Hypervisibility revisited

I’ve written before about the burden of hypervisibility as a trans person who is never going to pass or not be noticed everywhere I go. I even wrote a chapter about it for the anthology Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity which comes out next week. But I do want to circle back around to that topic briefly.

I’m not entirely sure what exactly changed but slowly over the last year and a half since I wrote that essay, some of that burden has lifted. I no longer feel that constant pressure of eyes on me everywhere I go in the same oppressive way. It’s not that people aren’t staring, it’s about my perception of it.

It may be that I have simply developed thicker armor when I go out in public and like so many women before me, have had to learn to accept that unwanted attention is going to happen in a world where misogyny reigns free. Or it may be that I’ve redefined what that attention means. I no longer assume that everyone who I catch staring at me has ill intentions. I know from experience that the vast majority of it is probably curiosity or even good will. And knowing that I can’t determine the meaning in their gaze (unless they are openly videoing me and leering) has left me more open to generous interpretation.

Now I’m not trying to give you blanket permission to go stare at everyone you encounter who is “different” or edgy or whatever you want to call it. When I’m already raw from microaggressions, that attention still chafes. But having so much support at home, in my friend circles, and at work helps relieve some of that daily microaggression exposure so that I’m more able to tolerate things like misgendering and stares in public.

In a lot of ways, my dysphoria and mental health has gotten worse lately as I dive deeper into my self examination and awareness. And all I can do it to keep trying to find the energy to push forward in hopes that that burden will lessen as I get the gender affirming treatments that I need. But it is also helpful for me to look back and acknowledge these areas where life has gotten better and the things I thought would plague me forever have faded away from my conscious thoughts.

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?

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.

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.