Asexuality part III

comic from Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

CW: sex, sexual trauma, self-harm mention

I have always been becoming what I am right now

It has become impossible for me to disentangle my a/sexuality from trauma, both of the sexual violence kind and the “growing up in allo-cis-hetero-patriarchal rape culture” kind.

I keep finding myself chasing down memories and trying to figure out, “but before that?” I’ve been attracted to boys, yes, even before that and before that and before that. But not before I was born into compulsory allo-cis-heterosexuality. I’ve been attracted to girls, but only much after that. All these feelings I’ve interpreted as attraction even after I started thinking I may be some kind of asexual. Some of these feelings, it later turned out, was trauma response. What does that all mean then?

I can’t relate to the trans “I never felt like a girl” story. Neither did I experience what other asexuals describe: always having felt different, never understanding why sex is such a big deal to other people, everything fitting into place once they learned about asexuality.

I don’t understand why and how all the asexuals I see are so confident in their asexuality. For me, learning that I can be asexual is a relief but also deeply painful because of all the layers of pain that have been inflicted on me by others and myself to obscure that possibility from me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been disinterested in sex, and I wish that I could be. The intersection of gender and power has always demanded my attention, fear and compliance. Do any asexuals feel that way? Don’t all allosexuals?

Asexuality, I am told, is “simply” not experiencing sexual attraction. But what is sexual attraction, and how do I identify it from among all my other feelings? The concepts of sexual identity and sexual attraction as we understand them now are extremely new after all, and borne out of modern European pathologising of queerness. Being a “lesbian” is as much a product of living in a society that understands sex as identity as an actual biological category. We don’t have a word for “person who likes chocolate ice cream” for example, nor are we obsessed with finding a “chocolate ice cream gene”, much as it might possibly exist.

Definitions of identities aren’t just written in the sky, they arise out of a specific social and cultural context. So perhaps more important than the definition, whether or not I’m asexual is determined by the community that has set itself up around the word, and whether or not I want to claim it for myself.

In recent months, things I had assumed there was no getting away from and that I’d just have to accept have become intolerable. Perhaps they had always been bad for me; there were signs, after all, which I ignored and allowed the psychic damage to accrue. For years I’ve used sex as self-harm. (How many years? When did it start? Does it matter?) These days, somebody casually flirting with me, or a careless sexual joke from a friend, can send me into tailspin. What does that make me, then?

Surely somebody can have trauma without being asexual. They can also be both. If my trauma is so integral to my self that I cannot separate it from my sexuality, and engaging with sex does me more harm than good, and now that it might be an option I’d like to abstain for the foreseeable future, does the difference matter?

Perhaps the concern is that if I’m not “really” asexual, I am missing out on something vital by mistaking my trauma for asexuality. I suppose it is true that generally non-asexual people are happier when they are able to act on their sexual attraction, and forcing yourself not to, as in the case of celibate “same-sex attracted” christians, leads to depression. But then again, would not identifying as asexual make me treat my trauma any faster? No, it’d just give me more pressure to be doing something that is bad for me, cut me off from resources on alternative non-sexual relationship setups, and lead me to think that I don’t deserve love until I am healed and “whole” and sexual.

I think that in the end identifying with asexuality for me is about saying that who I am right now is whole and worthy. Yes, I have trauma, but who doesn’t? Asexuality says that if you don’t want to have sex, you don’t have to have sex, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Asexuality part III

Non-Binary People’s Day

Reflections on common themes seen on International Non-Binary People’s Day

Non-binary people are valid! If you don’t know somebody’s pronouns, just ask! Using the right pronouns just takes a little practice and is super easy!

Non-binary issues have been reduced to “awareness” and “visibility”, “pronouns” and “finding out how people want to be addressed”.

“Identify however you want, whatever makes you happy” is not support. Making cosmetic changes to language and doing nothing else is not support. I do not like how eager many people are to make non-binariness as cutesy and non-threatening as possible.

“I know this sounds new and scary but it’s easy actually!” No, it is not easy! Bioessentialism and the gender binary are foundational myths of our society, propagated by colonialism and enforced by capitalist states. Learning that there are alternatives SHOULD be scary! Love is not love; queer existence reimagines the family and says that “traditional family units”, with their subjugation of women and concentration of wealth and atomization of society are bad actually. I am here to tear apart everything you believe about how society should function. You should be afraid.

“I know this sounds new and scary but non-binary people have always been here! Many cultures have 3rd genders.” Non-binary people have not “always been here”, because the gender binary has not always been here. Pre-colonial hijras are not non-binary because they did not exist within the gender binary that we live in which was violently imposed by colonialism. I understand the impulse to try to prove that the gender binary is “unnatural”, which it is, of course. But to reach back in time and try to understand pre-colonial gender systems through the lens of non-binary identity is tokenistic and in fact legitimizes the gender binary. Non-binary people exist now when we did not at any other point in history precisely because of the specific flaws of our gender system.

I’m not non-binary as in “here, learn some new words and let me have an X gender marker”. I’m non-binary as in “I want the government to stop legislating anybody’s gender and I want to end all gendered oppression that is based in the gender binary”. Gender isn’t just how we feel, it’s a system of oppression. To be an ally to non-binary people we have to decolonize and uproot homophobia, transphobia and misogyny. We have to decriminalize drug use and sex work and abolish prisons, issues that disproportionately affect racialized trans and nonbinary people. These are the urgent non-binary concerns.

A cartoon frog holding up a non-binary pride flag sitting atop a computer with 1's and 0's on screen. Text says "Gender is a social eurocentric construct imposed through colonialism. Binary is for computers"
artist: supernova
Non-Binary People’s Day

1 Year on T!

Hello from weird pandemic times! I’m staying with my family in Singapore, whom I let buy all the groceries so I have been outside maybe 10 times the last 3 months. I had planned to be in London by now, where I still have a job offer for my first job out of uni, but now that’s indefinitely delayed. Oh yes, I’ve finally graduated, in the middle of all this! Woop.

With my excessive amounts of free time I’ve invented a few new nap-times and done a lot of wall staring. I started a little social group for my non-binary friends in Singapore and recently we’ve been streaming Gravity Falls once a week, which is really nice. I’ve also just started on an epic quest to stream all 1509 (and counting) games in the racial justice and equality bundle, so that’s all my evenings accounted for for the next ah.. 4 years. We will probably blog about this doomed endeavour once we think of a good name for it.

It’s a very weird time to be one year on T! I’ve barely seen anybody this entire year on T. Before the lockdown I was already effectively self-isolating in rural Denmark where I saw No One. I have no idea how people are perceiving my gender and whether that has changed. Being in very different countries also doesn’t help me with any before-after comparisons.

Every concerned cis-tizen wants to know: “but if you were on a deserted island would you still transition?” Before going on T I used to say, “who cares, I’m not on a deserted island and never will be.” Who would have thought!

So, do I still want to transition, from my ideologically pure and deserted bedroom?

Hahah yeah. Also I’m changing my pronouns to even less socially acceptable ones. Suck it! These apocalyptic times have got me feeling like I should get top surgery while hospitals and anesthetic still exist…

It actually is a great relief not constantly having to have my gender be perceived and assessed and interpellated by strangers. I can just… be. Obviously other people still exist, especially in my head, but I feel like I have much more breathing room when they’re not up in my face telling me opinions.

Unfortunately, my decision making isn’t actually as Untainted by Worldly Concerns (what would that even mean though) as I would like, and I’ve decreased my dose partly for cost reasons. T gel is very expensive in Singapore and I am not making any money sitting in bed during a pandemic. If I were staying in Singapore long term I would probably switch over to much cheaper injections, scary thought though it is. But I’m hoping to leave eventually so I’m just holding out.

I still feel pretty much the same as I did at the last update at 8 months. It is hard to wrap my head around the idea that a whole year has passed. The changes continue to be gradual and good, and later I’ll talk about the strange new ones I’ve noticed since. Some things that have changed about my feelings: I’ve come around to thinking that I feel calmer on T. As I said previously it’s impossible to verify this with so much else changing in my life, not to mention I can barely remember how I felt last week never mind last year. Sometimes I read other people’s accounts of being on much lower doses of T than I am and they document all these subtle mental changes and I’m just like,,, imagine… self-awareness? Hahah but overall I think it’s possible that that is the case.

I’m also finding that having more leg hair is taking some adjusting to. I’m glad that I don’t seem to be getting any more on this lower dose. I don’t hate it exactly, it’s just… strange and new, and the most visible-to-me thing that’s changing? I don’t seem to be getting much more hair anywhere else after the initial slightly darkening of upper lip hair, I suppose I’m just that Chinese.

My period is back and more regular than ever on this lower dose, which is annoying but fine. I’ve also started getting pretty intense night sweats, which according to the googles is either because of low testosterone in cis men or low estrogen in cis women? So that’s concerning, hopefully it sorts itself out.

I finally got around to comparing pics, and I haven’t been outside or taken any good ones since February, so here’s month 1 (left) vs month 8 (right) on T. (Those are different bodies of water, I just really like water bodies.) Was surprised to find that I actually do look different!! My skin is worse for one. I feel like both are okay but the more recent one feels more like… my face? So that’s good!

Also, my voice is quite a bit lower. It has kinda cleared up from its initial chaotic drop and is settling a bit now, especially after I discovered I had to stop trying to talk in a range that doesn’t exist in the same way anymore, and do some voice exercises. Singing is very weird because I keep going for a note that I can hear in my head but it’s gone and I have to consciously go an octave down where there didn’t use to be anything. I never super disliked my voice, and hanging out with more non-binary people with voices like mine used to be is also subtly adjusting how my brain perceives gender in voices. Nevertheless I’m quite happy with where my voice is now.

Now 2 changes that I was NOT expecting. First, more prominent arm and hand veins, from fat redistribution away from these areas I guess. I did not know this would happen, but now that I think about it I have noticed that cis men have more visible veins. I am *extremely* into it. I just, get so much gender affirming joy from looking at my veins, especially where it goes under my old self-harm scars.

Cis people: omg poor you you’re trapped in the wrong body
Me: heehee veins on my hands I have Masc Hands With Veins

Second is, I’m better at first-person shooter games?! Apparently testosterone levels are correlated with spatial ability, and also Asian women as a demographic are statistically most likely to suffer motion sickness from FPV games. You wouldn’t be able to tell from watching me still take 30 seconds to figure out how to look behind me but hey at least I’ve not gotten stuck in any bushes or ponds this time.

So that’s T day! It was a bit sad to have had this one while living with people who may never see it as a cause for celebration, but I got some nice messages from friends, and my power only grows with each passing year.

1 Year on T!

Them Thar Pronouns

In the year of our lord 2020, everyone knows that there are three genders: he, she and they. Of the theypeople, there are the beard+dress and undercut+binder subtypes. Obviously.

Occasionally the last vestiges of resistance will cry “but pronouns aren’t the same as gender!” but their protestations fade as we streamline our message and write the 732nd article about why singular they is grammatical and historical and sHakEsPEaRe uSeD iT, and pat ourselves on the back and announce singular they the word of the year.

I suppose it is progress that the gender binary is slowly becoming a trinary, and that in some places you can even register yourself with the government as such. I mean, why WOULDN’T we want our governments to legislate our genders? It worked so well for marriage! (Now that we’ve decided same-sex marriage is the goal we no longer have to question the institution of state-administered marriage at all.)

I don’t think that even the average trans ally has internalised that you really really can’t tell somebody’s gender by looking at them, or that gender is a galaxy of possibility and not just male-female-other, or what “other” means beyond they pronouns and being weird looking. I think that people don’t get non-binary people who don’t use they pronouns or don’t look how we think non-binary people look.

It seems like in the past couple of years we’ve converged on they/them as the most realistic pronoun we could get people to use, with significant success. When I first came out a few years ago it was by telling people to use they/them, and it was very important to me that they did it, because that was the only way I could assert that I am not cisgender, and the only way other people could affirm that. I cared deeply and spent a lot of energy correcting and worrying about it because being mis-pronouned was very painful because it was such a key part of my gender.

Recently I was surprised to find that 1. I don’t care that much anymore and 2. I actually secretly hate being referred to as they by cis people. I suppose the time passed living as my gender, being out to my friends, being out to family, being on HRT, being in a relationship where I am not the woman, have all made me feel secure in my gender. *I* know what I am, and my friends know what I am, and it doesn’t really matter to me what word people use to talk about me any more. Whereas every “she” in the past felt like somebody saying “nobody will ever see you as your fake gender that’s just in your head and the world has no room for you” now I’m like, eh. Sometimes people make mistakes even when they know I’m not a cis woman. Sometimes people really think I’m a cis woman, which is now funny rather than a stab in my gut, because how could they possibly think that, yknow?

I suppose because of how important it was at the time and how even more crushing it would have been to ask for an even more obscure pronoun, I did not seriously consider the other gender neutral pronouns available. Recently I came across two different people (now ze hir and luxander) talking about how neopronouns other than they/them give them gender euphoria but they nevertheless tell people to use they/them because that’s the one that has a higher chance of actually being used. That finally helped me realise that I actually dislike they/them, and that I’m allowed to. So that’s why I hate using they/them for myself in my head. I had been feeling like a fraud for making a big deal of it when it wasn’t actually right right. It does not give me gender euphoria, and was just the least worst option available to me.

The use of singular they for people of “unknown gender”, as in “somebody left their phone behind, do you think they will come back for it,” is often touted as proof of singular they’s acceptability, but is the first reason I dislike it. I’m not some mystery person of unknown gender, you know me and I’ve told you my gender! It is a gender-less pronoun where I want a genderqueer one. It feels distant and anonymous, like you’re pretending not to know me.

It also, to my ears, always sounds a bit strained and performative when cis people do it. I cringe whenever someone refers to me because I feel like I can hear the effort and then the bit of self-congratulation when they get it right. I want a pronoun that isn’t worth remarking on and isn’t a giant landmine for everyone, the way most cis people have it.

I suppose the second problem will go away the more people use the pronouns and everyone gets used to them, but the first problem is a problem with the conception of “non-binary” as the third gender. I am non-binary but my gender is genderqueer; I think genderqueer describes what I am, and non-binary describes what I’m not.

So, neopronouns.

I find arguments about how singular they is or isn’t grammatical or historical to be quite triggering. It brings me back to being a brand new genderqueer and having to fight for my pronouns as a proxy for my right to exist. I hate that people feel the need to tell my their opinions on it when I tell them my pronouns, as if my identity is a casual academic topic awaiting their comment. The arguments in support are still very annoying to me because historical use and Shakespeare are both obviously completely irrelevant to whether you should respect somebody’s pronouns; why is that even a debate? These arguments throw other pronouns under the bus, which have moved slowly further into the loony fringe as they/them gain acceptance. After all, anyone who would make everybody’s life difficult by insisting on some MADE UP words when they/them is right there with its centuries of perfect acceptance and non-made-up-ness must be some kind of radical.

(I also really dislike the word “neopronoun”. They’re not that neo. But what else to call them?)

“So what do you want me to do?”

I didn’t write about my complicated feelings about they/them until now because I didn’t have a good answer for how I wanted people to refer to me if not using they/them, and I know how people are. Like, yes thank you for sharing your complicated truth now could you just summarise it into one word I can use to respect that and never think about it again please. (I say this with love… I can’t help thinking this about other people all the time, I confess.)

The first thing I will say is everyone needs to chill out with the constant pronoun asking that the bleeding edge gender sensitivity training have told us to do. It often isn’t an easy question to answer given the limits of human language and is very stressful when you have no good answer. I really prefer Luxander’s suggestion for cis people to always introduce themselves with their pronouns so that other people can then volunteer theirs if they want. And if they don’t you just have to live with the uncertainty and accept that most people cannot be summarised into a pronoun, and for some people that is uncomfortable enough that there is no good enough answer.

But okay here it comes, my Official Pronouns TM (subject/object/possessive-determiner/possessive-pronoun/reflexive)

– It is accurate to use they/them/their/theirs/themself, you may continue doing that.
Ze/hir/hir/hirs/hirself (pronounced ‘here’). See it here and practice here

I also don’t really mind she/her/her/hers/herself. I feel like it acknowledges and honours the connection I have with womanhood. I think that if I ever stop getting it from strangers reading me as a woman I will occasionally request it from friends, but that is not the case now.

It was difficult to choose between the available neopronouns. I like pretty much all of the variations really. I didn’t consider that I was allowed to use other pronouns until a few days ago so this is new to me and we will see. I was quite intimidated because there are so many slightly different ones but the good news is ze and xe are actually pronounced the same, just spelled different. I like xe/xem because as you can see it conjugates the same as they/them, just pronounced with more, uh, buzz. I like ze/hir because it was the most popular genderqueer pronoun before the they/them hegemony, and it conjugates the same as she/her.

So there you go, my brand new pronouns. I want to reiterate that I feel really chill about it now and so would like my friends not to stress about it. Mix them up, say them wrong, it doesn’t matter. Pronouns are just a mouth sound you make to refer to me. If you’ve never used ze/hir before, follow the links and practice a little bit and try it out in your head then default to they/them and accidentally use she/her sometimes if that still comes more easily to you.

Them Thar Pronouns

8 months T update

It certainly doesn’t feel like 8 months has passed. At the back of my mind each time I need to go get more T I still feel like it won’t work out for some reason and I’ll have to come off it and then see that the whole thing was a childish and silly exercise. I feel reassured that so much time has passed and that things are going slowly and steadily, and that everything that has changed I have been very happy with. I feel a bit impatient about it but also happy that it doesn’t seem like there are going to be any sudden changes that I don’t want. It’s been so slow that there wasn’t really anything to update until now.

My endocrinologist asked me about the “endpoint” again, a question that quite confused me when he asked last year because I literally did not understand the question. Now I can see where he is coming from. I guess if you think of transition as getting from point A to point B then my wanting to go there really slowly doesn’t make sense. I also see why it might be confusing that I can’t articulate what point B is. I suppose I conceptualise being on T differently than that. I don’t think I’m really trying to get anywhere in particular, it just makes sense to me to have a low level of testosterone in my body. Especially considering how much hormones affect mental performance, I think it makes more sense to think of transition goals in term of T and E levels. That means, depending how many years it has been, I might manifest varying amounts of hair for example, but it isn’t really about that. With regards to hair specifically, I really don’t mind any amount between none and all, I don’t think. I know that I don’t want to be read as a man all the time, so I will avoid that, but anything short of that is … fine? There isn’t a physical-appearance-based point B that I feel I have to get to as fast as possible, nor do I feel that I will be any happier once I’m there.

I’m not sure if that makes sense or is even accurate. It’s only the latest approach I’ve taken to making sense of my ineffable desire to be on T. I’ve felt the same way for the last few years but I expect I’ll be able to articulate it better over time.

Overall I think I am very happy with how things are going, and would like them to continue at this pace. 🙂

Boring dosage details: I started on testosterone gel in June 2019 with the goal of taking a low dose for slow changes. I did 25mg for about a month then increased to 50mg. I got a blood test in September which found my T levels right at the lower edge of the cis male range, so increased again to 50mg and 100mg on alternating days (each sachet is 50mg so this is to avoid having to do halves) around October. I got my levels tested again today (13 Feb 2020) and was surprised to find them even lower than they were in September, at 7 nmol/L! I apply the gel at night (last night was a 50mg night) and had the blood test in the afternoon, so the measurement is of the lowest point in the cycle, and it’s presumably higher the rest of the day, peaking a few hours after application.

Apparently there’s some disagreement in the definition of a “low dose” of gel. For some people 50mg daily is enough to get T levels well into the cis male range, and have changes at full speed. However, for others, perhaps because of differences in how the gel is absorbed through the skin, this is low. Also, of course, the speed that people understand to be “slow” transition varies wildly. My endocrinologist considers 50mg a “full dose” and said it was unusual that I still have my period at this dose, but I suppose variation is to be expected. I usually skip over the boring dosage details in other people’s update posts so I have no idea, but Micah’s post here suggests 25-75mg daily could still be “low”.

Sidenote: I really appreciate my endocrinologist in singapore! We had a good talk about how fast things are going and what I want, which helped me decide what to do with my dose. It even helped to just put my thoughts into words. Much better than the confusing guesswork I’d been doing in my head. I will miss him when I leap into the uncaring arms of the NHS.

Anyway, on to the actual updates! Changes and feelings in order of me noticing them, with the caveat that not only I am probably the least observant person in the whole world I also have no pictorial memory:

Bottom growth: happened within a week. Before it happened I did not know what to expect and didn’t know how I would feel about it. Now I am extremely happy! Cannot overstate how pleased I am. It seems to have stagnated after the first few months, but I’m hoping for more, as much more as possible. It was itchy at first, which I didn’t know about.

Sex stuff: The change in my sex drive is impossible to separate out from the other things going on in my life, but it’s not impossible that I got hornier. It’s possible my orgasms feel different and I smell different but that could also have been because I heard someone say that happened to them and then I imagined it. I definitely need more lube.

Hungry: SO hungry for the whole of the second month, and then it went back to normal

Hair: my upper lip hair got the teensiest bit darker about 2 months in, and then another tiny bit darker again. It’s still fine hairs, not the coarse kind you get in actual facial hair, which I still have none of. I started out with very little hair everywhere, much less than the average Singaporean Chinese woman, who is already sparsely haired. By which I mean: I have 15 armpit hairs. I could name all of them if I want. After 4 months I finally noticed some coarse hair growing on my legs, where I had none before. Quite sure I still have less than the average cis Chinese woman though.

I don’t really feel one way or another about this. I quite enjoy running my fingers over my thigh hairs; good texture. I don’t mind if I get more or not. Apparently many women feel some sort of way about body hair though, which I notice whenever it comes up and then people start comparing. It is quite strange to be told even now that my relative hairlessness is to be envied. Like, it feels like a compliment but doesn’t make any sense. If anything I want to have at least as much hair as the cis women so they’d stop commenting on it. I’m trying my best!

Muscle?: a friend said I look a bit buffer, which is nice considering I did 0 exercise. Some pants I had that used to be tight at the hips now fits. Now that I think about it I also used to get quite upset about how my hips look in clothes. My shirts still ride up on my hips which are still very much there, which is still annoying but I can’t remember when I last got upset about it. I have the tiniest of a BELLY now! I love her. I noticed her about a month in, and I think that’s where I got hair first.

I think my face hasn’t changed at all though, but I will again remind you that I am faceblind and have no idea what I look like. I was counting on people’s reactions in public toilets to let me know how I’m being read so I can see if it’s changed, but weirdly only ONE aunty has stared at me this entire last month I’ve been in SG. What’s going on!! Did everyone get gender diversity training while I was gone? I move so frictionlessly through public space it’s been creepy. I started off trying to take pictures of my face regularly but then gave up when it didn’t seem to be changing haha.

Taller??: at least 3 people I hadn’t seen since before T and who don’t know I’m on T independently commented that I’m taller than I remember. Several people are also shorter than I remember. However, I got measured at the hospital today and I am NOT taller!! Maybe I just stand different? Maybe something about how your center of gravity is higher on T makes you seem taller? Mystery!

Voice: annoyingly I’ve had some kind of low-level cold since September, which is a really long time to have a cold. My favourite endo reckons it’s very unlikely to be related to the T but who knows. So it’s impossible to properly figure out where my voice is at now, but I suspect a little bit lower than before. I also get random sore throats which are either actual sore throats or my voice changing. Who knows! I am worried that when this cold finally clears I will find my voice has dropped 3 octaves, but I don’t think that has happened.

Menstruation: I got my period regularly and same as usual for the first 6 months, then it got lighter, then was like 15 days late but back to regular strength. Am I just going to have to worry about immaculate conception for the rest of my life? We’ll see!

Feelings: eh. I am very sure I didn’t feel any different the first few months, but now more time has passed and more life has gone by that it is more difficult to compare. Overall I don’t feel extremely different I don’t think. I definitely feel more confident and assured in my gender and less worried about fitting in with Other Queers or being read a certain way or anything else, which might be more from the fact of being on T at all than the T itself. I used to have very bad mental health days around the midpoint in my menstrual cycle which hasn’t happened since starting on T, maybe because T leveled out the hormonal variations somewhat.

WhatsApp Image 2019-12-03 at 02.12.30

I, brand ambassador. Currently on my 10th box

8 months T update

Tales from the Closet

3.5 months on T update: I definitely have a tiny bit more hair on my upper lip, belly and thigh. I am thrilled!

The changes have been so slow/non-existent that I’ve been thinking lately that I might want to have injections after all, in spite of my preference not to be stabbed. That’s also much cheaper than gel in Singapore. Probably next year, when I hopefully have a more permanent doctor.

I’ve been quite at peace with my gender ever since starting T and moving to Denmark and into the closet, which is funny. Of all the places where I might step back from being the most out person ever, who would have thought it’d be Denmark, supposed bleeding edge of progressive Scandinavian socialist utopia.

But then again, I have been slowly covering all my posessions in an increasing number of trans flags, so it’s not like I am being Secretive, everyone else is just too cishet to get it or pretending not to notice. I’ve also gotten 2 more piercings and started saying transparently trans things for my own amusement (“oh yeah I had green hair at some point, obviously” “why obviously” “oh you know. I’m of a certain demographic. All my okcupid matches have either green hair or a septum piercing”).

We finally got a cool non-cishet intern whom I don’t hate, so I am out to him. When I asked about it he said, “it’s.. not subtle”.

Anyway, it’s been surprisingly nice not being out at work! I guess because I have friends that I am out with, and being on T is also a nice affirmation for myself that doesn’t depend on other people’s perception of me. And also because there are so few women here that being a woman is pretty much the same as being my own gender. I think about how exhausting it would be to come out and how when I leave my legacy will just be “that person who made us do the difficult pronoun thing” and can’t be bothered to do it.

How it usually works with people I am out to is that every time I see a pronoun coming in a conversation I preparatorily cringe, and then have to decide whether to correct them and abandon the whole conversation, which has already ended for me. Being misgendered by people who know is much worse because they should know better, but still they can’t stop thinking of me as she. And then having to do the work of anticipating mistakes and pointing out and correcting them every time is constant and exhausting and doesn’t let me just be my gender in peace. When it happens frequently and every single time it has to be a whole Thing and I can’t just laugh to myself and move on, my internal sense of gender gets less and less secure. Even when people do get it right I feel like they’re just patronising me, and I’m still waiting for them to inevitably slip up.

I guess I just have to live in isolation the rest of my life? Idk haha, it’s bleak if you think about it but I don’t really think about it so it’s fine ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Tales from the Closet

Insights from Assholes

It is my 5th week on T! No bright white light or revelations, absolutely nothing has changed, it is super boring.

Meanwhile it is my 3rd week at my new job in a small de-facto company town 600km away from anything else where uh, 23 of the 25 people in my department are white men, and lunch-time talk is exclusively dick jokes and misogyny. Unfortunately that has led to several revelations.

My parents think that once I get out “in the real world” and have a real job I’ll see how much discrimination there is and what a stupid idea transitioning is. Joke’s on them, hanging out with horrible people 24/7 has convinced me that you REALLY shouldn’t care what your coworkers think if they’re complete idiots, and you should just do whatever you want. Like, what, am I going to NOT live my life how I want because generic white tech boy #19 might think poorly of me? lmao

Aside from the coworkers who are happy to ignore me, I have very little human contact out here. I haven’t been going to any shops or restaurants except the supermarket where the cashiers follow a very precise script with every interaction. I haven’t had to go to any public toilets or be in any gendered situations either where my gender would be identified by me or strangers. It is quite close to the mythical deserted island. It is quite nice actually, aside from the isolation; those little daily reminders of how poorly you fit and make sense in the world really wear you down. The isolation however is making me feel a bit blurry around the edges and unsure whether I exist outside of my own mind or not. And do I still want to be on testosterone in this bleak wasteland where it won’t matter to anyone else and nothing matters? Fuck yes.

Back to those coworkers: I have no interest in coming out to them, which is interesting because I usually feel uncomfortable when people assume I am a woman. I think that they are so aggressively and misogynistically male that it really doesn’t matter what flavour of not-male I am. I also don’t care what they think about me as long as everyone is clear that I am Not Like Them. I would much rather be a woman than be like them; the only two options in their bigoted heads. In addition to giving up personal information that they don’t deserve, I think that coming out will make them think I have or want more in common with them than I do with women, and… I’m a NOPE on that. I viscerally detest the thought of them ever thinking of me as one of them. If I ever start to be read as male I will immediately start wearing skirts. So much for that theory about AFABs transitioning to gain male privilege.


Insights from Assholes

Men Ignore Me

Lots of people have talked about how being a tomboy is, broadly-speaking, acceptable for AFAB children, but it’s a phase you’re expected to grow out of; maturity and being a “real woman” are associated with performing sexuality in traditionally feminine ways, and people who don’t do this (asexuals and GNC people) are infantilised. AFAB people who are not traditionally feminine are not recognised as sexual subjects because there is no framework for GNC sexuality; butch women in suits are “cute” but not “sexy”.

Obviously in an ideal world everyone would treat everybody the same regardless of whether they’re attracted to them or not, but I’m surrounded by assholes so that is not the case. I’ve just started a new job where everybody is a misogynist (and also a white man. Don’t worry, it’s even worse than it sounds.), and I’ve noticed a weird … irrelevance when I am forced to hang out with them. I’ve noticed that I am frequently ignored by white men, as if my presence is irrelevant. It’s definitely partly/mostly racism, but the other part is quite interesting. My theory is that there is an exchange of sexual energy that is a not insignificant part of human interaction (I’ve been told this), and that I am excluded from it because I am not legible as a sexual subject.

Men relate to other men competitively and objectify women, and then they just… don’t quite know what to do with me because I am not a sexual subject, and so tend to completely not notice I’m there. Women do tend to acknowledge me, because they’re not terrible. In Asia and in professional contexts it is so subtle that I don’t notice it happening around me most of the time. But in social settings I still frequently feel like a child (though to be fair that’s not an uncommon feeling among Singaporeans my age).

Now that I have identified it, I see that this feeling of literal invisibility is part of the awkwardness I often feel around people, like I’m simultaneously taking up too much and too little space, like I’m both too awkwardly tall to be a woman and too awkwardly short to be a man. I know most people feel awkward and alien growing up though. It’s probably also related to my feelings about asexuality and how lots of NB AFABs are asexual? But desiring and being desired are different but related things.

In balance I think I am quite happy to be alien to this piece of gender relations. Terrible men ignore me? Truly I am blessed! Another benefit is that this exempts me from quite a lot of social convention, and I can do whatever weird alien thing I want. It’s great! I can cuddle my male friends, for example, which most men and women are too afraid to do. I struggled with seeing myself as sexy or even lovable for a while but I’ve come around to the view that I am extremely sexy, most people just don’t see it because I’m out of their league.

Men Ignore Me

Gender Update: April 2019

I am going to start on a low-dose testosterone gel in two weeks, if nothing bad happens before then. This is a record of where I’ve been and where I am now. (Edit: I actually ended up starting in June 2019)

I started questioning my gender late 2015 around my 19th birthday, and it mostly solidified when I met my first genderqueer person irl 3 years ago in April 2016. I started coming out to a few people and then more generally in July 2016. I started thinking vaguely about testosterone in December 2016.

My gender is genderqueer: a third gender distinct from and not a derivative of male and female. Green, if the gender spectrum goes from red to blue.  I feel this strongly and consistently. I am not transmasculine, and feel very little connection to masculinity. I feel significant connection to womanhood, and have more complicated feelings about femininity. I am neither “male-aligned” nor “female-aligned”; I am non-binary, that’s the point. I am also not “gender neutral”, I have a lot of gender, it’s just not male or female.

I use they/them pronouns, which all my friends at school do consistently. The adjustment period was very rough in 2017, when I thought that I was asking the impossible and being difficult for no reason and nobody would ever do it, but it’s all good now. It didn’t really feel right until most people started using it. It bothers me a lot more when people that I am out to use the wrong one than if they just don’t know, which made me think I was inventing the problem by coming out, but of course not. It doesn’t really bother me when people from school that don’t know use “she”, mainly because engineering is mostly men, and I’m really good at school, so it makes me feel good to hear people talk about “her” with admiration.. hahha.

I am out (and very loud about it) on Facebook, so new friends figure it out quite quickly. I’m also out to my parents and brother. I haven’t decided whether to come out at my upcoming 6-month internship in Denmark.

I suppose on some subconscious level I realised quite early on that I will get on T sooner or later, and most of the doubt was about whether I should do it now or wait 20 years to make sure I’m really sure. It’s also taken some time to translate the inexplicable draw into words and actual pros/cons that I can understand. I am going to lay out the exact changes and how I feel about them next, but understand that there is probably something deeper than just adding them up and seeing that there are more things I want than don’t want.

The main thing really is a change of subjective internal qualia that other people have reported. I have no idea what that will be like until it happens, but I feel positive about it for some reason. I mean, it will change how I look, and that’s good or bad, but that’s only a part of it for me. I think it will change how I feel, partly because I look different and people interact with me different, but also partly because of how hormones interact with my brain, I expect.

As for how I will look, right now my goal is to push towards androgyny, though I am open to this changing once I start and know what it actually feels like. For now though, I don’t really want to look super male and be read as male 100% of the time. If that does happen it wouldn’t be terrible, but it’s not what I imagine right now as the ideal. Right now I imagine that there’s a point between here and there that will work for me.

I am excited to look different and for my voice to be a bit different. I am very excited about shaving my face, though my genes are not favourable for that happening. I don’t dislike how I look right now, which is another thing I’ve heard often changes for people once they are further along, but right now, I think I look quite good, and I quite like the feeling of singing high notes. I like my softness. The major turning point for me was cutting my hair in 2016, which made me feel much better about how I look and start taking a lot more selfies. I take a lot of selfies. Once in a while I see my face from a certain angle and really dislike it, but objectively I think it’s a good face. I sometimes worry that I won’t like how I look on T, but I think I will, because it will still be my face, just different in good ways. I will still be soft in the important ways.

One thing I have reservations about is that I am used to being read as a woman, and it’s not all bad. I’m worried about the adjustment if that changes. I’ve gotten used to using the women’s restroom. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, I feel safer there, and I haven’t been confronted about it in some time, now that my hair is a bit longer. I don’t like people getting my gender wrong, of course, but becoming more visibly trans and gay will make discrimination and violence harder to avoid.

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of gender dysphoria. I am trying to get out of the habit of telling myself mean things about my body, a thing I started doing because suffering made me feel more trans. It’s weird balancing “don’t say mean things about yourself” with “don’t ignore what your body is telling you will make you happy”. Top surgery isn’t a decision I have to make in the immediate future, so I’m going with always trying to appreciate my body for now.

Mostly I don’t feel very strongly about my chest, I guess. It’s fine. I think that ideally I would get top surgery and that will make me happy, but maybe on T I wouldn’t feel the need anymore. Right now it’s not ideal but I’m not that unhappy. I think it could be much better, but I manage. Sometimes I like how obviously trans my chest looks in menswear. I don’t enjoy it though, and just ignore it most of the time, except once in a while when it makes me sad (usually right before my period when I have maximal bad gender feelings). I haven’t gone swimming in a long time.

Recently I have been very very sad about not having a penis. I haven’t always felt this way, but lately I have been discovering a very deep and dark Want. Thinking about it makes me sad. I feel a knot of sadness in my stomach. Looking at prosthetics makes me sad. Surgery isn’t really on the table because (content warning: skip this bit if you don’t want to read bad stuff about the surgery) the surgeries are so complicated and it isn’t quite the same (/content warning). I know it’s cis-normativity that makes me want a cis penis. Maybe at some point I will unlearn it enough to want what I can get from surgery. The strength of my desire and the impossibility of it scares me to confront, and this is still something I’m figuring out right now. I think I will be brave and try a prosthetic eventually. It will probably make me really sad but there will also be joy.

I usually feel assured and affirmed in my gender. I am happy and confident and I have friends who get it. Having those friends makes it much easier to not care how other inconsequential people read me or think about me. It takes up much less brain space than it used to, and I know what to expect when it does come up. A few days a month it’s crippling, and I know there are dark corners of my brain that I don’t really look directly at. Once in a while it stops me from doing something I would otherwise do, but it’s not dictating major life decisions. I am learning to be less tolerant to bigotry, and to put my own safety, comfort and privacy before feeling an obligation to make my whole life educational material. More and more I no longer feel the need to justify myself to people who aren’t going to listen with generosity, and I no longer feel the need to have all the right answers; just what feels honest and true to myself, as well as I am able to articulate it. I feel like there is space for me in this world. Sometimes that’s hard to see, but I know it’s there.

I thought a lot more in the months leading up to this but now I feel confident and calm. I am completely open to the possibility that in a month or two I will discover this is wrong for me and stop, but that doesn’t mean I’m unsure. I am 100% sure that now is the right time, and that there is no other way to find out.

Gender Update: April 2019

Against Diagnosis/Dysphoria

You don't have to live your life as a ghost. Transitioning is an option. You aren't too old. It's not too late. You're trans enough. All you need is to want to.

Whenever I catch sight of myself in a mirror I think about how excited I am to not have breasts anymore. If I think about how far away and inaccessible that is I get sad, but it isn’t a sad feeling inherently. I suppose the flip-side of wanting things is not having them, and so my desire for specific changes to my body is theoretically the same as my pain at the body I have now. Longing is a very particular kind of pain.

But of course joy and anticipation isn’t the same thing as pain. It is difficult for me to connect with the language of “gender dysphoria” because that’s a framing that just doesn’t work for me. I gain nothing from filtering my experience through a lens of pain, and yet that is what the medical establishment demands I do in order to access transition.

The language of gender dysphoria frames transness as an affliction: gender dysphoria is a medical condition and transition is a medical treatment empirically proven to alleviate your suffering, to be dispensed by medical professionals after you have proven, to their satisfaction, that you are indeed suffering.

I am ideologically opposed to this gatekeeping model of care. Not only is there no way to actually accurately diagnose the completely subjective internal experience of gender dysphoria, I believe that this is an issue of bodily autonomy, the same way we do not require 2 psychiatrists’ recommendations before we “allow” someone to get other largely irreversible body modifications like tattoos.

Reducing transness to a diagnosable condition falls into the same traps as the “born this way/queerness is not a choice” argument. I mean, it probably isn’t a choice, but so what? The expanded logic of that argument is “you should accept me because it isn’t my fault that I’m this way. If I had a choice I obviously would have chosen the much superior option of being cishet”/”they can’t help it, poor dears.” Here’s a thought: what if queer and trans and ace people are just as whole and valuable and deserving of love as you? What if queerness isn’t a defect?

The framing of transness as some amorphous ineffable condition of having a “gender identity” that causes “gender dysphoria”, both terms which are impossible to pin down with any exactitude is safe and reassuring to cis people. “You should accept me because I’ve tried my best not to be trans but I couldn’t, because it causes me unendurable pain.” Being trans without gender dysphoria that makes it impossible not to be trans isn’t acceptable to cis people because it positions transness as a viable alternative, not the last resort.

The diagnosis of gender dysphoria condenses gender into one unanswerable metaphysical question: “am I really trans?” Are you “really” trans, as if there is one answer written in the stars, and not just a series of decisions: What pronouns do I want to use? How do I relate to people of other genders? Do I want to be a sister or sibling? Does my brain and body function better being mostly estrogen-based or testosterone-based? How do I want to be read moving through the world?

Condensing gender into one discrete clearly diagnosable condition called “gender dysphoria” is comforting and easy because then we can pretend that the answers to these questions always match up. It preserves the binary worldview: some people are cis, other people are trans, this is how you can tell them apart. That transness in real life might be more complex is frightening and challenges that hallowed pillar of society, cisnormativity.

Recently I’ve found myself up against a very frustrating catch-22. My history of bad mental health apparently casts doubt on my decision to transition, but my current good mental health is evidence that I don’t need to transition. I resent that the joy I’ve found and worked for is being used against me, and I resent that trans bodies are so lowly valued that transition is supposedly only worth it if the only other option is death.

“Why do you need to transition when you’re already so happy all the time?” is a bizarre question in most other contexts. You wouldn’t require a person with diabetes to be outwardly and diagnosably sad before thinking they need insulin. You wouldn’t require people to be outwardly and diagnosably sad before allowing them to get pregnant, another irreversible life and body change! Gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition demands that trans people perform sadness in a clinically and socially legible way. Wanting should be enough.

Desire and happiness are independent agents. As long as transgender medicine retains the alleviation of pain as its benchmark of success, it will reserve for itself, with a dictator’s benevolence, the right to withhold care from those who want it.

My New Vagina Won’t Make Me Happy, Andrea Long Chu

Relevant readings on transness and desire:
On Liking Women by Andrea Long Chu
Transness as Choice by Ozymandias
Product Review: When every bra size is wrong by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

Against Diagnosis/Dysphoria