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Mark032018It is a novelty to be back blogging…but as what I want to say would make far too long a post on the usual social media, here I am. On March 15th 2018, I will have been taking testosterone for seven years. Easy to remember…the Ides of March, and in some ways just as ominous for me as it was for poor old Caesar. Sorry – I’ve got me an MA in Classical Studies since I was last on here, and I do love to show off.

So, seven years on T, and here I am, seven years older, and I’d like to think seven years wiser, but that is probably wishful thinking. I am far less involved in ‘transgender stuff’, such as politics, campaigning, running a support group, etc. than I used to be. Partly because health problems have reduced the amount of energy I have to expend on anything except the essentials, and partly because I just wanted to live my life as me, rather than a ‘representative’. Not a decision I am really proud of, but at the end of the day happiness (and not being exhausted) is key, right?

Seven years on, I am still misgendered regularly enough to cause me major self-doubt. Back at the beginning, I hoped, like everybody does, that all those hormonal changes, combined with chest surgery, would render me fully masculine to the eye. Now don’t get me wrong, I know for an absolute fact that I am masculine (even if my version of masculinity doesn’t always match up with everybody else’s…cue me singing “I am what I aaaam” at the top of my voice…) and that is not the thing that is in doubt.

I have amazing friends and colleagues who reassure me that the Mark they know and love is definitely not a thinly disguised girl, but sadly, that is often how I feel, and whatever anyone tells me, that is what I still see in the mirror. After seven years of hormones, my beard still looks like I’ve transplanted a handful of pubes to my chin, and glued them in place; my voice, though now more or less in the male register, is still more Pinky and Perky than the Hulk. Dammit, I am pretty. My decision not to consciously try to adopt ‘male behaviour’ is a two-edged sword. I am far more comfortable not trying to be ‘big and butch’, and trying to act in a way that just isn’t me is really exhausting, so I don’t. However, it has been suggested that if I did ‘work at it’, I’d probably have fewer incidents where I get called ‘she’. Or would I?

In the last two days, I’ve experienced two pretty typical encounters. Yesterday, I went to fill a prescription.

Pharmacist (talking to me, with my prescription ready to hand over, looks at name, then looks at me): “Does he pay for his prescriptions?”
Me: “No, I don’t”
Cue speedy fumbling to hand over pills, both avoiding eye contact. Not a big deal really, but depressing, nonetheless.

Today, I went to pay money into the bank…put my card into the reader at the desk…

Cashier (loudly) “OH! This isn’t your card!”
Me (getting out driving licence to wave at her) “Yes it is – does my ID help?”
Cue speedy fumbling to hand over receipts with lots of loud exclamations of “Gosh, I don’t know where I got that from!!” both avoiding eye contact. I leave, to peals of laughter. Theirs, not mine.

Again, not a big deal, but can you see that when stuff like this happens regularly, even after seven years of ‘being Mark’ it does nothing at all for my self-esteem. It’s all very well to try to ‘believe in yourself’ and all that kind of stuff, but sometimes I feel like one of the creatures in that fairground/arcade game that gets whacked with a mallet every time they pop up. The temptation, eventually is just never to pop up. The rejection can be too much.

Which brings me neatly to my next moan. Yeeessss, I’m blogging for the first time in ages, and I’ve got all sorts of negativity just itching to get out. As any of you who have delved back in my blog at all (or who have known me a while), my last relationship ended nearly five years ago. Not by my choice, might I add, a little bitterly. However, nearly five years on, I am still single. Five years. Single. Yes, the author of the bizarrely popular How To Have Sex With A Trans Man is absolutely single, and NO I’m not loving it. Ok, I enjoy my own space. Let’s rephrase that…I defend my own space with a nail-studded club. I enjoy my own company, mostly. Sometimes I say stupid things, even to myself. The trouble is, and I’ve blogged about this before, people like me are a bit ‘niche’ in the dating game. I’m attracted mainly to men, and I’ve yet to find a gay man willing to take on my physical ‘peculiarities’. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places…Norfolk isn’t really a dating capital, whatever your genital geography.

Online dating terrifies me…remember how I feel when the bank cashier makes me feel silly, then multiply that by a bazillion as to how scared I am of the potential humiliation of putting myself ‘out there’ on a dating site. Besides, I’ve tried. Really hard, on more than one site. No Responses At All. Maybe I’m not that pretty, after all. I’ve tried actually meeting guys and being honest, at which point their faces fell, arrangements to meet suddenly dissolved, they stopped calling, texts/facebook responses went from chatty down to the occasional ‘lol’, and if it was mentioned at all, I was told they couldn’t really ‘deal’ with me as I am (which was equally honest of them, after all). And you wonder why I’m not super-confident?

Well, I think that’s enough of the violin-scraping session. I’ll be back. I have an appointment at Charing Cross (that’s the gender clinic, FYI) later this month, so I may have some more positive stuff to share soon.

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Dec 2014Please be warned, lovely readers, that in this post I will be talking about menstruation. Just so you know, as the ‘m word’ is not a favourite for a lot of trans* men. I shan’t be referring it to Shark Week, or The Red Menace, or anything else that sounds like a comic book villain, though I appreciate why people sometimes find that easier to deal with.

I officially stopped menstruating in March 2011, the same month I started taking testosterone. I was over the moon, and very happy never to have to negotiate the sanitaryware aisle on my own account ever again. The average time it takes for testosterone to stop menstruation is 6-12 months (with much variation – so if you are still waiting, try not to panic). I was exceptionally lucky.

Scroll forward to Summer 2014. Life has changed a lot, I am rarely taken as a woman, can still count my chest hairs on one hand, and am happy transitioning gently as I contemplate my upcoming 43rd birthday. This year seemed like a good time to try and sort out a few nagging health issues that are unrelated to transition. Right up there at the top of the pile was my anxiety. I’ve mentioned it before, so won’t go into the gory details, but anxiety is a constant, crippling, sleep destroying part of my life. I’d had enough, had tried every method I could think of, and many other people suggested, but the Anxiety Monster was taking over, so off I went to my GP.

My doctor has so far seemed very good regarding the issues I have, with a very balanced approach, a desire to learn and the ability to recognise that I’m not thick, and DO know myself and my body. After much debate, he prescribed Pregabalin, which, apart from a variety of other uses (eg: epilepsy, nerve pain management) is apparently very good for anxiety. I started on a super-low dose, and escalated up to a dose that was still barely in the therapeutic range. But it actually seemed to work.

The trouble is, that as my anxiety was beaten down to a manageable level, I started feeling really rotten, both physically and mentally. Now as I’ve previously mentioned, when you have a number of diagnoses jostling for position, it is very hard to untangle why you’re not feeling so good.

Then the bleeding started. Whether you call it menstruation or ‘break through bleeding’, I was having it. You’d think I’d have freaked out, but I felt weirdly calm about the whole business. I figured it was one of these things, and that it would go away. There was even an odd pride that my little ovaries still packed a punch. I went and bought pads (ironically, buying them at the same time that I collected my next box of testosterone from the pharmacy). Of course I spoke to my doctor, who ordered blood tests, the results of which were a bit of a bombshell. My testosterone levels are normally healthily within the male range (9.9-27.8nmol/L) at around 20. This time, however, they were 7.4, despite being on a full dose of testosterone. It certainly explained how I was feeling. See Running On Empty for more information about that.

I contacted my doctor in London, who calmed me down, and suggested that the Pregabalin may be interfering with the way my body metabolises testosterone. Now this is not him, or me, for that matter, suggesting that there is anything wrong with this drug. If you are already taking it, don’t just stop. You have been prescribed it for a reason. I would, however, recommend that if you have any reason to think that it is affecting your hormone levels, go and have a chat with your doctor. I chose to stay on it, initially, and my doctors agreed that I should increase my dose of T by 50% to compensate.

I menstruated for over 6 weeks, before the increased dose of T seemed to bring my body back into line, though my brain was haywire. I’ve now made the decision to come off the Pregabalin….carefully, with my doctors’ help. It seems like I’m stuck with the Anxiety Monster for now, and it looks like it will be a long road back to normality. The moral of the tale, if any, is that even drugs that same entirely unrelated may mess each other up. Testosterone therapy is a bit of an unknown territory for many GPs, so I guess it’s up to us to keep an eye, literally and metaphorically, on our own bodies and minds, and act on what we see.

chickenlifeIt’s Mother’s Day again,
But my hopes are very low
For a present or a card
Or a call to say hello.

For I am not a standard Mum
And you’ve decided not to know me.
All those adverts on the telly
Aren’t aimed at male Mummies.

So I’m visiting MY Mum instead,
Who will offer me her shoulder,
Say it’s nothing I’ve done wrong,
And you’ll come round when you’re older.

Til then I’m stuck without you,
Forced to smile when people say
“You don’t have children, do you?”
I make it seem like it’s ok.

 

So here we are on Mother’s Day.
I’m feeling rather shitty.
But I’m not writing this to say ‘poor me’,
Or fish for anyone’s pity.

More to say that three years on
I’m still the same old Mum.
Ok, I’ve got hair in funny places
And a considerably smaller bum.

Male or female, I’m still the one
Who kissed away your tears.
Gender doesn’t dictate the warmth of a hug
Or whether someone cares.

But now I’m sent to Coventry, frozen out.
You act like I have died.
I just hope love will span the distance
And you’ll come back to my side.

In the meantime, here’s to all those Mums
Who won’t be getting a card
Or flowers, choccies, breakfast in bed.
Mother’s Day is hard.

TwitterAre you a UK based trans* identified man, a man with trans* history or someone with experience of the NHS as a person assigned female at birth who identifies as male, trans*, genderqueer or questioning your identity? The NHS are hosting a twitter club for trans* men on Wednesday, asking people to participate in a live debate about how the NHS and GICs can improve services for us.

This looks like an interesting opportunity to have our say. More information can be found here  http://aedanjwolton.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/nhsgenderid-nhs-england-host-gender-identity-twitter-clubs-to-improve-services/

Check out what Aedan has to say about this, and please pop along to Twitter to take part this coming Wednesday – 20th November 2013. Oh, and spend a bit of time looking at Aedan’s blog while you’re over there – it’s good stuff.

chickenroad2It’s been a tough old week. July 12th marked two years since I last saw my daughter. I sent her a card saying I missed her, and that I’d like us to get to know each other again based on who we are now, not who we were 2 years ago. I’ve not had a reply, but to be honest I didn’t really expect one. Still, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and processing, and I know that whatever happens with her, I’ve done nothing wrong and I must, above all, be me. Beating myself up for being myself will get me nowhere. I have a little mantra when the internal pain starts to knot up too much: I Am Who I Am, And I Will Be Who I Will Be. Cheesy, perhaps, but it works for me.

On Tuesday, my partner sat me down and explained very gently that she felt our relationship was at an end. We had both noticed that we were starting to live parallel lives, and whereas I thought it was a blip that would sort itself out, she has apparently felt for a while that the road to happiness is not with me. Is it a transition thing? Not really, though of course I have changed a lot, both physically and emotionally. I’d like to think that this has happened because of the normal wear, tear and change that happens in any relationship, not because I became Mark. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, probably I’ll never know, and ultimately, it doesn’t really matter.

So here I am, single again after (give or take) 11 years. I have always been a bit of a serial relationshipper – I’m not sure if that was out of some sort of fear of being alone, or just good luck. I am sort of looking forward to spending time with myself after all these years, though the flip side to this is sheer terror. I’d mapped out my life to a large extent – I’d assumed that the status quo would remain into the future, but here I am, on my tod, trying to work out what the f*** just happened.

I have very good friends and family, who I know will pick me up and dust me off if necessary. In the meantime, I have to start unpicking all the details of my life from my ex (I can’t get used to saying that) and work out how to face a new future.

Here is a brief musical interlude – forgive me a little teenaged angst and head-banging.

kings-speechHello – it’s been a while. If I’m honest I’ve needed a little break from blogging. I do love doing it, and I’ve not run out of things to talk about (yet!) but my head has been in a funny place recently. My natural reaction to that sort of feeling is to crawl into bed and stay there, but Society will insist that I keep on going, so that is what I’ve done, albeit paring down on a few of my commitments.

That’s not to say I’ve been a hermit – tempting as that might have been. I’ve been doing a beginners’ climbing course at my local wall, which has been a lot of fun. I’ve discovered that after a lifetime of being not-terribly-strong, I now have muscles that will propel me from one small chunk of plastic rock to another if I ask them nicely (or tell them, dammit). Thank you very much, Mr Testosterone, for that one. Oh, and thanks are probably due to the weeks of eating well and going to the gym, which have resulted in biceps that make me happy, and leg muscles that have earned me the nickname ‘Thunder Thighs’ by my climbing partner. I’ve not, I confess, been able to stick to the strict regime the way I wanted to for a full 12 weeks. However, I did pretty well for 6 weeks, and I am trying to get my head around the concept of starting another 6 week stint soon. If in doubt, do things in chunks.

Possibly the biggest thing that has happened this month is a visit to a speech therapist about my slightly-deeper-than-it-was-but-definitely-still-female voice. After 2 years and 4 months *most* (but definitely not all – transition is not an exact science) people have a significantly more masculine voice than I do. Not necessarily deeper, but resonating differently. I did have a very high voice to start with, plus as a (cough) ‘older’ person, my voicebox has been used to doing what it does in the same way for a very long time.

I spent a long time assuming things would just sort themselves out, and it’s true that my voice is still getting lower as time goes on. However, it has become the thing that ‘gives me away’ in terms of people recognising me as male. I look pretty androgynous, which is fair enough, but that, coupled with the voice…no chance, or at best, much confusion.

I spoke to my GP about the issue in the end, because I spend a high-ish proportion of my time at work on the ‘phone, and I do get very down being mis-gendered on every third ‘phone-call. Despite giving my name clearly at the start. My GP referred my to the Ear Nose and Throat team at the local hospital, and much to my amazement, I was invited to make an appointment. Big up to the NHS.

I honestly thought the speech therapist would laugh me out of the room, or give me a stern lecture about there being people with REAL problems out there in the waiting room, and I was wasting their time. However, she has been wonderful. Enthusiastic, honest about what she does and doesn’t know about FTM voice issues, sweet, encouraging, and, let’s face it, I’m a little bit in love.

Far from giving me a photocopied sheet and sending me packing, she spent an hour working on solid, practical ways to change the sound of my voice without sounding silly. And it is working. My work this month revolves around the ‘Mmmm’ sound, as it helps me find a good pitch, a bit like a tuning fork. Try it – if you hum ‘Mmmmmm’ at what feels like a natural pitch, it should feel ‘right’. I then have to add on vowels (MmmmmMAY, MmmmmmmME, etc.) then ‘M’ words (MmmmmMARMALADE). This has really helped me find a lower sound to my own voice, and when I think about ‘setting’ my voice, it works a treat. Of course, as soon as I forget all about it and start chatting away as normal, the squeakier, less ‘grounded’ voice comes back.

I have started answering the ‘phone at work with my Mmmmmm voice, and I’ve only been called ‘love’ and ‘darling’ by one man in the last 3 weeks, which is a distinct improvement. I’m hoping the barman in my local hasn’t noticed the ‘Mmmmmmm’ before “I’d like a pint of Old Fisherman’s Sock, please”.

If this is the improvement I’m able to get in 3 weeks, I’m very much looking forward to what 2 more appointments will bring. Perhaps we can slowly get the body and the voice to match, and at least reduce the confusion a lot of the Great British Public experience on meeting me.

In other news, I will soon be guest blogging for ‘Original Plumbing’, an online spin-off of the OP magazine, “dedicated to the sexuality and culture of the FTM trans guy”. Their website is relaunching on 1st August, and I should be doing a piece once a month. Check out my introduction on there when the new website’s up – I’ll put a link on this page a bit closer to the time. Yeah, I’m the one going on about Hong Kong Phooey.

IMG_0536Nor do I want to dress like a man. I do not want to act like a man, and I am not crazy about the idea of passing as a man.

People go through a lot of mental gymnastics to fit me into the way they view the world, and I am grateful for the most part that they do this. I have always maintained that people understand the trans* experience on a number of levels, and I try to be kind to those whose understanding is still at the level of “oh, so you’re having a sex change, then”. However inaccurate and insulting that statement might be.

I would rather poke myself repeatedly in the eye with something sharp than agree with the common suggestion that “I was born a girl and now I want to be a boy”. Not because it makes me want to shake whoever is saying it to within an inch of their life whilst simultaneously apprising them of the latest theories of gender identity. No, because of the word WANT. I do not want to be…I AM.

I do not dress like a man. I am a man, and dress what I would consider appropriately (if not stylishly). I do not act like a man. I am a man, and act in a way that is reasonably appropriate (albeit I don’t live at the butch end of Man Town). I do not ‘pass’ as a man. I am a man, whose genetic make-up means people get mixed up about his gender.

This all may sound a little incongruous if you consider that I have never agreed with gender being a binary thing. Is my statement ‘I am a man’ at odds with my philosophical ramblings about queerness and acceptance of my history? No, it’s not. I may not tick many of the stereotypical ‘masculinity’ boxes, have grasped ‘male privilege’ with both hands, or insist that feminism is for the girls, but nevertheless, I approach all the issues about which I talk and, let’s face it, life, from my own point of view, which is that of a man.

I get increasingly fed up of being misgendered because as time goes on, I feel more and more comfortable in myself, and in my rather fragile male identity. It is increasingly ridiculous to be called ‘she’, ‘her’ and ‘girl’, and every time this happens it feels like, perhaps, I really am just pretending to be something I’m not.

Fortunately, or I don’t think I’d ever leave the house, I know better. I do not dress like, I do not act like, and I do not pass as, a man. I am no fraudster or actor, nor am I deluded. I am a man.

 

28th April 2013I’ve written before about having lost weight, and generally feeling a lot better about my body than previously. That all still holds true, but I’m at another corner in my bid to be the best possible me. My weight has been creeping back on, and my gym has resorted to emailing me to see if I’m still alive (well, entice me back, but I like to think they care). My man fat is starting to exert itself again, and a steady diet of sugar, carbs, booze and fat is making me feel low and lacking in energy, plus my skin is terrible.

Next week is a big week for my partner and I – 1st May is the 5th anniversary of us being vegan. I don’t want to celebrate this biggy knowing that I’m not treating my body as well as I should, so I’ve decided to make a stand.

I currently weigh 10 stone 7 pounds (I’m 5’5″), and as you can see from my picture, I have love handles. These, seen sideways on, are looking suspiciously like a paunch. I’m not publishing a picture of my paunch. There are limits. As of tomorrow, I’m embarking on a ’12 week transformation’. I’m cleaning up my diet, ditching the alcohol, and doing meaningful exercise. Will this just be a phase? I hope not, and Will has promised to bully me if I decide it’s all too much. Will I become a Ripped God? Unlikely, but I wouldn’t say no to being leaner and stronger looking. And getting rid of that paunch.

4 months before T2 years on TAs many of you will already know, I’ve just passed my 2nd Transiversary, marking 2 years on testosterone. I’ve already talked about this a bit on my YouTube channel (MrHerbertTurtle – check it out by following the link on the top right of this page) and I suppose I don’t have any super-wise words to say.

Of course there has been a lot of change in 2 years. From a physical point of view my body has changed radically. Broader shoulders, slimmer hips, wider jaw, general hairiness, greater strength: all the things that we are led to expect from taking testosterone have come to pass, more or less. Emotionally, it’s become quite hard to judge how I have changed, simply because whilst I know that my emotional reactions and general outlook are now very different, these things are now so ‘me’ that I can’t really remember how things were before. Or even if there *has* been a change.

It’s fair to say, though, that I am calmer than before, quieter, with less of a need to be included or liked or approved of. I still get stressed out, of course. I’ve spoken before about my problems with anxiety, and they haven’t suddenly evaporated, but then testosterone is just another hormone, not a Magic Potion.

I confess that when I started on this journey, I did think that by the end of 2 years I’d be ‘done’ (like that transgender popcorn I’ve mentioned before). I think I hoped I’d be more unequivocably ‘a man’, at least to look at, than I actually am. As one who still gets ‘love’ and ‘she’ on a regular basis, I look with some jealousy at the guys who just seem to slip into their masculinity like an old jumper.

I’m told this is partly because of my age. Ok, I’m no pensioner, but my body has spent 4 decades being a certain way, and realistically my 2 years on a new fuel won’t have had that much of an impact on muscles, hair follicles and other bits and pieces used to thriving on oestrogen. Everyone changes differently – sadly, as in every other facet of life, we are handed labels and expectations as soon as we identify a particular way, but our genes don’t listen to expectations. My genetic history doesn’t really scream “Big Hairy Butch Fella” – even if it did, 2 years is still a very short time for my body to channel its inner caveman.

What those 2 years has given me is confidence, body positivity, self-acceptance, peace and a hefty dollop of happiness. They’ve given me the chance to work out who exactly I am, and to accept that whilst I may never conform to the world’s definition of ‘manly’, at least I can live the rest of my life being myself.

 

RashI’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. At the faintest whiff of a symptom I’m off to Dr Internet to work out what on earth could be wrong with me. Recently, I was finding it very uncomfortable to swallow, and could feel a definite swelling  at the base of my throat. It did, indeed, feel like I was gargling golf balls. Cue panic, mental re-writing of my will (that didn’t take long) and much tapping at my keyboard. Of course, I am also a sensible person, and concluded, on the basis of previous experience, that my throat issues were just the result of testosterone doing its job. Again. When the pitch of my voice dropped a note or two a couple of days later, everything fell into place.

The thing is that with the knowledge and experience I have, I am able to discern sensible reality from hypochondriac panic relatively easily. But my own reactions to feeling ‘not right’, even on such a small scale, beg the question of how many trans* identified people hit the internet before their GP’s office before coming to the knowledge (sorry, diagnosis) that they are, in fact, suffering from gender dysphoria.

I have a history of going to see my GP with a fairly clear knowledge of what might be wrong with me, and this has led people to think that I am, in fact, a bit of a charletan, in that I pick an interesting sounding diagnosis, then convince the doctor that this is what I have. That gives a lot of credit to my long-term acting skills, but does rather cast me in the role of attention seeker and fraud.

I like to assume that the various professionals I have seen over the years haven’t just looked at my original diagnoses, scratched their chins, and decided to go along with it. Over time I’ve been told that my bipolar diagnosis wasn’t true, contrary to, I think, the opinions of 4 psychiatrists, countless therapists, and a CPN or two, not to mention the entire staff of 2 wards in a fairly prestigious mental hospital. Conversely, it has been suggested that I’ve only been diagnosed with gender dysphoria because I was on a bipolar ‘high’ and therefore unstable enough to convince myself, 2 GPs, a psychiatrist, a specialist counsellor, a gender specialist and a surgeon, that I was right. I’m good, folks, but not that good.

The trouble is, when coming to your own realisation that perhaps the gender you were assigned at birth, validated by apparently having all the requisite ‘bits’ for that gender, is not the same as what resides in your head, heart and soul, being told that this is just some sort of extreme hypochondria can be terribly hard.

The diagnosis of gender dysphoria relies so much on the person involved being honest about their thoughts and feelings that the medical profession has put in place many gate-keepers, all of which are designed to ensure that the medical and psychological help being given is appropriate, timely and necessary. Some people do realise on their journey that they have taken the wrong path, and I respect the courage they have to face that and change their route. However, for those of us who find happiness, strength and fulfillment in our new roles, please save words like ‘Hypochondriac’ for when we’re complaining about sore throats.