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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

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

I Changed My Mind: I'm Probably Getting Top Surgery

Content note that this essay has mentions of self harm and surgery.

A couple months over a year ago I wrote and filmed that I do not bind and am not getting top surgery.  In it I explained that because I have dermatillomania (obsessive skin picking) I believed I had a high chance of winding up with one of those horror story top surgeries.  The skin picking has actually subsided a great deal since then due to lowered anxiety and better skin care.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

There's a new product on the market called Transtape that I decided to try out because I wanted the opportunity to go outside in my backyard without a shirt on and I figured it was enough for the distance people would be seeing me at (considering both my roommates know).  I haven't gotten it yet (they are wildly popular right now so I don't blame them for the holdup) but I was doing some deep thinking regarding why I felt that I needed that product.

When I started this blog I was going through a particularly fem phase... kind of.  I was trying to actively add more fem expression (lots of purple and pink, gemstone earrings, etc.) and... do I like that sometimes?  Sure, there's a lot of fluidity in my expression.  But most of the time I'm a beardy hunter camo and plaid wearing type fellow, pretty masculine.  And lately I'm feeling more so... like dramatically more so.

I'm starting to think that my attempt to wear more fem stuff more often (and to stop trying for top surgery) was almost I guess a social effect of going off hormones.  I don't know if I expected estrogen to make me feel more fem or if it was me subconsciously trying to buck the system or if it was just that natural fluidity ebbing and flowing like normal, but it's passed for now.  And once it passed, I started getting more and more self conscious about my chest again.

Like, I can look in the mirror naked or give myself a self breast exam or have sex and I'm fine, but walking around mixed company I find myself more and more often starting to hunch over because I feel eyes on me... even though they probably aren't really looking at me.

A more consistent issue I have, though, is that since I'm starting to feel more masculine again, I'm getting envious of the ability to wear certain clothes and dress certain ways.  Pagan Spirit Gathering kind of fucks with me in a way because I'm able to go around topless and get that feeling, but would attract more attention and possibly attempts at legal interaction if I walk around topless at a lake or a waterpark.  Outside of social concerns, I want the ability to wear things more comfortably that aren't shaped for my body... men's tank tops, bondage harnesses, thinner fabrics, and so forth.

Will I change my mind again?  I don't really think so, considering it was only about a year out of over twelve that I didn't want top surgery.

Anyway, I started a top surgery fund (my girlfriend mistakenly thought I meant a GoFundMe; GoFundMes for top surgery very rarely make any money and do nothing but stress people out... I'm just talking about a dedicated bank account!).  I'll be putting my extra money in there and really buckling down to afford it, because I have I guess more of a sense of urgency than I had before.  If you want to kick a couple dollars into that fund, feel free to use the Cash.Me link in the sidebar (cashtag $Setkheniitw) but obviously, no pressure.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson