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Friday, June 1, 2018

Expression and Sex Drive Changes

I mentioned (perhaps multiple times) that I've been feeling a lot more masculine lately and preferring that kind of expression more than I did when I first went off testosterone.  I'm kind of piecing together that part of the journey a bit, because I went from actively trying to express myself in a fem manner only to gradually have that desire fade away... there are certain outlets I utilize for it, but even those I am in some respect losing interest in.

My running theory is that a part of it was the high of going off testosterone... I was nervous about going off T, as I wasn't sure if it was going to make me dysphoric again or not, and when it didn't, I got a rush from that and was reclaiming a lot of things that cis people had shamed out of me through pervasive "let's help him pass better" negging in my early twenties.

"God, going off of testosterone was great! What else could I reclaim? My Girl Scout camp clothing? Nail polish?  Earrings? Eyeliner?!"  I did learn a lot about myself during this, and it felt great to say "fuck that" to the way I was treated in my twenties, so no regrets, but most of the high is gone there and trying to reclaim them further (outside of masc versions of them) just doesn't bring me that high anymore.

One thing I've noted is that in many respects I feel and express myself the way I did pre-T but without the constant undermining of my identity by cis people.

I'm still very much genderqueer (I might talk about this in a different essay I've wanted to write for a long time and haven't gotten around to), but I definitely feel more "man first" than I did a year ago.  I crave being masculine and I crave men's spaces and other stuff like that.

Some other things that could be going on... it could be that my hormones are changing (either due to the ovarian problems I was having before or due to just natural changes) in such a way that it's affecting my expression, or I could just be fluid and on the masc side right now.  Only time will tell, I guess.

Something that dramatically changed in the last month or so?  My sex drive has increased quite a lot.  If you followed that part of this journey at all, you know that going off T my sex drive almost immediately tanked.  On testosterone I was extremely orgasm-centered but had a really hard time with it, I'd go numb extremely quickly and would bleed during sex, and to make matters worse I had to deal with needing increasingly weirder mental imagery to do it.  All that went away off T, so although my sex drive was almost nonexistent, sex was better due to some reversion in the way my body behaved.

Anyway, it's way higher now.  Not the level it was when I was on T by any means (and honestly, thank Gods for that) but I'm reverting to probably about where I was before T, so I have a lot of fantasies, my tastes expanded more, I overall get aroused more.

I really like where it is now, and I hope it stays this way.  Since it was consistently where I was pre-T, I'm optimistic about it.  I definitely don't want to go back to the oversexed bullshit I felt on T, but having a sex drive as low as it was before was also not ideal.

Anyway, that's your sex update for the moment.

Happy trails!
-- Jackson

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Basic Four Ritual Tools

Recently I wrapped up my run-down of the four basic ritual tools from a more queer perspective. These are all in their own playlist on my YouTube channel, but if you want to view them all without leaving... here they are!

No, Seriously, You Really Don't Need Dysphoria To Be Trans


Last night, in the heat of greasy-haired passion, I filmed and posted a video about dysphoria... specifically, a little bit of a historical takedown of why you don't need dysphoria to be a member of the transgender community.  I also expanded that a bit to explain why dysphoria purists (trans people who believe you must have dysphoria to consider yourself transgender) are actually borderline appropriative: That word wasn't coined for them and was actively rejected by them for years.

You can of course watch the video, but if you'd prefer to read it, I've provided the script I used below.  It's not verbatim but all the main ideas are there.

--

Here's the deal: lately I've been really concerned with... community drama I guess?  It's not something that I've really dealt with for a while, I've been kind of out of the community loop, so when I started getting back into the community to learn more about top surgery I learned things that I guess I was kind of sheltered from, having been living my life mostly either stealth or around other trans and queer people who are as out of the loop as I am... there are a couple of things people have been saying that have been particularly bothersome to me because they are very ahistoric, and the way they are ahistoric is really personally offensive to me for reasons that will be explained in the rest of this.  I knew these perspectives existed, but I didn't know they had become as widespread as they are, especially among teenage trans people who I honestly never expected this shit from.

There are two main topics I'll be talking about here.  The first is the idea that dysphoria is necessarily a prerequisite to being transgender.  The second is that "transgender" is not an umbrella.  A quick note that although I did some quick Googling to confirm what I already knew... a lot of this is from memory as somebody who started transitioning long enough ago that I actually was there for some of the major events that make these wrong.

Recently I saw a young trans person--a seventeen year old trans guy--who tweeted a statement that was basically "well no shit Sherlock, of course you need to have dysphoria to be trans, it's right in the diagnosis: 'Gender Dysphoria.'"  And I seriously flipped my shit over this, because it's such an ignorant n00b thing to say, because "Gender Dysphoria" as a diagnosis didn't become a thing until like 2012.  Since I went on hormones before that, I actually wasn't diagnosed with gender dysphoria at all... I was diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

And the thing that makes my jaw just drop over this is that part of the reason they switched this diagnosis from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria was explicitly to acknowledge that simply being transgender is not a disorder and that not all transgender people have dysphoria.  They weren't saying that people must be dysphoric to be trans, they were literally saying the opposite: That the only trans people who need to be medicalized are the ones who have dysphoria, and that the dysphoria itself is the disorder, not the gender.

This is a quote from Jack Drescher, who literally was member of the committee responsible for making this change:
“All psychiatric diagnoses occur within a cultural context. We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories. We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.”  End quote.

That's literal proof that using the diagnosis title of "gender dysphoria" as a weapon against non-dysphoric trans people is historically inaccurate.  I was there and Drescher's analysis here?  It's exactly what I remember.  There was no point during that change in which any of us thought it was to solidify dysphoria as a requirement for being transgender.

Another quote, this one from Dana Beyer who was working with the Washington Psychiatric Society:  “A right-winger can’t go out and say all trans people are mentally ill because if you are not dysphoric, that can’t be diagnosed from afar.  It no longer matters what your body looks like, what you want to do to it, all of that is irrelevant as far as the APA goes.”  End quote.

Basically, transgender people lobbied like hell to get the diagnosis changed because when folks my age were diagnosed, we were given a label that implied that our genders themselves were mental disorders.  The switch not only moved the focus on things that actually mattered, but it reinforced that non-dysphoric trans people--including certain nonbinary folks, binary trans folks who don't have dysphoria, and trans folks who have already sufficiently transitioned already--exist and are not disordered at all.

But here's where it gets doubly insulting:  The fact that truscum slash transmedicalists are even trying to claim the term "transgender" at all is borderline appropriation.

The word "transgender" was independently invented a couple of times... there was a time long ago when it primarily meant somebody who lived as the "opposite" gender full-time but who did not desire sex reassignment surgery, often people who still identified as their assigned sex but who were full-time crossdressers, think Angel Dumott Shunard from Rent and you get a good idea.  During this time period, trans medicalists would not have touched this word with a fucking ten foot pole, and yet they want to monopolize it now.

As an umbrella the word transgender became popular in the 1980s and 90s, popularized by folks like Leslie Feinberg.  It was an expansive umbrella... it included binary trans men and women but also pretty much anybody else who significantly strayed from their assigned sex.  When I came out and started navigating the trans community back in the early 2000s, the word "transgender" was an expansive umbrella.  When I used to educate local queer groups about the transgender umbrella I would flat out list as members not only trans men and trans women but genderqueer people, genderfuck people, bigender people, and even drag performers and crossdressers.  And the folks who we would now call truscum or transmedicalists?  They didn't want any part of it.  It wasn't that they thought they should be the one true transgender people... they didn't want to be called "trans" at all.  They were calling themselves absurd things like "sufferers of Harry Benjamin Syndrome," if they wanted to be called any variation of "trans," they were transsexuals and did not want to be called transgender.  Fun fact... the word "transsexual" wasn't only limited to binary dysphoric trans men and women at first, either.  But I digress, this is about the word "transgender."

This is why there's a level of appropriation here... this is an ideology that has been around for a while, but has spent *decades* trying to stay as far away from the word "transgender" as possible, only to suddenly try monopolizing it as soon as it's beneficial for them to do so?  And I get that a lot of these people are quite young and weren't around when these shifts were happening, but it doesn't take much to actually talk to trans people who are more experienced than you, and if you're going to make blanket statements like this that have the potential to incite harassment and possibly even ruin people's lives, I expect you to at least learn the history of the words you're trying to lay claim to.  And in this case, it just doesn't follow.  It makes no sense.  It's entirely ahistorical for truscum to call "transgender" theirs and theirs alone.

Finally, I want to talk about all of this as it is "in practice."  One of the problems with trans-medicalist ideology is that it's like a lot of bullshit ideologies... there are some ideas there that look good on the surface.  For instance, claiming that dysphoria is necessary to be transgender doesn't seem so ridiculous when you factor in that a lot of us think that we aren't dysphoric when we really are... if you want surgery or hormones, for instance, you're almost definitely experiencing dysphoria on some level otherwise you wouldn't do that.  But because of the way this argument is set up, truscum try to be the gatekeepers of what constitutes "dysphoria," too, and they tend to change that bar depending on whatever would exclude the person they're trying to invalidate at that time.

For instance, I was goaded into an argument with a couple truscum where I was basically begging them to acknowledge that I was a valid trans person because I had been dysphoric in the past--even though I wasn't dysphoric anymore at the time--and that if I hadn't gotten hormones I definitley would still be dysphoric.  But they didn't like my transition methods and so they changed their already-bullshit standards specifically to exclude me.  Plenty of people experience dysphoria that is relieved by a change in expression, name, and pronouns rather than hormones or surgery... this should count as transgender just fine, it's still dysphoria, and yet truscum often exclude these people.  There have even been some super insulting cases where people have insisted somebody wasn't truly trans for not going on hormones or getting surgery when the only reason they weren't doing those things was because of access issues and not desire.  This is infuriating as fuck.


I know that the likelihood of me converting any dipshit truscum over to my side is slim, but at the very least, if you're in the position where you don't feel dysphoria or--more likely--you don't feel dysphoria in the way some truscum believes you should, I hope you find this video so that you can rest assured that, yes, you are a valid trans person.  And coming from me that's a big thing... I am notoriously critical of the Tumblr culture that tries making every identity endlessly valid.  In this case, though, they are definitely the ahistorical ones.

Happy trails,
Jackson

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Too-Visible Man: Why Aydian Dowling Needs To Not Talk About Trans Male Invisibility Anymore

A note before you continue... there's a habit in the trans male community where we declare certain trans guys to be "goals" and the person I am talking about here is one of those trans men.   He generally speaking has done a lot of great things for the community... but this is not one of those things.  A warning that he uses some out-of-date language and says some really offensive things about trans women that I've quoted here.

A couple years ago I wrote for a different blog (that has since been deleted) a rebuttal to a terrible article.  I was reminded of that today as I was thinking about some of the toxic myths about trans men out there, and realized that this was a take I didn't want to withhold from the world.

The article in question is called "The Invisible Man: Why Have Trans Men Been Left Behind?"  It's written by Aydian Dowling, most famous for his attempt to get on the cover of Men's Health Magazine (regardless of the other stuff I'm going to say in this essay... he was totally robbed).  It's a choppy essay written in the opinion section of an NBC news page, and it is... well, it's just a pile of shit.  Whiny shit.

Why was I thinking about it?  Because every once in a while I stumble on a trans woman's bad take about trans men, and I immediately think about this article.  Whenever someone says trans men experience male privilege from birth, and I want to get really pissed off about it?  I think about Aydian Dowling's article.  Whenever somebody implies that trans men can just stick up a GoFundMe and fund a whole surgery in two days because people just ❤️love💛us💚so💙much💜?  I think about Aydian Dowling's article.  Whenever a trans woman on Twitter tweets out some under-nuanced garbage about trans men?  I think about Aydian Dowling's article.  Because I always want to remind myself that these beliefs about trans guys don't come from a vacuum.  They come from years of having to deal with people who say things like Aydian Dowling has in this article.

So let's go back... way back into time (OK, only like a decade and a half or so ago).  Things were kind of rough for trans guys.  There were resources for trans people "in general" but they were really just for trans women, sometimes with a token mention about trans men that was often wrong (once I read on one of these resources that trans men regularly get jaw implants, which is... wrong).  Trans men often had to reverse-engineer resources because almost everything was built for trans women.  Trans men have been transitioning for as long as trans women, but had never gotten the same amount of visibility.  When I first came out, even trans women largely did not know that female-to-male transition was "a thing."  Once, when I tried joining a support group, I was pushed out because the concept of a trans man was so off-the-wall to the members that they thought I was a chaser.

We called this "trans male invisibility."  One could argue that trans women's visibility was actually super shitty, but nonetheless, for us it was a really big issue that compromised our ability to get care, and we grew a very deep cultural complex around it.  We emphasized our transness to an extent that would be considered problematic today, calling ourselves "trannies" and carving out our own spaces to compensate for the lack of spaces accessible to us.

Soon after I came out, spurred on by YouTube and other social media, the trans male community started connecting and growing.  We built resources, we started getting more media attention, and eventually it got to the point where trans men were no longer so invisible.  In some spaces we are given way more attention than trans women, especially in some queer communities.  But here's the thing:  The idea that we are the red-headed stepchildren of the trans world is a really deep cultural idea that we haven't really been able to break that easily.  So you still have a lot of trans guys who are convinced that trans women get more attention than trans men, and that this is a bad thing.

Enter Dowling's article.  I'd really gone to bat for him during the Men's Health thing only to be just... incredibly disappointed to see this.  Because it is thoroughly terrible.  It's actually embarrassing.  It took me multiple tries to actually read the whole thing because having a trans man as prominent as Aydian Dowling write this, I knew there was going to be a big mess to clean up.

And it's not just one issue, either.  It's several.  If you choose not to actually click the article to read it... well, I've quoted some of the worst parts of it, which is pretty much all of it anyway.
I googled the word “transgender.” No "man" or "woman" after that -- simply “transgender.” Google Images pulled up 402 images on the first page of my search. I was scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling until I realized something: All of the photos were transgender women.
I get that he's trying to get a narrative to this issue, but I can almost guarantee that this didn't actually happen.  This isn't something you do unless you're already trying to prove a point.  But I did the same thing and... my results varied based on search engine.  Shocker, right?

On my usual search engine (DuckDuckGo) these were my results:
  • Several pictures of Jazz Jennings, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner.
  • Some cis male actors playing trans women. 
  • Some off-putting stock images representing "transgender" including a stock image of somebody wearing half a face of fem makeup and many copies of the same "celebrity woman with a beard" photoshop.
  • A picture of Aydian Dowling.
Using Google, my results were more mixed:
  • More pictures of Jazz Jennings, Laverne Cox, and Caitlyn Jenner.
  • A violent photograph of a trans woman who was permanently disfigured in an acid attack.
  •  Several "before and after" transition pictures, with about an equal number trans men and trans women.
  • More off-putting stock images.
  • A picture of "human Ken doll."
  • Some pictures of trans male top surgeries.
  • A picture of Buck Angel.
OK. So how about Bing? Exactly the same as DuckDuckGo.  Down to the order.

Oh, and did I mention a good number of the articles were actually transphobic hate pieces?  So people had written bullshit for Breitbart and a lot of transphobic clickbait and their go-to photographs were all of trans women.

So this "Google search to prove trans women get all the love" experiment proves pretty much nothing except that when people think "trans person I hate," their go-to is a trans woman.
In a time when the identity transgender is at the very beginning stages of recognition and understanding in the larger culture, we are still missing something. It seems the only household names in the transgender community are all transwomen.
Trans women have accumulated quite a few household names... but so have trans men.  Aydian Dowling himself is a household name because of that damn contest he was in; my cis relatives couldn't wait to bring him up while that was happening as a sign that they knew My Community.

Some other people that my cis relatives, friends, and co-workers have talked about?  Chaz Bono, Buck Angel, and Thomas Beatie.  Zeke Smith was outed on Survivor and it was a big to-do.

In addition, a lot of trans women become household names because people are being pricks about them.  How many people went as a five-o'clock-shadowed, crotch-bulge-having Caitlyn Jenner for Halloween?
It has been over a year that I have been asking myself the same question, and now my answer has slowly started to change. Why? Why do we not have more of a focus on transmen? Why are the majority of people being discussed in any story about the transgender experience transwomen?
I actually kind of want to know where the fuck Aydian Dowling has been these past several years, because again, trans men are not that invisible anymore when looking at positive, affirming media.  The only place you see trans women overrepresented compared to us is in bigoted media and jokes.  Trans men are "in" and we have been for years, to the point where trans women actually are reporting experiencing the same problems we did ten, fifteen years ago.  There are places today where there are support groups for trans men and not women, for instance.
To me, this seems like a new twist on a very old tradition: sexism. While this may seem complex, at the end of the day I believe it is really quite simple: Many people still see transgender women as men and transgender men as women -- from the time they are born until after they transition.

This statement is just a total dick move.  I can't even see a picture of Aydian Dowling without thinking that he sat down and in all serious wrote this.

Listen.  I really fucking hate the gaslighting bullshit that compels people to say that trans men experience male privilege from birth and other things that are pretty documentably untrue.  But this paragraph is a transmisogynistic garbage heap, and would be even if trans male invisibility were still as big an issue as Dowling thinks it is.

If this were true, trans women would be privileged above cis women because people would still see them as men.  We know this isn't true.  If it were true, trans women wouldn't dominate most of the negative press trans people get.  We know that isn't true, either.  If it were true, trans women wouldn't get murdered at astoundingly high rates (trans men do not compare at all).  We know that's not true.  None of this follows and was apparently just pulled out of his own ass.

It's also important to mention that Aydian Dowling in particular saying this really hurts the trans male community a lot, because he's not actually a typical trans guy.  Most of us aren't super buff, thin, or ultra-cis-passing.  Even on hormones a lot of us wind up with voices that don't pass well, or we have facial features that don't masculinize well enough for us to go stealth easily, or we wind up with scarring on our chests that is extremely conspicuous, or surgery results that are not cis passing (surgeries are often designed with buff trans guys in mind; some doctors don't even operate on fat trans men because they don't want to deal with trying to masculinize our shapes).

When trans women see people who are particularly privileged and have won the genetic and medical lottery (as Dowling is and has), it really feeds into this perception that trans men are a bunch of cis-passing white men whining that we don't get on TV as often as trans women.
There are many transmen today all around the world whose stories are not being told. Not being seen. That needs to change. As we have seen in North Carolina and across the country, brave transmen continue to take a stand on the ridiculous “bathroom bills” by putting themselves out there, like Michael Hughes, who began the #wejustneedtopee social media phenomena.
Funny he should mention Michael Hughes.  Hughes was actually intentionally leveraging his privilege as a stealth trans man attempting to be an ally to trans women.  He acknowledged the legislation was targeting trans women--not us--and that it barely affected him at all.

In addition, this campaign, well meaning though it was, was actually hurtful to a lot of people, including trans women and pre-T trans men who need to use the women's restroom for safety.
The reasons for this may well have its roots in a new kind of sexism, one where some (read: gender-conforming) transwomen are held up with a combination of awe and sensationalism (depending on the media outlet or coverage), and transmen bear a double-edged sword of newfound privilege that makes us somehow less “interesting” as individuals or maybe less able to be exploited. In a world where transwomen -- especially transwomen of color -- are the most targeted part of our LGBTQ population, and we really have no idea how many transmen are targeted for violence are discrimination, this is an important knot to unravel.
"We don't get enough publicity because people don't want to exploit us enough" is a hell of a take, sir.  But it's also wrong:  Gender-conforming, cis-passing trans men are held up with just as much awe and sensationalism, something Dowling should honestly have intimate experience with considering he's famous for being a hot trans guy.

It's also worth mentioning that when I hear the buzz around trans people who are famous for being hot, it's perfectly socially acceptable for cis people who are into men to say they'd totally fuck Aydian Dowling... it's not similarly acceptable for cis people who are into women to say they'd fuck a hot trans woman, and if they do it needs to be with a shield of confusion.

"I'd fuck this man because he's just that hot" is an entirely different attitude than "This person confuses my penis."
I don’t pretend to have all the answers but the conversation needs to happen.
There are zero answers here.

Aydian Dowling actually is right about trans men needing more visibility, but here's the problem:  He turns it into a battle against trans women.

Trans male visibility at the expense of trans women is not what we should be fighting for at all... trans women need all the positive visibility they can get, and the habit among some trans men to try horning our way into that is ridiculous.  What we need is to be fighting for visibility among other men.

Ironically, this is what Dowling himself is famous for--he was a high-profile contestant in a competition to be on an overwhelmingly cis-male-oriented magazine--so it's perplexing that he doesn't seem to understand that the visibility battle is not about trans women at all.

And if it were--it's not, but if it were--about who gets the press within our community, that's not something that should be decided among folks like Aydian Dowling.  I assume he gets harassment and bigoted bullshit just as we all do, but he's still the model trans person as far as cis people's perceptions are concerned--white, thin, traditionally attractive, almost fully cis-passing--and it's people like him who already get most of the positive attention at the expense of trans guys who don't fit that look.

A Post-Hormonal Update and an Herbal

Latest picture as of yesterday.
I haven't put up an official off-hormones update in a while, so here is my current off-hormones update... and an herbal.  A wildcrafted one!

I mentioned a while ago I started dying my facial hair.  I actually don't do it a whole lot... just when I want it to "pop" or I notice a lot of gray or blond in it.  I've had some friends say their facial hair goes more blond when they are late in getting their T shots... I honestly have always had the blond and gray so I don't know if it would have gotten darker if I'd stayed on T or not.  Since a lot of relatives tend to start getting graybeards in their mid thirties I'm pretty sure it's just age.

I am going through an interesting thing where I'll see myself in the mirror and think "damn I look great" while also feeling more dysphoria than I did at the start of this experiment.  Luckily it's pretty much all concentrated in my chest, which I hope to get fixed soon.  In the rare event I'm chewed out by insufferable truscum who think hormones are "the very thing that makes you a man" (literally a direct quote) sometimes my confidence is a little punctured and I start noticing things about my appearance that don't usually bother me... but I could have said the same on hormones, too.  Hormones are great but they don't change everything, after all.

One effect I've noticed is that the lifespan of my moustache hairs has decreased.  They're still terminal and still long, but they fall out more quickly than on hormones so they only reach a little past my lip.  I can still pull of a nice handlebar but it doesn't reach quite as long before it gets too sparse and thin to look good.  Right now the only trimming I do is every once in a while clipping a couple millimeters off the ends.

The beard seems to be growing slower but not by a whole lot, and it does grow long enough for me to need to clip it if I don't want it to be super shaggy.  I like it looking reasonably well-kept, which it is as long as I keep the patchy stuff shaved.

Which brings me to the herbal... I think my beard and moustache are fine the way they are, but I did find a huge patch of horsetail, which is generally used for hair, skin and nails.  I made a topical oil with it that I'm using as a beard oil, although it's honestly a little early in foraging season for it to be effective.  There's a lot of it so I'll get more and make other preparations when it's more in-season.  Horsetail is found in a lot of beard growth supplements (along with fo-ti and biotin).

I've also been told that tea tree oil helps keep hair from falling out.  I don't really use a lot of essential oils, but I may put that in my beard oil too.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why I Don't Recommend TransTape (And Yes, I've Tried It)

So that TransTape stuff I talked about back in this post?  I got it.  And if you follow my vlog you probably already got most of the story:  It was a bad experience.  So I'm giving my rolls to somebody who really wants to try it but can't afford it... but I do caution against it.

First and foremost I wanted to make it clear that I subscribe to the Kate Bornstein School of Harm Reduction in that I strongly believe it is better to do something harmful to yourself than do something more harmful to yourself.  I know a lot of trans guys who are really into this product because it has advantages regular binders don't and they do not see top surgery in the near future.  No shame, it happens.  But I think it's also important to understand the risks, which I feel are being unfairly downplayed.

First, the good stuff.

I had an extreme honeymoon period with this stuff, to the point where I keep thinking "should I try this again?" and having to talk myself out of it.  It didn't look good without clothes, but with clothes it was probably the best look I ever had with a binding solution.  And it was comfortable.  I could breathe in it.  I kept telling my roommate how great it was while it was on.  Sleeping and showering in it was comfortable.  It seemed to withstand the active shit I do (doing karate in it felt fantastic; I normally wear a sports bra for that sort of thing).

There are a couple of health advantages compared to other binding methods, which I'll talk about in the last section.  It should be mentioned that I don't use other binding methods anymore, which affects how I feel about this product.

Yeah, the "good stuff" section is super short, but the stuff that was good was really good, hence why I keep considering reneging my decision not to use it again.

But there was way more bad stuff, and some of the bad stuff is... well, really bad.  So I hope you'll read this with serious intent and make a really informed decision about it.

It didn't deliver what I had hoped.

I'm going to go from the least bad to the most bad here.  The least bad but still bad thing was that all the fantasies I had about being able to go outside topless were pretty obviously not going to happen.  It looked weird.  On some body shapes this could work fine, but on mine I'm literally better off just not binding at all.  Even at a distance... I just couldn't do it.

It is hard to apply, with confusing instructions.

There's an instruction sheet sent with the tape that is supremely confusing, and watching the videos available in combination with it doesn't really help much.  The instruction sheet says there needs to be two inches of unstretched tape at each end... but there clearly isn't nearly that much in the video I saw.  On the front of the instruction sheet it says IN BOLD LETTERS not to add tension to the tape, then on the back it explains where it should be stretched (Is that the same thing or not?  I don't get it.).  For what it's worth, I did not stretch it at all.

If you use this I suggest you get something with a light adhesive (like an appropriately sized Band-Aid)  to cover your nipples; the instructions suggest things like tissue paper, and this worked but was a pain in the ass to keep in place with breasts the size of mine.

Using this to bind my right breast felt difficult but do-able, but the left was a wrinkled mess and I couldn't figure out any way of changing that.  The instructions warned that this could cause irritation, but honestly it didn't (and as you'll see if you read further... there was a lot of irritation).  It did, ultimately, make it hard to keep the tape on later.

It was super irritating.

This is the second most bad part... yeah, second most.  I have place it in second because I knew the risks here.  My TransTape experiment was based on a late night dysphoria-induced purchase that I made after weeks of trying to convince myself not to try it because I have been around and knew what would happen.

This tape was so comfortable while it's on that I didn't notice it was irritating my skin a lot.  In fact, it wasn't until a bit rolled up and I saw it was a red wavy mess.  I decided to take the rest off, and pulled out the instructions which said we were to soak the tape in oil for around a half hour and then let it fall off naturally.  When it finally "fell off naturally," so did several chunks of my skin.

I thought it had just been two chunks from a section that was pulled off too overzealously.  "This is my fault, I must have taken it off too fast," I told myself, sheepishly, before re-referring to the instructions, oiling the shit out of it, and playing the waiting game.  It was a red mess, sure, but not that bad... until the next day, when I had little scabs all over my breasts, and was itchy everywhere.

My plan to try it again fell through, and continues to look like a worse and worse idea, because it's been irritated for days now.  I'm taking care of it, and it'll heal, but it's definitely not something I'll do again.

There is a lot of deception going on in the community about this product.

Again, this doesn't speak to what I went through so much.  I knew it was a bad idea when I did it.  But going through it and seeing what they send, what they suggest, and what other people are saying on Twitter... there's a lot of misinformation out there about TransTape and a little possibly-willful ignorance, too.

First off, you might be tempted to believe that because this is called "TransTape" and "invented by a trans man" it means that this is better for you than regular old kinesiology tape (KT tape).  Because "it's designed for us!"  That's only a half truth, though.  TransTape is kinesiology tape--it's exactly the same thing--it was just ordered in a size and shape that would better facilitate binding.  If you think "gosh this trend of using kinesiology tape sure looks dangerous," realize that TransTape really isn't any better for you.

It's also important to realize that "invented by a trans man" wouldn't mean "good for us" even if it were actually invented start to finish by him.  Trans men by this standard also "invented" duct tape binding, ACE bandage binding, and putting minoxidil places minoxidil is not supposed to go.

That said, when people talk about TransTape I don't think they really understand how little the marketing really matters as far as its safety and efficacy are.  Some of the commentary I've seen from other trans guys is actually really absurd... yesterday I saw somebody claim that TransTape is safer because kinesiology tape "is supposed to stick to muscles" while TransTape "is designed for the skin."  So a lot of people really don't understand how this product was made, or they have weird ideas about how it (and in fact all kinesio tape💮) works.

This isn't a case of a laboratory of trans guys tirelessly looking for safer ways to bind, it's just somebody who was able to order a product that already existed in a size and color that works better for an extremely off-label purpose.  It's like if somebody found a supplier of minoxidil, put a label on it saying "TransFoam," and started selling it as a way to grow beards.  Sure, the FDA would probably step in on that one, but the point is that "designed by a trans man" doesn't make it safe.

There is also a huge problem in this product's advertising where it downplays the health problems that can result from it and pushes the responsibility onto the people who use it.  The website proclaims that the "vast majority" of users never experience skin reactions, which is slightly misleading; it only refers to allergic reactions.  A lot of people have skin problems with this stuff... if they didn't, the company wouldn't also sell salves and oils that are designed to mitigate and heal the damage and they wouldn't dedicate so much time to convincing people that the skin tearing and irritation that occurs is a problem of not using it properly rather than an inherent problem with the product itself.  If it's ridiculously hard to use it properly and without irritation, is it really a problem of consumer error?

This is a classic business cop-out:  Push responsibility for product safety to the consumer so the business doesn't have to deal with it.  That's true for small businesses as well as large businesses, we just tolerate it more from small ones because of the gross mythology we have regarding them.

"You just don't want us to have... hope"

So while I was researching for this post I happened on a Tumblr blog that says this:
there hasn’t been a long time to research every effect of this on our bodies, but the same can be said about most things to do with transitioning or just dysphoria-alleviators in general. i’ve seen a few fearmongering anecdotes from self-appointed experts who have nothing to stand on except they have thousands of followers who will believe them, who really don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to this stuff or just want to discourage any kind of hope, which really pisses me off, and it’s up to you to make the informed decision for yourself.
I think the best way to describe this one is "a bad point wrapped in a good point" and I'm not picking on just this Tumblr... it's a common set of attitudes.

The good point is this:  The things we do to manage dysphoria often are risky.  Binders--including the specially made binders we're supposed to use--can be super dangerous, with people getting morphed ribs and shit (in fact, one of the best cases I've seen for using TransTape was a guy who can't bind because he fucked his ribs up too much binding too tight as a teenager).  I have a friend who got pneumonia twice and still binds.  We do these things because we, as individuals, have come to the conclusion that the risks are worth the rewards.

The bad point is this:  Folks advising against tape are doing so because we know what kind of harm it can do already, and watching your whole community throw its whole weight behind something that we know is harmful in ways that are not adequately addressed... well, it fucking sucks.

Here's the reality:  People who really go to bat against TransTape and things like it aren't actually stopping people from using it.  Folks who are convinced this will change or already has changed their lives are going to rationalize to the death why it's OK anyway.

Finally, I'm not saying that you shouldn't use TransTape.  Like I said earlier, TransTape has a few huge safety advantages over other binders in that it doesn't distort your ribs or affect your breathing, and if you're one of the folks who keeps trying to get away with super unsafe shit like sleeping in a binder, then please switch to something like this because you'll be way better off.  If I had strong opinions that this is irredeemably unsafe I would have chucked mine instead of giving it to some random person on Twitter.

Just know what risk you're taking and take precautions to mitigate them.  That's it.

--

💮 -  For transparency's sake, I'll mention my mom is an occupational therapist and was an early adopter of kinesio tape in the United States so I'm pretty familiar with it.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Top Surgery Update

It's only been a day since I officially told the blog that I'm back on the "trying to get top surgery" wagon and... well, life comes at you really fast, and I already have updates.  Like a lot of updates.

I put a call on my Facebook for input from my local trans friends for information on how they acquired top surgery and I think I have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen (although I'm not sure of a timeline yet) and I've actually already contacted both a therapy center and a surgeon's office.

Here's the thing:  I've been transitioning for a really long time compared to almost all of my friends.  So my perception of how to get top surgery is incredibly skewed, and I had been assuming based on the barriers that used to be in front of me that I would never have insurance that covered this and would have to go to a prohibitive amount of therapy yet again.  I had really bad experiences with my HRT therapy, so was planning on going to a particular doctor who does not require letters.

My friends all indicated they'd had to go to basically no therapy to get letters (one got his on his second session, another went to three sessions but ultimately didn't actually need a letter to begin with).  So I immediately reached out to a transgender-centered therapist to ask if they did surgery letters (she replied that they do).

One of my friends, though, it turns out he went somewhere super local.  Like, in my city.  He's a surgeon I've never heard of before, he takes my insurance, and I might not need a letter to go to him.  There are some complications there... since I'm not on hormones anymore I don't have a dedicated doctor for trans concerns anymore, my primary care physician has mostly worked with my blood pressure and a few acute maladies, and the folks I used to work with (my HRT provider and my HRT therapist) are basically MIA.  I had tried to contact my HRT provider when I was going off hormones and failed, and my therapist is sort of a gatekeeper who wouldn't write a surgery letter without a fuckton more therapy anyway.

The discussion we had about this (reassuring me I don't need to be on hormones anymore to be eligible, etc.) implied that letter requirements are going to be looser than I expected.  So what's going to happen now is I'll go to the office, get a consultation, he'll give recommendations on what kind of surgery would go best with my body type, he'll work with my insurance to try to get it covered, he'll get back to me on cost, and we'll go from there regarding whether I need a letter or not.

Again, no clear timeline here, although I definitely would wait until at least after PSG (I assume I wouldn't be able to get it that early anyway!).

I have a couple of concerns regarding nipples, as my friend got his surgery without nipples and I don't know how comfortable I am with that.  This is actually really complicated for me in particular because of the following issues:
  • I am extremely worried about healing, and getting no grafts will mean no risk that my nipples will fall off in the shower or some other things I see happen to other trans men.
  • I am worried that if I don't get nipples I'll feel incomplete.
  • If I don't get nipples I have a whole world of tattoo options I can consider (I'm leaning toward getting flowers tattooed there instead, possibly tribulus terrestris).
  • My girlfriend likes my nipples.
  • ...but I'm actually not a fan of nipple play, as I don't feel erotic sensation in my nipples (the non-nipple parts of my chest have more erotic sensation than my nipples!).
  • If I get grafts I will likely at least for a period of time feel nothing in my nipples at all, which could trigger my dermatillomania.
I was hesitant about this doctor because he suggests no grafts for healing purposes, but when I really think about it it doesn't seem like that's actually a bad deal for me.

So I'll just bring my concerns up with the surgeon, see if I get any gross vibes from the practice, and go from there.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson