the result of only being midway through my male puberty, and in some ways I physically am closer to the 16 year old I’m often read to be than the 20-something I actually am. Like a teenager, I’m still getting used to my body and deeper voice. So, in some ways it feels natural to the face of an awkward teenager in the mirror instead of a confident, fully mature adult.

However, it’s also strange because I’m mentally at a stage in my life where I’m just now starting to feel like a real adult. I can drink, I’m out of college, I live away from my parents, etc. I’m hitting the milestones that put me at a point where society considers me an adult. I don’t always feel like an adult, but there are some moments, like walking into a Hot Topic and holding my ears from the noise, that make me feel my age. I think that’s a good thing, because it’s important to allow myself to mentally and emotionally mature despite my lagging physical maturity.

I know it’s sometimes tempting for trans guys to try not to grow up at the same pace as their non-trans peers. I know guys who are trying to relive the years that they spent living as female instead of male. For some people this means buying the toys they never got to have as a kid, for others it means partying and acting like a teenager when they’re much too old for that. I understand this, if only because it can be difficult to feel like an adult when strangers see you as a kid and treat you as such. I also understand the allure of buying things you were never able to have when you were the appropriate age. I think my enthusiasm for buying clothes comes from the fact that I never really enjoyed the stuff I wore before I transitioned and I’m finally able to get the stuff I want. Still, I want to continue growing instead of moving backward. Figuring out my gender identity and making the decision to transition spurred a lot of personal growth for me. I want to continue that and step forward into adulthood. It’s awkward, then, to look so much like a kid.

Luckily I have the option of growing back my beard. Instead of relying on it as a marker of my masculinity, I need it as a marker of my age.

How Other People See Me

So, today was awkward. I had a conversation with a couple of undergrads in one of my classes and in our short conversation they joked that I didn’t exactly count as one of their guy friends because I was so gentle and in touch with my feelings and joked about how much of a male lesbian I am.

If they knew I was trans, this would probably be considered pretty mean. They don’t, though, and they probably were just making fun of me because I’m a straight dude who seems to take myself too seriously. It did make me feel weird, just because I’m really insecure about being considered masculine enough, or being considered a guy by the people I’m around. I know that they actually probably meant it as a compliment that I didn’t count as a guy because they prefaced it by saying it was because I made them feel comfortable. I definitely pride myself on being gentle and in touch with my feelings, and in a lot of ways I’m like that because my dad is like that and not necessarily because I’m transgender. It’s just weird to hear those things. Even though they were joking, it did make me wonder what other people think of me. They perceive me as being feminine and as liking things that lesbians stereotypically like (which, I guess is slam poetry and certain musicians). I mean, I did spend 19 years of my life living as a woman and 5 of those years in the lesbian community. It isn’t a coincidence that I might come off that way, because I’ve seen every episode of the L word and used to have a subscription to Curve. I speak the language, as it were, even though I don’t necessarily try to. I know this probably reads strangely to them, and they just can’t pick up on why and so they make jokes about it.

The thing that actually made the conversation stick with me is that they made a couple of comments about my butt. They were complimenting me, but just the fact that they noticed it and said something about how it was bigger than average made me feel really insecure. My butt is something that makes me feel incredibly dysphoric and is the body part that I’m most insecure about. This is actually one of the instances when it sucks more being stealth than being out. I’ve noticed that people are far less likely to make comments about those sorts of things when they know I’m trans because they are careful not to hurt my feelings. Sure, they make other comments that are far more annoying, but most people (that I’m friends with, anyway) are much more aware of these things when they realize that what they say might trigger my dysphoria or insecurity.  I absolutely shouldn’t get myself down, because I’m sure that they wouldn’t joke about stuff if they actually saw it as something I should be insecure about it (they weren’t trying to hurt my feelings, after all). It just feels like they were pointing out that I suck at being a guy.

Wow, this is more emo than the blog I had when I was an actual teenager.

Dysphoria After Almost 2 Years on Testosterone

I haven’t updated in awhile, mostly because I haven’t had too much to say. Things are going really well. I’ve been very busy and my life has been filled with the normal stresses, mostly not transition related at all. I’ve gotten past the “getting to know you” stage with most of the people at school so I feel much more relaxed and comfortable. When it comes to gender, first impressions are crucial. People usually don’t look too deeply or question anything after that. I’m no longer as worried about being outed or fitting in. Making friends has gotten easier, and as I’ve gotten to know the people around me (particularly the guys) I’ve realized that they aren’t nearly as hyper-masculine and intimidating as I thought they were. The guy who likes fantasy football also plays the sims and the guy who loves sports is also a sensitive feminist. So, things are good.

The only real negative thing going on in my life is that my dysphoria has gotten worse over the past month. I think the increased anxiety from being really busy at school probably has something to do with it, since I think my dysphoria ebbs and flows with my moods. I’m mostly unhappy with the way my clothes fit me, and watch enviously as guys whose jeans fit them well walk by me every day with their narrow hips and small thighs. Despite being on testosterone for two years, my hips, butt, and thighs are still noticeably larger than the average cis guy. My partner took my measurements recently because I’m in the market for a suit and my butt is larger than hers (mine is 40″ around, while my hips are 32″ around, which I thought was interesting because I wear size 30 pants and those fit fine….). I’m just frustrated because I don’t know what to do about it. I’m not entirely sure if my issue is fat or something else. My lower body is very muscular and so I don’t really think that it’s something that working out could help. I don’t work out much at all, but I do lift weights occasionally and walk quite a bit.

Instead of working out, I mostly try to fix my dysphoria by finding clothes that fit me well and are flattering. That’s sort of been my tactic against dysphoria since I first started socially transitioning. Buying men’s clothes is still a little exciting for me, even though I’ve been wearing them for so long. It’s exciting, but also frustrating. I’ve spent a lot of money on clothes since I started to transition. First I had to build a wardrobe from scratch and then I had to replace a lot of my clothes when I started testosterone and my shoulders broadened and my body changed. I’m still left with a lot of clothes that fit me poorly, many of my shirts are either oversized are undersized. It doesn’t help that my body is unusually shaped. I’m short with average sized shoulders and an average sized midsection but larger hips and short arms. This makes finding button down shirts a nightmare, since the ones that fit the rest of me are usually too tight around my hips and the ones that fit my hips are way too long. Beyond all that, I waffle between wanting to put on baggy clothes that will hide my body and tighter clothes that won’t make my lower half look bigger than it is. Thus I’ve ended up with both more clothes than I need and hardly any clothes that are just right. I probably need to get things tailored, but I don’t even know where to start with that. I’m wondering if other trans* guys shop to combat dysphoria and how that works for them.

Anyway, this is turning into kind of a depressing post. I’m actually really happy with a lot of things about myself. I really love that I can grow facial hair and that my voice is deeper and the way my upper body looks. I’m definitely way happier than I was pre-T, there’s no question of that. Testosterone just isn’t a cure-all for dysphoria. The testosterone is still working it’s magic, though. I’m hopeful that I’ll continue to experience changes, particularly fat redistribution. I don’t expect to look like a male model, but I’d like to feel a little less self-conscious.

Who knows? Who doesn’t know?- Being Stealth is Sometimes Stressful

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I’m constantly paranoid that somehow people know I’m trans. I know, I know, my voice is deep, I have facial hair, and it probably wouldn’t even cross most people’s minds because they are totally oblivious to trans* people. Still, I wonder. Recently I was having dinner with some friends and somehow it came up that Warren Beatty and Annette Bening have a transgender son. I froze, nervous that it was coming up because the guy I was talking to was trying to subtly figure out if I was trans too. I need to stop overthinking things.

Part of my concern is that I assume that queer people’s gaydar must extend to transdar (is there even such a thing). I’m used to being a big queer billboard, so I feel like people can read on my face that I love Hedwig and the Angry Inch and that I’ve done drag and run a gay-straight-alliance. Of course, these things are no more apparent by looking at me than the fact that I took French in high school. It’s not written on me somewhere, it’s something I need to share with people for them to know. Another worry I have is that I’m concerned about my online presence. At first I was confident that no one would stalk me enough to connect the dots. I mean, if you do some serious digging you could probably find out my birth name, find my youtube, etc. It’s like like trans* stuff comes up when you google my name, but there’s stuff out there. Not only that, but I’m sure there’s something to tip someone off on my facebook. I’m finding that some of my new friends have a tendency to stalk professors and such online, so I can only assume they took a good look at what I’ve got out there. Thus the anxiety.

I guess it’s not a big deal if people know, though. If anyone does know, they haven’t given me trouble about it or passed it around. The reasons I’m stealth are for my personal safety and because I was tired of being the token trans* person and being treated differently all the time. Right now, it’s serving both of those purposes, so I shouldn’t be concerned.  I sat through a lecture on gender the other day without everyone turning around and looking at me or calling on me to educate them by answering personal questions about my body or my life story. Again and again I’m glad that I’m stealth. It is abundantly clear that a lot of the people around me are very ignorant about LGBTQ issues (not my friends or professors, but people living in town and a lot of the undergrads), and I really wouldn’t feel safe living here as an out trans person. It frustrates me to not be educating people sometimes, but I also realize that it would just be a drop in a bucket. Besides, being born transgender does not mean it has to always be my job to educate people, and I’ve already done plenty of that in my life.

Things are getting better on the friendship front, in any case. I’ve made a couple of solid friends, and yes, some of them are guys.

Masculinity and Male Bonding

Recently I went out  to the bars with some of the people from school. My idea of a good time is more like hanging out over ice cream, but I did the best I could with a beer. Anyway, it was a pretty fun experience. I’m really liking the other people in my classes, even though we don’t have a whole lot in common. That became more and more clear when one of the guys enthusiastically asked me if I do (play?) fantasy football. I told him no, which I think disappointed him a little bit, so he switched gears and asked me if I play video games. I told him that I do, but primarily Super Mario Bros (I didn’t mention that I am more than a little obsessed with the Sims 3). He meant something more along the lines of Call of Duty or Halo. I wouldn’t mind those games, but for some reason first person games with 3-D graphics give me motion sickness. He gave up after that.

I’m well aware that I’m a nerd, this wasn’t some sort of wake up call for me. I was in band in high school. I collected Star Wars action figures. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not into sports and I don’t know anything about cars, but I still found myself questioning my masculinity a little bit after I went home. These guys weren’t traditionally masculine, a lot of them were nerdy too (I mean, we’re in grad school). Still, there was a more masculine edge to their nerdy pursuits. They like simulation games where you shoot people, I like simulation games where you make people houses. It’s not really a bad thing, I’m glad that I’m not into violence. I just felt a little left out, on the outside looking in.

This is how I feel about male bonding a lot. Apparently this isn’t unusual. A lot of guys feel that they aren’t masculine enough or that they have trouble connecting with other men. I still feel weird about it and blame it on being trans. I don’t know if that’s why I am the way I am, though. Sure, I missed out on a lot of male socialization, but it isn’t as if my dad is (or has ever been) a bro. I’m a socially awkward, anxious, non-athletically inclined, liberal intellectual. I’m pretty sure I was born this way. I don’t like fantasy football, and that’s totally okay. I just wonder if I would even be thinking about this if I was cis.