Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Politics and the Popularity Contest

From "The Onion"
Grandmother Proud To Have Lived Long Enough To See First Viable Female Candidate Torn Apart
June 16, 2008 Issue 44•25
PEORIA, IL—Seventy-six-year-old grandmother Anita Graney told reporters Monday that she was "overwhelmed with pride" for having lived to see the first viable female presidential candidate in the nation's history so successfully run into the ground by vicious media attacks and hubristic, arrogant miscalculations. "Hillary [Clinton] showed America that a woman can be politically destroyed just as completely and heartbreakingly as any man," said Graney, a lifelong feminist. "What an amazing example for today's young women who aspire to fail spectacularly at the highest levels." Graney expressed hope that one of her granddaughters might someday be the first woman to get utterly eviscerated in a nationwide general election.
The Primaries are finally over. They have been over in Pennsylvania for some months. Certainly, most are thrilled that it’s over, but I can’t help but feel disappointed at the outcome. This has nothing to do with the potential abilities of Senator Obama. In fact, during the Pennsylvania Primary I’ll be the first to admit that I found his advertisements a bit intoxicating. I found his speeches inspiring when often times I found Clinton’s speeches would somehow make me cringe. Cringe because she sounds annoying, cringe because she sounds petty, cringe because I know she didn’t really mean it that way. She’s like a really old, dear friend that you try to introduce to your new “cool” group of friends and you keep feeling the need to apologize for her.

Still, in spite of all this cringing I still believe that she is the better candidate. I’ve long believed that the best presidents are also probably the worst campaigners. By this same token, some of the best campaigners make really awful presidents. George W. is a prime example of this.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am completely confident that Obama will perform better than W., but I’m also confident that most anyone could perform better than W. I’ve discussed this campaign a lot with my mom, a strong, smart second wave feminist, and found that we both share this somewhat surprising intense feeling of sadness. What I fail to understand is how she got pegged as “the Washington machine” and he became this voice of inspiration. I remember listening to the
Slate Political Gabfest and hearing them talk about the Super Delegates. This was just before the PA primaries and everyone was talking about how maybe, just maybe, if Hillary won by a big enough margin then maybe, just maybe the Super Delegates would decide she was the better candidate and give her the push she needed to get the nomination. As this conversation wore on Emily Bazelon (who always sounded to me like she really liked Hillary, but was embarrassed to say so) said that she just thought it would be a very bad political move for these Super Delegates to essentially take the nomination away from “the first viable African American candidate” and give it to Clinton.

Maybe I was sleeping for a few years, but when have we ever had a viable female candidate? When did the first woman president become less important than the first black male president? Clinton may have been involved in politics for a very long time, but I happen to think that can be a good thing. She spent her entire campaign on the defensive and the press counted her a looser before she even had a chance to play. All her supporters seemed to melt away as she no longer looked like the “cool” candidate, with only
Tom Brokaw coming to her defense. Even just the fact that she is referred to by her first name and Obama by his last seems to imply some subtle underlying sexism.

Hillary Clinton came to Pennsylvania.
She sent her daughter to Woody’s (a local gay bar) while Obama called the most famous lesbian he knew (Melissa Etheridge) and had her call in. Clinton may not always connect with the people, but at least she tried to do it in person. Obama settles for flashy TV adds and had Shepard Fairy make inspiring posters, allowing the "cool kids" to make his case with him. I know I sound angry, and I am.

I don’t mean to digress. I get it. She lost. Obama won. I know I’ll vote for him come November considering the alternative, but I just can’t wrap my heart around being an Obama supporter just yet. As a final thought I just want you to ask yourself why being against Barak Obama or even simply for Hillary Clinton made you a secret racist or working class stoop while everyone could freely rail on Hillary Clinton’s every move and no one was accused of being a raging sexist.

From The Chicago Tribune’s June 25 article
Devil in a pantsuit or the demonization of Hillary Clinton

When the doctor checks to see if the patient is still breathing, it's disgust, not compassion, that leaks out between his syllables: "You couldn't kill her with an ax," he sneers.That patient—the wide-hipped, unwieldy woman at the heart of
Dorothy Parker's 1929 short story "Big Blonde"—is a familiar image in books, films, songs, comic books, TV series, video games and, now, politics: The woman as monster. The over-large, over-ambitious, overbearing creature who irritates everybody, the death-defying witch who just won't go away—and who therefore must be destroyed.She's a vampire, a zombie, an alien, a werewolf, a psychopath, a serial killer. She's Alex, the Glenn Close character in "Fatal Attraction" (1987), who ... keeps ... on ... coming. She's the looming, clutching, stifling mother or wife or girlfriend in a Philip Roth novel. (Which novel? Take your pick.) She's the eerie, outlandish creature in the Sylvia Plath poem "Lady Lazarus" (1965), who proclaims, "Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air." She's the vengeful giantess in the 1958 film "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman."

It’s the acceptability of this rage that makes me the saddest. The complacence when
Chris Matthews refers to Clinton as a she devil makes me furious. Perhaps the underlying rage has the same source for us both. You see, Clinton, to me, does not seem like a she-devil. She seems like a smart, compassionate, caring, assertive woman. She reminds me of my Mom.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good News, at least for those of us with insurance

I always felt that you can't have it both ways. Gays went from mentally insane to cured in the 70's, The Pentagon decided they agreed in 2006, but trans people are still on the books. Gender Dysphoria is still a recognized medical condition and Gender Identity Disorder is still on the books. Thankfully the treatments have changed. People are no longer shuttled of to loony bins and made to feel even crazier like in The Last Time I Wore A Dress. Now, assuming we have a decent doctor we're prescribed hormones instead of Charm School. However, it's all out of your own pocket. Top surgery cost about $6000, the bottom is even more expensive and insurance won't help a bit.

But maybe all that is changing. The American Medical Association, at it's annual conference in Chicago, called on insurers to start coughing up some dough. Resolutions 114, 115 and 122 were passed by the AMA's House of Delegates noting that Gender Identity Disorder is an internationally recognized medical condition. Delegates highlighted the need to combat the emotional pain and physical incongruity and downright awkwardness associated with gender dysphoria with proper access to mental health services, hormone treatments, and surgical procedures. I personally have parental support that boarders on crazy. They paid for my surgery and even flew in from Michigan to enjoy the ride. I had great friends who helped me raise $500 for my stay in extended care, but not all of us are that lucky. After seeing women self-inject silicone under their skin to gain some curves, or seeing the deflated chest and crushed lungs of a man who's been binding for years I'm happy to say that maybe some physical and mental pain can be avoided.

Like I said, you can't have it both ways. If I'm sick help me pay for my treatment. If my care is cosmetic, take GID off the books.

Resolution 114: Removing Barriers to Care for Transgender Patients
Resolution 115: Removing Insurance Barriers to Care for Transgender Patients
Resolution 122: Removing Financial Barriers to Care for Transgender Patients

Thursday, June 12, 2008


My birthday had ended a few hours ago, but in my drunken stupor that was nothing more than a technicality. I had settled comfortably into the beer stained sofa at The Boiler Room on the Lower East Side, sipping my drink and watching the interactions between the remaining men around the bar. As the night came to a close, it was clear everyone knew this was their final chance to find company for the night. A pudgy, balding thirty-something leaned in towards a lanky black man and lingered just a second too long. I sat back and smiled.

At the end of the bar one man sat alone, ready to make his move. He looked over, moved his glassy, drunken eyes up and down and squinted, either in an attempt to look sexy or focus. I wasn’t sure which. I am certainly no stranger to gay bars, but the directness of gay men’s dating rituals compared to the shy lesbian flirting I was used to never ceases to amaze me. After about five minutes, the man slid down from his bar stool. With a gaze that never left the direction of his prey, he walked slowly and deliberately past me into the bathroom. I turned to look behind me. No one followed him in. After a few minutes he emerged from the bathroom seeming angry and defeated. He stormed over to his stool, grabbed his coat and walked towards the door, first stopping directly in front of me. I looked up to see his rejected eyes glaring directly into mine.

At that moment I realized I was the one he was after. It was me he wanted to “do” in the bathroom. As the door swung closed behind him, a wave of excitement passed over me--not sexual excitement, but a misguided sort of pride. For the first time in my life I felt like a cheap piece of meat and I enjoyed it. I was the one being looked at. I was the man someone wanted for the night. Not only did this drunken stranger see me as a man, he saw me as a man he wanted to fuck. This was unlike my private sexual experiences where every fear and insecurity I’ve ever had can come to the surface. In this very public place I was a male sexual object. What had just occurred wasn’t a sexual day dream with 25 years of body disconnection behind it. This was a real life moment, lustful and sexual. The memory was permanent. Never would he know that my body was any different than his. Being desired like this did more for my confidence as a man than years of therapy ever could.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The haves and have-nots...

I’ve begun going to a gym. There little chance of me wasting away to nothing, but the physical activity does offset my love of cheese. This experience has become a rather intense lesson in the fragility and limitations of passing. I’ve joined with two friends. Both male, both gay. Having a set of queer backups added a certain amount of safety, but they aren’t always with me and even if they are, they don’t change the fact that I have no dick. It’s a tenuous and vulnerable space to begin with. Men with all their parts are cruising, or not cruising; looking and not looking and trying to not be looked at while they show off. It makes me very conscious of what I do and do not have. I do have scars. I don’t have a dick.

Do people notice when I am changing and wearing boxers? What about briefs? Are people looking, and if so, how closely? Underwear has always been a distinct marker of manhood for me, but never to this degree. I quickly realized that using the elliptical in boxers inevitably makes one short or the other ride so far up my ass that I can taste the fabric. I switch to briefs.

I’ve got a soft pack. I’ll wear that. And I did. It was all fine until I was finished changing and actually using the elliptical machine. The feeling of soft rubber chafing against my crotch and slowly ripping out every single pubic was not the burn I was hoping to feel. There would need to be a barrier.

I went home that night and modified all my briefs, sewing pockets or pouches into each of them. The next day I tried again. All was fine until the inevitable bouncing began. Suddenly it started moving against my leg. This is probably the exact same thing an actual dick would do, but with an actual dick is attached to your actual body. You do not need to worry about it slipping out of your underwear, through the leg of your shorts and to the gym floor. Packing was not going to work. I needed something more secure.

Sometimes I pack and sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference. I am always aware of my body. Wear the wrong shorts—the ones that are a little too tight and ride up a little too high—and I’m sure my hips will give me away, or I’ll be stricken with camel toe so blatant that it will serve as a giant vaginal highlighter. Wear big and baggy shorts and they sink into nothing when I sit against the weight machine.

I’m sure that everyone feels this self-awareness at the gym. Gyms are a haven of embarrassments. Still, somehow farting on the treadmill seems slightly less concerning than exposing your vagina in the locker room.

I’ve begun swimming. Feeling the water flow over my bare back and chest is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. This liberation is tempered by the vulnerability I feel when I take off my bathing suit. I am naked in a bathroom stall. Men all around me and my body exposed. Will they see me through the crack in the door? With the door suddenly open? What will this mean? What would happen? Though I do sometimes wonder how people would respond if I joined the group shower in all my transsexual glory, self preservation keeps me from finding the answer. Some things are better left unknown.

Friday, June 6, 2008


Anna and I sat silently in the brightly lit exam room. Neither of us knew what to talk about so I uncomfortably looked around the room. Where there were normally posters encouraging you to quit smoking or practice safer sex, instead were advertisements for Botox. Posters which exclaimed “I can look years younger” replaced those I normally saw declaring “Silence=Death.” Health and safety were replaced by opulent vanity. Pictures of Dr. Bev with her show dogs littered the counter by the stainless steel sink. These were not the surroundings I expected for such a life changing surgery to take place. I wanted to talk to Anna; tell her everything I was feeling but one of the office nurses was in the room with us. This woman’s life seemed so far from my own that I couldn‘t bring myself to open my mouth. Finally Anna broke the silence. “ Do you perform this surgery often?” she asked.

“Oh yeah,” the nurse replied. “One week it was the only surgery we did, the whole week straight.”

“Wow,” Anna exclaimed, “That is a lot. Do people come from all over?”

“Sure. We get people from all over the country and Canada. Once we even had someone from England.”

“That’s quite a trip. He must have really wanted it done right away,” I chimed in.

“So the doctor is pretty good then?” Anna said, hoping for anything to calm her fear that the tomorrow I would die on the operating table.

“Oh she’s the best,” the nurse gushed. “It’s really a great surgery, you know. It’s a feel good surgery. You guys are just so appreciative and happy when it’s done, like a huge weight has been lifted off your chest.” Anna and I looked over at each other, struggling not to laugh. “We just love you guys.”

The surgical nurse entered just in time to save this particular guy from losing his composure. Betty was all business and not one for idle chit chat. My mom was brought into the room and immediately the explanation began. Nurse Betty pulled from her pocket a clear rubber grenade shaped object with a tube attached to it, saying these would be sucking fluid from my body following surgery. My mom and Anna simultaneously cringed at the thought of anything being sucked from my body. Betty showed them how to dump the fluid, clear any tissue and clots that might block the tubes, and replace the suction. For the first time during this experience, someone else would be taking care of me. Knowing that I didn’t have to listen as if my life depended on it freed me to watch everyone else’s reactions rather than controlling my own.

“Once you dump the fluid and tissue in the toilet, record the amount on this piece of paper. Once you’re down to 25cc on each side for a full 24 hours the tubes can be removed.” My girlfriend and mom maintained their disgusted look while she explained how either they or my doctor at home would pull the tubes from my body and clean up the holes left behind. Rather than begin to worry about who would do this procedure when I was home, I forced myself to completely stop listening.

At the conclusion of the demonstration we left the bright lights of the exam room and were ushered across the hall to look at some before and after pictures. Nurse Betty opened the door and escorted us into a dimly lit room that seemed more fitting of a brothel than a doctor’s office. There were waist high, faux granite pillars, and a painting of a nude female graced the wall above a red velvet Victorian love seat. We were left alone to page through a notebook of “feel good surgeries,” forcing me to face my expectations. I knew I would be left with scars, but I was more worried about the placement of my nipples. I had seen some of the doctor’s earlier work where they seemed to almost be in the armpit. Displayed in our laps were high nipples, low nipples, nipples that looked like pieces of chewed gum, and even some that were missing altogether. I noticed the results got progressively better with each surgery she performed. Aside from an occasional nipple complication the finished products looked pretty good. More importantly, however, this was a book full of men who had had gone before me. Anna could see that they had not died, my mom could see that they weren’t mutilated, and I could just look without having to face a million questions that I could not answer. What I saw was not perfection, but a natural variation. Mine would not be the chest of a “man” but that of a trans man. I stood up feeling a little more content about what tomorrow might bring.

Our minds racing with information, we left the room and asked the receptionist where we should visit on our first trip to Baltimore. On her recommendation, we climbed in the car and headed for the waterfront, a final outing for my female chest. At the aquarium we imagined postcards of my breasts posing with the dolphins. For the first time I was able to laugh about the presence of my chest, knowing that tomorrow it would be gone. We all returned to the hotel room that night sensing the gravity of the next day, but knowing there was nothing more to say. The appointment was set, the balance on the surgery paid, and tomorrow night I was going to fall asleep in a body forever changed.

As I laid down, an instinctual fear began welling up inside me. I wanted to be comforted, told everything was going to be all right, but I couldn’t admit that to anyone. They were just as scared as I was. I had made this decision. Admitting my fear would only make the situation worse.

We arrived back at the office bright and early the next morning. I was ushered into the exam room with Anna and told to take off all my clothes except my boxer shorts. Once I had stripped I sat in silence while Anna held my hand. Our palms were sweating and our fingers freezing cold. My nipples hardened, unaware they’d soon be sitting in a bowl of ice two feet from the rest of my body. Dr. Bev and Nurse Betty entered with a flurry of tape measure and purple marker. Their cold fingers moved rapidly to measure and mark my chest.

“This is really the worst part,” Dr. Bev assured me. I expected the upcoming pain of having a part of my body removed to surpass the pain of that particular moment, but I wasn‘t going to argue. I pulled a surgical gown over my chest and my mom was invited in. She and Anna were given a refresher coarse on my drains and bandages. Once they felt certain they could perform their nurse-like duties they both kissed me and wished me good luck. I slid off the exam table and shuffled down to the operating room in nothing but a loose fitting gown and my boxer shorts.
White Christmas crooned from the stereo as I entered the operating room and lay down on the table. Apparently the snowman underwear I had haphazardly chosen that morning inspired one more day of Holiday music. The anesthesiologist explained what was going to be happening while Nurse Betty hooked up blood pressure monitors to my legs and right arm. She mechanically rubbed my hand with the affection of someone who sees this everyday. The anesthesia gradually overtook me, and I fell asleep listening to hollow talk of her new Buick.

Four hours later I jolted awake in a small dark room, freezing cold and about to throw up. Instead I forced myself to speak. “Tell Anna I didn’t die.” A woman I couldn’t recognize smiled and said ok, while another nurse covered me with a blanket and turned on a vent that blew hot air up my shorts. As my body temperature slowly returned to normal I remembered to look down at my body and began to smile. Anna appeared at the door asking gently how I was while she rubbed my head and fed me ice chips. After no more than five minutes Nurse Betty entered with my clothes. She wrapped my shirt around me, leaving the buttons to Anna, while she held out my pants for me to climb into. I wanted to point out that I’d just woken up and perhaps should stay a while, but one look at her face told me to get dressed.

“You might want to think about flip flops next time,” scolded Nurse Betty. My shoes, which this morning had slipped on quite easily, were now impossible.

Knowing there’d never be a next time I stood and resolutely shoved my feet in. Proud of this small accomplishment, I began to shuffle towards the door.

“Stand up straight,” I heard behind me. “You can do that. You don’t have breasts anymore.” Although Nurse Betty had never witnessed me trying to hide a chest that didn‘t belong, her words echoed the fact that there was nothing left to hide. I grabbed Anna’s arm for support, cautiously put my shoulders back, and made my way to the waiting car.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


It was December of 2004 that I began consistently using the men’s room. There wasn’t a deliberate decision that caused me to change my bathroom of choice. Instead of waiting until I felt certain of passing I just instinctually gravitated towards the men’s room one day, and I went with it. I don’t quite know what I expected to find behind that door. Men’s bathrooms were not completely unknown to me. As a defiant butch dyke I would enter when the line for the ladies room was too long, but during those visits I always felt like I was subversively crossing over into foreign territory. Now I was expected to suddenly feel comfortable enough to relieve myself.

My hand gently nudged the door open so I could peer around it to see if there was anyone behind it. Finding no one, I lowered my head, gathered my resolve, awkwardly folded my arms to hide my chest and pushed the door fully open. I crossed the threshold and, without looking right or left, rushed to the nearest stall. Once the door was locked behind me I realized I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Should I life the seat? The sound seemed important then how would I go to the bathroom? Peeing down my leg was no way to end my first visit here. I stared at the toilet for a long time, weighing my options when I finally decided it would be better to sit, but take a shit as well in order to save face. The toilet flushed and I waited. When I was sure there was no one else in the bathroom I slowly opened the door. Immediately fearing someone would enter, I bolted out of the stall, hurriedly ran my hands under the faucet and slid into the booth across from my parents.

Without having said a word about this groundbreaking ordeal my mom told me the waitress had come. “I told her our daughter will be joining us before it dawned on me that you were probably in the men’s room.“
The stress didn‘t end with this initial success, but it gradually became less intense. Eventually I could use a busy bathroom and at least act like I belonged even if I didn’t feel like it. I could managed to walk past someone using a urinal and not step away in fear of invading their personal space. This singular bodily function challenged me to reinforce my gender every time I had to go. People would realize the rumors were true when they passed me coming out of the men’s room. As I became more comfortable, they became more comfortable or at least stopped looking so confused. Gradually I was able just walk in, take care of business, and leave. Most days it even felt natural, routine. Still, some days it felt like the biggest, scariest decision ever. These were the days that I was sure someone would stare, ask me to leave, treat me like I didn’t belong like I couldn‘t possibly be a man.

On those days I just couldn’t handle the added stress of my bladder forcing me to face everything that was going on in my life. One day I didn’t want to make this major decision, I just wanted to pee. Mentally I knew no one would say anything. I had been using the same men’s bathroom for weeks without so much as an odd look, much less an incident, but I longed for the safety of being back in familiar territory, to once again feel like a butch dyke in the lady’s room. The minute I opened the door I knew it was a mistake. The old woman at the sink looked at me in shock. A little girl pointed and whispered to her mother. I could have turned around, apologized, said I got the wrong bathroom, but it wasn‘t wrong. It just wasn‘t right. I forged ahead to the stall in front of me and performed the same act I had when I first used the men’s room. I waited for the coast to clear, ran my hands under cold water and walked out the door as quickly as possible. It was then that I realized how foreign the lady’s room had become, that I had crossed that point of no return. Women chatted while they went to the bathroom. They waited around for their friends and fixed their hair. They performed rituals and routines that I had never been a part of. I suddenly had a longing for the silent peeing and flushing of the men’s room. That was, after all, what I was used to.