I just want to be seen

So I was watching BoJack Horseman this morning. I’m in Season 5 at the moment and I was watching the episode “Free Churro” where BoJack is at his mother’s funeral and is giving this very bitter eulogy based on his childhood trauma. But at the end there is this moment where he says something about how we all just want to be seen and the saddest part of his mother’s death is that he no longer has the opportunity for his mother to see who he really is. And even though I was only half paying attention, I start crying. And I’m crying again writing this out. Because ultimately, that’s what is most important to me too. I just want the people in my life to see who I really am. Not see my body or the person they thought I was based on how I was born. But the woman I truly am. And my mother is the person who I yearn to see me the most.

So when I talk about the pain of being misgendered by my family, it’s not actually about them making a mistake. It’s about the fact that when they do that constantly, it feels like they don’t actually see who I really am. They still think of me as the boy they thought they were raising. They probably still think this is a phase or that I have been corrupted by liberal society or something. And they can’t seem to successfully convert their brains to seeing who I truly was all along.

I have largely given up on my dad. I don’t think we will ever see eye to eye. But I guess I still hold out hope for my mom. And more than almost anything in my life, I want her to see who I am. I want her to embrace me as her daughter and give me her approval.

In my family, there is a middle name that started with my grandmother and has been passed down three generations in the women. It is my mom and my sister’s middle name and since in many ways, our family is not so secretly a matriarchy, it is a very important symbolic name. As I think about changing my name to make my chosen name my legal first name, I have been thinking about what I want my middle name to be. And a large part of me is drawn to choosing that name because of the symbolism. But I feel like I need to be given permission to claim that heritage and while I have gotten that from my aunt, I still feel like I need my mother’s seal of approval. And I know it probably won’t happen as long as she doesn’t see me as I am.

Most of my trans friends don’t have that relationships with their families anymore because they have either been rejected by their parents or they choose to distance themselves because of the pain that being constantly misgendered and deadnamed causes. But I keep trying to invest time into my family and I remain close to them even though it is painful because I want that closure. I want to be seen. And I truly hope that before my mom descends into alzheimers, that I get that moment with her.

Why you need to reject the idea of “passing” as cis

As I’m reading through some of the older articles by one of my favorite authors, Kai Cheng Thom, I came across this beauty:

How to Love Being a Non-Passing Trans Woman in 9 Affirming Steps

And I’m reminded how crucial accepting that fact was to my coming out journey.

There is so much pressure, both in the cisnormative world around us and from other trans people, to achieve some level of “passing” where people on the street or sometimes even people in the sheets can’t tell you are trans. For so many trans people, their ultimate goal is to get to a point where people think they are cisgender. And while there is a lot of power and safety in that and I absolutely do not blame people for wanting that, it is also a dangerous trap that can hold us back from truly being happy.

For so much of my life I thought that I couldn’t be trans because my body had grown in ways that I knew I could never reverse. With my broad shoulders, my strong chin, my large hands, my massive feet, and my deep bass singing voice, I knew that no matter how much surgery I had, I could never achieve my ideal of how I thought a woman should look. And I thought that meant that womanhood itself was hopelessly out of reach and at best I could just be a feminine man who was too attracted to women to be gay but too abnormal to be loveable. And it was largely because of that false belief that I allowed myself to settle for an abusive marriage.

For me at least, the path to self acceptance lay in embracing my femme identity with the full knowledge that I will never pass. I had to grieve the body I would never have and love the body I did have. I started out looking for the people who looked like I could when I started. Nonbinary icons who have never done medical transition and proudly display their beards and stubble like Alok Vaid Menon, Jacob Tobia, and Jeffrey Marsh. I surrounded myself with trans women so gorgeous that they take my breath away and I’ve slowly come to realize that I am that person for other people too. I leaned into the aspects of myself that I could make feminine for myself even if other people gendered them differently. I found joy in finding clothing that emphasized my tall frame and those rare gems that were size 13 heels.

I had to reject consciously and daily the idea that had to look traditionally feminine to be femme. Because femme at its core is a queer identity based in simultaneously embracing and queering feminine traits while rejecting many of the oppressive gender norms. My partners who are fiercely fat and femme helped me learn through this process how to hold yourself boldly even when you get glares in public for doing so. Of course I am not confident every day or even most of the time, but putting on that armor of femme identity helps push through those moments. I am femme despite society, not because of it. And finding my corner of weirdos and unconventional beauty helps me see the beauty in myself.

Once I had laid the groundwork in embracing my body and finding the parts of it that I love, only then could I truly identify what areas of my body needed change to fit MY dysphorias rather than what other people were projecting onto me. In many ways I truly loved my beard and how dramatic it made my face when paired with makeup and a dress. But I also could see how much happier I could be if I stopped avoiding my chin and made the necessary changes to bring it in line with who I want to be. And sometimes that means that things will get worse before they get better. But it is a lot easier to bear when I am doing these things for myself and not because I think I have to.

Another thing that has helped tremendously is realizing the incredible variety that exists within gender. For me, I like to look up to the cisgender women in my life like my mom who is 6 foot and my aunt who is 6’2″ and wears the same size shoes as me. And yes, sometimes they get accosted in restrooms about whether they belong but because they clearly do, it helps me know that I can too (not that I’ve actually worked up the courage for that yet). Women literally come in all shapes and sizes so don’t let someone tell you that you aren’t fully a woman because you look a certain way. They can shove off with their internalized misogyny.

Do I walk through the world confidently every day? Absolutely not. Do I love every aspect of my body? Hell no. Do I question the path I’ve taken? Sometimes. But I have earned my femininity just as much as someone who fits whatever this decade’s ideal of female beauty is. I am a nonbinary woman and I don’t need to pass.

Thoughts on surgery

My brain has been rather obsessed lately with thinking about if and what next steps I should take in my transition. So I’ve been trying to figure out what my options are around gender affirming treatments and beginning the very overwhelming task of delving into the surprisingly difficult question of what do I actually want.

Unfortunately I’ve found, with the help of therapy, that that question is very deeply tied to the related question of what do I actually believe I deserve. I didn’t realize I had so much around self worth entangled with my transition. While I 100% support my friends who pursue gender affirming surgeries, I have a hard time convincing myself that I am worth spending that much money on. I had the same issue with my upcoming jaw surgery to correct a crooked internal angle that prevents me from biting on one side. A lot of emotions came up as I went through the steps to book it and talked with my spouse about the money involved. I don’t know the full costs yet but so far we have shelled out $5,500 out of pocket for the braces and I have some significant guilt around needing her help to do that and taking away from money we could use on other things, especially in this political climate.

I firmly believe that while surgeries and treatments are definitely not required to be a valid trans person, they are medically necessary in various forms for many of us as important treatments for gender dysphoria. And I certainly have been having a lot of increased dysphoria lately. But when it comes to the next logical step of then believing that I deserve these treatments, I fall into the trap of hearing all the naysayers whispering in my ear about how trans people are too expensive and a burden and, and, and…

So I’m trying to work past that part of it. But there are also other fears to conquer. I realized I have a very deep fear that I will go through all these steps to try to get closer to the person I know I should be seeing in the mirror and still not feel like I can achieve it. I worry that being so close will just make the last little bits that I can’t change, things like not being able to be pregnant or have the kinds of sex I want, even more frustrating. That’s certainly the biggest thing holding me back from thinking about vaginoplasty.

I realized recently that vaginoplasty is covered by my insurance. Of course there are no surgeons in Western Washington and wait lists are a mile long but theoretically, this is one of the easier things to accomplish financially on my list of options. But that is also the one I was most unsure about. Mostly because I was afraid that I would have complications or worse, that I wouldn’t be able to orgasm afterwards. I don’t particularly like the equipment I have now but at least I know how it works and have figured out how to get it to do what I want, at least some of the time (though that is getting harder while my brain is undergoing estrogen rewiring projects). And is it worth the risk for the potential reward? And am I just caving to transmedicalists (aka truscum, people who think you need surgery to be trans) and societal pressure if I take a more linear transition path?

Arguably, the things that would make a much bigger impact on my dysphoria and certainly on my ability to function in the world are facial feminization surgery (FFS) and hair removal. Unfortunately those are the things that my insurance has classified as “cosmetic” and doesn’t cover. Hair removal is top of my priority list and as I discovered last time, is very expensive. So I am trying to call around and see if I can find a clinic that would work with me to fight insurance and advocate with my doctor for its medical necessity.

Facial feminization is a greater challenge. I’ve realized only recently that the main reason I keep my beard is because it hides my chin, which I can’t stand looking at in the mirror. I’ve obviously grown to love it as evidenced by the name of my blog and how much it has shaped my identity. But it’s also just a tool to reduce dysphoria which has the unfortunate side effect of making me hypervisible. And even in a city like Seattle, it’s no fun being able to be spotted as trans from 3 blocks away. Increasingly I’ve been realizing how much my beard shapes how exhausting daily life in public is for me. But I don’t think I can shave it off unless I at least have a plan for what to do about my chin.

My chin is rather prominent and cleft. In my head and when I look at photos of the few times I’ve shaved (only twice in 12 years), it looks like Gaston from the animated Beauty and the Beast – comically large and masculine. There is a possibility that with estrogen softening my facial features, I will end up liking my face without surgery. Or that after my jaw surgery I will like my look better. But I am honestly scared of having to shave next winter to do that.

Facial feminization is a very expensive proposition. I’ve heard estimates anywhere from $7k for just the chin to $30k. And the odds of me getting insurance to cover it seem pretty slim. I did take the step of emailing my jaw surgeon to see if there is any chance he can leave off the portion of my chin he was planning on rearranging in the surgery or if he would be willing to partner with a specialist to do the work while I am already in surgery. No word back yet though.

I have talked a lot with several trans women in my life over the past couple weeks as these thoughts have been distracting me which was very helpful. And the more I talk about it, the more I realize just how much I’ve been trying to ignore my dysphoria out of fear and shame. I desperately want to be the self confident, visible, bearded trans icon that people seem to think I am. But the reality is that I am having an increasingly hard time looking at and thinking about my face and genitals. When I shave my chest, stomach and legs, I can almost start to see something that looks attractive. And sometimes a good photo can make me feel ok about my face. But my crotch often feels like a black hole on my body, something that doesn’t exist. Or sometimes my genitals feels like a fake nose someone glued on my body when I look in the mirror. And it makes relationships a lot harder when you are moving farther along the asexuality spectrum.

I need more time to think about it but I wanted to get some of these thoughts down while they were still fresh. I don’t know what the answers are yet but I’m increasingly starting to think that the fact that I can’t stop thinking about these questions means that these are inevitable steps I have to figure out how to take.

On a lighter note, if I eventually get rid of my beard, what should I call my blog? The Artist Formerly Known as Genderbeard?

Bra feels

Today is my first time wearing a bra for a functional purpose. And I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. Every time I look down it doesn’t quite feel right, probably because I’m not use to that being in my peripheral vision. It’s not that it’s physically uncomfortable because I found a good Bali bra from HerRoom without an underwire but it’s just a new self-image adjustment. And in a way I feel a bit like I’m being deceptive.

When I was measured at Lane Bryant they told me I was a 42B but I really don’t quite have a B cup yet so I’m supplementing with my silicone breast forms and using a padded bra. It’s hard enough to find them in that size with the large band and small cup – Lane Bryant only had a couple for me to try on that didn’t fit well so I ended up going online. And yet bralettes don’t feel good because they end up flattening and acting more like a binder than emphasizing what I have.

Don’t get me wrong, this is how I eventually want to look. It just feels weird to go from very little one day to a full chest the next. I wonder what my coworkers think because I’m sure they’ve noticed.

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The dress is a custom design made by my partner for when we went to see Hamilton made with a vinyl iron on from her Cricut. Also, I’m trying out a new hair color that was supposed to be a bit more purple but ended up Rose Gold.

Religious but not Spiritual

As open as I am about most things, one of the most challenging things for me to admit both to myself and to those close to me is that I am really struggling with how I engage with religion and spirituality lately. This isn’t necessarily a post about gender but I think it is important to show how everything in your life can be interrelated and this is (or was?) a significant part of my life so I want to take a moment to talk about it honestly here.

In the past I was skeptical of people who said they were spiritual but not religious because that seemed like an artificial divide to me. But more and more I am coming to see how that distinction is meaningful and how I have been essentially practicing the reverse for the past decade. I’ve been religious but not spiritual.

I honestly don’t know what I believe. I guess that makes me an agnostic. I don’t think you can ever rule out or disprove a god or deity or metaphysical property because by their very nature they are outside of science and tangibly observable facts. But the way I’ve been justifying my continued involvement in Christianity and the Episcopal Church is because humanity has been searching for the divine and building religious structures as ways of doing that communally since before the dawn of agriculture and civilization as we know it. And I figured that if so much of human history has been devoted to that, it is pretty foolish of me to think I am outside of that pursuit. I use Christianity as my lens mainly because that is my culture and the context in which I grew up and I don’t want to appropriate someone else’s religion and culture, especially when I am not ready to lean into it as a whole but approach any religion as a skeptic.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian community. And built into that culture is a lot of spiritual abuse, patriarchy, and denial of the real world in many forms such as rejection of scientific discoveries, gender variance, and sexualities. I am sad to say that their techniques worked on me and for a long time I was a good Fundamentalist bible-thumper who had successfully pushed my questions and doubts to my subconscious and at least ostensibly bought into the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. So part of the reason I stayed in the church is because I thought it was important to heal from that past by reclaiming “good” Christianity or at least fully understanding how it didn’t need to be practiced that way. If I had just run away I don’t think I would be the same person I am today.

But my doubts have never gone away and the harder I try to lean into the discomfort, the more resistant I grow. It’s been a long time since I’ve believed in miracles, divine intervention, the heaven/hell divide, or “the power of prayer” to do anything other than change (or more often confirm) how the person praying thinks. Does the afterlife exist? Maybe. But I don’t know how it has any relevance to my life if I don’t believe in a god who would send people to hell and wouldn’t want to spend eternity with one who does.

And my doubt isn’t exclusive to Christianity either. In queer community there is an abundant amount of “woo” in the form of astrology, tarot cards, reiki, meditation, pagan rituals, witchcraft, etc. And while I’m slowly learning to just accept that other people find meaning in it I don’t think I could ever dive into that with an open mind myself.

For years I’ve been going through the motions of going to church partly for the reasons above about reclaiming and retraining myself, partly because I want to change the church and make it a more welcoming place for people who want it, and partly because I think intergenerational community focused on doing social justice work together is valuable. But recently I’ve realized that the only thing that keeps me coming back is the people. I am lucky enough to have spent the last few years in a very affirming and supportive small community where I have made many friends. And because of that I’m tied into various commitments like childcare, hospitality, and policy changes.

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in my anxiety every time I try to engage in anything related to church. It started out slowly with more and more resistance to attending on days I didn’t have commitments, but lately I have started having near anxiety attacks just sitting through services and last week when I tried to go, I couldn’t even get up the courage to walk through the doors. Part of it is that I feel like an impostor but there is definitely something deeper going on. And I suspect the reason it is really surfacing now is because the estrogen is really shaking out any emotions I haven’t dealt with yet.

I spoke to my very wise, queer femme priest who said this about what might be going on: “I think Christianity (all Christianity, not just bad Christianity) is wired into you entangled with the kinds of ways you were taught to shove yourself down and hate yourself. I think this is true biologically, even, that the neural pathways that are marked “Jesus” are also marked with the awful things you were told about how to be and how to behave, and that any encounter with Christianity, whether in line with your values and politics or not, sends an alert down that pathway. That’s a lot. It may or may not be reclaimable. But to repeat a pattern of forcing (the way you forced yourself to conform, and forced yourself within your marriage) with Christianity will likely only do you harm.”

I think she’s really onto something there. Christianity may not be something I can reclaim, at least not right now, and I need to listen to the wisdom of my body instead of fighting it. Christianity was integrally tied to painful and abusive parts of my past both through my upbringing and with my ex wife who wanted to be a priest and felt threatened anytime I had doubts. So as much as it hurts me to say, I need to step back from church for the time being. I need to find the things in life that give me hope and meaning and right now that isn’t religion or spirituality. But hopefully I can learn to open myself up to what is next.

The game of anxiety life

Life with anxiety is like a game of whack-a-mole. If you deal with one thing, another will just pop up. And adding more estrogen to my system shakes it up and switches the game to advanced mode. I am (re)discovering so many things that I thought I had dealt with hiding beneath the surface.

More thoughts on identity

I’m still struggling with knowing whether I am nonbinary because that’s who I truly want to be or as an artifact of the barriers I feel stand in the way of being a woman. I don’t necessarily feel like my brain is composed of part-masculine, part-feminine aspects. I very much feel like I was born with a girl’s brain in what was perceived as a male body. Most people these days understand that femininity is broad and can encompass tomboys and people who don’t wear makeup every day. And with the right body I think I would have made a great girl, although not one that could live up to the expectations of the cult I was raised in.

And I’m definitely a femme. I’m perfectly happy to put on jeans and a tshirt when I’m getting dirty or doing something outdoorsy. But I’ll always opt for very feminine clothing whenever it’s not extremely impractical. I’m not someone who puts on makeup every day but I certainly love doing it when I have the time and I am very particular about my appearance. In other words, a fairly typical woman in my appearance preferences.

So that just leaves my physical body. I’m tall and I have a large frame with wide shoulders and huge feet and hands. So I feel like I could never fit into culture as a woman which is mostly why I don’t try. It’s the fear of rejection from other women that keeps me stuck in this in-between place. Not that women can’t have that kind of frame either; my mom and my aunt certainly do although they often times get questioned in bathrooms about whether they belong because of it. They are 6 foot and 6′ 2″ respectively and my aunt has size 13 feet as well. So if they can do it, why can’t I?

As I’ve said a few times before, I keep my beard mainly because it covers up masculine features of my face that I really don’t like. Somehow the facial hair gives me less dysphoria than the underlying face. But I wonder if I also keep it as a signal to the rest of the world that I’m not trying to pass as a woman so they won’t judge me by that unattainable standard. I guess I’m scared of the ridicule trans women so often get so I try to avoid it by doing my own thing.

So then is nonbinary just a phase I’m passing through on the way to becoming a woman? It’s hard for me to say at this point. And just because it’s a phase doesn’t make it any less valid. It’s where I’m at right now and that’s all that really matters. I’ve found that no matter how much I try to plan, life seems to throw a wrench into the gears and redirect me. So I’m just going to take this one step at a time. I’m starting estrogen in 20 days and I’m curious to see what that does to my brain and my body to shape how I relate to them.

Who knows. One day I may need to rename this blog. But for now I remain your Bearded Genderqueer.
PS – I mostly maintain this blog as a way of shaping my own thoughts. When I start to have big gender feels I often come here to write about them before I’ve even fully thought them through. I wasn’t consciously aware of half the things I just wrote before I got there. So thanks for following along in my very confusing journey.

To be or to love

My deepest truth is that I have never been able to disentangle my desire to be with women from my desire to be a woman.

I have always been most comfortable in the company of women and had a hard time connecting to masculinity. The only men I have been able to get close to are the ones who are more effeminate in their interests and presentation as well. As a kid and as an adult I frequently find myself being the only non-woman in a classroom or workplace, especially since I work in a career path that is 95% women. And now, as I prepare to take feminizing hormones, I find myself having to come to grips with that fact once more.

For the past few years I have entertained the fantasy that I am queer enough to date across the full gender spectrum. But if I’m being honest with myself I can look back and realize that beyond the trends of convenience there is the sad fact that I just don’t connect as deeply with masculine people. As much as I love my transmasculine siblings, I don’t have the same chemistry with them as I do with femmes. And I always feel terribly awkward around cis men and out of place in gay male culture.

I’ve frequently joked about being a lesbian to cover up the fact that I desperately wish I could truly be considered one. And when I think about transition, this is really the biggest thing that draws me to doing a more binary route. My femininity has always been about how I relate and want to relate to women, not about my relationship to men. Which I think is why I’ve always been drawn to feminist circles even when that was highly taboo for my culture.

As terrible as the world is around us, the part that saddens me the most is the bigots within our own movement who seek to exclude people like me – the TERFs (Trans Exclusionary “Radical Feminists”). I can kinda understand why the world at large has a hard time wrapping its head around me and how I defy categories. But for a group of people who spend so much time thinking about gender and the constructs surrounding it to pretend like it is so impermeable that I can never cross that threshold really does hold me back. I desperately want to be included in everything as “one of the girls” but I know that no matter how hard I fight, I can never pass enough to do so.

I am so grateful for my friends who have made conscious efforts at inclusivity. I recently was invited to a gaming group that a friend expanded to include women and femmes. And every time someone lumps me in with a group that is primarily women I get warm fuzzy feelings. Does this mean that I am a trans woman and genderqueer is just a waypoint on my journey? I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that I can only take it one step at a time. I am excited to start estrogen and see what effect that has on my brain and my body. A lot of the things people talk about experiencing are already commonplace for me like the readily accessible emotions, the frequent crying, and the mood cycles. So if I am already like this without hormones, what will that look like? Who knows. Maybe I will eventually become the lesbian I’ve always dreamed of being.

Range of emotions

It’s amazing the range of emotions about gender that I can have just in the space of 90 minutes. I was almost late for work this morning because the first outfit I tried on was pinging my gender dysphoria and after hemming and hawing for far too long I finally decided to switch outfits. Something about the loose fitting slacks and the way my shoulders seemed to stand out just wasn’t working for me. I felt bad about not being able to wear an outfit that was probably really cute, at least according to my partner.

But I ended up switching to some tight fitting jeans, a floral top, and my black heel boots and now I feel sexy as fuck. On a whim I grabbed my new subtle lipstick as I walked out the door and I was feeling so confident by the time I got to work that I applied it in the men’s room. It felt so wonderfully subversive which for me is what being genderqueer is all about. Now I feel powerful and confident in my gender and appearance. I’m glad I listened to my feelings and took the time to change this morning.

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Internal impostor

This has been one of those weeks where I’ve had to fight my internal impostor syndrome hard. There has been a lot of that nagging voice in my head telling me that I’m not really trans, that I’m just a pretentious dude trying to be more feminist by rejecting masculinity and wearing a dress. I’m not sure where it is coming from but I suppose I am just internalizing what I assume that people must be saying about me.

It is so exhausting being stared at EVERYWHERE I go. I know that not everyone is judging me but it sure feels like it. And there are definitely people who are. Yesterday I was walking down a busy street next to traffic and a guy in a truck was shamelessly videotaping me, probably to post in some online haters forum to make fun of me. It is really disheartening to know that there is no escape from that hypervisibility. It’s not like there is some end point where I am going to “pass” and not get stares anymore. This is my reality as long as I have energy to continue existing. Sometimes I wish that I was just a trans woman so I could shell out the thousands of dollars and be done with it.

I’m too far out of the closet now to go back and forward just means more of this never ending public gaze. It would be easier to handle if I could get rid of the damn voice in my head telling me I’m not who I know I am. I don’t need more people telling me it is just a phase or treating me like I’m just confused. I don’t do this for kicks, I do it because it is the only way I know how to be even close to comfortable and authentically present myself.

I’m trying to cheer myself up with playlists by some awesome trans artists like Jacob Tobia and Alok Vaid-Menon and thinking about the Trans Pride Festival tonight. But all I keep coming back to is this horrible feeling in my gut that this game I’m playing with gender is going to have to come to an end someday and I will have to return to reality. But the idea of having to face the world as a man again is even more terrifying than the idea of this future of scrutiny. *Sigh* I guess that’s the sign that I really am genderqueer.

When does this get easier?

EDIT: I went to Trans Pride Seattle after writing this and it was exactly the healing I needed. I was surrounded by hundreds of really cute and radical trans siblings and I got so many hugs. It was a particularly good reminder to see all the other bearded femmes in this city and know that I am not alone. I am so thankful for my queer and trans community in this city.