Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hats off to the ladies in City Hall room 269

With all the budget talk, taxes and general fear and despair in the city of Philadelphia, I thought I ought to tip my hat to some of the greatest ladies I've run into in a while. I'll name no names to protect the awesome.

My legal name change went through in August but in order to take care of any of my identity documents I would first have to go to City Hall to get a certified copy. Not only did this cost over $40 after a long process that has nickle and dimed me to death, but I in no way felt like dealing with City Hall. For those that have never been, Philadelphia City Hall is an enormous building and incredibly physically daunting. It just felt like an intimidating and grossly overwhelming endeavor. After weeks of dragging my feet I finally steeled my reserve to just get it taken care of.

I rode my bike straight up Broad Street, entered where I had when I had attended my hearing. I prepared for what would hopefully be one of the last times I would have to show my ID and get a name tag that said "Elizabeth." However, this time no one asked. I just got a sticker that said Eli.

I went up to room 269 expecting a long line but instead walked right up to the counter. This efficiency was tempered by a sign on the wall that said all certified copies would be ready for pick up in 3-5 days. I cringed at the thought of having to psyche myself up all over again to enter the building. I handed the women my paper and said I needed a certified copy. I bit my lower lip as I watched her read the paper that lays way too much of my life bare and exposed. She looked up, said "$42," and immediately went to make copies.

"Is it less expensive if I buy two copies at the same time?" I asked.

"Yes. Two copies would be $83.64," she said with a coy glint in her eye. I smiled and said I'd pass on that "deal" and just take the one. While she went to make the copies I joked with her co-worker finally giving in to feeling a bit of comfort about the way things were going. The first woman sat back down and asked when my birthday was--I assumed for official reasons though no where on my documents is my birthday listed.


"Get out!"

"That your birthday?" her coworker asked.

"No, mine's the 21st. His is just two days after Valentines Day," she said.

"I'm always getting cheated on Valentines Day presents," I chimed in, her use of 'his' ringing in my ears.

"At least it's not in December," she said, "I always felt bad for those people in December." I nod as she signs the papers in front of her. She then looks up and smiles. "Well, I'm going to say to you--Merry Christmas," and she stamps the embosser, "Happy Valentines Day," she stamps it again, "and Happy Birthday," and again. She hands me some paper and holds up three fingers. "Always keep one for yourself," she tells me.

I thank her with a look of shocked amazement. Something free from City Hall? I didn't think that was possible. I left room 269 and walked out into the cavernous hallway. It was a small success in the grand scheme of things but somehow it felt like so much more.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Line in the Sand Revisited

I had just been thinking of the Semenya story (the runner with ambiguous gender) today and wondered what ever came of it. Someone brought it up at dinner and I heard some of the rumors. Then a friend posted this link and asked what are they doing to this girl?

Turns out she may be gender variant. Read the story. I've already said most of my thoughts in my origional post (linked above) but I think the last line of the video is the most interesting--"if she didn't know, she wasn't cheating. it's not like she was taking drugs" (quoted very loosely). There are, again, so many bigger theoretical questions but now, in the very base level of competition, I am also wondering--if she is "mostly male" (whatever that means) and were to compete with the boys--how would she do? Even better--assert she is a woman and say fuck all you all and race the men. We could use another Billy Jean King!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I got a name...

My name and gender are finally legally changed. There are still hoops to jump through and forms to submit, but that's just busy work. I am no longer at the mercy of courts and judges and someone else's opinions.

I thought this day would come with me screaming and cheering from the rooftops. Initially just the feelings of relief were overwhelming. When I finally heard the news I didn't cheer--I quietly began shaking. The end of waiting. Anna and Laura knew because they were with me, but beyond that I didn't tell anyone. I didn't know how. Although it's an obvious milestone it also felt like a very strange thing to share. I told my parents that night, gradually told my friends, but for a very public transition this was a very private milestone. I've been met with some very unexpected mixed feelings--moments of questioning.

I don't regret my transition, but I do often miss my dyke self. This name I have given up feels like the last public part of that identity. Getting carded in public was often embarrassing and awkward, but getting carded at a gay bar made it look like I belonged. Even if I publicly walk through every minute of every day as a man, I still carried a little bit of my history in my wallet.

I haven't worked out all these feelings yet. Looking back I remember myself as a strong, outspoken, confident dyke. Now I often feel like an awkward, timid self-conscious man. I was watching Gran Torino recently and there is a scene where Clint Eastwood is teaching a teenage boy to be a man. The more time I spend as a man the more important those lessons I missed out on become. I assumed the life lessons learned as a woman and as a human would translate. I would be the same person needing the same skills in a slightly modified body. In many cases this is true. Dealings with friends and other women are comfortable and casual, but men treat men differently. This isn't bad, it's just different. It's something I have never learned. Men have thicker skin and mine is thin.

So this signed petition is met with relief and also a feeling of great responsibility. Relief that my presentation and documents are now consistent. The limitations I used to experience in travel, renting a car, in feelings of personal safety no longer have to be an issue. There is also a responsibility to myself to be honest and live with integrity. Responsibility to own my past though it could now easily be ignored. A responsibility to let go of my feelings of fear and danger--fear became a part of me and it's time to let it go.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A line in the sand

I don't know how many of you are aware of the Track and Field scandal surrounding Caster Semenya. This 18 year old from a South African village competed in the 800 meter run in Berlin and won by such a margin that her sex/gender (articles are mistakenly using the words interchangeably) is now being called into question. This investigation is raising so many questions that I don't even know where to start.

First there are the initial, somewhat surface questions. According to the New York Times (linked above) and the Yahoo article I have read, Semenya's sex/gender was initially called into question when she bettered her time in the 800 meters by more than seven seconds. What does it mean that someone performing well means that one can't possibly be a woman? Still, this alone is not enough to spark an investigation. There has to be further complaint. Complaints something like this, perhaps? (from the NY Times)

Some of Semenya’s competitors in the 800 meters considered the issue straightforward after Semenya romped to a commanding victory at the world championships Wednesday. “Just look at her,” said Mariya Savinova of Russia, who finished fifth. Elisa Cusma of Italy, who was sixth, told Italian journalists: “These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

Her parents have no question about her gender and say she is simply a hard training and determined athlete. Her former head master thinks she is a boy because she only wears pants and plays soccer.

The process by which they are determining gender is complex and ultimately could end with just as much confusion and disagreement as they started with. This young runner will have to face a physical medical evaluation, and includes reports from a gynecologist, endocrinologist, psychologist, an internal medicine specialist and an expert on gender. They could find nothing abnormal, or they could find a host of genetic, hormonal or chromosomal variations. Either way, does that mean she is not a woman?

These inquiries are not new, but they aren't generally played out this publicly. I think this case will ultimately raise more questions than it answers, but these questions that will undoubtedly come up are things that I would really like to talk about.

At what point would Semenya be considered a man? Apparently the Bantu, a group of indigenous South African people, may be more predisposed to being hermaphrodites but they do not always have obvious male genitalia. They are genetically female yet have both testes and ovaries. Would her evolutionary heritage push her over the male line? Would high levels of testosterone make her a man? This could be caused by congenital adrenal hyperplasia. What is considered high? All women have some testosterone in their system and some have more than others. Would a Y chromosome determine her manhood? There are plenty of people who have chromosomal abnormalities most of whom never realize it. Is it looks? Is it actions? Is it a court (as I just experienced first hand)

And if it is deemed that she isn't "entirely female" does that mean she is not allowed to compete? Most athletes have some sort of genetic predisposition that makes them more talented than the average person. Lance Armstrong has enormous lungs, Michael Phelps has a perfectly designed swimmers body, but because their abnormalities aren't tied to gender their achievements aren't in question.

Whatever the ruling body decides will not really be the truth and it won't bother to answer the broader questions of what makes a man or a woman and what does that distinction mean?

“It turns out genes, hormones and genitals are pretty complicated,” Alice Dreger, a professor of medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University, said in a telephone interview. “There isn’t really one simple way to sort out males and females. Sports require that we do, but biology doesn’t care. Biology does not fit neatly into simple categories, so they do these tests. And part of the reason I’ve criticized the tests is that a lot of times, the officials don’t say specifically how they’re testing and why they’re using that test. It should be subject to scientific review.” “But at the end of the day, they are going to have to make a social decision on what counts as male and female, and they will wrap it up as if it is simply a scientific decision,” Dreger said. “And the science actually tells us sex is messy. Or as I like to say, ‘Humans like categories neat, but nature is a slob.’ ” From the New York Times, Aug. 20, 2009

I couldn't have said it better myself--except maybe I'd say nature is more imaginative than sloppy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On Becoming

The five year anniversary of my beginning T passed without much fanfare. I casually noticed that this milestone had passed one morning while I was shaving. It's important to keep in mind that when I say shaving it is not a full beard growth that I am scraping away at each morning, but a few patchy whiskers that after a week just make me look sloppy. I thought after 5 years of hormones I'd have more to show for it, but I'm also determined to let my transition take whatever form it will take.

Then last week I went to the doctor for depression. I'd been on anti-depressants before and after a year long experiment of being med-free I decided it wasn't working. Since living in Philadelphia I've been going to the Mazzoni Center. The Mazzoni Center is a queer health center and although I'm glad it exists, compared to Callen-Lorde, I was always disappointed. Every time I went to the Mazzoni Center I saw a different doctor, nurse and once a Temple University Intern. I understand internships need to happen but he was more nervous than I was and ended any chance of me actually asking for what I needed. It began to feel more like shopping than medical care. I would make an appointment, say what I needed and get a prescription. I would occasionally be told that I needed to get blood work done but never heard anything about these results. I always assumed they would tell me if something was wrong. I shouldn't have.

This past visit I saw Dane Menkin. He asked me important and intelligent questions when I talked to him about my desire for anti-depressants. He told me when I didn't answer his questions--which means he was actually listening to the answers. He was able to say things like "I've had a lot of success with this with my other trans patients." He had other trans patients.

Then he did something that no one else at the Mazzoni Center has ever done--he looked at my blood work. My testosterone level was only two thirds of what it should be. More disturbingly, it probably had been since I moved back to Philly 4 years ago and started a new type of testosterone. Suddenly everything began to fall into place--my depression, my irritability, my lack of facial hair, my womanly metabolism, my fatigue. I felt like a man, but I wasn't sure I felt normal. I wasn't sure because I had no normal to compare it to.

I think sometimes we have trouble taking control of our own medical care. We are so grateful to be getting any sort of care that we don't want to rock the boat. Its also hard when everything is changing to know if everything is changing enough or in the right way. What is normal when everything about this feels so un-normal sometimes?

I've started Welbutrin and upped my dose of Testosterone every morning. Its too soon to feel an actual physical change, but mentally knowing that I have a doctor who is actually invested in my health and paying attention to my shortfalls has changed everything. I may never be happy without medication, grow a full beard or loose all my lady fat, but at least I'll know I only have genetics to blame.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Naked City

In the prolog to the book Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living with the Presence of the Past by Steven Conn there is a great statement about personal stories that reminded me a lot of the post I wrote a couple weeks ago about meaning.

"There are a million stories in the naked city."

That line closes the 1948 classic film noir The Naked City....Its closing line, uttered by that same narrator over scenes of the city at night, has always struck me as the most astute characterazation of any city: a great city is, at one level, a vast accumulation of the individual stories--some extraordinary, some quite quotidian, each different, and every one undeniable.

We can imagine, if you like, that these stories exist in two directions--horizontally across the city at any given moment, and vertically through time. These two axes are equally important, for just as the city belongs to those who occupy it from day to day, their stories carry on a conversation with the stories--histories--of those who have been there before. Part of what makes any great city great is this ongoing, effortless dialogue between past and present. That conversation contributes to the unique sense of place every real city has.

I think this same idea can be applied to a movement. My struggles with transitioning, gender, relationships are equally important and meaningful in relation to you reading this blog today and the struggles of the Butches, Femmes and Dandies walking these same streets 60 years ago. It is our personal, undeniable stories that allow the queer rights struggle to have a real sense of person, of meaning and of importance. It is our relationship to eachother and to those that came before us that give us hope. It is our differences and our similarities with our past and with our present that tie us all together.

I don't have a whole lot of additional thoughts, but I thought that quote was pretty great.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I really do believe that we are always transitioning, that the transition never stops. Still, what happens when we've had the surgery, we've settled into the hormones, we pass every day without question. Have we transitioned? I know I did a lot of Internet searching when I first began on this journey. I found some good resources about passing, binding, hormones, surgery, etc. It was useful information and it made me feel less alone. That was over 5 years ago. Now there is probably five times what there was when I was looking. There are blogs and websites devoted to every aspect of transitioning, but what about when the dust settles? Somehow this feels much more lonely. I don't want to seem like I'm complaining. I know many transmen would be thrilled to be where I am. I just wonder why we stop talking and sharing our stories when our voice drops and our top surgery stitches are removed. What does it mean to be a transman post-transition?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gender-no, baby

A couple in Sweden has decided to raise their child gender free. The child, whom the article refers to as Pop, has "normal" sex organs, but the parents have decided not to reveal this information to the public. They say so long as they keep Pop’s gender a secret, he or she will be able to avoid preconceived notions of how people should be treated if male or female. Yes, but...

This experiment in and of itself is interesting on a number of levels. Even more fascinating is peoples responses to it. Slate's new spin-off site Double X made mention of this story here with a follow up post here (and a nice and much more interesting personal antidote with follow up comments here.) The Slate articles make some interesting points but the follow up comments are a great read. People seem to be getting very hung up on the
nature vs. nurture debate that's been raging for years. As a trans person I have a very definite and final answer to the question "Is gender biological or socially determined?" The answer is most decidedly yes.

More interesting and relevant, I think, is not what this will ultimately do to Pop's gender once it is reveled but what it means for the idea of a genderless society. This is a point of contention within the transexual and transgendered community. Some want to transition and assimilate into their chosen gender and some want to get rid of gender altogether. Either way, living genderless in a gendered society brings up obvious real-life issues: using the bathroom, medical care and all those little things that are so much bigger than trucks vs. dolls. These are all the things that non-trans people don't have to think about but become huge when you're transitioning.

Although I think the Utopian ideal of a genderless society is perhaps interesting, I don't think it sounds like a society I'd like to live in. I like gender, I just don't like the amount of meaning we attach to it. What if gender carried no more meaning than color. What if I wore masculinity today in the same way I wore the color green. Gender is a wonderful, amazing, colorful world and worth exploring and exploding--much too interesting to get rid of altogether.

One day perhaps we'll be able to let children choose their gender. We'll be able to raise boys, girls and everyone else the exact same way. I applaud Pop's parents and think perhaps their experiment will push us in the right direction. Will Pop experience some awkward situations? Of course. We all do as children. I only hope that if Pop decides that Pop is a totally gender conforming girl or boy that Pop's parents will be OK. Sometimes parents get to struggle and push boundaries and sometimes parents have to settle for the fact that their children are decidedly and painfully normal and love them in spite of it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On the bus

When I moved outside of walking distance from my job I decided it was time to invest in public transportation. I was immediately surprised when my Transpass was assigned a "F" sticker. The irony of the name was not lost on me, but I was more confused about why this was necessary in the first place. Someone told me it was to prevent people from sharing passes. In true Septa fashion they had managed to deal with what could be a significant problem approximately half of the time.

At this time I was pretty butch, but my chest made me look fairly female. Additionally I realized that all you needed to do was put your finger over the sticker and it would hardly be visible. I never had a problem. Still, the stickers very presence grated on my nerves. During the height of my transition I was living in New York where the Metrocards are decidedly gender neutral. I moved back to Philly and bought tokens so I wouldn't have to deal with a gender specific pass. At the time self-preservation was most important.

Finally, someone is challenging this most backwards and useless of systems. An article in the Philly Weekly brought to light some of the very real instances of discrimination experienced by trans and gendervariant riders. A small grassroots group called Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE) is working with the Citizens Advisory Committee. Additionally, Equality Advocates Pennsylvania have challenged the policy on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection Clauses in the federal and state constitutions.

I fully agree that stickers are annoying and in some cases dangerous. Still, for me it is just a bus and tokens are still an option. Then, when i think, "Does a bus pass really matter?" I remember that indeed, it was one woman's bus ride in 1955 that truly changed the world.

Below is a press release sent out by RAGE. For more information or to get involved visit their website or facebook page.

Gendered Pass Policy is “Irrational” SEPTA Committee Says;
First Victory for Riders Opposing Discrimination

SEPTA should eliminate the use of gender stickers in its fare system, decided the Citizens Advisory Committee at its Tuesday night meeting. The Committee unanimously agreed to draft a recommendation to the General Manager Joe Casey for a gender-neutral fare policy.

Several members of the committee voiced their disagreement with the current system that requires the use of M/F stickers on Trans and Trail commuter passes, as well as reduced fare cards for seniors and people with disabilities. The committee chair Bob Clearfield stated that “gender[profiling] has no place in the 21st century,” while others commented that using a gendered system to prevent pass sharing is “irrational” and that there is “no empirical data” to support its use.

Members of the grassroots campaign Riders Against Gender Exclusion (R.A.G.E.) also gave a statement about the implications of this policy on transgender and gender non-conforming people.

R.A.G.E. member Nico Amador cited one incident in which a rider with an androgynous gender presentation was questioned repeatedly by a SEPTA conductor in front of a crowded rush-hour train. “Not only are these incidents embarrassing and degrading for the people who experience them,” said Amador, “they also alert other riders to that person’s difference, exposing them to the risk of further harassment or violence.”

In the past week, R.A.G.E., whose Facebook membership is now over 600 people, has collected almost 400 petition signatures asking the SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey to stop using the gender stickers.

R.A.G.E. member David Conners, who also spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting, said afterwards, “Though we are extremely pleased by the support of the Citizen Advisory Committee, we realize that the final decision is in the hands of the General Manager Joe Casey and we intend to continue to apply pressure to see that this discriminatory policy is stopped.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Old lesbians who look like men who look like old lesbians...

I was walking behind this couple today. The person on the left looked like a pretty normal straight woman. On the right was someone with short but thick wavy hair, white sneakers, Dad jeans pulled up a little too high and a navy polo shirt. I immediately thought of one of my favorite websites, Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians. Thinking for sure this man walking in front of me was going to bear a striking resemblance to Billy Jean King, I passed this couple, turned and realized that this man in front of me actually was an old lesbian. An old lesbian that had no doubt been mistaken for a man at some point in her life. An old lesbian that was probably made fun of as a child for being a tom-boy. An old lesbian who, well, looked like an old lesbian. Here I am preparing myself to have a chuckle about the fact that this woman looks exactly like what she is. The irony is fantastic.

Every day gender blurs a little more. Girls look like boys who look like girls. I don't and never have advocated for a gender free society. I think the distinctions between the genders are important and wonderful. However, I'm all for the freedom to take on all those traits at once. Now that I am a man I feel much more comfortable taking on more womanly traits, traits that would have made me ashamed and uncomfortable in a world that saw me as a woman. Sometimes taking our genders full circle is what we need for everything to make sense.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The meaning of our stories

I've been really struggling with meaning lately. It started on a personal level--what's the point of my work? It snowballed out of control from there. What's the point of any artwork? Is it a commodity? Is it entertainment? It's tough to be an advocate for the art when you're in the throws of an existential crisis where you're not sure you believe in art at all.

The downward spiral continued with wondering what the point of anything was? Why write if no one reads it? Who cares if someone does read it? It got even more ridiculous when I starting thinking things like what's the point of going to the gym? To get healthy, eh? Well, what's the point in getting healthy if we're all going to die eventually anyway? Why spend time with friends? Why drink a beer? Why laugh? Why talk? Why bother? I was close to believing there was little point to anything. My new philosophizing was leading me to a life where one would go through the motions and spent the rest of their time in a dark room staring at a blank wall. I knew something was wrong.

Last time I felt this way I saw an amazing presentation on artists in exile--women in the middle east telling their stories. It pulled me out of my funk and made me realize that art had the roll of communicator, telling a story that isn't otherwise told. I'm trying to remind myself of this now. I'm also trying to remind myself that it is darkest before the dawn. When I had my show in January I could see that the works had meaning for people. This was both energizing and perplexing.

Coming out as gay is community building, I think transitioning is an inherently isolating experience. We may find other transpeople to share the experience with, but for some reason these friendships have always felt oddly competitive. His voice sounds deeper, his arms are more muscular, his facial hair is growing faster. Maybe that's just me. Instead of coming out we are trying to fit in--fit in to our bodies, selves and a community of men. This is something we do alone. The more I "succeed" as a man, the more lonely it begins to feel.

Still, our stories are important--all of our stories. Instead of acting like a three year old and continually asking why I am learning to accept and believe this. The memories that connect us and the stories we tell keep time moving and turn our interactions into something bigger than ourselves. Rather than trying to figure out what that something is (which I think is pretty much impossible), I should just give in and contribute to the story.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Whoa, Baby

The appearance of Thomas Beatie on the cover of the Philadelphia Weekly's "Queer Issue" a couple weeks ago sparked a whole new wave of feelings, many of which I've been struggling for the past couple weeks to explain. As far as pregnant trans men go, I don't feel so black and white about it as many people I know do. In general I say do what you want to do. Live and let Live. Unfortunately it's so much more complicated than that.

I would personally love to have a baby, but there are concerns beyond just simply wanting to have a child. For one thing, I'm concerned about what the effects of incubating a baby in eggs that have been pickling in testosterone would be. Medical issues aside, however, I don't think that wanting to have a child is an intrinsically female thing. I think more men would choose to have babies if it were genetically possible. In many cases it has been women that have had the strongest reaction to the Pregnant Man story. For some it is a mental misunderstanding of the difference between Gender Identity and Sex making some wonder why he would transition if he wanted to have a baby. I can explain this away with some clarity, but I can't explain away the feelings and resentments that seem to linger.

I do have major issues that go much deeper and are much more complicated than simple medical concerns. Thomas Beatie was all over the news. GLBT groups, many at a loss for how to respond, issued statements criticising the sensationalization in the media, but it can't be ignored that Beatie was the one that put his story out there. Although seemingly mild mannered and "shy," this level of attention can be very addictive. He doesn't seem to have considered the needs of the greater community nor is he conscious of the effect his actions have with regards to social and legal matters. I struggle because I don't want to say that if you don't fit the mainstream queer you should shut up. The mainstream becomes a bigger and bigger stream everyday and a stream I didn't fit in not too long ago.

However, I think it is every queer persons responsibility to manage their visibility responsibly and be conscious of the greater community. I personally got really nervous when he showed up on the cover of the Philly Weekly as I'm waiting for my court date for my legal name and gender change. The Advocate--the first to break the Beatie story--also offered an article on it's potential aftermath for trans advocates. Here's an excerpt, but check out the rest of the article here.

"Some trans activists also note that this story has a high “ick” factor for the general population. The first reactions [author Jamison] Green read online were discouraging. “They wrote ‘disgusting’ or asked, ‘How can someone do that to themselves and think he is a man?’ and worse,” he recalls. “I worry that for the uneducated and less accepting, this brings back the whole ‘freak’ label to transgender people.” When she saw the teaser for the Oprah show, alarm bells went off for Cathy Renna, managing partner of Renna Communications, a New York City–based firm that develops communications strategies for LGBT organizations. “My sense is that this story has all the hallmarks of one that could be easily sensationalized—one that could easily set back some of the improvements that have been made by transgender people,” she says. “Beatie’s article opened the Pandora’s box.”

Think about what happened in 2003 after the Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled that the state had to allow marriage as an option for gay couples. Other state governments panicked. Twenty-three states amended their constitutions to limit marriage to one man and one woman, joining three that had done so earlier. Some states, such as Michigan, even went further—using their amendment to justify denying health benefits to the gay partners of state employees.

“Generally, with the public and mainstream media we’re still doing Trans 101,” says Renna. “I worry this kind of story will create a whole new level of regulation. Anti-trans groups will use this as ammunition to influence politics to make laws that won’t let trans people make decisions about their own body. I so hope I’m wrong.”

That’s not just negative thinking. In Japan it’s illegal to transition if you’ve already given birth or fathered a child. So far no such law exists in this country, although three states—Idaho, Ohio, and Tennessee—will not allow their transgender citizens to legally change their gender on birth certificates."

It was his appearance on Oprah that partially got me jammed up in Michigan with the Department of Vital Records pointing to his story as a reason I could not change my birth certificate. Still, my court date is probably a couple months away and if Oprah couldn't keep him in the spotlight I doubt PW will. The story already seems to have waned.

But even in its waning, the existence of more and more pregnant men can't be ignored and I know it's an issue many transmen struggle with. I asked one friend about his issues. "I don't know. I guess because it's sooo not something I would want to do and I consider being pregnant very female, in fact. [Also,}] I guess because I've struggled so long to be "accepted" as a "real live boy" that [FTM's getting pregnant] just make it harder for me with the rest of society because automatically people then assume I'm the same as so and so....I don't know. It's not a feeling/thought process I'm particularly proud of but...there it is."
I think most everyone considers being pregnant to be a very female thing, but would we if it didn't have to be that way? I don't know?

I understand why he feels that way and I don't think it's something he needs to be ashamed of. Beatie and others are making it difficult for other trans guys if not simply giving us one more thing in an already long list of things that we, as FTMs, need to explain. For a while I was bombarded with questions about Beatie simply because I am FTM. In many ways, these pregnant men are putting the quotation marks back around the "man" in transman.

However, I can't help but recall butch dykes not being asked to participate in early gay rights marches because they would make the "just like you" approach that lady-like lesbians were going for less effective. It's true that butches upset the mainstream appeal of white collar gays, but the "just like you" approach also doesn't really work in the long run.

I also think there's a definite pendulum swing to transitioning. It's necessary to overswing to really masculine and then you kind of swing back a bit. I don't know if i would have felt differently about Beatie's story in year one of my transition than I do now. I know I am different. I'm a different kind of guy. Lately I have been thinking a lot about reconciling all that makes me a man with everything that makes me different. Trying to be OK with that difference is really hard. It's hard not being in the same queer community, it's hard feeling different, and sometimes jealous, than other guys, it's hard figuring out how to have sex with my parts and not loose that masculinity. I feel like I'm in a back swing right now and it's really disorienting.

Ultimately, masculine is different for everyone--trans and biological guys alike. It doesn't have to be macho. A masculine swing could be whatever your version of masculinity is. If being a man for you always meant not having to wear a shirt in the summer than maybe you never wear your shirt in the summer. Then you eventually realize that all guys have to wear a shirt sometimes in the summer. Topless on the subway is not very classy as I was totally disappointed to learn.

I'm sure the Beatie stuff will all shake out in the wash and ultimately be good for the movement. I'm also sure that some people will be hurt in the process. I'm more interested in the internal dialogue that this could spark for the trans community. When so much of transitioning is about feeling "normal" for the first time in our lives, any threat to that can be really unsettling. Still, it's the freaks and outsiders that have changed the world. Personally I really wish Thomas Beatie would just shut up and go away, but publicly I'll defend his right to exist no matter how much I cringe while doing so.

Friday, March 27, 2009

When I grow up...

When I was a kid I had small dreams. I wanted to work in either the 1 hour photo-mat booth in the K-Mart parking lot or collect tolls on the Chicago Skyway. I clearly had a thing for small, enclosed, glass spaces. I think I also kind of liked the idea of not really having to interact with too many people. This was a time when gender, identity and personal fulfillment didn't really matter. A job was a place you went to every day so you could "bring home the bacon" as my dad called his daily trip to the office.

As I got older my plans got bigger. For a while I wanted to be an astronaut. I even went to Space Camp twice. Then I realized I'd probably have to join the military and that idea kind of fell by the wayside. I thought about medicine, but I had a AP Bio teacher I couldn't have followed if I was chained to his ass, didn't do very well in the class and gave up on that idea.

Around the time I was applying to college I was also realizing I was queer. Colleges were picked as much on their population of queer students as they were on academic programs. I was consumed with discovering myself and finding a place I felt safe enough to do so. Picking a major was secondary. I was relatively good at everything I tried so the decision was based more on feeling. Psychology interested me, social theory and anthropology informed me, but it was through art that I was able to really focus on my identity, my relationships and who I wanted to become.

This is not a post about the wonderful and healing power of art though. Although I am sure I learned a lot about myself and am a more well adjusted person because of it, I now find that I have absolutely no idea what I really want to do with my life. When I really get down to it, what I really wanted to become when I grew up was a man. I've done that for the most part. Suddenly I feel like I'm in a kind of transitioning hangover.

In undergrad I used art to study what it meant to myself and my relationships to be a masculine female who loved other women. In grad school I spent two years recording and documenting my transition to manhood. Both of these endeavors got me to where I wanted to be in life, but now that I'm there I don't know what to do next.

I don't regret my decisions, per se, but a part of me wonders if I should have stuck with psychology or science or math or something that would have pushed me into an obvious career path with the possibility of actually making some money.

Transitioning can sometimes feel like a full-time job, but instead of getting paid you are the one putting out the big bucks. You spend all your energy watching, learning, experiencing and trying to understand yourself. The rest of your time and money goes to hormones and surgery and doctors and lawyers just to make your body and your documents fit the person you are in your soul. As much as you look forward to the end, sometimes the end can feel really empty and disorienting. Most people spend there teens figuring out who they are while I faked being someone I wasn't. While all of my friends were spending their 20's figuring out what they wanted to be, I spent them figuring out who I really was.

I don't think that my transition will ever be finished. It will always be something I am aware of, learning about and studying. But it no longer takes the time and energy of a full time job. Sadly, as few jobs as there are out there for artists, there are even fewer for professional FTM's. Even if there where, I'm not sure I'd want that job. It's too bad, too. I've studied all my life for it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Boy Named Sue (or in this case Elizabeth)

The act of changing my name and identity documents is a giant pain in the ass. It's been something that I have been admittedly reluctant to do--not because I don't want it done, but because I am angry that I have to deal with it at all. Not only is it wildly expensive (and getting more expensive by the day thanks to a giant increase on court fees), but there are also seemingly hundreds of little steps that must be completed. These must all be completed in order, on time, and of course they generally cost money.
One of these steps is getting a set of fingerprints taken. The assumption is that if you're changing your name for any reason other than marriage than you must be doing it for fraudulent purposes. Attaching a fingerprint card to your name change papers allows your identity remains fluid even as your name changes.
Fingerprinting is one of the less expensive steps of changing your name--it costs about $25. I got mine taken at a strange little place on the corner of 2nd and Chestnut in Old City Philadelphia. Of course, you must bring ID such as a drivers license or passport--the very ID you are trying to change. I walked in, said I needed a set of fingerprints and placed both my drivers license and credit card on the counter. My license says the name Elizabeth, my credit card says Eli. "Getting your name changed?" the man behind the counter asks. I was surprised at how trans-savvy he was and said yes. "Eli is way better, man. I mean, what were your parents thinking naming you Elizabeth? Is that your mom's name or something?" Realizing he missed the glaring "Female" on my license, I simply stammer "It was my grandma's name."
"Aw man, that's awful. How could your parents do that? You definitely need to get that changed. Definitely." I agree that it was a cruel joke, but don't tell him that it wasn't my parents fault. They didn't know. It was more an unfortunate twist of fate.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Clear Conscious

I have always lived my life with a great degree of self-consciousness. I don't mean the "OMG, I'm so fat" shallow kind of self consciousness. I mean the deep down, every moment consciousness of my self. I think about things every moment of every day. I am hyper aware of things most people take for granted.

I am conscious of my body: it's masculinity, its female parts. I'm conscious in the locker room at the gym of the scars on my chest and the lack of a bulge in my shorts. I'm conscious of the hair on my stomach and how it helps me pass.

I'm conscious of my bodies size, it's shape. I am conscious of not fitting places. Of not wanting to sit in a booth at a diner or go to a small, crowded restaurant because I will not be able to get between the tables without disrupting other patrons.

I am self conscious about the sound my piss makes when I use the bathroom. Do other guys notice that I don't use the urinals. Do they hear that I'm sitting down to pee?

I'm self conscious about sex. I don't have a dick. My body can't have the kind of sex my mind wants to have.

I am self conscious about my artwork. Every time I finish a major project, I think I will never have another good idea. I am self conscious of what I am working on now, about whether or not is important enough, whether or not it is meaningful. I am self conscious about the work other artists are doing. Am I conceptual enough? Am I smart enough? Do I care enough? Is this really important?

Lately I've been experiencing the constant feeling of identity consciousness. I don't mean the grandiose concept of identity. I mean literal identity documents. Last week I had to get a new social security card. I haven't legally changed my name yet. I have a New York License which says "Elizabeth." My birth certificate says the same. This doesn't bother me so much. When I got the license I was Elizabeth. Same when I was born. But filling out the forms now, writing the name Elizabeth and checking the female box made my heart hurt. I was conscious of what I was and what I wasn't. I was once again aware of my body. I pulled my sleeves down so my arm hair wasn't visible. I limited my speaking so my low voice wasn't so obvious. I kept my jacket on so my flat chest wouldn't be noticed. I went backwards.

The woman behind the counter looked at my documents, said "Elizabeth?", did a slight double take, shook her head and stamped my forms. I received my Social Security card ten days later in the mail. Today I went to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to get a PA drivers license. I woke up this morning and almost backed out, but forced myself to brave the scrutiny for the second time in as many weeks. I got there and realized that transgenderism aside, I was perhaps the most normal person in the building. I could fill out a form, I could write a check, I didn't talk to myself, I didn't seem crazy, I could get a license. Self-consciously, I responded to Elizabeth, checked the box marked Female, and walked out with a valid ID. My identity may not have been validated, but at least I learned that every so often I can let go of my self consciousness. Maybe it was like coming out, maybe I was simply ignored. Either way, sometimes people simply don't care.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Explicit Content?

Remember when Ellen came out on her sitcom? Remember how such a basic act earned her a parental warning? Probably the tamest, cleanest TV show on television and it got a warning that it contained explicit content. That was over 10 years ago. I had hoped things had changed.

I have long been a fan of Law and Order in all its forms. I have religiously watched Law and Order SVU since its inception. Some are a bit boring, some a bit over the top and some are downright excessive. But I had never before seen a warning for explicit content until last night. The story went like this--there is an attempted murder of a repo man in a strip-club parking lot. Benson and Stabler eventually meet the man's estranged wife and his 13-year-old transgendered child who becomes the prime suspect. The trans guy from the L Word makes an appearance as well as some other trans folks.

I think the story line was good and for the most part very sensitive. The only fault I give them is trying to fit too much in the episode. My question is--What's the deal with the parental warning??? I've seen date rape and sexual abuse graphically depicted on this show. Certain scenes have made me change the channel or look away, and this was tame in comparison.

Check out this interview about the making of the episode. Although I might make a few changes to TV Guide's language, I am pleased to see Law and Order doing such decent background research. This is an episode I would have consumed with every fiber of my being had I seen it when i was a kid. Although I am pleased to see a show talking about these issues in a fairly normal and straightforward way, I am saddened to know that NBC considers this explicit. Although things have certainly changed in the past ten years, it remains a fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same.