Trans is More than Transition

I know that I’ve spent the last 4 years here writing mostly about my transition. And lately I’ve been very focused on surgery. But I want to take a moment here and remind you that being Trans is about so much more than Transition.

I started my social transition around the time I started this blog 4 years ago, but eventually that period of my life will end and my life will go on. Because ultimately this period is going to hopefully be a blip in the grand scheme of my life. And while I talk a lot about the challenges of transition and life as a trans person, I hope you’ve also taken away how rewarding my life is now that I am able to be my most authentic self.

My life is about so much more than transition and the world is filled with thousands of trans people living their lives, creating art, building relationships, and doing so many more amazing things than just transitioning.

The reason I share my (very privileged) story here is in the hope that by baring my soul and opening myself up to you readers, other trans people don’t have to do that education work. I live my life as an open book because that’s who I am. But for so many people, the stories I share are painful memories and open wounds.

So please, do not take away from my blog that it is ok to ask Trans people about their bodies, their journey, their medical details, and especially not “the surgery.” There are a million reasons why including that a LOT of trans people never want surgery. But the most important reason is simply that it’s none of your fucking business!

Our lives are not a performance for your benefit. Our stories are not open to your analysis unless we choose to make them open like I am here.

I write my story first and foremost for myself. Because I’ve found immense therapeutic benefit to writing out the burning thoughts in my head here. It really helps me crystallize what my brain is ruminating on and gives me an outlet for my emotions that benefits more people than just myself.

When I first came here, I honestly never thought that people would ready my work. I wrote this blog so that I, with my terrible memory shaped by trauma, could remember what I was thinking at each step along the way. And that’s still the primary reason I write. I never expected over 14,000 readers to visit my blog more than 27,000 times.

And while I’m very honored that you take the time to read my thoughts and sometimes rantings, I want to be very clear that this should not be your expectation of what being trans is like for everyone. Each person has a different path and honestly if there’s anything I could impress on you about the Trans Community it is that each of us is far more different than we are similar.

Going Through the Motions

Being in transition for me feels like everything in my life is temporary. For the past 2 years I’ve been taking all these steps to try to feel like a normal human. This week is my two year anniversary of being on hormones and I’ve also had my braces for over 2 years now as I get my bite corrected. I’ve been getting hair removal all over my body and preparing for bottom surgery. I’m been doing all the necessary things to treat my gender dysphoria and address other medical problems that I’ve been putting off for when I had good health insurance. But all these things just feel like going through the motions in hope that on the other end I can rejoin the real world and live the life I actually want.

Many days I feel like a ghost, like an interloper from another plane of existence trying to navigate a world that isn’t built for me. I feel like I can interact with the real world but I’m not a part of it yet. Like I need to somehow “earn” my way into that life by doing all the right things. And in the meantime my life feels ethereal and temporary, like it could all be washed away by a really bad day.

And now with all of the Seattle area on lockdown for this COVID-19 pandemic, life feels even more temporary. It’s hard to make plans not knowing how long this will last. And scary to know that my surgery date could be effected.

It’s not that I’m afraid of dying; in fact that’s partly the root of the problem. I don’t feel any attachment to living because most days I feel like I never actually have. I’ve never fully lived the life I want as the person I want to be yet so I have no stake in protecting that. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope that after all this transition work, I can actually have that life. I don’t know if it will be better or feel more real, but it’s the only anchor I have to reality right now.

And now that I’ve lost a lot of my routines and physical interactions, even more of my life feels unmoored. I feel like I’m adrift in a world that is panicking and chaotic while I sit here at home mostly feeling numb. I keep saying that I’m ok but if I’m honest I’m not really. I’m spending most of my time dissociating by playing video games to fully immerse myself in a different reality. A reality where I have achievable goals and can actually go out and kill the bad guys and save the day. Don’t get me wrong, the video games are essential to my survival right now. But they are also part of this temporary feeling where the real world isn’t real to me.

I’m not sure when these pandemic measures will all end but I keep holding on to the hope that I will still be able to have surgery in August. And that surgery gives me some grounding in my body and in the real world. Because I do want to live. I just don’t know how to yet.

Reflecting back on my beard

Last night I came across this photo in my Instagram history and I had one of those rare moments where I thought “Wow! That beard really was great sometimes.”

Caleb board portrait

To be honest, when I look at this photo I see an absolutely gorgeous queer person that I would date in an instant. But the problem is that it doesn’t look like me and never really did. What I see in the older photos of me isn’t the same person that I actually am inside. I may as well be looking at an old friend that I’ve grown apart from.

For a long time I despaired of ever getting my appearance and identity to match which is why I didn’t take any steps towards medical transition. I think now that I’ve done a lot of hair follicle removal and my facial features are changing, it’s getting closer. But I still have a hard time focusing on my face in the mirror.

My final jaw surgery, which includes some feminization of my chin, is in 3 weeks. Hopefully once I heal from that and get my braces off next year, I will be closer to who I am.

I need new genitals like, now

Content warning: I’m going to be talking explicitly about sex here so proceed at your own risk.

I can’t wait for bottom surgery. As in the idea of waiting another 11 months seems like torture. I need it so badly and while it feels good to finally have it planned and even some of the money raised, it still feels like forever away.

I tried for so long to feel comfortable with the body that I had, but I only had mild success. There were times where I was comfortable with partners who I felt truly saw me that I was able to have enjoyable sex, but for the most part it always felt awkward and performative. I wanted the connection and release so badly but the means I had of accessing that weren’t great.

The best sex I’ve ever had has always been with queer sex. The kind of sex where someone’s fingers or toy is inside of me and they are using their mouth in the ways that it seems only a queer person can. And the most comfortable I’ve been penetrating others is when I’ve worn a strap on. Otherwise being in that role feels weird for the most part.

This week I decided to try having sex “the old fashioned way” one more time to see if there was anything I’d miss about it. I took some generic Viagra because I can’t have those kinds of erections otherwise anymore and had some anniversary sex with my spouse. And while I love having sex with her, it just felt awkward and I was distracted the whole time by how uncomfortable I was. It felt like I was using body parts that didn’t belong to me but that somehow still transmitted sensation to my body. And not in the good way like I’ve managed to access a couple times. We eventually stopped and switched over to the ways we know we both like.

I feel like that was the moment that any last shreds of doubt I had were banished. I’ve proved to myself that my dysphoria really is “bad enough” to warrant the amount of money I’m spending and the amount of pain it will take to get my new vagina. Which is a terrible way to feel. Like you have to justify not wanting to be dysphoric all the time by degrees of severity.

So this week when I met with the PhD level psychiatrist to get my letter for the red tape of insurance approval, I was able to say with confidence that I know I’m making the right choice. And luckily I can also say that I have the right support in my life now to make that plunge. My work and my spouses work are both being very supportive in giving us the time off to go down to San Francisco for a month. And my community has been so generous in helping me raise $880 in less than a month already (plus a promise of airline miles) to put me well on my way.

If you are able to donate to support me as well, I would be very grateful. I can’t wait to finally get this surgery. https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments 

Lesbian Gender Aesthetic

The other day I was on a panel for a sex therapist class and I described my ideal gender presentation as “lesbian.” Now I know that lesbian is a sexuality, not a gender, and that lesbians have a very broad range of gender expressions from high femme to hard butch. But as a kid, I was always drawn to lesbians because of how often those were the people I saw in society breaking down gender norms. Where “tomboy” wasn’t just a phase as a kid but something you could be every day throughout your life. Where you could have short hair and wear plaid shirts and still be feminine. Where the people you slept with wasn’t dependent on how you dressed but it could still be a way of expressing your sexuality through clothing.

The closer I get to being a lesbian, the happier I am. Even though I know both my gender and sexuality are more complicated than that, it’s the person I always wanted to be as a kid.

Dysphoric Bandaid Beard

There are times when I wish I still had my beard. In a lot of ways it was like a security blanket for me, allowing me to exist without having to constantly focus on my dysphoria around shaving and my chin shape. When I first grew it of course I had no idea what dysphoria was or why I hated my face so much, but I used it as a crutch for 12 years.

When I made the decision last fall to get rid of the beard, I knew that my dysphoria would get worse before it got better. And it most definitely has. It is starting to get better now that my growth rate and amount of active hair follicles have been reduced from laser therapy and electrolysis, but the first few months were hell.

Ultimately, the reason I chose to shave was because I chose to believe that it could be better eventually. That somewhere down the road I could be happier and less dysphoric than the low level that I was at with my beard. Sometimes it is hard to see through the high level of dysphoria I have now to that hope that I held for a better future. But I have to keep reminding myself that transition is just a stage in my life and the point of it is to pass through it to emerge from my cocoon as the beautiful butterfly I am.

I am lucky to be surrounded by wonderful people who constantly tell me how beautiful I am at every step along the way. But the thing is, attractiveness feels good but it doesn’t alleviate dysphoria. Dysphoria and dysmorphia aren’t the same thing. The only way to treat dysphoria is by addressing the medical and social needs around gender affirmation. Words alone can’t cut it. But luckily we live in an age where we have plastic surgeons who know what they are doing and are constantly refining the process to create and re-form the body parts that we need.

Thanks to a new trans friend for the title of this blog post and some of the thinking behind it. Maybe someday I’ll make the queer band to match.

Inheriting a fixer-upper

I just scheduled my jaw surgery to do the first part of correcting my bite for mid-May. It’s something I’ve been dreading for the last 10 years since my dentist identified the root problem. And I’ve been surprised at how many emotions around surgery are coming up for me now that it is an undeniable reality, not just about this procedure but about my plans for bottom surgery.

My original plan was to get my jaw surgery out of the way this year and then go in for vaginoplasty next year. And in the interim I was going to meet with the surgeons I was interested in when they were in town for Gender Odyssey. But now I feel like that plan has come crashing down around my ears (like most plans have in my life).

I found out a few weeks ago that my jaw surgery is so intensive that they need to split it into two separate procedures with a year of expanding my top palate in between. So now I have another surgery on my face to dread but at least I have jaw feminization included to look forward to. Unfortunately that means I have to rethink my whole plan around bottom surgery.

To complicate things further, I found out that Gender Odyssey isn’t in Seattle this year and they aren’t doing a conference for trans adults this year anyway. So now there’s no opportunity to meet with them that doesn’t involve investing in travel. I feel like I need to decide whether to try to attend Philly Trans Wellness where I might meet some potential providers (although not my top choice – Heidi Wittenberg), or whether to travel to San Francisco to meet with them directly.

And trying to figure this all out while I’m also undergoing intensive laser hair reduction on my face (I put electrolysis on hold for now because it was too slow) just feels like so much. I feel totally overwhelmed by how far I still have to go before I’m done with all these medical procedures and honestly I’m feeling pretty despondent and hopeless about it all.

I just want to fast forward to a point in time where I feel like my body is my own. But instead I feel like I inherited a fixer-upper house that needs major repairs to be livable and every time I fix one thing, another breaks. I know that all these surgeries and procedures aren’t going to fix everything but I still have to rest my hopes on life getting easier once I’m past it all. Because without that hope I don’t know how to keep going.

This is one of those points where I really wish I had been born with a brain and body that matched and I didn’t have to go through all this work just to be myself. And sometimes it feels like I should just throw in the towel on life and give up. Don’t worry, I don’t actually have plans to do so but I can’t say I haven’t thought about it.

Anyway, I don’t know where all this is going right now other than hopefully forward even if it takes a painstakingly long time to get there. I know I wouldn’t be able to keep wading into the fray if it wasn’t for my partners and friends so I am very thankful to all of them for keeping me going. I know things have to get worse before they get better but I really hope I turn that corner soon.

2 year blog-iversary

Today marks my 80th post and 2 years since I first launched this blog with the intention of creating more representation of the joys and struggles of being an AMAB feminine nonbinary person. It is also the 2 year anniversary of when I first started presenting as feminine full time thanks to a new job with a supportive team. However my journey towards being conscious of my gender first started almost 10 years ago when I began discussing gender with a college support group. It has been 4 years since I went on my first date with another nonbinary person who helped me realize that the definition of genderqueer was broad enough to contain my complexity. And over 3 years since I came out publicly.

The experience of writing a blog has been surprisingly wonderful. Before this I never considered myself much of a writer and certainly didn’t do so for fun. I did it mostly for myself as a way of documenting where I was at in my thinking along the way. But also in the hopes that some young baby-trans person might stumble across it and find it helpful in framing their own thoughts and seeing themselves represented. I never imagined that more than a few close friends would be regular readers. And I certainly didn’t in my wildest dreams guess that 2 years later I would have gained over 50 followers and had 13,000 views by 6,700 visitors.

Now, thanks to my writing here, I will soon be a published author with a chapter in a nonbinary anthology. It has also helped me become a stronger and more self aware person and started many conversations that I hope have pushed people to think about things in new ways. Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this journey so far, especially my spouse and chosen family. I couldn’t do this without your continued encouragement.

Not a man

How do I know I’m nonbinary? Well the truth is I don’t. All I know for sure is that I’m not a man. I tried to fit that role for 26 years and I have plenty of experience to show me that it didn’t work for me. I tried being a masculine man, I tried being a gender non-conforming man, I tried being a sensitive man, I tried being an emotionless man. And it just doesn’t fit. So am I a woman or am I nonbinary? I don’t really know but what I do know is that binary gender expectations and the idea of “opposite sexes” harms all of us regardless of how we identify so I’m perfectly content to fight for nonbinary representation even if that’s not where I end up someday.

If you’re trying to figure out if you’re nonbinary, I recommend starting with Sam Dylan Finch’s articles on Everyday Feminism like Help! I Think I Might Be Non-Binary, But How Can I Know? 

Trans Day of Visibility

I know I’m late on this one since Trans Day of Visibility was Saturday, but since it was a big weekend for my interfaith household (Passover and Easter) you’ll have to forgive me. I was busy cooking up a storm and cleaning house; basically all the wifely duties involved in Seder. But I did want to talk about why visibility is both important for me and complicated.

Diverse visibility is what allowed me to discover who I am and the lack of visibility is what held me back. As I’ve discussed before, there were many signs as a kid that I didn’t fit the masculinity mold. But the biggest reason I never figured out who I was back then was because I knew absolutely nothing about trans people or nonbinary identity. I grew up in a subculture so isolated from the diversity of the real world that I didn’t even know any out gay people much less terminology around gender. And even as I started to enter queer spaces in college, I didn’t see how I fit into that picture since the only trans people I saw at that point were more binary focused in a way I didn’t think I could access. So I just called myself a gender-nonconforming ally for a long time.

And as I started to re-explore my identity again in my mid-20s, I knew then that there was some level of queerness because of my affinity for queer and trans people but I couldn’t see myself in the people around me who were mostly either assigned female at birth androgynous or transmasculine. Eventually someone who I was dating gave me the push I needed to consider how broad a term genderqueer can be and how that could apply to me. And as I began to look harder for representation of assigned male at birth genderqueer people, I discovered people that I finally felt like I fit in with like Jacob TobiaAlok Vaid-Menon, and Jeffrey Marsh.

And that’s why I started this blog. So that people on a similar path to me can see themselves represented and some of the steps I’ve taken, the fears I have, and the reality of nonbinary life. I don’t want anyone to assume that I can speak as a representative for any demographic but for my voice to add to the diversity of identity and opinion out there online.

And that brings me to the downside of transgender visibility. Too often the voices of people with the most privilege like Caitlyn Jenner are the ones that get boosted. And believe me when I say that Caitlyn DOES NOT speak for the majority of trans people. And when cisgender people write about trans people, they often twist the narrative to fit preconceived notions of transition. So if you really want visibility, boost the unfiltered voices of a diverse spectrum of trans and nonbinary voices.

I am visible every day. It is impossible to escape the hypervisibility of being me in a very cisnormative world. But visibility only does me good if people are actually listening to what trans people say and not just telling the same old misinterpretations of our actions and intentions. So if you are reading this blog and listening to the stories told by my trans siblings, thank you. I appreciate that you are seeking the source and learning along with us.