Blanket Content Warning: This blog may include mentions, descriptions, or other media with information involving menstruation, pregnancy, sexuality, breast care, abortion, and anything else generally considered relevant to inhabiting an assigned-female body, but centering a genderqueer trans male experience. I also talk about dieting a lot.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Shared Girlhood" (from a Guy who was a Girl)

As you may already know if you've been involved with the trans community more than ten minutes, there's a streak within feminist thought that is trying desperately in any way they can to exclude transgender women, both from women's space and from the feminist agenda as a whole.  Even people who genuinely don't think they are transmisogynistic have fallen into the trap of subtly rejecting trans women or making "exceptions" when their issues come up.  One that had my own folks up in arms recently is the idea of "shared girlhood."

As a man who was once a girl, this is cringeworthy on two counts, most importantly the vile attempt to exclude trans women but alongside that the reactionary arguments against this that erase my own girlhood.  See, right now the current within trans discourse is to believe that trans men have "always" been male and trans women have "always" been female, which is meant to validate trans women's right to feminist and women's spaces but also labels trans men "problematic" or worse when we talk about our experiences on the barrel end of misogyny.

Let's Talk about the Transmisogyny Escalator

It's important to recognize that when "feminists" try excluding trans women, they are making reactionary arguments in an attempt to pull the rug out from under trans women without accidentally tripping every cis woman (and there are many) who incidentally is subject to those same arguments.

It's hard to explain, so I'll give you an example.  There are some areas of women's spirituality that are very womb-centered and in fact very body-centered in general, and cis women within these have spent decades coming up with half-assed arguments as to why these mysteries don't apply to trans women.  This usually involves the argument that trans women can't possibly experience or even benefit from women's mysteries work because they haven't experienced menstruation, childbirth, or some other uterus-based experience.  The problem is that not all cis women have these experiences, either, due to choice or medical condition or any other variety of reasons.  To accommodate these women they talk about concepts like "womb space," which is a spiritual entity that takes the place of a physical womb in the event of its absence.  They then take this concept (a lovely concept which is very healing to women who have had hysterectomies or some other health problem preventing them from experiencing those mysteries) and insist trans women inherently do not have one... with no real explanation why.

"Shared girlhood" is in the same category.  "Shared girlhood" (at least in this context) is a concept transmisogynistic folks created specifically to scrounge around for a reason they could exclude trans women from feminism.  They argue that women have a natural identification and kinship with other women because they all had this shared experience of being girls, therefore it doesn't matter that an adult trans woman documentably experiences misogyny just like a cis woman, because they didn't have that magical girl child experience.

The "shared girlhood" excuse is countered by trans activists with another reactionary argument, the notion that trans women, even if they transitioned as adults, were born female and therefore did experience girlhood, regardless of what anybody thought about them.

Where that Reactionary Argument Fails

Listen, I'm not going to argue that any trans person wasn't born the gender they say they were born.  I consider myself a man who was born a girl and had a girlhood; being trans is not an experience that can be universalized, and there are so many trans people who had miserable childhoods because they knew they were being raised into a gender they didn't identify with.  But I would like people to, instead of just insisting trans women are included in that "shared girlhood," also understand that the whole idea of "shared girlhood" is both false and moot, for a couple reasons:
  1. Cis women as a whole do not actually have an experience of "shared girlhood."  Yup, I said it.
  2. Oppression isn't really about how you feel about your identity.
  3. Changing gender actually does very rapidly shift the privileges you get.
And I need to stress:  None of these arguments is an argument against women's space, against feminism, for redefining trans women as non-women, or anything like that.  They are ways to say that trans women are women regardless of the convoluted arguments transmisogynists make, because the base arguments never made sense to begin with.

"Shared Girlhood" is Shit

I have had what I consider to be highly valuable girlhood experiences.  I was a Girl Scout for decades, including working for them as an adult.  I experienced the shame around menstruation and the extreme difficulty managing it as a poor girl, as well as the physical pain it brings.  I've experienced men talking down to me, assuming I lacked physical or emotional strength, I've had entitled men touch me without permission and much worse.  Many cis women would prefer men they talk to not understand these experiences, and so I don't talk about these things with all women, but when they are receptive to talking to a dude about it I'm happy to talk hilarious uterus stories and grow an affinity with women over them.  I consider myself to, generally speaking, understand girlhood very well.

This isn't the same as shared girlhood, though.  There are a few key experiences that most (not all) girls have, and a wide spectrum of gendered experiences that vary considerably based on culture as well as intersections with other axes of oppression.  A black girl and a white girl are treated entirely different by the same culture, with black girls viewed as older than they are and inherently more threatening, which changes that experience.  A queer girl will not have the same experiences as a cishet girl, and they may have wildly different forms of exposure to men.  A girl in a rich family may disbelieve that women's oppression even exists because her experiences are mitigated so much by money, and there are other girls who disbelieve in their own oppression because they were taught to disbelieve in it or in order to be non-threatening to men.  Even physical experiences are not easily universalized... there are literally girls--today--who are locked in a hut when they menstruate, or who never do menstruate due to nutritional issues, illness, or genetics.  There are girls who have very light periods and very few other symptoms, and who don't understand what the big deal is, there are those who wind up staying home from school because it is so painful.

So it's not just that trans women are included in shared girlhood, it's that shared girlhood is a falsity.  It doesn't exist.  It's just an excuse.

Oppression isn't just about Feelings

In the second paragraph under this warning there is a mention of sexual assault.

One of the issues with this whole thing is connected to the way transgender-related privilege arguments are constructed.  It's really tempting to act like trans women and trans men have either the exact same experiences, or the exact opposite experiences, with no nuance regarding it.  So it's not super uncommon to hear the argument that trans women never had male privilege, even when everyone viewed them as boys, therefore trans men must have always had male privilege, even when seen as girls.

This implies that oppression and marginalization are merely about how you feel about things rather than the documentable effects of that oppression.  Once, when I was working while closeted, I was sexually assaulted by a group of men who had targeted me for being a butch woman.  I viewed myself as a man, I even had already had my name changed, but I got sexually assaulted anyway by people who specifically thought it would be hilarious to pretend to be interested in an "ugly" woman.  There are those who insist that I call things like this "transphobia" rather than misogyny, because in sexually assaulting me my attackers were "misgendering" me.  This is a revolting request.

That's, of course, an extreme example in a sea of misogynistic aggressions.  My childhood was filled with cases in which I was barred from taking certain classes that were "for boys," I had my strength questioned, I didn't realize I didn't suck at math until college because my teachers would tell me that as a girl I wouldn't be good at it anyway (I had changed my career trajectory entirely based on the premise that I wouldn't be able to handle the math), and so forth.  You know what else?  I was super ignorant and did not view any of this as marginalization of girls until I was older.  I was "one of the guys."  I viewed the reason I was being "punished" as people not realizing I wasn't like normal girls.  And it still affected me up until and including much of adulthood, including after I realized my perspective on it was crap.  I was treated differently for being a girl--or being viewed as one--and several aspects of my life never rebounded from that.

The thing about this is that, as I alluded to above, trans women and trans men do not have complimentary experiences.  Many of my friends are trans women, including one I knew as a "boy" in high school, and their childhoods did not protect them from misogyny at all (I will not tell their stories as they aren't mine, but I will say that many were similar to my own experiences in ways I shudder to think about; in a nutshell, a pre-discovery trans woman is highly likely to be "treated like a girl" as punishment for being a feminine "boy").

But what if they did?  What if trans women did, in theory, have male privilege as boys?

It's a moot point.

Changing Genders Really Does Change Your Privilege Level... Rapidly

In addition to the gross transmisogyny going around, there's another article about a guy who traded names with a woman co-worker of his for a week and found out that nobody took him seriously anymore.  A lot of people are rolling their eyes about that, under the assumption that men should know the this already as women talk about it all the time... there's a degree to which that's true, but from (the opposite) experience I can tell you that the extent to which this is different is quite staggering and I don't blame men for being shocked when they discover the discrepancy.

So I had a girlhood and then at 18 went into a sort of "twilight" period where I was living as a man most places but closeted in others because I could not find a job otherwise and took my damn time coming out to extended relatives, finally going on hormones at 26 years old.  The time period between ages 25 and 27 was very notable in how rapidly everything changed.

I was taking an associate's degree program in IT at the time, with mostly-male classes.  Having never experienced men taking me seriously, and assuming that having been out a lot of the time as a trans man I'd already attained max level male privilege, I assumed that it was because I was introverted, whether by upbringing or nature.  I was wrong.  I was sooooo wrong.

I started hormones in late December, during our holiday break, giving me a full month and a half before I returned to school.  I hadn't changed very much as far as my attitude, but was staggered by the way my classmates and teachers suddenly treated me.  The same guy who just a couple months earlier had sneered at me that I needed to contribute more in a group discussion he wouldn't let me talk in was complimenting my ideas, I was able to talk in class without people ignoring me or talking over me, at least not as much.

At the same time I started getting second job interviews and offers for positions very similar to ones I'd been told I didn't have the experience for a month and zero extra job experience earlier.  I was stunned.  I knew stuff like this happened, but had been "discoursed" into thinking that it hadn't affected me since I started living as a guy.  "Trans men have male privilege from birth!" right?

It's worth a sidenote that statistically speaking post-transition trans men still don't on average get equal pay or respect to cis men... but we often improve a lot.  This is indicative of having more privilege after transition than before, in other words, we were not born with male privilege, we acquire it, and it's mitigated by other factors just as other marginalized men's privilege is.

Trans women as well often experience a sudden drop in privilege once they come out.  This drop is different from the increase trans men experience... when we don't "pass," people are likely to treat us like women, which sucks.  When trans women come out, and don't "pass," they don't get treated like men or cis women, they get treated worse than either.  No amount of "male socialization" is going to make somebody listen to you, value you, and trust your experiences when they view you as an inferior person.

The only difference--maybe--is that there are some trans women who at the start of transition expect that they will get treated the same and then don't understand the misogyny in their treatment because they felt like they were entitled to better.  First of all, this isn't a trans woman thing.  Cis women do stuff like this, too, especially particularly privileged ones, and many of these women rarely wind up understanding oppression in any meaningful way.

Second, and here's the kicker, why do people making these arguments believe trans women are not entitled to things like equal pay, respect, careers, families, and the other things trans women often lose upon transition?  One of the most baffling things about transmisogyny in "feminism" is the wild double standard.  Look, I'm a radical.  I find the "Lean In" set repulsive and I don't believe that having women "act like men" is progress, because "acting like men" means emulating oppressor behavior (I would rather men stop engaging in oppressive behavior than women obtain it).  But mainstream feminism rewards cis women who engage in this sort of behavior all the time!  You can't complain that trans women "take up too much space" or "expect too much accommodation" when they behave in ways that get white cis women awards and accolades, which is exactly what's happening here.

It's 2017... if Shared Girlhood Exists, Many Trans Girls Are Experiencing It

We live in an age, right now, where many people are transitioning very young.  That rally that I wrote about a little while ago was organized (!!!) by teenagers, many of whom have been out and living their truths for years now, and many of the rallies I've seen on TV lately had flat-out kids who were like eight or nine years old who are transitioning through socialization and future puberty blockers.  Last year at a Pagan event I met a trans boy who was like ten years old.  I'm willing to bet that most of these kids will not grow up to be like me, who was a girl long enough to identify with it in the past-tense as an adult man.  They may barely remember it at all when they're adults outside of trauma inflicted on them by transphobes.

The idea that trans women live a substantial portion of their lives growing careers and marriages and financial assets and households bolstered by male privilege only to comfortably transition into a woman who "still acts like a man" (takes up space, feels entitled, talks over people) is a stereotype, and the few trans women who could even be argued to be in such a position aren't exactly popular in our community (Have you ever asked a run-of-the-mill trans person about how we feel about Caitlyn Jenner's ridiculousness?).

Conclusion

I think the trans community as a whole needs to be more assertive with the way we talk about ourselves rather than bending our discourse to meet the reactionary arguments of transphobic and particularly transmisogynistic individuals.  The reality is that trans people all have different experiences, just as all cis people have different experiences, and these experiences would not disqualify trans women from women's space even if the arguments made in favor of that disqualification had truth behind them.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Why You Shouldn't Get Super Cheap Menstrual Cups

I had interesting ideas of what I
would wind up looking like pre-T.
I'm a big fan of menstrual cups, something I got into shortly after I started socially transitioning.  Back when I started, these were a really big investment, but since they went mainstream you can get one for as little as a few dollars.

Should you spend that little?  I believe "no."  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I loved cups as a pre-testosterone trans man for the most trans-manliest of reasons.  For one, I wanted to be more environmentally friendly, but more importantly, buying menstrual products was a huge source of stress for me.  Cups were fantastic in this regard, because I never had to carry around tampons or pads and I never needed to go buy more of either in a store.  The best part was that I could really just forget about my period most of the time, as I had a pretty average flow and would only need to empty it a couple times a day.

I lost my original DivaCup while I was still on testosterone, because when I started I didn't really expect to ever need it again.  There are lots of trans guys and especially nonbinary folx who have a plan to go on testosterone for a set number of years, but I was one who fully believed I'd be on it forever, get a hysterectomy and top surgery and maybe even one of the less-invasive bottom surgeries, etcetera etcetera.  So when I finally took the plunge and went off hormones, the first thing I did was try and find a new cup.

I wound up with the MenstroCup, which is basically a knockoff DivaCup.  Same material, similar design, same type of stem.  In a way it's lucky that I decided to go cheap, as my roommate also uses a cup, and it would be kind of uncomfortable to find that we had accidentally switched!  Related note:  I also converted my girlfriend to the cup.

Anyway, I lost that MenstroCup at a very inopportune time, so I frantically went to Amazon to get another, only to find what I thought was a super sweet deal: Two menstrual cups for twelve bucks?!  That seemed useful... I could either keep one for a backup in case I lost the original again, or I could give it away to another vaginally-active soul who needed it.  So I got the two-day shipping on that to get it just in time for my period.

Let me tell you, cheap cups are not worth it.

Since they're usually made of silicone, which isn't particularly cheap, my cheap cups have very thin walls.  This prevents them from opening up fully in the vagina... they keep a little divot, providing a place for blood to seep out before the cup is full.  It catches enough blood to avoid soaking through your pants, but not enough to grant the total bliss of forgetting you're on your period.

Oh, and you'd better not sneeze.

This was the last straw.  Penelope, my landlord/roommate's little Yorkie, needed to do her doggie business and so I took her outside.  As I have the curse of a solar sneeze reflex, the bright light hitting me caused me to blast out rather a large sneeze, which sent this cheap-ass cup shooting out my vagina.  I stood frozen for a few seconds (hey, the dog needed to finish) before waddling uncomfortably back into the house.

Based on the Amazon reviews, this is not an uncommon occurrence.  There are certainly people out there with apparently magic vaginas (perhaps made of plush and with a faint stream of menstrual blood?) who love these cups, but they're not a great buy.  You're best sticking with something at least ten dollars... the MenstroCup was I think $12 with Amazon Prime... considering you're likely to save loads of money that would have gone to pads and tampons instead.  DivaCups are fantastic and not as expensive as they used to be, too.

My next experiment may be a homemade set of period underwear, but that'll be something I try when I gather some overall motivation.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson

A Realistic Look at Herbal Transition Methods

As a witchy trans person I encounter a lot of people who are interested in herbal methods of transition, thinking due to the buzz surrounding some of these methods they're going to have effects similar to testosterone replacement therapy, just slower and less pronounced.  There are a lot of reasons that people try these methods, most of them based on very valid issues and philosophies.  Maybe they want to avoid animal testing, or they don't have health insurance, or they want to avoid the medical industrial complex.  Maybe they just want to try being as natural as possible... lots of reasons, but unfortunately there are a lot of highly unrealistic expectations out there, especially considering how expensive all those supplements are.

This springs from the existence of some trans men whose physical appearance looks about what you would expect from somebody who has been on testosterone, with facial hair and a more masculine build, often with a lower voice as well, who are on natural transitioning programs.  If you are looking into "natural" or herbal transition methods based on these men, it's important to understand that there is a lot of variability in appearance among all genders... many cis women can grow visible facial hair but are shamed into getting rid of it, so you wouldn't even know.  Recently I was in a trans male forum and there was a guy there happily holding up his syringes, exclaiming "First T shot today!"  People were dumbfounded about it because he had substantial, dark facial hair, thinking he had to have done something to acquire it... but he didn't.  It's just how he naturally developed.  In addition, it's possible for some people with a lot of work to train their voices to sound more masculine.  Please do not assume that trans men who didn't go on HRT (or haven't gone on it yet) are like that because of herbs and supplements, they very often are not.

I have written on this subject elsewhere before, usually concluding that herbal and natural transition is, to quote myself, "bullshit."  My position on this has softened somewhat.  There certainly are natural ways to transition that may involve herbals and supplements, but they do not work like testosterone replacement and we need to be realistic about what they can and can't do.

A quick note:  I use the term "herbal" transition here because "Natural Transition" is one specific program and I wanted to deal with more than just that one program.  "Herbal" is also kind of a misnomer, as in addition to herbal supplements a trans man on one of these programs is likely to use things like bodybuilding supplements, vitamins, and oral hormones like DHEA.

What can herbal transition do?

The most important thing it can do is it can make you feel a hell of a lot better.  Having no way to transition at all can be frustrating, so even if it doesn't make physical changes, using herbs and supplements can help you spiritually or psychologically.  Some also do raise testosterone a bit, which might only cause superficial physical changes but may result in positive mood changes.  For witchy trans men, using herbs intended for men regardless of where in your transition you are may provide a nice spiritual boost.

Diet and exercise can also change your body shape to one more easily read as masculine, mostly through increasing muscle and reducing fat.  This is really the star of the whole natural transition process, but it also isn't necessarily some magical property of the supplements used, just a natural effect of exercising more.

"Wait, Jackson," you may be asking, "Why is this list so damn short?"  Because I want to be realistic, here... herbal transition can help you on a very limited scale, but it just doesn't result in the changes most trans men are looking for.  For good examples of this, you can go to YouTube and look up FTM Natural Transitioning videos.  Trans men have a cultural thing where we love posting videos of the changes our bodies go through, and that includes people on NT.  So it's fairly easy to find just how ineffective this program is in comparison to T... just find some videos, watch early and pre-NT videos and then watch videos from months later.  Don't be a dick about it, obviously, but you can find people going on and on about what fantastic changes NT is providing for them while objectively you can see they are not changing outside of attitude.

What can't herbal transition do?

First of all, I wanted to point something out:  Herbal transition methods are rarely if ever "natural."  Unless you're cherry-picking and only picking out good, natural herbs, what you're consuming will mostly be synthesized chemical crap much sketchier than your average batch of testosterone in cottonseed oil.  This might be worth it... except they're not really effective, either.

Herbs are unlikely to deepen your voice, although you can take voice training to help you with that if you are adamant against going on testosterone replacement.  There are currently some apps out there, as well, that will help you train your voice (like Purr Programming's "Voice Pitch Analyzer" that tells you whether your voice is likely to be read as masculine, feminine, or androgynous).

Herbs are unlikely to increase your facial or body hair growth too much.  Some supplements (like biotin) may help with hair growth if there is something hindering that growth.  It's also hard to distinguish between growth from long-term herbal use and the effects of aging, as many people will naturally grow more and darker facial hair gradually as they age.  Finally, trans men who herbally transition often supplement facial hair growth with topical minoxidil (Rogaine) and other not-so-natural methods.

Herbal transition is unlikely to stop periods, and if it does... that's actually something that should alarm rather than relieve you.  In an estrogen-dominant, womb-holding body if menstrual cycles cease without medical intervention it could be due to things like nutritional deficiencies or stress.

The risks of herbal transition.

Physical risks on herbal transitioning exist, but I think they're honestly overblown.  I know at least one person who wound up in the hospital after taking Tribulus terrestris, a common herb used to increase testosterone (there is no evidence that it does).  Really any supplement can land you in the hospital if you aren't careful, and most herbal transition programs use a lot of them, so that is concerning.  In the rare case that you do wind up really harming your body it may make it more difficult to get testosterone in the future (because if you have a particularly gatekeeping therapist or doctor they might see you as a liability if you've tried to transition in this way; it's ridiculous, but that whole industry can be a bane to trans folx).

The issue with these programs is more about their ineffectiveness and the fact that they are a supreme waste of money in a population that often doesn't have as much of it as our cis counterparts, and in fact many trans men try herbs because they can't afford the bloodwork necessary to get testosterone.  Herbal transitioning can also be psychologically harmful if your expectations are set high... for a lot of us there are only so many major let-downs we can experience before we run into serious psychological problems.

Conclusions

I am a trans man who went on hormones for a few years and then went off... I understand that people don't want to be on pharmaceutical testosterone forever, and you don't have to be.  There are other options.  But I strongly discourage people from trying to start off a physical transition using just herbs and supplements, because it's very expensive and not very effective.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stories from the Trans Rally

Also, my roomies and I were on TV. As background specks.
I went to the trans rally I wrote about last time with my roommates, and generally speaking everything went better than expected.  A friend had gotten into a tiff with somebody in the group who suggested bringing a bunch of patriotic garbage, but there were only two United States flags in the crowd, and in context both of them were definite "not in my lane" situations where I wouldn't care to criticize them anyway.  Some cringe-worthy signs, but it was mostly a supportive atmosphere.  And there were a lot of people there.  I had no idea how many trans youth resided in my city.  And no protesters at all, at least none I was aware of.

There were some uncomfortable moments.  One of the people who took up the open mic immediately used it to misgender the organizer of the rally before going into a lengthy speech including a bizarre tangent about how she saw a cat therian on YouTube but doesn't judge.  And I agree, I don't really care if people live as cats or whatnot, but it's not really something to bring up at a trans rally.  And there were some super questionable signs... I was unsure at first if they were even supporters.  Tomatoes "born fruit but identifying as vegetables," quips about looking for the "Democratic bathroom."  What?  Seriously?  These were, however, from allies.

My favorite were some signs held that said something like "Cis Teachers for Trans Students," as well as one that said "I am a woman, not an 'it.'"

My roommate decided to get into an argument with our school district over some stuff said at the rally about students being punished for using appropriate restrooms (because in addition to being a strong ally, as a taxpayer he is not interested in paying for Title IX lawsuits).  They apparently want to meet with him, which is insulting (on their part, not his, and I hope he takes them up on this opportunity as he is delightfully stubborn).  They have plenty of trans voices to listen to.

In other community and activism news, I'll be facilitating a one-on-one trans thing next week; I'll be asking questions and small groups (ideally one cis and one trans person) will discuss the questions and bring up their answers to the rest of the group.  A couple days later there's a sort of mini-conference I'll be going to as well.  I'd taken the day off to go to a different event that looks to be quite lackluster, so I'll be going to the trans thing instead.  One of the subjects I think will be the issue of uncomfortable stealth and trying to maintain trans identity when you pass so well that you start losing that community connection.  This is in its own way related to my own changes in identity and expression over the last several months, and it's put on by somebody I've been friends with a long time, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Anyway, other stuff I'll be dealing with lately include terrible food issues, gardening, and the aforementioned expression stuff.

Until then, happy trails,
-- Jackson

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Preparation for the Rally

Pictured: Badge button with transgender pride flag colors
and the phrase "Yes, I Am" in all capital letters.
I'm preparing for a big transgender rally I'm attending with my fantastic queer household later today.  I'm already prepared physically (with some charmingly homemade buttons and a first aid kit) but am very nervous about showing up, as if Facebook is correct it's going to be rather a big rally with hundreds of people attending (and there will probably have a few protesters).

There was a sign-making activity on Thursday, but I wound up skipping that as I picked up a third shift at work that I'm still recovering from.  Ouch.  I did manage to make a fantastically self-outing button as well as a number of similar buttons saying "Trans Is Beautiful" in case anybody I know there wants one.

I created a first aid kit because I have terrible fantasies of being a street medic (partially reinforced by being a healer at a major Pagan festival and loving it so much I took an extra four hour work shift to do it again).  I am a former lifeguard and so I have quite a lot of first aid and CPR training.  I also wanted to create a first aid kit because with healthcare in the balance in the United States I believe widespread first aid, CPR, and basic lifesaving equipment is going to be a very necessary skill moving into the future.  So I've wanted a first aid kit for a while now and finally have one complete with stuff to combat pepper spray (I don't expect law enforcement to be an issue today but there have been some deplorables out there using it at rallies) and major wounds.  I also have some basic painkillers that I'll only give out if somebody actively asks for one (which happens more than you'd think).  Let's hope I don't have to use any of it.

I'm feeling some nervousness about the rally that I hope dissipates during it.  It's multi-issue anxiety, too, like on the one hand I'm always anxious about the prospect of being outed to the wrong people, but on the other I'm older than the people organizing this by a significant amount and sometimes have a hard time getting behind the rhetoric and interests of much younger trans folx.  So I'll play nice and everything (maybe write an angry blog post later if it's particularly bad) but I'm very nervous.

Anyway, time for me to get some work done.
Happy trails!
-- Jackson

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why I Threw Away My Binder And Am Not Having Top Surgery


When people ask me why I went off hormones, I have my nice long list of reasons, and since one of those reasons is that my beard and deep voice aren't going away it's usually easy to get people to understand why I don't feel I need to be on hormones for life (the acceptance of menstruation is harder to get people to understand, but it's also not something people see).

Something a lot trickier to understand is how I went from trying desperately to raise funds for chest reconstruction, binding every day, and generally speaking wanting top surgery to not only not wanting to have my chest altered, but giving up binding.  The reality is that gender dysphoria (the discomfort a transgender person has with zir physical appearance) is always not as straightforward as "I want all my parts to be man parts" (or woman parts, or something else).  A lot of it has to do with how other people react to those parts.

And mind you, I am an anomaly here.  Most trans men want top surgery and likely will continue to want it even if they are read as men without it, have very supportive partners, etc.  But for some of us, the discomfort we feel actually has nothing to do with the literal configuration of our bodies, it has to do with whether or not other people value us and accept us as the gender we say we are.

In my own case, I hit the jackpot when it comes to losing my chest dysphoria after a few years on hormones.  I have a very supportive, trans-friendly partner.  My body shape makes it very easy to hide my breasts under clothes, and even without a shirt on people don't necessarily read them as women's breasts.  My facial hair and voice tends to rewrite people's perceptions about the rest of me.  So having breasts just isn't that big of a deal, at least for now.  There is a chance, of course, that this will change in the future--especially if I lose weight and my chest stops looking proportional to the rest of my body--but for now I've tabled any plans to modify it.

In addition, I stopped binding.  In fact, I stopped binding long before I decided to table surgery, which is probably a big part of it.  I have a history of asthma and rapid weight changes, making binding very painful and hazardous to my health, and that's in addition to the usual problems of itchiness, gross smells, and expense.  One day I looked at my binder before going to work and made the snap decision to not wear it that day and see how it went.  It went fine, so I tried it again.  And again.  It's been about a year now... I changed what size shirt I wear and avoid certain patterns, but my ribs have never felt better... and I was fine.

Not only did I find I was fine, I found that sometimes I even like them.  On a bad day I'm ambivalent, on a good day I value the extra skin sensation, the opportunity for increased bondage situations, the convenient shelf for  our tiny household dog to lay on.  Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly femme, they work well in that aesthetic.  So generally speaking, my breasts are fine.

Unfortunately, there's more to the story than just being "fine."  Yes, I'm fine, but some of my reasons for this are not fucking fine.  Please be aware that the rest of this page contains descriptions of surgery results as well as dermatillomania, a self-harm disorder.

I'm fine with my chest, or I would have sought out surgery no matter what, but I needed to get something else off my chest (see what I did there).  I probably wouldn't have thought about tabling the whole top surgery idea were it not for the fact that surgery results scare the shit out of me.

And I'm not just talking about botched surgeries.  I've seen a lot of terrible top surgeries out there (today there's a GoFundMe floating around asking for funds to fix one that is downright disgusting [click this link at your own risk, it's very graphic, and while we're at it if you know this guy please encourage him to seek out a lawsuit because Jesus fucking Christ]).

I also am protective of my nipples.  I see a lot of surgeries that have really wonky nipples that are either in the wrong place, sized differently, or scarred up.  It's so common for trans men to wind up with missing or mutilated nipples that there's now a guy selling replacement nipples on the internet.  And you know... nipples aren't everything.  Lots of trans guys voluntarily get surgeries that don't preserve nipples at all and just get them tattooed on or live without them, or just consider the loss of a nipple or two to be an acceptable risk.  But me?  I like my nipples.

It's not that all top surgeries turn out bad, and I've seen lots of great ones, nipples and all.  It's just that I'm almost 100% sure that mine will not turn out OK, and it won't even be the surgeon's fault.

I have dermatillomania, and every imperfection on my skin winds up being gouged out deeply and quickly.  Recently I had a bedbug infestation that resulted in me having scars all the way up my shoulders and on my back from obsessively digging my nails into myself, and scabs are among the worst offenders.  So every recent top surgery I see I wind up zeroing in on the scabbed-up nipples, the lengthy incision scars, and think "What if this were me?"  A slightly misshapen nipple on most trans guys will heal and probably even correct itself.  There is no way that this would correct itself on me.  I won't be able to leave it alone.  And if I wind up with a less-sensitive spot, as some guys do, I'll wind up beating on it until it dies and falls off.

If you aren't in the same situation I am, it's hard to understand how confident I am in this risk.  I got a tattoo once, and was so proud of myself for not tearing the scabs off, yet the tattoo artist was able to find several areas where I'd clearly gouged it without thinking, even if I didn't notice I was doing it.  Believe me when I say that it's way better for me to avoid surgeries of any kind unless I absolutely need them.

This is all based on a huge shift in priorities.  Back when I started HRT, there was a myth going around that it shaved ten years off your life (there's no evidence of this).  That was an acceptable risk for me back then.  As I get older, my focus has shifted from passing at all costs to focusing on my bodily health.  This was a natural shift:  I don't have difficulty passing anymore, so trying to pass further is no longer a priority for me, not at the cost of my health.

And unfortunately, virtually all of the transition related healthcare I was continuing to get--the hormones, the binding, the possible top surgery--was damaging me in some way that did not make up for the amount of good it did.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Why I Went Off Hormones


One of the fundamental parts of my life's journey is my gender transition, one which I've opted to take in an entirely different way than most other transgender men.  It started as a fairly typical transition, with a couple of months of therapy and testosterone replacement therapy, and I was looking forward to top surgery to flatten my chest as well.  But around the four-year mark on hormones I started having a lot of changes of heart.  My gender identity itself didn't change, but my understanding of what I needed in order to manifest that identity did change, along with my entire philosophy about gender and my spiritual conception of it.

Most of these will probably be explained more in-depth later in the blog when I feel like it, but this is the general essence of what happened.

If you've been in the transgender community for very long at all, you probably understand the Standard Trans Narrative as follows:  Trans men are necessarily 100% men, we are 100% male from birth, we are inherently made depressed by anything to do with estrogen, we need to get testosterone therapy as early as possible and need to be on it for life.  This can be a little convoluted at times, because any Good Trans knows that not all trans people need hormones, it's in all the 101 presentations, but it's expected still that if you do go on hormones you'll want to be on them forever or you'll be a miserable wreck who will do unimaginable bodily harm to yourself.

For me this meant years of stressing out over worsening health conditions just waiting for my doctor to finally find The One that was bad enough to take me off hormones.  This didn't happen.  My endocrinologist was a transgender specialist who would dutifully take each new health complaint as its own issue without even suggesting I go off testosterone.  But this was adding a lot of stress to my life... like testosterone was great, but it was doing some really bad things to my health.  My blood counts were so high I needed to start donating blood in order to avoid having a stroke, my blood pressure was creeping up, my anxiety started ramping up due to increasing pain from the needles and the constant worry I would lose access due to social turmoil, sudden lack of insurance or a job, or supply issues.  I was also experiencing weird sexual issues (which is a fascinating issue, but one for a different time).

Around the time I was dealing with these issues--about four and a half years on hormones--I was also evolving spiritually.  I'd attended a Pagan gathering where I had the pivotal experience of being publicly topless (without surgery) while also attending men's mysteries rituals and overall feeling really good about myself.  I started thinking about the aspects of my spirituality pre-T as well as as a woman, the things I'd abandoned or actively rejected as a man that I also kind of missed, many of which were based on physical bodily cycles I didn't have anymore.

So I was thinking about those factors in combination with the health issues I'd been having, and starting to think about whether or not giving up hormones would work for me.  I admitted to myself that there were only two things that really gave me dysphoria--my voice and my lack of facial hair--and going off hormones wasn't going to change that.  There would be lots of things that would return, but the important stuff wouldn't.

I went off hormones pseudo-gradually, switching from a 100mg dose every week to a 100mg dose every other week for about a month before stopping altogether.  The sexual side-effects subsided within weeks.  I started menstruating in a couple of months.  And overall, I'm very happy being an estrogen dominant man.  My anxiety is lower, I feel better exploring my identity, and I'm largely dysphoria-free.

I would never claim that this is for everyone, but I did find something fascinating.  A number of other trans men who were on the fence about starting testosterone, worried they would have to be on it forever or would destroy their health, were really comforted by my story.  Far from discouraging testosterone use, I've inadvertently convinced some of them to go on testosterone, knowing that there are more ways to do it than to go on it for the rest of your life.  Any any trans men I can convince to go that route rather than using sketchy bodybuilder supplements is a win in my book.

Happy Trails,
-- Jackson

Friday, March 10, 2017

Menstrual Tracking Fail

I gave up testosterone therapy several months ago, and started menstruating again a couple months after.  Since that point my cycle has been predictable... 39 days.  Since it was so regular I got excited hoping that I would be able to plan things in order to test herbal and supplemental therapies, and so on day 39 I excitedly woke to find that I did not, as I expected, wake up in a pool of my own blood and instead had to wake a couple days.  I'm tracking all this on MyMonthlyCycles.  If it continues being shaky I may try some herbals (mild ones) that are supposed to bring on menstruation.  I think parsley is in that category, and my garden always winds up filled with that.  It's still not terribly irregular; 41 days vs. 39 isn't a big difference.

Related note, I'd decided to try supplementing calcium for ten (well, in practice 12 days) before my period to see if it would help with cramps.  Sometimes cramps can be related to your calcium levels tanking before a period, in which case the calcium will help, but in my case it did not.  Supplemental calcium didn't, anyway.  I actually started cramping earlier than normal... not more severely, mind you, but earlier.  So as far as just taking calcium pills, that's out.  Next cycle I think I'll try herbal- and food-based calcium instead, unless I find something more imminently interesting to try out.  I may also try something involving cramp bark, but I'm trying to avoid mixing my therapies so that I know what works and what doesn't.

Had a fun moment of mild panic washing my menstrual cup (it didn't have blood in it but was dirty), as I am largely stealth at work and we do not have single-stall restrooms.  I do not, however, expect that any of the men here actually know what a menstrual cup even is.  That might be a moot point in a couple of weeks, though, as there is a rally for transgender rights very close to me that I actually took off work to attend.  I'm really looking forward to it, I'll be going with my roommates and wearing some charmingly homemade buttons so hopefully I'll meet some cool people.

Speaking of menstrual cups, I also bought one for my partner (it was not her birthday present but I did incidentally give it to her on her birthday) as she was curious about it and they're not super expensive anymore.  So far she seems to like it, as they feel much cleaner than tampons or pads.  I'm always glad to convert somebody to the cup!

Anyway, that's your menstrual cycle update of the day.  Happy trails,
-- Jackson