A new life

It’s been a little over 10 months since I shaved my beard and almost a year since I started using my new name everywhere and already it feels like another lifetime and another person. I’m still getting photos from a year ago popping up in my Facebook memories and it is hard to even recognize them as myself. I can see that the person in (some) of the photos is beautiful but it isn’t me anymore. I have moved so far beyond who I was in that moment.

The first few months after shaving were definitely rough with having to face my dysphoria around my chin and stubble. But now there is so little hair left that I don’t have to think about it 90% of the time and I often forget to shave the few stubborn hairs around my lips. I feel so much more feminine now without the shadow on my face.

It also helps that I can really visibly see the changes that estrogen has made in my body. My facial structure has been changed by both rounding of the edges from hormones and from a pretty distinct cheek structure change created by the first jaw surgery. Many acquaintances I see think I have already had the feminization portion of the surgery which feels great. At this point I’m feeling more excitement than dread about the second surgery and the final results I’ll have. Especially since I can finally get this annoying metal out of my mouth and feel confident smiling again.

There are still a lot of hurdles to cross. I’m trying to get the letters from the psychiatrists that I need for surgery and the hair removal on my genitals to prep for that. I have appointments today and next week that should hopefully cover those barriers.

I also started vocal feminization lessons last week. While my voice has subconsciously raised a few degrees already, estrogen doesn’t automatically bring your voice back to where it was before testosterone (yet another reason to support hormone blockers for trans teens). I have to do a lot of conscious work to expand my upper range and retrain my muscles not to create the masculinized resonance my vocal cords are used to. Someday it will hopefully be second nature but for now it is exhausting work.

However, I do seem to have crossed some magical threshold now where many people in public recognize me pretty quickly as a trans woman. Whereas before with my beard I would get stares of befuddlement everywhere I went, now I mostly get recognition, at least in liberal Seattle.  Which has meant that I get a lot more “ma’am”s and “she” either automatically or from self correction.

I tried using she/her pronouns before just around my chosen family but it still felt grating at the time. Like I was too far away from that reality and the pronouns just reminded me that no one would automatically assume that. But now I have decided to use them again as another option in addition to they/them and it feels wonderful. Especially when it is coming from strangers who I am first meeting.

In the moment, progress can feel so slow but it is nice to have these moments where my head comes out of the water and I feel like I can breathe again.

Some updates

There’s a lot going on in my life right now so here’s a little update.

This week I’m headed down to San Francisco to do consults with 2 possible surgeons for vaginoplasty (bottom surgery). I’m seeing Dr. Heidi Wittenberg and Dr. Thomas Satterwhite, the two surgeons I know of who specialize in nonbinary surgical procedures. Ironically, now that the procedure I always thought I wanted, penile preservation vaginoplasty, is possible, I’ve realized that I most likely want a standard penile inversion technique. Especially now that I’ve been on estrogen, my desire to use my penis has disappeared and my dysphoria around it has increased. I’ve also realized that I enjoy using a harness a lot more than my own parts and having a vagina with full depth for penetration is more important. I still want to talk with these surgeons specifically because they are specialists in a variety of techniques and can talk to me about my options in a way that isn’t focused on a binary transition path or assumption. I’ll post an update about what I learned when I get back.

I’m doing the research now on how to change my name and gender marker on my identity documents. It’s a way more complicated process than it should be with a lot of dependencies and some required letters from physicians. I thought that changing my middle name would be sufficient but I’ve realized now that in a lot of medical settings I still have to use my old name and it’s getting old fast. Now I just need to settle on a new middle name…

I’ve started trying out she/her pronouns again to see how I feel about them. Last time I tried it just felt like a painful reminder of how far I was from that ideal but I’m starting to find now that I’m pretty obviously a transfeminine person, a lot of people are defaulting to that and I think it might be easier to get people to use my pronouns if I switched, especially my parents.

I also just finished my 4th laser hair removal session for my face and I feel so much better now! I no longer constantly have stubble and I only need to shave what little I have every other day which makes my skin a lot happier too. I think I will probably only do one or two more sessions before I switch back to electrolysis to get the really stubborn hairs under my nose and under my lip.

I continue to hate my braces with a burning passion and can’t stand how my smile looks in photos right now. But with any luck, my next surgery will be in December and then I can get the braces off in June next year. I’m planning my next surgery for July next summer hopefully so this time next year I should be nearing the end of my intense phase of transition.

My libido is still abysmally low so I’m going to talk to my doctor at the end of the month about adding progesterone to see if that makes a difference. For some people it helps and others it makes it worse. The added bonus is that it might give me a boost on breast growth.

Well that ended up being longer than I thought but that’s what’s going on right now.

Should allies use they/them pronouns?

For every opinion a trans person shares, you can always find someone who disagrees. It may surprise you but we don’t have annual meetings or anything to decide what our unified message is. But one thing that concerns me and I suspect didn’t originate in the trans community is the idea that cisgender “allies” should adopt they/them pronouns for themselves.

And I’m going to go ahead and say that’s a big old NOPE from me. I want people around me who proudly own their pronouns in a way that normalizes the asking and sharing of them. We need to model to people who are still learning that pronouns are not something that should just be assumed based on appearance. If you don’t know how someone wants to be referred to, the safest option is something gender neutral. But the best practice is always to ask first and get used to doing it so that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable anymore.

And don’t walk into a conversation, especially where trans people are present, and say “oh, I don’t care what pronouns you use for me” if you are cisgender. All that signals to us is that you are so confident that you will be gendered correctly that you are willing to accept people’s assumption. It’s a sign of your privilege and based on the reality that you have never had the deep discomfort that comes with being constantly misgendered everywhere you go. Now of course there are plenty of nonbinary people who for various reasons are apathetic about their pronouns or don’t feel comfortable setting expectations. But we don’t need you muddying the waters.

Nonbinary people are constantly fighting this idea that our identities are a “fad” or a phase to not be taken seriously. Our enemies are actively looking for reasons to dismiss us and prove that this is just some social justice plot to make people uncomfortable. And when those people see you lightly using these pronouns, especially if you only do so to “teach them a lesson” or in liberal circles, they take us less seriously too.

So please, leave they/them pronouns for nonbinary people and for people whose gender you don’t know. Own your pronouns boldly by doing things like putting them in your email signatures, on your nametags, or wearing pins at events. Make it clear to people around you that the only way to know pronouns is if someone has told you. And model that by telling them what you actually use.

And remember, be kind about how you correct people. Gendered language has been hard wired in our education and systems for long enough now that there are a lot of people who have unlearning to do. And many of those people have less access to learn about how and why to do that. In particular, when you are interacting with working class folks such as service staff or people for whom English is their second language, have some patience. It may take many times of correcting people but believe me when I say that a gentle hand with a carrot is going to make a far bigger difference than a slap on the wrist.

When you see someone being misgendered around you who has already made their pronouns known in that space, please speak up and say something. Correct that manager who intentionally or unintentionally misgenders their staff member in a meeting. The good managers will show you who they are by responding in kind and the bad ones will then be forced to make a choice about whether to keep persisting intentionally. And if you see it happen to someone you know and you aren’t sure if you should say something, ask them privately afterwards. Sometimes it’s easier not to make waves or they may not be out in that situation. But often times it is just because we are exhausted of constantly correcting people every moment of our lives. Our patience has worn thin because of the constant mosquito bites of microaggressions but you as an ally have the ability to advocate for us without as great of a power differential.

If you see it happening repeatedly from the same people, maybe offer to have a practice session with them where they talk about the things they appreciate about the person they misgendered to you in a safer space where they feel less embarrassed being corrected. There are a lot of steps that you as an ally have the ability and power to do to normalize the use of gender neutral pronouns. Just don’t appropriate them yourself.

And finally, remember that Allyship is a verb. It’s not some badge you earn because you are vaguely supportive. You have to do that work actively.

What’s in a name?

For a lot of trans people, changing their name is a really big and meaningful step. But for me, I have a hard time figuring out exactly how I feel about the idea of changing my name. Some days I feel apathetic about it and others I feel conflicted. Never once have I felt strongly that I should either keep my name or change it. So for now I take the easiest path which is keeping my first name, although I did change my middle and last names when I got married which was a much bigger paperwork ordeal than I thought. I changed my middle name to something gender neutral so that if I decide to change, I can just go by that name.

The part of me that wants to change it is driven by the idea that people would make less assumptions about me if I didn’t have a male-gendered name. But realistically I know that people make those assumptions regardless based on my voice and appearance. The other reason to change is because of the religious baggage associated with my name. The cult I grew up in treated your name like it was your destiny and when you met the leader, he would tell you the meaning in a very creepy way. All the children in our family had biblical names because of that background. And this month I had a difficult conversation with my dad where he made it clear he would never use a different name for me because this one was “god ordained” and that’s always who I’ll be. And while I had no plans to change my name before that, my first instinct is to say “well if you’re going to shove your “gift” down my throat, then I will reject it.”

The reason I haven’t done that yet is because I have seen how difficult it is for my trans friends to have their new name respected outside our own community. Trying to get coworkers and old acquaintances to switch sounds overwhelming to me and I know it would just increase tensions with my parents when I am still just trying to get them to use my pronouns. I wish I had the courage to be more assertive about these things but right now I am so tired of fighting.

As much as I want to start using my gender neutral middle name with my chosen family and friends, I am also afraid of getting used to it. And more importantly, I don’t feel any stronger a connection with my new name than my old one. To some degree, the name isn’t important to me, at least relative to my pronouns. Is it normal to never feel an emotional connection to your name?