Sex Reassignment: More Like Algebra or Carolyn Keene? (Body Hatred, Part Two)

23 02 2011

The word “hatred” has a certain buzziness these days, a quality that tends to get it sent into battle from both sides of everything. In one of many examples, Prop 8 protests gave us “Stop the H8,” a response in part to a small, tasteless movement of picketers who have been insisting for a while that “God Hates Fags.”

Hatred, in other contexts, might have meant merely the opposite of adoration. Here, though, the message is not that God loves heteros the way I love oranges and hates homos the way I hate pickled cabbage. It is not that God feels like His tongue shrivels up and His skin crawls when He walks into a room where He can smell a homosexual (as is the case with me and pickled cabbage). “Hate” does not mean “harbor strong dislike for” in our current moment. Hatred is not an emotion, but a political stance.

Neo-conservative picketers are by no stretch of the imagination the only people using the word “hate,” either. They are a convenient example, but the truth is, hatred has become something like a culturally sanctioned way of expressing feeling. We hate our bodies (even though we sort of know we shouldn’t). We hate celebrities and politicians. We hate frat boys and/or reality TV shows and/or pharmaceutical companies.

The truth is, it’s almost always easier to feel angry than to feel even momentarily powerless. It is easier to say, “I hate my high school,” than to say, “I couldn’t make the people there respect me.” It’s easier to say, “The Bible says God hates gay people,” than to say, “My belief system does not account for these people I don’t understand.” Easier to say, “I hate this vagina,” than to say, “I am deeply uncomfortable with the way people touch me sexually and I don’t know any way of having sex with this body part that would be less uncomfortable.”

It’s a big problem. Lately, I’ve really been grappling with the way self-hatred still defines so much of how we think of trans people, both within and without the community. Hate the old body, love the new, right? Or in some cases, hate the old body, hate the new one less.

Part of the problem is, transition is not the replacement of the old body with a new body. You can’t just lop off body x and sew on body y. Or, if you’ll allow the math pun, body xx with body xy (or vice versa). If that were the case, transition would look like this:

The problem is not that we feel we need to change our bodies. Change everything you want to, I say. Throw a q or a 7 or a question mark into that equation, for goodness sake. The problem is staring down the narrow corridor of that equals sign.

All the surgeries, the parentheticals, the additions and subtractions—they can’t and shouldn’t be strung together and expected to produce some average, normal, unremarkable, standard maleness (or femaleness, as the case may be). There isn’t an average, normal, unremarkable, standard maleness. Throw out the term on the other side of that equals sign. There’s nothing there, just the same fantastic, troubled, strong, pinkish-tan in my case, human body that walked down the equals sign tunnel in the first place.

So, as promised, I must conclude that sex reassignment (and, by extension, gender itself) is less like algebra and much more like Carolyn Keene. A singular name for a disparate grouping of bodies and psyches and creativities.  A convenient fiction, which nonetheless has very real material effects in the world. And it’s only by enjoying each Nancy Drew novel in its own right that you can really love Nancy Drew—none of those books can be strung together to add up to any larger story arc. The point is, I love Nancy Drew, not because she’s on her way to some definitive, 56-book-long Answer. I love her because at any given moment in any given book, she is Nancy Drew.

Childhood nostalgias aside, I really do think we lose something when we rely on hatred to explain ourselves. So, queers and allies, let’s try to change the terrain between hatred and anti-hatred. Our struggle doesn’t have to be a struggle on those terms; it doesn’t have to be a struggle to get the Them to stop h8ing the Us. Speak out against discriminatory practices like Prop 8, certainly, but push it farther—let’s push ourselves to write novels, to take photos, to write history textbooks. Resist hatred by coming up with different ways of talking about feeling, different stories about why a person might want to add a (p + 2b) to their x2.

Body Hatred, Part One: How Cats Are and Aren’t Like Roommates

18 02 2011

There are these two cats that live in my house. They sleep here; they poop here; they store their possessions on shelves, in shoes, under furniture here. They seem to have little to no notion of me as an authority figure—in fact, I’m fairly certain in their eyes, we share a pleasant and mutually beneficial roommate relationship.

The longer we live together, the more similarities I find between my relationships with the cats and those with former roommates. There are times I start to think they look up to me—as when I demonstrate how to unwrap cheese products without inadvertently eating some of the plastic wrap. Other times, the reverse becomes true: they are, for instance, totally indifferent to my success at repeating entire passages of Edward II not only from memory, but in a passable Christopher-Eccleston-as-the-Ninth-Doctor imitation.

We share our requisite tense and embarrassed roommate moments, too, of course. Times when the cat feels his need to sit on the toilet seat is at least as pressing as my need to pee. Times when they mistake my glasses for cat toys. Times when I brazenly enter a room without knocking and interrupt important butt-cleaning time.

It seems to me—and this is where I think my cats differ from my roommates—that the most important part of our friendship is the snuggling. Perhaps humans could learn a thing or two about how seriously

How do they get under blankets without thumbs?

This spot has been adequately tenderized

cats take snuggling. Wherever on my person the cat needs to lie down, she or he will devote five to fifteen minutes simply preparing the surface thoroughly with her or his front paws. It feels like they’re tenderizing me.

Any surface is fair game when it comes to cat snuggles. My back, my butt, my face—all are equally probable sites of cat massage. In particular, though, the cats like my stomach. I’ve gathered that lying down for more than forty-five seconds constitutes an open invitation to set up camp on my tummy and to ignore all interfering entities (such as books, laptops, my arms).

As a 23-year-old, pop-culture-watching American, I initially found the power of the kitties’ love for my middle disconcerting. Such forthright affection for it really throws the ol’ midsection into a different light than one gets used to seeing. The cats have no idea—and, for the record, they could not possibly care less—that for many in this country (and others), belly fat is a terrifying, insidious demon. It hovers in every aisle of the grocery store and slinks between the pages of every menu, threatening every perfect, mechanically stitched waistband in the windows of every American Apparel, H&M, and Urban Outfitters.

The cats, unlike the trendy waistband police, devote admiring care to the choicest, softest part of my stomach, kneading, headbutting, kneading again. Their feelings toward it are simple: This is nice. I like here.

Makes me realize how overdetermined our body parts are. No roommate of mine, no matter how close we were, could ever have touched my stomach the same way one might massage my shoulders. The human who has touched my stomach the most is probably my doctor—and that totals something like two hours total stomach-touching time in 23 years? It’s the very center of our bodies, and we do everything in our power to pretend it isn’t there.

On Writer’s Block

1 02 2011

For a fifth grade creative writing assignment, I once wrote a fairy tale about a kingdom in which the royal line bequeathed a magic window from generation to generation. To complicate things, there was also an evil crystal hidden somewhere in the subterranean section of the kingdom. It fell to the last remaining descendant of the royal family to figure out which things she saw through the magic window were true and which were made up, all in the service of uncovering her family’s history and thereby locating the evil crystal. I wrote pages and pages, filled up a whole notebook and still had plot threads to resolve.

My good friends, the newsies

Some years later, in early teenhood, I fell hard for a number of the characters from Disney’s Newsies. I madly commandeered them in an 80-page (single-spaced) manuscript, continuing events after the end of the movie. In the intervening years, my subject matter has taken uncountably many different forms, but one thing remains constant. I’ve never known exactly what it is that makes me write.

So as I’ve tried to write over the past several months, I’ve repeatedly remembered and hoped for a spurt of loquacity as heartfelt as that story about the magic window. Instead, the days pressed on, rolling right over my best efforts.

What became so frustrating about this struggle was the fact that things I needed to write about kept piling up in my head. I started to feel like a clogged faucet, sputtering out a disjointed half a paragraph at a time. And good material for writing just kept coming. I went to my parents’ house for the holidays. Mom and I participated in a sublimely Ionesco-esque farce of Christmas dinner preparations, which time will distill into an anecdote about a frozen turkey bobbing in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor. I played ping pong all night on New Year’s Eve. I visited my alma mater. I skinny-dipped in broad daylight in a hot spring on a mountain.

Nothing says Christmas like a turkey in a bucket.

That's a frozen turkey weighted with a pitcher of water in a bucket on the kitchen floor.

Most frustratingly, though, I started reading a blog I disagree with. Stopped up with writer’s block, my only recourse was orating at length to the nearest willing family member. Which provided only temporary relief. Every other day, I grumbled about how we need more trans voices out there speaking, writing, publishing—all while I marinated in my own silent blog.

At long last, however, I came to realize something fundamental about my own ability to write. All these silent weeks, I kept returning to that blog I disagree with, reading new posts, firing up my righteous indignation, opening up a Word doc to vent my anger—only to find myself producing nothing.

The lesson is, my first assumption was incorrect. I thought I could use anger and indignation to propel myself out of writer’s block, when in fact anger was the reason I had writer’s block in the first place. I rehearsed over and over all the things making me angry. I was angry with the people who cope by avoiding entire groups of people like pretty boys or male doctors or hipster lesbians or gaysians. I was angry with anyone who restricts their sexual interest to either “cis” or “trans.” With anyone who utters the words “normal male size” or “normal female height.” Anyone who thinks straight white men are unable to understand and respect people with other genders.

I stand by my many angers. I think my feelings toward these issues are thought-though and legitimate. What I have to admit at last, however, is that instead of speaking my own mind, I let this other blogger get their angry paws on my feelings—most importantly, I let them affect how I felt toward my own identities. I let this blogger make me less happy to be a trans gay advocate for all things queer and fabulous.

In the end, I don’t write from a place of anger. I don’t think that trans voices should be speaking up in order to drown out anyone else. I think we should be speaking because we have beautiful, shocking, funny things to say.

My queerness is not about being angry. Quite the contrary.

Tales of Very Hairy Men, Episode 3: Trans Like Me

20 09 2010

A brief note of business first: I’ve created an email account purely for communications regarding my blogself, and I would love to hear from you. It’s firstjamiethenjames (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ve also listed it on the About page.

I have a tendency to do things on my own. It isn’t a matter of pride; far from it. This tendency is an overpowering demon, ugly and almost comically stupid. It doesn’t give chase; it doesn’t wave its arms or roar. It is just a lumpy, warty, unbelievably heavy monster. In times of stress, it lumbers out of my head and sits on my legs so I can’t move. Unable to reach for help, I do all my work in almost-solitude, staring into the blank, drooly face of my own inane inertia monster.

With varying degrees of success over the years, I’ve tried to overpower it. There have been occasions when I’ve lifted it up far enough to roll out from underneath. Somehow, though, even after twenty-two years of education and socialization, I still haven’t found a way to sidestep it in the first place.

Thus, it is almost always on my own that I write papers, lift weights, put together furniture.

It was also on my own that I came into my own transness. Since then, I’ve heard tell of an utterly foreign phenomenon: it seems that some people actually talk to other people when they’re teetering on the edge of a gender identity revelation. Not so for me. Thousands of people were being trans and talking about it on the internet, in discussion groups, even in my own school’s GLBTQ resource center. And I was wedged beneath my monster, watching Queer as Folk on Surf the Channel, thinking, I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something weird about how I can’t stop watching this show.

Fittingly, this was taken on my first time out at a queer bar.

The face I would've made then...

Everything worked out okay, though. I marinated in Queer as Folk until I figured everything out and then I made a beeline for Express Men. I learned to tie a half Windsor from the perforated card included in the Macy’s tie packaging. I carried that card around for a few weeks in case my tie came undone and I couldn’t remember how to fix it.

A year later, I had loosened up enough to wear t-shirts some of the time. I was living in a new city, had made new friends.

One evening, I was out studying when a friend called to ask if she could stop by. She was out with a visiting friend of hers, and she wanted us to meet. I knew a little about the guy from anecdotes: his name, his alma mater, that he was trans.

They came by to say hello. He was shorter than me, slight, wore thick black plastic glasses frames. His beard was full and dark. It was clear that our mutual friend very seriously wanted us to get along.

So the three of us strolled once around the campus center. I am not usually particularly bad at carrying on everyday conversation, but this meeting came at the point in my life right after I had decided to start T. My brain was on a constant loop from facial hair to low voices and back to facial hair.

And, of course, my new acquaintance had a very serious pair of sideburns. These sideburns probably yield more hair than the combined efforts of all the men’s faces in my entire family, great-grandparents included. I was stuck marveling at his hair follicles and wanting to know how to groom mustaches and wondering if his chin ever got tangled. Unable to come up with a non-weird way to explain all that to someone I’d only just met, I had to make do with whatever generic observations I could make about our immediate surroundings.

...if you'd told me I'd grow up to be this guy.

“That room back there is really orange,” I offered.

“Yeah, like orange all over.”

“No kidding. Oh hey, there’s a coffee place over there.”

“Coffee? I like coffee.”

“Me, too. I like coffee.”

“Holy crap! That girl has a lot of books!”

Once we’d cycled through the orange room, coffee, and books one more time, we’d arrived back at my studying spot, so they took their leave. I hoped my friend would explain to him that I am in reality a titillating, imaginative, witty person and this evening was just a momentary fluke.

It only took a few moments after they’d left before I realized a strange warm feeling in the bottom of my stomach. Something inexplicable was buoying my spirits up.

Slowly, I realized how good it felt just to see that someone else out there was out in the world being trans like me. In spite of my own lackluster conversational efforts, I’d had a fantastic time during the fifteen minutes we’d spent walking around campus. There was something undeniable about coming into contact with a physical talking laughing thinking being who’d survived the pronoun battlefield, too.

It isn’t that this guy was the first trans person I’d ever met or even that we shared an especially deep conversation (as you may have noticed). He was the catalyst, however, that finally made this lesson stick.

I have no idea what this person’s transition was like for him. I don’t know if we have anything in common at all, except for this one word—which isn’t even a word, really, so much as a prefix—“trans.” But sharing that one word means sharing something very real. Something ineffable; something that can’t be reduced to hormones or to doctor’s appointments or to therapy sessions.

Meeting other trans people makes being trans feel less like a malady. This gender isn’t something unfortunate that befell me, like a broken arm or a car accident. Being trans isn’t something I have to accomplish in solitary silence, like math homework or plucking my eyebrows. This identity is difficult, touchy, and frankly heartbreaking sometimes. It’s easy to start thinking that my transness is just mine, just a fluke that gave me hips and made me self-conscious in customer service situations. But meeting other people who are trans like me reminds me that it’s also fucking beautiful.  It does not have to be just another battle I fight on my own.

So conclude my Tales of Very Hairy Men. The moral of my stories? People with lots of facial hair stick in my memory. If anyone ever wants me to learn a meaningful lesson about life, they should employ a person with a beard to teach it to me. And for those who are wondering, I do in fact still pluck my eyebrows. It makes my face more expressive.

Tales of Very Hairy Men, Episode 2: Ode to Dan’s Face

31 08 2010

A college friend of mine had loads and loads of facial hair. It wasn’t, however, the kind of prolific facial hair that sprouts forth in all directions, wild and beary. This facial hair belonged to a whole different breed from your average hairy person’s beard-hairs.

When I say that this person had a lot of facial hair, I suppose I don’t actually mean that he had a lot of it out and visible upon his face. The amazing part was the endlessness of his supply of facial hair. The man showed up in my dorm with a different beard almost weekly. His face was the real-life equivalent of those electronic Barbie heads that grow hair at the push of a button.

He was marvelous for many reasons, two of which stick out most prominently in my mind. First, of course, the unbelievable facial hair. Second, he was one of the best allies I remember having during that rough first year of boyhood.

He also tied a ribbon as a bowtie and folded one up like a pocket square.

In a moment iconic of our friendship, Dan grudgingly complied with my demand that he wear ribbons at my 20th birthday party.

Dan and I became friends through a series of collaborative study sessions during our freshman year. As with most people who work well together, we quickly fell into a comfortable routine.

We would begin by sitting in silence for a long period of time, busily writing papers, making flashcards, emailing friends from home. Inevitably, though, I would pipe up with an idea, fully expecting something I hadn’t thought of before to be equally interesting to Dan.

Dan, broken from his reverie of Very Important and Pressing Issues, would bluster indignantly. My idea was a silly idea. And not only was my idea silly, but my entire basis of understanding of the issue at hand was silly. What, was I smoking all that dead literature between my rapidfire shots of wheatgrass?  Or perhaps it was the result of growing up in backwoods cow-tipping, tractor-pulling, mutton-busting Potatotown–that’s what Dan thought of my idea.

Then, anywhere from eight minutes to 48 hours later, he would look up from what he was doing and ask me a thoughtful question about whatever it was, as though we’d only just been having a calm, rational discussion about it.

I felt the coat-hanger-as-hook was a particularly nice touch, but it did impede my ability to put those little plastic things into the game pieces.

Me on a standard Friday night in college, pilfering Dan's pirate costume, probably getting dressed up for a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit.

Three years into my friendship with Dan, I started wearing ties. In hindsight, I was hardly forthcoming when it came to letting my friends know I was trans. My coming out, in the end, consisted of muttering the news to two or three people and then hoping the information would circulate without my help.

It wasn’t my most courageous hour. I remember silently apologizing to everyone who stuttered over my name, my pronouns, where it was ok to touch me.

I apologized so much, I started believing that I really was guilty of something. Believing that made me self-conscious, which made me even more afraid to directly talk about being trans. The more afraid I became, the more I withheld from my friends, which in turn made me feel even guiltier. I picked up momentum, spinning in my own personal emotional roundabout, squirreling away things I was too embarrassed to talk about and hoping all of them would just disappear.

So, some time after I started wearing ties, Dan must’ve figured out on his own that I was trans. I was too stuck to tell him myself.

Eventually—inevitably—a party happened at which half the attendees were calling me Jamie and he, the other half holding tight to my old name and she. Newer friends were getting nervous and slipping toward calling me she. My date was being as conspicuously gay as possible, diligently trying to establish my gender by association. I myself was actively failing to notice the confusion.

In the midst of it all, there sat Dan.

“I keep forgetting to call you ‘he’,” he yelled over the music and chatter.

I hesitated. An apology rose to my lips.

“Can I call you Jim?” he went on, still loudly.

This was going somewhere unexpected.

“Jamie could be a girl’s name or a guy’s name,” he explained. “Could I shorten it to Jim?”

He wasn’t demanding why didn’t you tell me or how come you chose a name less cool than the first one or did you know your Facebook profile still says female. Instead, he’d identified a problem: he wasn’t using the right pronoun for me. He had also identified something he felt would help him fix the problem: nicknaming me Jim. Now he was just asking if it was all right with me.

This was illuminating. Dan understood. Moreover, Dan understood without having me explain it to him.

I had been so convinced that if I told people I was trans, I would have to explain why. I thought I would have to explain why I had once watched She’s the Man every day for a week and still didn’t realize. I assumed I’d have to explain my total lack of butchness.

Dan proved me wrong. I was gloriously, happily, gratefully wrong.

There is only one other time in my memory that I remember feeling so relieved to be incorrect. The other time is much more childish, but the sheer force of unfettered gratitude toward my own fallibility was the same. It happened at my cousin’s house when I was eight: I woke up convinced that I’d peed in my sleeping bag. It took close inspection and verification from my father to prove satisfactorily that in fact I had only dreamt that I’d peed. If ever the terror of having peed on your favorite blanket has been visited upon you, you understand that I do not exaggerate.

Tales of Very Hairy Men

13 08 2010

A burly, bearded person came to the door today while I was reading Ivan E. Coyote over lunch.

As I have been engaged for several weeks in the long and cluttery process of moving into a new apartment it felt downright decorous to actually eat a meal at the dining table. And as if it weren’t enough to be using the dining table for its intended purpose, I was wearing both underwear and shorts, not to mention using a glass for my juice. I sat down to my meal of Special K and freeze pops feeling like a mature, productive member of society.

Alas, in spite of all that gravitas, I hadn’t the slightest clue where I might find a shirt. I heard the screen door squeak and I froze. Marking my page in Ivan’s account of gendered bathrooms, I cast about silently for a t-shirt, a button-down, a toga—anything. The boxes within reach yielded frying pans, Nespresso pods, moccasins, a mug full of pennies.

Thus it transpired that I toplessly answered the door to the burly bearded person.

This person greeted me with, “Hey buddy.” I looked down at my pink, peach-fuzzy man-chest, took a breath, and replied, “Hey, man.”

“We’re working on your boiler,” he explained in an authoritative but not unfriendly Boston accent. “I just need you to flip the switch for a minute or two.”

I chewed my lip, trying not to look like I had no clue what this man was asking me to do. “The switch,” I said, nodding. “Just… flip it?”

He eyed me suspiciously. This guy doesn’t know his ass from his elbows, his look said. This guy couldn’t find his way around an on/off switch if his pet bunny’s life depended on it.

“I don’t, uh, know exactly where that switch is,” I explained, trying to assure him that not only do I know exactly how to operate an on/off switch, but I also have some vague notion of what a boiler does.

He stepped inside and glanced around my kitchen. “You should know where your boiler switch is,” he told me.

“Yeah,” I agreed, as though I was fully aware of the various serious hazards that arise when people don’t know where their boiler switch is. “We just moved in, so I haven’t had time…”

He’d already found the switch, flipped it, and made for the door. “Remember that switch,” he advised, and then he was gone.

I’d been pulling my abs tight, a nervous habit, a carry-over from being a girl and compensating for anxious situations by making myself seem as thin as possible. I released them, sat down. My eyes met Ivan’s, staring up from the back cover of my book. Be less nervous, I told both of us, though I don’t know that Ivan really needed my advice. Sucking parts of my body in doesn’t change anything but the depth of my breathing.

What I need is a little more confidence in my own ownership of this body and this gender. Boiler switch man had no interest in policing my gender; he really did just need to find the boiler switch.

This is my house, this is my chest, this is my goddamn boiler switch. I will henceforth stop flipping it on and off trying to figure out which lamp it controls.


28 07 2010

I use the abbreviation “SRS” to refer to the thing that happened to my chest this past January. I use it fondly and frequently. In a sea of words, most of which don’t fit me very well, I’ve settled quite happily upon “SRS.”

The bandages were thick enough that it felt like I still had boobs, even though I knew I didn't.

All wrapped up the day after surgery.

The terrain of trans-related language is frankly littered with potholes. Sometimes it seems like that bristling feeling—the alienation and anger that come when the words assigned to us are wrong—is everywhere. Seeping into the most well-meaning conversations, spilling onto us from rolled-down car windows next to us at the stoplight, simmering among the magazine headlines in the check-out aisle. As a result, I know to take special note when I find a term that sounds good to me.

Other terms at my disposal are “sex change,” “top surgery,” “chest reconstruction,” and “double incision with nipple grafts.” “Canflattening” crossed my mind as a viable option. A friend from college quite rightly offered “getting rid of your chest dangleys [sic].” In the end, though, “SRS,” or “sex reassignment surgery,” is what comes out of my mouth.

I’ve spent some time tiptoeing between the potholes, reading the doctor’s note that claims I’ve “completed sex reassignment surgery,” repeating the words to myself, and then staring at my chest.

On the one hand, a thing called “sex reassignment surgery” sounds like it could easily amount to a ten-thousand-dollar event requiring legal documentation from three different states. On the other hand, my chest is just my chest—not as concave as I thought it would be, definitely paler than I expect it to be, far less hairy than my brother’s or my father’s. My chest doesn’t look like a ten-thousand-dollar event requiring legal documentation in three states.

The same process, the giant-sounding “sex reassignment surgery,” could also accurately be termed “moving my nipples three inches.” This makes me wonder why I would have had to give anything more than my own signature on a consent form.

Nonetheless, the doctor’s note says SRS is what happened to me, legal forms and familial concern and a lot of airfare all squeezed together into one three-letter acronym. I could riff on this for hours. My sex has been assigned, like an essay question on an exam, like a secret agent’s mission. My sex is a task designed to call upon my skills and on which I will be graded. It will require agility and many costume changes: Infiltrate the bathroom, learn to sing in the proper key, explain how you can be a feminist without being a woman. Having been assigned once before, I’ve been reassigned. The assignment I received the last time needed tweaking and has thus been reissued.

Me at my 20th birthday party

Guess who?

The point is that Dr. Brownstein, being a plastic surgeon and not a geneticist, time traveler, or hypnotist, didn’t open me up and change my sex at some elusive biological root. No amount of chest surgery could possibly erase, flatten, reconstruct, or incise my history of mini-skirts, straight boyfriends, and keeping Chapstick for choir gigs in the cup of my bra.

Dr. Brownstein was the agent of my reassignment. He is the wizard in the cartoonish purple armchair (this I do not embellish) who signed the paperwork that conveyed me to the professional realm of Mr., the formal realm of Sir, the social realm of Bro. He conjured for me a bottomless supply of M’s: an M to show the cashier at the liquor store, an M for the TSA agent who eyes my boarding pass. An M for the bank teller, the bouncer, for each and every one of my future employers.

SRS is my term. I’ve wrestled with it, scolded it, poked fun at it, and finally inhabited it. I’ve played around with other terms, but I’ve arrived back at SRS. My reasons are unequivocally personal and arguably nonsensical. But the fact that I have a term that I like is the important thing. Words can be terrifying when it comes to trans issues. Finding the right words is what keeps me writing.

The Boobs That Didn’t Belong to Anybody

19 07 2010

An illuminating moment for me came at my post-op party. We called it a “boob party” and spent the night celebrating chests. Everyone brought magazine clippings or photos of chests and we pasted them on the wall in the stairwell. We kept a running list of all the euphemisms for chests we could think of on the whiteboard usually reserved for intra-apartment communications like We need milk and Has anyone seen my watch? and HEY GUYS I LET THE CATS PEE ON THE SOFA (just kidding it’s water).

At this party, every guest was invited to wear whatever made their chest feel good. Some went topless, some chose corsets—we even supplied glitter-encrusted adhesive craft foam for those who wanted to make pasties (the majority of our guests chose this option, which was just another sign that my life is nothing like what my guidance counselors envisioned).

These stayed up in the entryway for weeks after the party.

Decorations for the boob party.

I would have made a beeline for the craft foam myself, possessing the healthy appreciation for glitter that I do, but my nipples were hot off the press and couldn’t quite be trusted with that sort of freedom.

It was early in the night and several of us were still putting last touches on our outfits. I was elbows-deep in a closet, digging for one of my old corsets for a friend. My painstakingly selected ensemble was a black a-shirt (through which you could just make out the square outlines of my nipple gauze), jeans, and a plaid fedora to which I had, in a fit of audacity, affixed a pin that announced, “trannyfag.” Someone had convinced me to wear green eyeshadow. I felt fantastically queer.

This friend, the corset-borrower-to-be, waited patiently as I cursed my way through the disorganized piles of clothes. We talked about my scars and my stitches, the egg-yolk-yellow hotel room I recovered in, the difficulty of flying back from San Francisco while trying not to lift any bags heavier than 15 pounds, as per my surgeon’s instructions.

Finally, I found the corset, white and lacey and a little dusty. Having been worn to virtually every costume party from high school through college (as I’ve mentioned, I am not a creative costume-maker), the boning was contoured just as I had so recently been. I untied the laces and shook the last echo of my former shape out of the fabric.

My friend raised her arms and I wrapped her in the stiff satin corset. I muttered something, mock-cantankerously, about having to relace the whole damn thing to fit her thinner frame. She giggled, and I hoped it was because she felt pretty, with the lace hugging her hips and her shoulders bare.

This was taken two weeks after surgery.

The celebrated chest, minus gauze.

It was true; I did nearly have to relace the thing, since her waist is comparable to my thigh and her shoulders are about forty-three times more muscular. Running my fingers over the familiar eyelets, feeling medical tape crinkle and tug across my chest, I felt very aware of the cool air on my collarbone. My collarbone hadn’t seen fresh air in a year, hidden under binders and loose t-shirts. Air moving across my collarbone was so unexpected, it was almost frightening.

I thought then of my friend, the corset threatening to slip right past her hips to her ankles. I thought of her shopping around for electrologists while I’m working so hard to sprout just four hairs from skin that doesn’t even do peach fuzz. I thought of her shyer, deeper voice in contrast to my own ringing, melancholic, opera-trained, still so alien mezzo.

“It’s hard to relate,” I began somewhat absently, watching my formerly hourglass-shaped corset conform to her taut, upside-down-triangle torso.

“I want hair,” I continued. “You don’t want hair. I let it grow, you rip it all out. We want all opposite things.”

She looked at me like I had just tried to explain differential equations using a flipflop and a jar of peanut butter.

“I think we want the same thing,” she told me bluntly.

It felt as though the poles had shifted.

Her voice had warm finality in it. It said, “I have no problem relating to you.” It said, “You’re looking for freedom and I am, too.” It said, “Your tits aren’t my tits, and both of us have beautiful chests.”

My Girlhood: A Very Serious Business

18 07 2010

I wrote a guest post on T-Central called My Girlhood: A Very Serious Business. It’s a brief romp through childhood and learning the right way to play Barbies and I warmly invite you to check it out!

An Orange and an Allegory Walk into a Bar…

30 06 2010

I’ve never had a favorite color, but it isn’t for lack of wanting one. Actually, I’ve long envied those who do have one. People who have a fraction of the stress I have about choosing a new toothbrush because they can narrow the choices down to one color. People whose childhood birthdays aren’t largely characterized by waffling in the party aisle of Target, unable to select streamers.

This color thing has been a source of mystery for years. For some, a favorite color comes as intuitively as their gait, whereas for me, the language of favorite colors has always seemed impenetrable. Somehow, people can just look and know which color is theirs? I marveled as a child. How? What’s it like to feel such a distinct sense toward a single color? I imagined it might feel like excitement, like a little tickle of pleasure every time you see that particular color. Or maybe seeing that color is comforting, like slipping into your spouse’s softest t-shirt. Maybe it feels familiar, like every time you see that color you’re hugging an old friend.

I figured I must belong to some lower order than those naturally color-inclined people, unable to stand before an array of paint samples and feel tugged toward one end or the other. How could you commit to blue but ignore purple, which is as calming as blue but with a splash more excitement? But then how could you commit to purple, which has so many iterations in Barbie clothes that it’s never far from its princess connotations? And how could you choose purple anyway when there’s green out there, all cool and exciting? But then how could I choose green—what if I’m neither cool enough nor exciting enough? To choose a favorite color seemed both to assume ownership of that color and to let it assume ownership of me, a commitment I never felt I was equipped to make. And anyway, no one else seemed to think of it as choosing. Other kids just know.

Other kids don’t even flinch when get-to-know-you games demand you share your name, grade, favorite color, and an interesting fact. “Blue,” they say. “Maroon.” “Turquoise.” My turn comes and I toy with my shoelaces. “Blue,” I offer, glancing toward the self-affirmed blue lovers, who nod in blue solidarity. One might even pump a fist.

I glance around the circle for people who might already know me, because I honestly can’t remember what I said the last time someone asked for my favorite color. I fear someone will out me with flippant comment. “I thought your favorite color was green,” they’ll venture. I’ll feel like a trespasser. I could just tell them I changed my mind from green to blue, but it would be another false step into their world of intuitive, uncomplicated color choices. Instead, I’ll fumble and break down. “I don’t have a favorite color,” I’ll have to admit. I’ll have to confess everything. I can’t tell you which color clothes to buy me for my birthday—Last year on the last art day, I didn’t know what to do—I just chose the nearest color of paint—My handprint on our class mural is a LIE…

Lately, though, as I totter past the halfway mark between twenty-two and twenty-three, I’ve found some wisps of confidence surfacing in myself. This sensation is completely new. Orange, this voice inside me ventures. I look around at my orange backpack, my orange Netherlands t-shirt, my orange pens.

Dare I? I find myself asking. Can I become one of those people who has a favorite color? The answer is yes. Does it matter that I chose mine, that it didn’t come hardwired into me like everyone else’s? Nope.  I can throw my lot in with orange if it makes me happy, late to the game or not. I don’t have to understand all the reasons why I didn’t have a color before. I am as legitimate an orange-lover as any other person with a color affiliation.