Monday, May 9, 2016

It's not a cage or a prison, it's a home

Every so often something happens that causes me to mention that I'm trans.  The asterisk isn't there because I'm talking about the very specific subset which I am.  I'm a trans woman.  Since I fit into that category, woman, quite neatly I'm not one of the people the asterisk is there to remind us about and I wouldn't presume to speak for them.

Not that I presume to speak for all trans women and trans men.  I don't.

But we go sideways, Let us return to forward:

Every so often something happens that causes me to mention that I'm trans.  Most of the time I don't talk about it and I don't think I should have to talk about it.  That's between me and my body and sometimes my doctors and, unfortunately, my official identification (fuck you things that say what you think my gender is and require my full legal name.)

But mostly between me and my body.

And maybe it's worth talking about the relationship between me and my body.

For those wondering why I take this time to do it, Lonespark shared this with me.  For those not wondering, that really killed the flow didn't it?  Anyway: the relationship between me and my body.

It's kind of rocky at times.  There's a long scabbed over cut near my left elbow and I have no idea how it got there.  Looks like it should have hurt.  Fail communication much body?  This after all of the times you felt the need to tell me every little thing that was going on in my intestines as if I'd forget I was sick if you gave me so much as one moment of respite?

Or how about when you don't tell me I'm dehydrated and instead trick me into thinking I'm malnourished or sleep-deprived instead, thereby assuring that the steps I'm taking to fix the perceived problem don't stand a chance in hell of addressing the actual problem?

What the fuck is up with that?

So, yeah, it can be rocky at times.

But I'm not trapped in it, and I never was.

I live in it.  I reside here.  I exist in the space behind these eyes, and tendrils of my being reach out to other parts like the fingers with which I type, the ankle I have sprained, a toe that rests against the couch, the intestines that have to get involved whenever I'm sick even if the illness is emphatically not intestinal.  This is me and mine.  (Yes, I just used "is" as a transitive verb."

I was never a girl trapped in a boy's body.  I was a sometimes confused, sometimes scarily certain, girl in a body that refused to change to fit how she wanted it to be or felt it should be.

I'd hoped to be taller.  I'm still horribly bereft of wings.  I watched with horror as the peach fuzz on my arms turned to thick dark coarse hair.

And had everyone look at me like some inhuman other when I decided to shave off that fucking hair off my arms in . . . high school I think it was.  Never did that in high school again, the reaction was too . . . I'm not sure there is a word.

My body doesn't always do the things I want.  Note its tendency to get concussed.

But I'm not trapped here.  I don't want out.  I want change.

At the moment I want to change my weight because I know the weight I feel best at and this is not it.  Once my ankle is 100% and I'm losing weight I'll bet you that I get pissed off when by boobs get smaller with the rest of me.  Well, maybe not pissed off.  Probably annoyed.

Frustrating as all hell that I needed insurance and an endocrinologist for them to grow in the first place.

Most girls have bodies that will grow boobs without being bribed with estrogen pills.  Generally by the time they're women.

The fact that mine doesn't work that way, though, doesn't suddenly make it a man's body, and it didn't make it a boy's body when I was younger.  It's my fucking body.  The male gender doesn't get possession.  It doesn't because maleness is over there and I'm over here and this body belongs to me.

There are people who dream of switching to a different body, there are people who feel trapped in the wrong one, but they are not everyone who is trans (or trans*) and I am not one of them.

If you start thinking, "I know what this is about, girl trapped in a boy's body," in response to hearing about trans girls please remember me and re-calibrate your fucking paradigm.  I exist.  People like unto me exist.  Don't forget about people who feel trapped since they exist too, but do remember the people who don't feel trapped.

I would say that all bodies are fixer-upper jobs to some degree or other, but I remind myself of the story of Balpreet Kaur.  If you don't want to follow the link, here's the short version: Balpreet Kaur is a cis woman who has facial hair --a dark mustache and a beard that's thick and dark near the chin.  People on the internet were nasty when they saw her picture (a picture she didn't know had been taken), but when she found out about it she responded beautifully.

What matters for our purposes at this precise moment is that her religion tells her that her body is the way it's supposed to be, a gift from her God, and she believes it.

So I have to remind myself, some people do have bodies that are already perfect.

For a lot of us, though, that's not the case.  Bodies aren't perfect.  Mine isn't (again, note the fucking lack of wings) and it never was.  It's closer to perfect than it once was in some ways, and further in others.  But it was never the wrong body.  I never wanted to leave this body.  I never felt trapped.  I never yearned for a different one.  I wanted to change the body to match how I felt it should be (obviously feminine traits as defined by my culture, sprout wings, be svelte instead of bowling ball shaped ...) but it's mine and, no, maleness cannot have it.

It's like my house.  My house is not in its ideal state.  Time, money, and mental state willing, I will make serious changes to it.  (Like figuring out how that fucking noisy as fuck mouse gets in, sealing that hole or those holes, and securing them better than the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.) But the fact that I want it to be different than it is doesn't mean that I want to get out of it.  It means I want to bring it closer to perfection.

Sometimes people will try to understand by asking when I started feeling like I was a girl (or woman if they think I didn't realize until adulthood) in a boy's (or man's) body.  I'll tell them about how my sister says that when I was really little I said I wanted to grow up to be a woman, but I was too young to remember that so I have to take her word.  And the earliest memory that I can assign a time period to was on the playground in elementary school when I was thinking about how I'd like to be able to turn into a girl...

I don't lecture them about how neither of these things is about being in the wrong body.  I don't tell them that "turning into a girl" as envisioned in my young mind involved this body --this very one that I still have to this day and was in all those years ago-- changing to become a more fitting one meaning that I wanted to keep the same damned body, thank you very much.  I leave a lot unsaid, and so I'm talking now.

Yes, as a child I probably would have conceded that I had a boy's body.  I didn't know anything about the difference between sex and gender, I didn't know trans* people existed, I didn't have the language to describe how I felt, and I didn't have the conceptual framework to make sense of it to myself, much less communicate it to others.

But even then, when I would have said I was in a boy's body, I never thought it was the wrong one.  It was always the right body in the wrong shape.  It was my body.  When I imagined turning into a girl, because I had been taught that I wasn't one so there had to be some kind of transformation, it was always, always, always about my body --my body that was the right body for me and was so very much mine and the only body I'd ever want-- changing.

And that's not something that's unique to my corner of the trans experience.

Plenty of kids want to grow up.  That desire, the desire to be a grown up, isn't (well, I should hedge, infinite diversity after all, isn't always) about the kids thinking that they're trapped in the wrong body.  It's about wanting their body, the one that they want to stay in, to change.

These days I have a doctor monitoring and adjusting my hormones instead of puberty.  Because why in fuck would anyone trust puberty to get things right?  How many people think, "Well I could get help from someone who has studied for years and is up to date on the latest science; nah, I'll just ask puberty"?

Granted puberty does get things (within tolerance of) right for a lot of people, but I'm putting my faith in medical science these days instead of, "Well if I just wait I'm sure everything will turn out great on its own."

And for me having my endocrine system working as it should and dealing with hair in places I don't want it may be all that I need.  That and a new dentist (old one got carpal tunnel, or something like that, and had to retire.)  It might not.  The future is not known to me.

It's definitely the case that a lot of people are obsessed with surgery when it comes to trans bodies.  Everyone wants to know if you've got gonads or not.  Well, actually, when it comes to trans women what nosy people are usually interested in is more gonad-adjacent.

I'm squeamish about genitalia in general, so discussion of surgery to them isn't something that I really want to have, but I would like to point out that it is not common practice to walk up to the penis-havers of the world and ask, "Are you circumcised?" in spite of that being a much more common surgery.  (Though it still ranks far below joint replacement, C section, and the grand Poohbah of all surgeries in the United States: cataract removal.)

My point, insofar as I have one, with respect to surgery, is that people who surgically alter their bodies generally aren't doing it because they feel trapped in the wrong one.  Maybe they're just sick of of their vision being screwed up, because how many people want to have blurry vision that only shows them faded colors?  Nothing against people who do, but I'm betting that people who don't aren't usually getting surgery because they feel they're trapped in the wrong bodies.

* * *

The post that led me to write this, linked to above and again here, begins:
I am not a woman trapped in a man's body. This body is no man's; it is mine, it is me, and there is no man in that equation. And I am not trapped in it. There are a million and one ways out of this body, and I have clung to it, tooth and claw, despite an endless line of people and institutions who would rather I vacate the premises, and have sometimes been willing to make me bleed to convince me they're right.

This body is mine, and I claim it and its bruises, and it is not a man's, and I am not trapped here. I have looked leaving my body in the eye and I have said, in the end, hell no. There is too much to do, too much to love, too many who need one more of us to say hell no and help them say the same.
I have a friend who has lost all joy.  When asked how he is he says, "I persist."  I wish he had better, but I'm glad it's not worse.  I've often pointed out that surviving is what I do.  It's the only thing I've never failed at.  If one day my seemingly endless string of financial catastrophes should leave me homeless I don't know what will happen, but I think I'll survive.  It's what I do.

I have a leg up over a lot of people because, even at its most fucked up, my brain never hits me with suicidal thoughts.  Still, keeping the body is hard work.

This body is mine and I guard it jealously.  I try very hard, though sometimes not hard enough, to keep it unbroken, to keep the blood on the inside, it's a constant struggle to keep it fed and watered.

This body was my birthright, but I've had to keep on earning the right to use it day by day and year by year.  Sometimes parts of it are wrong, sometimes things are in the wrong shape, sometimes it doesn't work remotely right, but it's never the wrong body.  It's never some man's body, and when I was a kid it wasn't some boy's body.

It's mine, and I am no man.

People not allowing that narrative can and do fuck over people like me.  You have any idea how long I was in mental anguish because everything inside was saying that I should be a girl but I "knew" that couldn't be true because if it were I'd have to feel trapped in the wrong body and I didn't have that fucking dysphoria?

I didn't think that there was anything wrong with trans people (didn't know about any of the asterisk groups at that point) but I'd been told that they felt trapped in the wrong body and I didn't, ergo I couldn't be trans.  I assumed that I was some kind of unclassified freak who wasn't a real trans person.

And please read the word "freak" in the previous sentence with all possible negative connotations and not a single positive one.

This shit is damaging.  Some trans* people feel that they're an X trapped in a Y body.  Cut the "some" off the front of that sentence and you get a vicious fucking lie.  Two paragraphs up, see "freak".  Three paragraphs up, see: "anguish".  It god damned hurt.

I would have been sure of myself and ready to start transitioning before I finished high school if not for the "Trans people feel trapped in the wrong body" lie.  Instead, because I believed the lie, I thought that I couldn't possibly be trans and couldn't figure out what the fuck I was.  Trying to work it out hurt.  Eventually it hurt so much that I decided to ignore my body entirely.

Want to know how long I hid from trying to figure out my own identity because the damned lie that trans people all feel trapped in the wrong body made any attempt at finding myself result in mental torment?  I was ignoring my body; part of that included not shaving.  Check out the beard length.

I note Lonespark's comment "Your Before picture looks like you are hiding from the world."

Yeah.  You have no idea.  Well, you (Lonespark) didn't then, but you were the first to find out.  Or . . . I think I told my mother pretty early, so that would make you the second.

If this were just directed at Lonespark I'd say it to her directly instead of posting here, so no more specific "you".  Back to talking in general.

I think it was another year after that when I came out.  (Lonespark deserves a lot of credit for giving me much needed support.  It would have been a lot easier to keep pretending to be male.  I had a lot of practice.)

I think I came out in September 2013.  Over ten years after I graduated high school (just one summer over ten years, but over ten years nonetheless.)  If it weren't for the lie that "trapped in the wrong body" is the only way trans people can be, then, as I noted, I'd have had my gender identity well and truly sorted out by the time I graduated high school.

An entire decade of needless confusion and pain.

Of course if they'd just told me that there was such a thing as trans people when I was a little kid (and left out the lie of course) then I probably would have had it fucking sorted by the time I reached middle-school. I spent so much damned time daydreaming about being able to be a girl and if I'd known that maybe it was because I was a girl I probably could have put it together.

Though there is an intriguing other possibility.  I'm a trans woman and the only hesitation I have in saying that is that I really, truly don't like admitting to adulthood.  (I don't wanna grow up.)  What was going on in my head when I was really little though . . . it was . . . I don't know.

Maybe it's just because everything was telling me that I was a boy and was supposed to be a boy so I had to incorporate that into my thinking.  Or maybe I really was different back then.  Because while I spent so, so much time wanting to be able to, and dreaming about being able to, turn into a girl, being able to turn back was always an element.  In the fantasy worlds kept safely hidden inside my own mind where no one else could see I was gender-fluid.

Maybe if I'd been allowed to be that then I would be now.  Maybe that's something that got lost along the way.  Or maybe I never was, and I just had the desire to move between the two because I thought I was supposed to want the one I didn't want and I was indeed a genderstatic trans girl back then.

I truly don't know.

What I do know is that things would have been a lot better if I'd been given accurate information a lot earlier and not had the over generalization that made it seem like people like me were impossible.

And a big part of what I needed to know, but was told wasn't true, was that it's possible for a single person to be trans and attached to their body in a positive way.

It's my body.  I am not trapped here.  I want to be here.  If I were taken out and put into some cis woman's body I'd want my fucking body back because this one is mine, God damn it.


Random line from a cartoon:
It's time we stopped trying to be so "perfect" and be who we really are.  We're crazed, angry, sweaty animals!  We're not unicorns; we're women, and we take what we want!
And me, I want this body.  I want this one right here to be the one that matches who I am.

I'm not trapped here; I'm ensconced.

It's only natural to want your ensconcey-place to be in line with your own standards, so yeah, that's involved some changes.  But they were improvements to a place that I was never trapped and never dysphoric about.*


* Except maybe the arm hair.  When that first turned dark and coarse it really did bother --a visceral sense of wrongness, even-- but plenty of people dislike body hair without it being called dysphoria.


  1. Beautiful and illuminating. Thanks for writing this.

  2. If you ever feel like it (and you are not obligated in anyway) I'd love to hear what it is that makes you feel that you are a woman if it isn't the body. It is an area I've been thinking about a lot lately after being told I scored quite highly for 'transgenderism' in some of the psychological testing I've had done. I loath 'masculinity' (the toxic cultural persona) but despite feeling like I would have been a happier, more aligned individual if I'd been born female I've never thought I'm not male despite rejecting the common conception of what being male is. Currently, I'm trying to wrap my brain around what it means to 'be' a gender if not the body or the stereotypes and if you have the inclination and/or the spoons to do so I'd appreciate your perspective as a lens to help me examine my own experience.

    1. The first thing that one has to understand is that gender identity is not some universal thing. Some people have a very strong one, some people don't have one at all, and most people are in the middle.

      This flummoxes some people who try to explain what it's like to be trans* because they incorrectly assume that everyone has a gender identity as strong as their own. And one's identity has to be fairly strong for one to say, “I'm X,” when the whole world is saying, “You're Y.”

      The truth is that I don't think you can explain what it's like to someone who doesn't have that frame of reference. The best that can be done is to try to sidle up to it with analogies and hope that the cognitive leap that can be made.

      The “trapped in the wrong body” narrative at least benefited from the ease of analogy. If, “How would you feel if you woke up a girl,” doesn't work on cis-guy then you can try for, “How would you feel if you woke up like Gregor Samsa?”

      One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

      Mind you for some people that still doesn't work because their concerns would be entirely logistical and not about the fact that they were no longer human because, as it turns out, not all human beings have “human” as a strong part of their identity.

      But you can kind of adapt that to a less “wrong body” based narrative. “How would you feel if everyone treated you like an aardvark?” for example. Everyone treated you that way, told you that you were one, insisted you could never be anything but an aardvark, judged everything you did through the frame of “aardvark” (“I've never met an aardvark who talks before!”) and so forth.

      Still, though, not everyone really has “human” as a strong part of their identity so the fact that it's shifted away from the “trapped in the wrong body” narrative doesn't help explain to people who don't feel that.

      Identity is complex and difficult. That makes it hard to communicate. Are there any things that you know you are? That are so much a part of you that to get them wrong is to get you wrong?

      If you have such things, then there's probably a basis for comparison in them. My gender is one of those things to me. If it isn't to you, then there's nothing wrong with that.

    2. Your comment about it being your birthday over on Slacktivist and if people wanted to come and comment it would be appreciated reminded me that I never responded here and thanked you for this. I kept meaning to once I processed it and had something useful/interesting to say but I'm still processing and developing what my relationship with gender and my maleness is and since I'm not generally a clever commenter I never got around to coming with something worthy of responding here.

      So what I do have to say is:
      Thank you. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. It has and will continue to inform my thoughts and understanding on a subject I struggle with both seeing and understanding.