I Don’t Hate my Penis

I read an article this morning about a movie apparently making it’s rounds in the film festival circuit. I’m not usually one to pay much attention to them, but it seemed pertinent based on the title so I read the article. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, it sounds kind of gross I don’t know if I will. I wanted to talk about a particular obsession that people seem to have with genitalia.

Here’s the article for those interested, the movie is called Girl. You can find it yourself.

https://www.intomore.com/culture/netflixs-girl-is-another-example-of-trans-trauma-porn-and-should-be-avoided-at-all-costs

Now, I can by no means portray myself as the end all be all of what defines Transness. I can’t, and I don’t want to. I can talk about my experience. Which kind of boils down to this. I don’t hate my penis. I don’t really love it, it’s just kind of there. It doesn’t offend me, and we have a working relationship. Would I be happier with a vagina? Am I sad that I don’t have one? Not really. I have gotten to a point of acceptance with my genitals, but I didn’t start at hatred, or even really dislike.

So I find it interesting how much cis people are fascinated with genitals. You can look at the lengths parents go to differentiate the genders of their babies, a two month old does not have a developed gender identity parents, the bow in their hair is for you. If it makes you feel better that’s fine, but it doesn’t matter.

When dealing with older children on towards adults the preoccupation with the world being a place where everyone’s genitals are clearly and easily identified has always been strange to me. I only know this because as soon as someone knows your trans then it becomes a point of interest.

It shows in movies like this. As we start to see more “trans” stories for lack of a better word popping up in popular culture, and I’m specifically talking about those written by non-trans folks the preoccupation with genitalia is foundational.

Which brings me back to the title. I don’t hate my penis. I have a far worse opinion of my voice, or my facial hair then of my penis. Nobody sees my penis, it’s just there. I’m upset about not being able to be pregnant far more then having a penis bothers me. Because fundamentally genitals are parts of us that procreate children. I’m sad that I can’t carry a child, I’m not mad that I have a penis. Let me explain.

Being trans comes with complicated emotions, much like being cis, but I’m going to focus on the trans thing right now. I am remorseful that I didn’t get the chance to grow up the person I wanted to be. I grew up not in control of who I was, because I knew who I was on the inside differed too far from the norm to feel safe and accepted enough to be who I was.

So most of my milestones are warped by this, in the pictures of me growing up, I see a little boy growing into a young man. That makes me sad. That fills me with remorse, knowing that the life and person I wanted to be was not the life I lived.

In none of those pictures do I see someone with a penis, I just see me. subtly terrified and trying to survive. Just trying to make it through long enough to someday be myself.

I wore a suit at my wedding, my wife knew I was trans but it wasn’t broadly known, and I love my wife. I wanted to make that commitment to her. I wanted to be able to publicly declare my love for the woman of my dreams. I didn’t know what path my transition would take, It would be nearly a year later before I’d meet with an endocrinologist to start hormone therapy, which was in and of itself a surprise even as it happened.

I don’t look at my wedding pictures, I don’t have them in my office, I don’t have them in my house. It was an incredible day, and an incredible moment in my life. and I hate seeing pictures of it.

And my penis was no where to be seen.

Being trans is often about what you lose, because in so many unfortunate ways you lose yourself. When you talk about childhood development you talk about milestones, and everyone needs to reach these milestones before you can move on. So when you go through some of them wrong, you continue on, because you’re a functioning person. Yet there’s a haunting that echoes through your life. All of your memories, your relationships, your achievements before you transition are touched by the fact you weren’t authentically yourself.

These are what make me sad. These are the things that I’ve lost. As I live my life, and I’m still working towards a place of safety and comfort with who I am. I continue to progress and mark milestones. and I am saddened that I didn’t get to share who I was with everyone as I go.

Gender dysphoria is complicated, much like people are. Some days I’m fine and I live my life, and other times I feel the stubble on my face and I’m sickened by it. It’s a complex and difficult feeling to understand and deal with. Often times its quiet, and takes prompting to roar into life, though that might just be from the years of repression.

There are many things that make me trans, and there are many things that make me upset, but also give me great strength and wisdom. I have never hated my penis though, it’s part of me for better or worse. I might not like what it represents or what its meant to my life. but I’m a complicated person I don’t have a single focal point that defines my experience.

If you want to tell a story about a trans person, talk about the inner conflict, the mixed emotions, the fight to stay sane as the world forces you into a box you don’t fit into. The doubt and the fear. The life defining, and changing decisions. There are plenty of interesting perspectives to show and fascinating stories to be told about the experiences and lives of trans people. To focus on such a small facet, and frankly a not particularly interesting one is shallow and mundane and best, and harmful at worst.

To anyone who might read this and is in a creative position to tell stories. Don’t tell the story of a cis person trying to understand being trans. Show the awakening and joys and sorrows and the highs and lows of that journey. Your storytelling will be better and you’ll give voice to a human experience that is not commonly shared.

Baring Your Soul: Losing Agency is the Hardest Part of Being Trans

I’ve talked about the letter you need to move forward with medical transition before and how hard a process that really is. I want to delve deeper into a what is unfortunately a core facet of being Trans that I never really hear about. It’s losing your basic agency.

If you’re not sure what agency means its basically the ability to make your own choices. We’ll call it free will. For the vast majority of people, regardless of their struggles, still get to exert free and unrestrained agency. Even the poorest among us still get to make basic decisions about themselves.

One of the most mortifying realizations about being Trans, and looking to transition, is how woefully dependent you are. You do not have agency over your body once you come out as Trans, you do not have the right to make decisions about your body. That’s the whole point of that letter, you need to be proven capable first, by someone else.

The only real choice you get is whether or not to come out. Once you’re out, in many places you’re exposed to legal discrimination, being Trans isn’t protected by law in many places, on top of the social discrimination everyone likes to remind you of constantly.

Once you come out as Trans a funny thing happens. All of a sudden it becomes acceptable to those around you to ignore your wishes, while simultaneously policing your actions. This is usually done as advice to protect you from the ‘others’ that don’t accept you. If someone does this to you, it’s because they’re uncomfortable plain and simple.

So you don’t get to make your decisions when you’re Trans about your own body unless proven capable (a situation that hasn’t been medically acceptable for anyone else since the 70’s) if you do come out as Trans people will immediately stop respecting you as much as they did, and then be rude enough to pretend its in your best interest. This all culminates in a feeling of bitter helplessness. I’ve told the story about the flag my boss made me take down, as hard as that was, the conversation thereafter where we discussed his right to know about my transition to protect me was worse.

Yet what can I do? An asshole that knows they’re an asshole is probably better then one that is but doesn’t know.

I am a professional, I have accreditation and licenses. I am responsible to my clients and their interests. I make large decisions and provide critical advice daily. Yet forever I will know that beyond all that I wasn’t assumed qualified to know if I was ready to be myself.

Coming out to your boss

I’ve talked a bit about my more recent experiences coming out to my boss. I wanted to share a couple stories about a previous time it didn’t go so well.

The first time I came out to my manager, I was working at a huge national financial institution, the type that wins awards for diversity inclusion and has ‘support’ for people. At the time I was getting frustrated, I needed time to go to a nearby city for appointments to get things rolling. I couldn’t get a lot of appointments with specialists at six in the evening. So I rather naively believed that all the talk meant something. It didn’t, all I did was ostracize myself from my manager and mark myself as a problem.

It wasn’t any particular thing that changed, just all of a sudden I wasn’t worth putting effort into. Who’s ever heard of a Trans banker anyways? Especially in a small town.

In an unrelated manner that manager was laid off. So I thought, lets try this again, I waited a few months. I listened for anything overtly hateful, nothing was forthcoming.

Told this manager, was given verbal support (as in I’m not going to say anything to your face at least) Things were again awkward for a bit until I think my manager forgot. Again no real support was forthcoming.

Now if you’re someone who is in the position of having a Trans employee and they ask for some time to figure things out, they’re not trying to get out of work, treatment, though I dislike that term, is not a quick process to come by. I’ve talked before about some of the hurdles and how long it took to get over them. If you have the ability to be flexible you’d be doing right by the employee by allowing it.

Too many Trans folk are stuck in temporary, low paying, shift work because they have to choose between their identity and their career/livelihood. A choice that often ends in death.

One of the more melancholy aspects of being Transgender is that I managed to ruin my career in banking in record time, most people need to get a job to ruin their careers. I was just born.

 

Baring your Soul: Feeling for the first time

I’ve talked a lot already about how weirdly dehumanising this whole transition thing is. I want to take a second now and talk about one of the very humanising experiences I’ve had through this.

Which is that transition has helped me feel, for the very first time.

In order to cope with the weight of being in the closet and other elements of my younger life I clammed up. I’ve talked about this before but that void that only expressed anger was my life for 22 years.

What I’m starting to discover now is that I am beginning to feel, rather regularly, different emotions. I’m beginning to have that complete feeling. This all became noticeable to me yesterday. The event in question? I had a friend piss me off. They had done something, I made fun of them and they reacted pretty harshly back. Nothing particularly revolutionary what was revolutionary was that I felt hurt.

Now, feeling hurt is something I have not allowed myself very often. The only person really capable of it is my wife. To have opened up that a close friend could actually hurt and upset me. As crazy as it sounds is new to me. It was a weird milestone of success.

What got me thinking about this all though is that I’ve noticed that when I get angry I can feel something other then just pure rage. A plethora of emotions begin to rise and compete. It’s not pleasant but it’s still novel enough that it makes me happy.

Transition is a weird time and its full of a lot of ups and downs, and one of the things that’s keeping me engaged is that I can feel those ups and downs for the first time.

Baring Your Soul: The Consequences of Not Baring Your Soul

I’ve talked before about how it feels to start working towards medical transition.

Here and here.

There’s definitely more to discuss there but I wanted to step back even further and talk about what it feels like when Transition is not on the horizon.One of the things I hadn’t noticed at the time was how dehumanising the process of transition is. The reason for this is that its taken transition for me to feel like a person, to in turn understand what I’d experienced.

Things might be a little different now but where I grew up and when I grew up being Gay was still considered a largely negative thing. The existence of Transgender people as a concept, let alone as members of the community was unheard of. As such, though I knew there was something different it took me until my teens to start to understand what I was.

One of the worst effects of being in the closet at such a young age is the isolation. This feeling of wrongness that pervades your whole being is not something you fully understand or could point out if asked. Its this element you quickly learn to disguise. My way of coping was to mirror expectations. What I mean by this is that if someone thought I was angry, or mean. I was angry and mean. If someone thought I was quiet and reposed, that was what I was. It was exhausting trying to balance people with different expectations co-mingled but I did.

The other downside is that I didn’t build very deep friendships. I had long term friends, because I was consistent in meeting their expectations so there was little to complain about. Yet I couldn’t really connect to people because I was incapable of connecting to myself.

That’s the meat of the problem. Using an onion analogy when speaking with a therapist I met later on that, though gender isn’t the core of your personality, it’s not many layers past it. If you have an underdeveloped or neglected sense of gender. Your societal expectations are out of whack. Your sense of self is impacted. Who you are and what you are begins to atrophy because you have no working context for how to express that socially. Humans are inherently social creatures. We relate to ourselves largely through how we relate to each other. So as I was unable to build any sort of consistency in my relations to others. Eventually I became nothing to myself.

There’s a lot of consequences of this that I’ll discuss more of them later, but the main message I have with this is that realising that I was Trans was not as simple as understanding who I was and finding my soul. It took a lot of background work just understanding what had been lost and what needed to be built. The pain of not having an identity, which is what I consider myself having missed out on during my normal development. Isn’t so easily reconstructed. When you talk about developmental milestones there’s certain ones that are very hard to recreate once missed. You just have to try and figure out how to be you with all of the pain and missing pieces anyways.

Because the alternative is much worse.

 

 

Baring your soul: dealing with dehumanizing elements of Transition

Things got a little off the rails yesterday. What I’d originally intended to talk about was preparing yourself for how much you’re going to have to give up of your privacy and really shine a light into your soul.

Medically, the assumption seems to be, that hormones are unsuitable until proven suitable. It’s easier to get intense narcotics then it is to get hormones. One of the first steps is being classified as mentally stable enough to understand the consequences of your decisions.

This involves meeting with some variety of psychologist, in my experience I got to go through it twice because the first one wasn’t actually qualified to write “the letter.”

The letter, if you’re not aware, is what is written by an ‘expert’ giving their opinion that you are capable of making a decision about your own body. Trans people have the same rights as everyone else though!

I’ve spoken with different doctors and a few have found my letter to be unacceptable because it didn’t detail enough of my ‘Transness’ nor did I seem Trans enough.

That lack of detail offended one doctor so thoroughly she refused to accept the letter as acceptable and demanded to speak with the expert who wrote the letter. Then promptly refused to work with me anyways.

She was also the one that initially didn’t think I was Trans enough. At the time I was working at a bank in a rural town, it was my first permanent job after college. I didn’t have a lot of space to deviate from gender norms. Having long hair (which I always tied back) made some people leery, but I digress.

So once you have this letter, which takes as long as it takes, mine took a year and a half. that’s not enough to be taken seriously, prepare to explain to every medical professional between your family doctor and whoever ends up prescribing you hormones why you’re Trans. As if you can easily explain that. I”ve found myself relying on the “I don’t know what its like not to be Trans so I can’t really help you” argument.

One of the most frustrating elements I found about this process is the lack of agency you have in this realm. my last article spoke about how lasting this dehumanising process was. What I had initially wanted to talk about there and did so here is how dehumanising the process is to go through. The expectation to discuss all of your trauma, detail intricately your emotional supports, your financial status, your coping mechanisms all so you can have someone decide if you can be marked acceptable to make your own choices. Something most people are just born with is something that you get to work towards.

I’ll compare it to another thing I’m dealing with in my life. My Wife and I are currently trying to become foster parents. As part of that process you have to go through a similar experience of stripping down your life and understanding your own psyche intimately. As part of this process we are taking classes with other prospective adoptive and foster parents. As this process starts to dawn on people and they realise how daunting it is they start to get worried or afraid.

Now, this process is to understand your ability to handle a traumatized child, and help them heal in your home. If you don’t have tough enough stuff their trauma will break you. The key difference between this and obtaining the “letter” is that you choose to be a foster parent, and it is ultimately not about yourself. You can choose not to be a foster parent. It is a choice.

Being trans is not a choice, we don’t expect people to tear down their mental state and check the stability of their psyche before making any other decisions related to their body. That’s generally considered antithetical to a free and just society. Agency begins with your own body.

After all of that dour talk I wanted to reaffirm the value and joy that transitioning has brought me. Each step has made me more comfortable and confident and helped me discover who I am and my own identity.

I just also think its important to know that the process leaves its own set of scars. Nothing about this journey is pain free.

Nothing.

 

 

Baring your soul to strangers:

One of the biggest differences I’ve found since I started dealing with my transition is an aversion to secrecy. I think this is two fold. First off, getting to the point of medical transition is going to involve you spilling the beans, to an unfortunately large number of strangers. So you get used to telling your secrets at a whim. I also find I don’t have the stomach for any more secrets. I’ve had a big enough one pollute my life.

It’s odd how easy it gets to let go of this giant secret that I know I’ve held so tightly I’ve never let it slip. I’ve been blackout drunk, completely not in control, and not told a soul. That’s a secret that’s under wraps.

I’ve said it in other article, but coming out doesn’t always feel good. The first time you have to come out to a stranger even in a “safe space” is horrifying. It’s honestly a little dehumanizing. As I’m writing this I realize that I have lost the most private parts of my being by taking this road. For all of the happiness I’ve gained I’m realizing that I no longer have the stomach to fudge the details, or tell white lies as some would call them. I don’t know if that matters but its just another part of your soul you lose as part of this journey.

I don’t mean to say I’m not still a private person, but I have little appetite for secrecy anymore. In a lot of ways its made me a more honest person, which is a virtuous trait. On the other hand whats bothering me is that among so many things out of control in my life, this was one more thing that I lost control of.

Transitioning is a weird road.

P.S. I was going to talk a little more about the mechanics of these meetings and the feelings wrapped up in each meeting. Instead it became a little existential crisis. it is what it is and I’ll talk about that other topic later.