Category: October


I don’t normally do two posts in a weekend, but you know, I’m in a sharing mood, and there’s a lot to be said for talking about things whilst they’re still fresh.

I have been told on a number of occasions that I am “brave”. It’s a word that’s often misused, and I don’t feel it applies to what I am doing – either the transitioning part, or the sharing part. I can’t accept the word “brave” for pushing forward with changes that I have to make to be happy, confident and whole in this short life of mine. Or talking about those changes.

All of that said, sometimes life as a transgender person does throw up situations that require me, to put none too fine a point on it, to grow some balls. Back in my blog post Trading Toilets, I described the difficulties of using gym changing rooms. Now that I have had my chest surgery, I decided that I was sick of skulking around, getting changed in the toilets at work, trying to find somewhere for my bag, and so on. So I grew some.

Today I went into the men’s changing rooms at the gym for the first time. I go to a gym where despite the lockers in the women’s changing room all having keys, the men are apparently not to be trusted, and have to ask for a key at reception. Most of the reception staff are new (and clearly not that dilligent when it comes to looking at the name on my membership card), and when I asked for a key, there was a very long silence before one was handed over. That started me sweating, and even though there was hardly anyone in the changing room, I was still shaking doing up my laces. Nobody challenged me, and the only real negative moment was after my workout, when I was crouched down to take off my trainers, and came face-to-ummmmm with a naked guy. I have no idea if he was bothered by my being there, because I thought that was a pretty good moment to make my exit, Roadrunner like…

Is going into the men’s changing room brave? No, of course not. But it does go to show that when someone is transitioning, it’s not just the ‘big’ things that need to be overcome, but all those multitudes of stupid little hurdles that you just don’t think about until you’re faced with them. And whatever metaphorical balls we may be able to grow, the feeling of raw fear takes some getting over. Having to deal with that fear on what can sometimes be a daily basis is, I believe, where the bravery lies.

************************
Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.
Franklin P Jones

Advertisements

Do we look unhappy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those of you who know Peter Kay (the best thing to come out of Bolton since Reebok shoes and spun cotton) may remember his sketch, that goes something like this:

Concerned person: How ARE you?

Other person: I’m fine.

Concerned person: (Looking meaningful) Yes, but how are you IN YOURSELF?

This sketch continues when talking about someone else:

Mr Curious: So how’s your son? IN HIMSELF?

With the latter part of that query accompanied by a screwed-up face showing concern, tenderness, and not a little meddling nosiness.

“In yourself” (or “him/her/themself”) implies ‘inside’, ’emotionally’, and generally on a level not adequately covered by the answer “fine”. It is a way of implying that there are Deeper Things to be uncovered and discussed, whether or not the person being asked really wants to spill their guts. I find it’s also often a way for people to be dead nosey, hidden under a veneer of concern. But then, I’ve always been a bit cynical, and transitioning hasn’t made me any less so.

My partner and I get this kind of thing quite a lot. People no doubt have the best of intentions, asking me, perhaps, how my transition is going, or how my partner is dealing with my changes, but if they’re told “fine”, or a longer equivalent, things sometimes get a little too personal.

With me, it sometimes doesn’t seem to be enough for things to be going ok. Which they pretty much are. 46 blog posts later, I don’t think I can be accused of holding back on how I feel, but, you know, sometimes things really are just fine. Sometimes they’re not, but can anybody honestly say that they don’t have their downs as well as their ups? You may just catch me on a day when I don’t feel like explaining something that’s troubling me in detail, particularly when 9 times out of 10 people assume that anything that’s wrong must be because of My Big Decision.

(Quick note to any other trans people reading this – how often do you hear “Wow, that must have been a Really Big Decision”. No sh*t!!)

As for Willemina, people assume that she must be going through emotional hell and is just hiding it because she is brave, and doesn’t want to upset me. Now, she has assured me that’s not the case, and we have sufficient love and mutual respect going on that there’s enough honesty between us for me to believe her. But other people sometimes seem to find it hard to do the same. We’re not Super Couple, but we’re plodding along through life just the same as we always did, and whilst it’d be stupid to assume there’s been no impact by my transition on our relationship, it’s a shame to assume that either Willemina or our life together are about to fall apart. You know what? We’re fine.

Which brings me to another, more personal area. When was the last time you enquired about the sex-life of a couple you know? If a couple you are friends with have had a lot of things going on in their life, did you ask them if they are still sleeping together? If that couple went through life changes of whatever sort, did you ask one of them if their sex-life was still satisfying?

There can be an assumption that because my transition is based around gender, that somehow it is also connected to sexuality (via genitalia, I’m guessing?). This leads to the further assumption that because I have chosen to transition very openly, sharing areas of my life that you don’t often learn about, that I don’t have boundaries. Of course I am open about my gender identity, but that really does not make it “fine” to ask us about sex, or our relationship, or to assume that these might be under attack by my transition. Or that if we say things are “fine” we must be hiding something. Just as I have maintained in the past, and still maintain, what is in my pants is my business. In the same way, what my partner and I do in each others’ pants is not up for discussion.

To quote Hillary Clinton, hopelessly out of context:
“I believe in a zone of privacy”.

 

Last week I introduced the wonderful film ‘Tomboy’ at Cinema City. The place was packed (much to my consternation…I really thought when they said they’d sold out that they were joking). I wanted to share the talk I gave on here, as I feel that the issues raised should be shared with as wide an audience as possible. Plus if I write it down I can include all the bits I forgot to say last week!

As human beings, we have a very powerful need to label things. In the spirit of labelling, let me introduce you to a few of the labels I have – my name is Mark, and I’m a queer transgender Sagittarius.

From the moment we are named by our parents, we are given a label, and as a baby and toddler the people around us seek to help us label our world. Think about the interactions you have with young children – a significant amount of time is spent naming things. Once a child has grasped the importance of this exercise, and has developed the capacity to ask, they spend almost all their time asking what things are. My own daughter spent a good year or so asking ‘What’s that?’ ALL THE TIME.

It is natural (if not necessarily desirable) for us to make assumptions about people and things by the labels that we first learn to allot them. We assume that if someone acts a certain way, then they must be a certain type of person. As a child grows up, and behaves in a certain way, we immediately ascribe certain personality traits to them, and even start anticipating their future.

To a great extent this process varies through culture and decade. In the 40s, if a ten year old girl ‘acted the tomboy’, the assumption might have been ‘she’ll get over it, grow into a woman, marry’…and so on. In the 70s, that same behaviour might have been met with ‘do you think she’ll grow up to be a lesbian??’ Now, in this and similar countries, more and more people have heard of people identifying as transgender. So our ten year old tomboy might find that people think ‘do you think she’s transgender?’ I am no gender historian, nor sociologist, so please forgive my simplification of a hugely complex issue. I think you get what I’m driving at.

Chaz Bono [yes, he’s finally made it into my blog] was interviewed by E! News about Shiloh Jolie Pitt – he was asked what he thought about her. He replied “I would love to talk to [Brad and Angelina] at some point. To at least let them know we have this resource for them if they ever need it.” Chaz is not my favourite guy, for lots of reasons, but despite his rather crass attempt at implying Shiloh may be transgender, even I don’t think he deserved the flack he caught for this statement. What should have been questionned by all the media types who pounced on this is that the child’s gender-identity should ever have been up for discussion in the first place. E! News asked a loaded and inappropriate question; Bono, clutz that he often is, fell right into it. Rather than all of us sitting round discussing Shiloh’s identity, it is up to that child, and that child alone, to grow up as they feel right.

As a transman, and before that, in my days of identifying as an ever-so-slightly butch lesbian, many people made the assumption that as a child I “must” have been a tomboy. Just for the record, I was never a tomboy. I had girl toys (the only red-haired Sindy in my primary school…beat THAT!) as well as what might be seen as less gender-specific things. Most of all, I had my books [which may not surprise you] from which I voraciously sought to understand a world that I found very bizarre. I still do find the world very bizarre, but at least I’m reasonably well read. My clothes were a mixture – it’s fair to say that I never leaned particularly towards ‘very female’ or ‘very male’. I skated along somewhere in the middle. Though I did cry when I discovered I had grown out of my silver party shoes. See how stupid those labels are?

Making assumptions about our children based on the labels which we have given them is dangerous, and presumptuous. You just cannot tell, based on how a child is, what they feel inside, and what beautiful person they are destined to blossom into. And I use the word destined in its loosest, least spiritual sense.

If anyone reading this has ever seen ‘Tomboy’, or if you ever have the opportunity to see it, you may understand that the director, Céline Sciamma, seeks to deliver a message about identity that allows us freedom to make our own judgements…hopefully not based on the label ‘Tomboy’, but on the character themselves.

On a final note, I read a comment under the YouTube trailer for ‘Tomboy’, describing the lead character as ‘creepy’, because the commenter could not tell if the actor was male or female. I find this very much reflects my own experience, in that when people are not immediately able to assign you a label, they become very uneasy, and this lack of ease often results in animosity. All the more reason to re-think a lot of the labels we assign people, as they rarely allow for diversity or movement.

Do try to catch ‘Tomboy’ at some point, wherever you are. It is a beautifully filmed piece. I tend to avoid films on the ‘gender exploration’ theme, because they can be so ‘black and white’ and almost inevitably end with the person exploring their gender either changing their mind, or being killed. ‘Tomboy’, thankfully, simply presents us with a carefully painted picture of a time in a child’s life, and leaves us to make of it what we will, without forcing ‘an ending’ to tie up the loose ends. This is 86 minutes of your life you will not regret handing over to a film.

And if anybody would ever like to discuss being queer, transgender or Sagittarius, do get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started this blog back in March. The day before I took my first dose of testosterone (15th March…Beware the Ides), I wrote a post entitled ‘Highway to Testosterzone’, which included my “Testosterone Wishlist”. I want to revisit that after 7 months, to see if my wishes came true…

1) A lower voice.

Well, it has to be said I started high! Check out the first video on my YouTube channel to see just what I mean. Not only did I have a high voice, it was very posh indeed. Over time my voice has got lower, mainly in stages, characterised by a sore throat. There hasn’t really been a time since starting T when my voice has felt entirely ‘right’ or comfortable, but that’ll come, I’m sure! It’s MUCH lower than it was, but still doesn’t come across as particularly masculine. However, I sound less posh…how does that work!?

2) More energy.

I’ve never had a great deal of energy. Medication issues and a dodgy thyroid haven’t helped. I didn’t suddenly get a burst of T energy. However, over time it’s been really noticable that, like the Duracell bunny, I can keep going for much longer. Looking back, even over this short a time, I can see that I have much more zip than I used to. It’s like being on 4 star after a life-time of unleaded, and finding that now I can actually move properly. Testosterone, or feeling happy? I don’t care…it feels good!

3) Increased libido.

Again, being brutally honest, I’ve always had a pretty low libido – probably connected to the issues outlined above. Testosterone is well known for making you horny, whether your body produces it by itself, or you add it via gel/patch/needle. I’ve certainly experienced a change – having talked to cisgendered guys about this, what I feel these days seems to be more akin to a standard male drive. Which is fun, but a bit of an eye-opener. As one of those guys said “welcome to our world, get used to the sex stuff – it never goes away!”

4) Hair/less hair.

Let’s start with the less hair. I am losing the hair on my head, but slowly and evenly. I leave a trail of little hairs wherever I go, like Hansel and Gretel’s crumbs. However, my hairline isn’t actually receding (yet!). That said, my hairline does look different – it’s really hard to put your finger on, but there has been a change.

And hair everywhere else? My eyebrows are thicker than they were, I’m now the proud owner of a hairy tummy, and both arms and legs are distinctly more hirsute than previously. What you have to understand, though, is that I was practically bald before. Really. I’ve never been hairy at all, and I went through a spell about 4 years ago when my thyroid was playing really hard to get, and I lost most of my body hair. I even had bald patches in my pits. Weird. So for me, any hair is hairy! It’s coming along, that’s for sure, and my partner assures me I’m getting a furry back and bum, so I’m on schedule 🙂

5) Bigger muscles/increased strength/better recovery time.

I’ve not been to the gym nearly as much as I’d planned to over the last few months. However, my muscles are DEFINITELY bigger than they were. I can pose quite impressively, despite doing minimal exercise. Please don’t hate me, gym-goers. It does beg the question of what I could achieve if I actually did work out properly. I’m allowed back to the gym in November, and I really must stick to it. I’ve noticed I’m stronger than before, and when I have done serious exercise, I was quite shocked at the short time I can go from sweaty devastation to feeling just fine. I really do love testosterone.

6) Fat changes.

Oh wow, yeah! My hips and thighs have got much slimmer, and my bum is changing shape. Sadly, as predicted, my tummy is bigger. However, as I’ve been eating less than I did when I first went on T and got the munchies, I’ve actually been losing weight gradually, so hopefully as the fat has come off the womanly bits, it will have disappeared altogether, rather than all congregating on my belly! The fat in my face is changing very slowly too. It’s hard to comment on because I’m so familiar with my face, but looking back at old photos, I don’t look quite the same.

7) Menstruation.

I was walking through the supermarket the other day, past racks and racks of sanitaryware. And how I smiled. I started testosterone on the same day my period started. I had a normal period (that was bizarre, on my first few days on T!), and I’ve not had one since. I am very, very lucky – it can take up to a year on T for menstruation to stop, but mine went first month. Up yours, Madame Oestrogen!

So that was my Testosterone Wishlist, and everything has come true to some degree. Change is slow and steady, which can be frustrating, but actually I wouldn’t want it all to happen at once. There’s so many emotional and social issues to deal with that having my body evolve like this is much healthier and dealable with than if things all came at once. And I have time to savour the feeling of wishes coming true.

Much is made of the idea of a trans person “passing”. I’m not crazy about that term, as it implies that trans people are pretending to be whatever they say they are, and that only the really clever or lucky ones succeed in ‘fooling’ people into believing they are a particular gender. At the same time, I acknowledge that ‘passing’ is used a lot to describe the situation where you are read as the gender by which you identify, not that which was assigned to you at birth.

Purely by that definition, I don’t pass. Just in the last three days I have been referred to as ‘the lady’ by a stranger and ‘she’ and ‘her’ by people who know me, but just seem to have made an honest mistake.

Part of me understands this. I look at myself in the mirror, and see the same old me, even though I know that my interpretation of my reflection comes more from my poor battered psyche than a true reading of how I look. So I can really see where folk might look at me and see a woman. Damn, but they must think I’m butch.

I suppose that what upsets me when people get it wrong is that I have made a lot of progress, both mentally and physically, since the day I finally (reluctantly at first, that’s for sure) recognised my masculine nature. I’ve come so far along my personal road that to be “she’d” or referred to as “the lady” almost comes as a surprise, and a hideous reminder that I am this person in transition, not the person I want to be. A pretender. One who tries to pass.

Now if you look back at some of my previous posts, you will realise that whilst I do not identify as a woman, I also do not necessarily identify solely as “a man”, in the sense of being ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’, or someone who just needs to alter their body to become the man they know they are. This is tricky territory. My understanding of gender has changed, even since I started this blog, and whilst I strive to be able to embrace my masculinity, that does not mean I wish to be pinned like a butterfly at one end of a gender binary.

So why should it matter so much to me when people read me as female? Surely identifying as genderqueer should mean I am happy to accept that people will read different facets of my gender identity different ways, and will then address me or refer to me in a way built upon their gender context?

That’s the thing. Whereas I am not happy to cling to a social norm which places men firmly at one end of a line, and women at the other, that does not mean that I do not have a particular picture of myself: a way that I want the world to see me. I am very comfortable in masculinity. Testosterone is the fuel I wish I’d discovered years ago. Chest surgery is the best thing that I have ever done. I vastly prefer to be read as a guy, because that is where I am at my most comfortable. That does not mean I wish I’d never identified as female. Nor does it mean that I am not happy to hold onto some of the habits that grew out of 39 years of socialisation as a woman. On forms I am delighted to be able to tick ‘male’ (in the absence of a third choice). None of these things detract from my view of gender as a kaleidoscope, nor my horror of being stuck in a set gender role.

So about the ‘passing’ thing. Actually, yes, I want people to read me as male, because, as I’ve said, masculine is where I’m comfortable. But just because I do not always necessarily look, move, or speak, or react in ways that are traditionally associated with men, I’d rather people didn’t automatically think that if I don’t tick all the right boxes for ‘man’ that I am ‘the lady’, or ‘she’ or ‘her’. I realise that for pretty much everybody, if they do not see ‘male’, their brains default to ‘female’, even if they know my name and story. I wish I could change this – wouldn’t it be great if my blog could start a change in the way people perceive gender? No such luck, I fear.

There is a lot to be said for being true to onesself, and I know that I am finally being truer to myself than I ever have before. I probably haven’t chosen the easiest of routes, nor the easiest for others to understand. I heard someone once talking about another trans person I know, saying “I don’t think he really knows what gender he is. I wish he’d make up his mind”. I would argue that someone who has thought hard enough about their own gender identity to conclude that actually neither end of a gender binary fits, has already made up their mind. Similarly, I am not confused about who I am, know how I wish to be perceived by others, and know who I am inside. Is this me having my cake and eating it? Perhaps. But who doesn’t like cake?

There is an assumption, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, that transitioning involves starting at point A, and ending at point B. This rests primarily on the idea that gender can be neatly bisected into A and B in the first place. Whilst there is some acknowledgment these days that gender is largely a social construct, it’s fair to say that the majority of people are only really willing to accept that gender identity is fluid for *some* people, ie: people like me. I hope that as time goes on there will be a wider realisation that none of us are entrenched at opposite ends of a yawning gender chasm, and that the things by which we measure how ‘male’ or ‘female’ someone is are not the whole picture. To horribly misquote, genitals maketh not the man.

I digress a little. My point is that I am not simply ticking as many boxes as I possibly can until I can apply for Man Membership. It is a common assumption, though, that in transitioning I am on a one-way street, via hormonal and surgical support, to become the ‘opposite sex’ [sic] from that which I was assigned at birth. There’s this idea that I have a definite end-point, when all my ‘problems’ will have been ‘sorted’. I rather get the impression that people want to know when I will be “done”, like some kind of transsexual boiled egg. In saying this, I appreciate that for some transguys, the destination of their journey is achieving the masculine status that they know is theirs, and that for many, this is about crossing a chasm. Even these guys, though, may well have different end-points in mind, and it is impossible for any of us to make assumptions about a transgender person’s aspirations, motivations or beliefs regarding gender. I know this is a really obvious statement, but we’re not all the same. Obvious, but it does seem to get overlooked.

Now I have been on testosterone for over six months, and have had my chest surgery, when will this particular egg be done, then? What next? Once most people got their heads around there not being one big Sex Change Operation, I now face questions about when I will be having my next surgery. Answer, I have no idea. For very many reasons, I may never have more surgery. My gender identity does not rest on what’s nestling in my boxer shorts, nor do I feel that I need to subscribe to a regime of constantly trying to get funding for/preparing psychologically for/taking time off work for/putting my body through hell for/whatever the next step along the one-way transhighway might be. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some sort of gender theory purist who feels he’s too good for what some people see as the ‘normal’ route. It’s just that I’d rather make these massive decisions for the right reasons, not because the medical establishment, or my own socially-constructed perceptions of “what trans people do”, say is ‘next’ on the FTM path.

So really then, what next? My main aim in embarking on this transition is to recognise and embrace the masculinity that I feel, and masculinise my body sufficiently that I feel comfortable in my own skin. I am having to re-learn my body, and get my head around some pretty heavy dysphoria, but with every day my confidence is increasing and I feel that I am actually growing into the person I’ve always felt was me. It’s a fantastic feeling, and I owe it to my mind, body and inner being to actually allow myself time simply to be. Rather than constantly worrying about the ‘next thing’, I aim to spend time getting to grips with the changes that are taking place, and enjoy them for what they are, rather than simply as signposts I whizz past on the road to some far off, pre-prescribed destination.

What next? Nothing. For now.