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.

Telling your story is exhausting

I’m incredibly tired today. Yesterday my wife and I had part of our assessment to be foster parents. This section involved almost two hours of reviewing my life story. Every time you have to tell your life story it takes a piece out of you I think.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to do it, but it does feel differently this time, first off, it wasn’t my first rodeo, I’ve got some experience spilling my guts with this stuff. The other thing that makes it feel different is that its for other people. Hopefully any kids we’re able to help will make it all worthwhile.

The hardest part is putting everything back where it belongs. Going through this sort of exercise is not very orderly. Much like a toddler trying to find that one particular toy to play with, grabbing memories and stories from the archive is a messy business, after the fact you’re exhausted and your mind is a bit of a mess. I’m going to take an easy day today, maybe even try and go meditate.

I’m sure I’ll have some more to talk about later, once I’m back in one piece.

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.

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.

Disrespect as a management tool

I’m going to broaden my audience a bit today and talk about something that affects anyone in any work place. it’s when a manager/owner tries to minimize the efforts of an employee through a lack of appreciation or by disrespecting that employee.

It’s a pretty toxic thing, unfortunately it comes from a very honest place. Which makes it rather insidious. As a manager you think to yourself, I don’t want employee x doing that task, I have employee y for that. Employee x should be focusing on their actual job. See, pretty obvious stuff.

The way of actually dealing with this is to address why employee x is doing something outside of their responsibilities in the first place. The answer isn’t always that they’re trying to get out of their actual job.

A lot of mistakes when you’re managing people comes from an inability to understand the entire situation. Everyone manages based on what they know, a good manager understands that they can never know everything but is constantly working to understand and improve their awareness. A bad manager will never realise that they are working with incomplete information. Most people fall somewhere in between those.

The difficulty is that if your manager was perceptive and understood their role, you wouldn’t need to read this. If your manager has fit the bill for what I’m saying they don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and its incredibly hard to change that opinion.

This puts a caring employee n a pickle. The obvious answer is to stop helping and wait for the problems that you’ve been highlighting to break down to the point that even the most pig headed manager notices. This is pretty tough to do when you have an aversion to watching disasters unfold, like a reasonable person does.

This is a dangerous proposition as you are likely to be involved with any collateral (no matter how minor it might be) because of your proximity to it. The best option before you is to try to understand why your manager is taking the position they are/ The other possibility is that what you’re saving isn’t that big a priority. It doesn’t ultimately matter, or that there’s a bigger plan then you’re aware of.

This brings me to the central point, communication is key. Communication leads to understanding. Understanding is everything,. If you’re frustrated reach out, maybe not to your direct manager, and likely not to their manager. Find someone else who might be privy to more information and seek to understand. Or if you are comfortable with it talk to your manager about the issue and express why you’re tackling it.

At the end of the day everyone situation and structure at work are different, but you do need to come to some understanding. If you constantly feel belittled and disrespected for the effort you put in eventually you’ll end up blowing up.

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 ot 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.