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.”