Reassigned

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.

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The Advance Guard Has Arrived

16 06 2010

I found a chin hair. It is long enough that I am unable to comprehend how I missed noticing it until now. Quarter-inch-long hairs take a few days to grow, or they did the last time I sprouted any new hairs. This means I washed my face and brushed my teeth and tousled my hair in the mirror on multiple mornings in a row without once taking a good look at my chin.

As a result of its surprise entrance, this hair has reigned in my thoughts all afternoon. As soon as I decide to pluck it out (because a single lonely hair looks utterly accidental, like the cat rubbed up on my face during shedding season), I decide that I have to show it to someone first. As soon as I decide to show my boss (because, as the director of an LGBT center, he would probably understand why it’s a big deal), I decide that the ability to grow very sparse and mostly unnoticeable body hair is probably not among the skills they hired me for.

It is perhaps true that of all the things I could be doing to help our community out, sitting in the center toying with my lone chin hair ranks among the least productive. Still, it is also true that I got hired to help make this center even better for every queer, whether questioning or ally, genderfucking or pansexual, trans admirer or straight-presenting, on campus. And how can you possibly do that job without sharing in the enthusiasm, the orgy of selfhood that necessitates a center like this? How could I sit on this veritable throne of new books for the library, reading pages of each one before I tape a call number to its spine, and not excitedly toy with this chin hair every few minutes?

newly trans gay tie-wearing me

It is with exhilaration that I take full responsibility for this chin hair. I feel as though I personally crafted this chin hair, and that the process has taken me years. I was crafting this hair as the bemused, straight version of me learned by trial and error to put the eyeliner on first and that my forehead is lovely but just too large to permit haircuts without bangs. Tentatively lesbian me was crafting this hair as I discovered how soft and warm sex can be when you’re sleeping with someone who pays attention to your body. Newly trans gay tie-wearing me was crafting this hair, even as needlephobia defeated T.

This one follicle comes from the part of me that keeps searching, every time some identity, word, or sexual act doesn’t feel quite right. This is the part of me that has always believed that I can find a way to be happy, whether I’m wearing clothes or not, inebriated or not, at school or in Boise, working hard or playing rough. It’s the part of me that crows lovingly about this job. I am unable to face this center, our shared and staggering multiplicity, without feeling my dear, queer little heart bounce proudly.





Le Musée des Égouts

8 06 2010

I once ran into Loren Cameron in the Paris Sewers Museum. Underground, staring through a grate at my feet at actual, literal sewage, I picked a voice out of the crowd behind me, and I thought, That person sounds just like Loren Cameron. I turned around just in time to see him round the corner, just in time to recognize him.

Stricken, I took a step back. Resolved, I then took a step forward. Frightened, I glanced to see whether my two friends were still reading the plaque about Victor Hugo and the sewer system. Resolved anew, I set off at a jog, which felt particularly daring given the nearness of this raised walkway to rivers of Parisian sewage.

“Excuse me,” I sang timorously. I remembered to drop the sleeve of my sweatshirt, which I’d been clasping to my nose and mouth to filter out the smell of museum. He turned and raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you Loren Cameron?” I cringed at how starstruck it sounded. I think I met you a few weeks ago, I could have said. Cool shoes, I could have begun. What did you think of the Victor Hugo bit back there? A thousand better openers flashed through my mind. Boy howdy, smells like poo in here, doesn’t it?

He politely helped me out, affirming that he was in fact Loren Cameron. I explained, very quickly, that I’d met him at a talk in the States a few weeks ago, to which he responded with fitting surprise:  “Wow! And now we’re meeting in Paris. Standing in the sewer.”

I thanked him for his visit to my campus, my eyes as wide as they could go. I told him that his stories and photographs had been really Meaningful To Me. My eyebrows were trembling with the exertion of trying to communicate. I’m saving up to buy a suit, a real men’s suit, they were trying to say. My name’s Jamie, they yelled. This is the last summer I’m going to wear this push-up bra and this camisole.

My friends rounded the corner then. Introductions, an invitation to come see him speak in Paris the next day, and we were leaving, my flats unbearably slippery on the metal grating.

I have no idea whether he got it or not. I’m inclined to think not, since there’s only so much an eyebrow can communicate to a complete stranger. It doesn’t really matter. During those latter college years, I spent a lot of time with my eyes wide open, hoping for some sort of advice from people who seemed to know how to be out or queer better than I did.

The most liberating moment of identity-formation for me came a couple years later. I’m even still feeling the aftershocks, like from an orgasm that boomerangs back through you a few times before it’s done. I was queer the whole time I thought I still had to learn how to be queer. I was a gay man the whole time I spent watching that YouTube clip of John Barrowman yelling, “LET’S HAVE A GAY-OFF!” After which I spent an hour in my empty apartment alternately laughing riotously  and  then trying to lisp it the same way he did. If you had asked me then, well, first I would have been very embarrassed, but then I would’ve said I was an aspiring gay trans man. I suppose there are far worse things to do, now that I think about it, than to aspire to being yourself.





An Account of These Seriously Ripped Pecs

4 06 2010

My blog needs a subtitle. My blog-writing has been seriously hindered by that lack. A title, no problem. Titles can be anything from “Transgender Rights” to “Intersections” to “Corn Muffins and That Damned Stapler”, depending on whether you want to be political, vague, or cute. Your title doesn’t matter; it’s the witty clarification that follows after the colon or semi-colon that constitutes the real work. The subtitle is where you unveil your intentions. The subtitle is where you show how clever, punny, and relevant you are. The subtitle structures the whole blog to come—it’s that reference point toward which all the ensuing sentences direct their deferential gaze. The subtitle is where you kick it home.

Perhaps avoiding sports metaphors will be my first step. Is there even a sport in which you “kick” something into a location called “home”?

This week, I’ve been sitting at work in the university LGBT resource center, compiling a list of books to recommend we purchase for the library. As a person who spends almost all of his time immersed in works of the 16th century, it was downright novel (see that’s a pun there) to browse titles published after 2000. And enthusiasm, for me, strikes with verve and, really, no sense of direction. Thus, through some untraceable series of metonymic (possibly also Freudian) leaps, I found myself newly enchanted by my chest.

Allow me to explain.

My chest is a flattish expanse. My areolas are a little more taut and protuberant than a lot of guys’, a result of fresh scar tissue binding them to the rest of me. My nipples are flat and shy against my tough pink areolas. Beneath all this, across my ribs, two long purple lines, like parentheses demarcating the afterthought that constitutes my chest.

What keeps amazing me, though, is how big this chest is. It stretches the whole way from my neck to my belly. It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Which is to say, it takes up a lot more of my body than I thought it would. When I had breasts, I tended not to think of them as my chest. My body had no chest. It was a pillow more than it was a body part. I liked when people rested on it, seemed to get comfort or pleasure from it.

The truth is, I’ve always been a chest-grabber when I’m excited. This habit originates in an Idaho public high school where I figure out that drawing attention to the jiggliness of my boobs is both highly comedic and also gets me dates. The chest-grabbing has evolved now to a firm though somewhat flailing palm-to-sternum thunk whenever I’m experiencing a high level of enthusiasm for the task at hand.

So you can imagine that I’ve encountered my chest a lot in the past week, as I research for our center’s library and find again and again that we queers have written about ourselves. We’ve made narratives and photographs, we’ve faced ourselves in shop windows and the lenses of mirrored sunglasses and we’ve made sense of our reflections. We’ve theorized, we’ve researched, we’ve soliloquized. This is exciting stuff, my friends. We’re writing to each other, making our own words and wrapping them in print and shipping them off to reach each other. So I grab my chest.

And then I find myself surprised. This is my chest, here beneath my hand. This is mine. I am in this skin; my body is tending it even now, making sure it gets blood and sweat and oxygen. My chest is young, queer, and strong, and so are the new-bound books I’m getting for this center, and so are the students who are going to read those books. That’s huge. That’s even bigger than this chest.