Boxers, Birthdays

It is an hour before my 21st birthday, and it is my second attempt at wearing boxers. It is weird. I feel very weirdly vulnerable. (And it’s not even mainly because I’m about to blog about my underfeelings.)

It’s just undies. Most of us have to wear some, at some point. Does it really matter what kind?

..

My undie situation has been kind of in the air for a while, and I’ve been suspecting that maybe I would benefit from trying different kinds. But I kept putting it off and telling myself that it doesn’t matter, probably as an excuse to maintain status quo.

I don’t know why I am having feelings about this. Maybe it feels like a more significant step: I see women in menswear and short hair all the time, but not in men’s undies, though I am told lots of women do wear boxers. I guess I liked having plausible deniability, and being able to “go back” at any time.

Women’s undies, and presenting femininity, are familiar. I know how to do those things, with 21 years of practice, and they are fine. Every few months I decide that being a woman isn’t that bad and that actually I could do that for the rest of my life, because it is familiar and easy and it feels safe. This, this is new and suddenly my gender *stuff* feels real and no longer deniable and I am uncertain.

I feel like maybe there is a truth here that I am trying to deny, and maybe just sitting here in boxers when several parts of me are screaming go back go back GO BACK is me sitting in that truth.

I have not felt this vulnerable in months. I had been growing confident in my identity, and maybe it is time for that complacency to crack again, and to resume the work of figuring myself out.

..

21. Now I can have hormones if I want them. Top surgery. Both questions I had put on hold, to think about slowly, if at all. I don’t feel ready, and don’t know if I ever will be.

I never thought there was anything particularly brave about being trans. I’ve been lucky, and everything has been easy so far. I never faced much external opposition, actually, and never thought myself to be the kind of person particularly bothered by what other people think. But here I am, sitting here, and today that is taking courage, and I am a little bit proud.

 

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Boxers, Birthdays

How Leonardo DiCaprio’s Obnoxious Face Made Me (realise I’m) Asexual

I was watching Titanic with some friends, because one of them, bless his heart, hadn’t seen it before. There was much collective swooning about Leonardo DiCaprio in his “younger, hotter days”. I thought he was kinda meh; in fact somewhat obnoxious-looking?

This got me thinking about how I always feel quite stressed when the subject of hot people comes up. I cannot figure out what makes a person hot or not hot. People always talk about these things like they are very universal (“who can resist Leonardo DiCaprio in his younger, hotter days?”) and I don’t get it at all. Is it hyperbole or am I really outlying? Like, really? Lots of people put up posters of this guy in their bedrooms? I cannot even think of any celebrities that I find “hot”, never mind this particular guy.

It occurred to me that when people say things like “isn’t he hot??!¡” and “hey look at that cute guy!” they might be making normal conversation and not giving me the pop quiz it feels like to me. I frequently feel very pressured to either agree or admit to being weird (“what?? you don’t think he’s hot???!?”). I’m always like, “oh, yes! Um! His.. face! Is nice! Yes!! I agree!1! I too am a human person with feelings!!” And then I spend WAY too long afterwards thinking about whether or not I think that person is hot and talking myself into it like, yeah I guess I get it? His face is symmetrical and his hair is nice? I guess? And so I try to figure out the pattern and then next time I will point out similar looking people, and to my eternal frustration other people will be like, huh he’s okay. I am just a robot trying to blend in, man.

I always thought that everyone felt like this, and were all just pretending to agree with each other on these things as part of the social script. Whenever I bring this up people assure me that maybe I just have different tastes, and need to stop stressing out about having my own opinions. Maybe I DO need to chill about having unpopular opinions, because I also feel this way about things like (gasp) thinking Lang Leav is unobjectionable. In the case of movie stars, I also think it might have to do with my general poor facial recognition abilities. I do very badly on face recognition tests, not badly enough to have actual face-blindness, but quite far below average. There aren’t that many celebrities I can even recognise, because they all kind of look similar to me? It might also be cultural displacement, from having these cultural icons not actually be from my local culture. Leonardo DiCaprio is famous but not THAT famous here, and I also didn’t watch that many movies growing up.

BUT it does seem like my hotness radar doesn’t quite work the same way. It’s not that I have different tastes, it’s that I almost never find random strangers attractive. I have no opinion on most people’s attractiveness, and still haven’t quite managed to figure out what people mean when they say that someone is hot. If you are asking my opinion about Some Guy, most likely I hadn’t noticed, and will now take a look, and my honest judgement will be… neutral. That might put me somewhere on the asexual spectrum. I do feel attraction to friends though, and am aware of the word demisexual, but I’m not very committed to putting a super specific label on it. This is further complicated by my fluid sexual orientation gender-wise. Maybe I’m just not that into men at all right now, idk. My experience of attraction fluctuates along both the axes of amount and genders. I like grey-ace, and *vague hand wave*.

I don’t know why people are so pushy about these things. They always talk about “tastes”, another thing that I don’t get (“what do you mean you don’t have a preference, you must have some sort of preference”), but freak out if I fail a bot check and say X person is “okay”. It is no wonder this is a stressful social script. But fine, I will stop trying to blend in for a moment and “have my own opinion”. I THINK THAT LEONARDO DICAPRIO LOOKS OBNOXIOUS, IS WAY OVERRATED, AND HAS DRACO MALFOY HAIR, OKAY????!!!

Footnote: I mainly talked about men here, because a) wew my attraction to women is a whole other strange and wonderful creature, b) it is a lot more predatory and gross and less socially acceptable for men to discuss women as being “hot” or not, so that cuts out a large population, c) beauty standards for women are in some ways more diverse than those for men, d) there are basically no standards and no large pushy population declaring their attraction to the other genders. All these mean that I don’t feel the same pressure to *collective swoon*.

How Leonardo DiCaprio’s Obnoxious Face Made Me (realise I’m) Asexual

Wtf is Gender pt. 873

I have been here before (eg: Non-Answer #54128 to “But what is Gender?!!”). I find myself moving in circles, or perhaps an upward spiral. Each time I come around, I hope, I understand a little more.

I think that gender is a cluster of things. It resists simplification. Simplification such as “all gender is just X”, where X could be: biology, power, socialisation, performance, patriarchal place, chromosomes, identification, dysphoria etc. People use the word “gender” to mean different things in different contexts, and it is impossible to say anything useful about gender that is absolutely true all the time, except the most frustrating simplification of all: “a woman is someone who identifies as a woman”. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

I feel like a colourblind toddler trying to figure out and explain what my favourite colour is. I am trying to figure out how I feel about something I don’t understand, with my five-year-old vocabulary that does not have the words.

The questions “what is gender REALLY” and “what gender am I REALLY” have varied in importance throughout my relationship with gender. Sometimes they are irrelevant; lots of people have genders without knowing what that means REALLY. Maybe you just need to do the thing. Paint your entire room blue, see how you feel. I don’t think the questions can be comprehensively answered, because gender is not one single thing. But I keep coming back to them.

So I break it down. Some parts:

What pronouns make me happy when people refer to me: right now, they/them
How do I relate to my body and would certain changes make me happier: long story
How do I like to express my gender: genderfuck
How would I like to be read moving through the world: idk!
How do I relate to the patriarchal power structure: as a woman, gender minority, trans and genderqueer person
What gendered words do I relate to: genderqueer, trans
What gender of people do I relate to: women, genderqueers

I (try to) hold my answers to these questions lightly. They don’t have to match up. None of them alone are my REAL gender, though maybe they add up to it, though maybe that REALLY doesn’t matter. Party?


Ozymandias writes here about the usefulness of framing trans-ness as a choice rather than an identity, because “would transition improve my life?” is an easier question to answer than “do I, in some fundamental sense, have a gender identity that is different from the one I was assigned at birth?”

you don’t have to justify your decision to transition with an identity. Seriously! If your quality of life is better when people call you “they”, you can just do that (..) On the other hand, if transition wouldn’t improve your life, you don’t have to. If you’re wondering about whether your love of skirts and lipstick or your sexual fantasies about becoming a woman might mean you are really a woman deep down, well, it turns out that there’s no law that says that people who are really women deep down need to transition. You can just stay a dude if you want to and if you think that is best for your overall life goals.

You have agency over your own gender. In a very real sense, your gender identity is what you want it to be.

Ozymandias also acknowledges however that the identity framing is useful for advocating for trans rights. “The identity framing allows you to say: I am a man, I am always going to be a man, you do not get to question whether I am a man or not, please call me ‘he’ and we will move on with our lives.”

Which, yeah. Part of my resistance to breaking down the simplification “gender is just gender identity” is that it seems a potential slippery slope into TERF-dom. But I think that it is possible to acknowledge complexity without resorting to another simplification, in this case “gender is just gender assignment at birth”. I think that we can acknowledge, for example, that trans women tend to have a different range of experiences of womanhood than cis women, and that one is not more valid than the other.


All gender is made up. PARTY!

Wtf is Gender pt. 873

Claiming Womanhood

Gender is something I have the power to identify with. I am genderqueer because I identify as such. Gender is also something done to me. Growing up I was told to cross my legs and sit like a lady. “Because you’re a girl” was a valid reason. Right now I move through the world being read as a gender non-compliant woman. Not identifying as a woman has not exempted me from misogyny, because the experience of misogyny does not belong to cis women.

There are several things pushing me out of womanhood. It is obviously fucking difficult to be a woman in a rampantly misogynistic patriarchy. It is even more difficult to be a genderfuck woman who does not behave as a woman is “supposed” to. Female femininity is rewarded. Female masculinity is a joke. But of course neither of these are as good as men. How dare you question your place.

It would make some people more comfortable to conclude that I am not a woman at all. Then they would not have to recalibrate what a “woman” looks like. But of course at the same time other people continue to try to police me into a version of womanhood that they are comfortable with.

It would make me more comfortable to conclude that I am not a woman at all. Then I would get to think about misogyny and shake my head sympathetically. Yeah that sucks, luckily I’m not a woman and I get to be exempt. I remember the frustration of being a young girl with a strong sense of justice, brought to tears because sexism is just SO UNFAIR. I never figured that out. I never learned how to live in a misogynistic world as a woman, until I eventually escaped into being not-a-woman and it became not-my-problem.

In many ways I am a woman, and I want to own that. My gender identity, that is, my internal sense of gender, is genderqueer. But identifying as “not a woman” is different from identifying as genderqueer. Disidentifying from and resisting womanhood has taken a lot of energy and it has left me isolated and cut-off from the rich cultural tradition of womanhood. I cannot relate to women in my life because I am telling myself that I am not that. I cannot connect with the many ways we are similar if I continue to build my identity around the difference.

Womanhood is vast and has space for the kind of woman that I am. I am a woman. It is because we live in a misogynistic society that we must be women. I identify with the long history of resistance. I identify with the billions of strong and beautiful and powerful women who have come before and will come after me. Womanhood is power and I am laying claim.

Claiming Womanhood

Transition: where I’m at

I’ve been tracking my menstrual cycle for a few of the seven years I’ve had one, but rather ineffectively with a messy excel spreadsheet. A few months ago I finally got the app Clue, which I mainly use to track sleep and mood, but also occasionally other related stuff like pain and caffeine intake. It’s a pretty good, reasonably customisable, gender neutral app.

Recently I noticed that I tend to get tired and sad right around the end my period and just after the middle of my cycle, with varying degrees of incapacitation. These periods correspond to the increases in estrogen, as seen in the chart below. Some months are a lot worse than others, but it does seem to happen predictably. I don’t know if it happened before I started to notice it or if it is a new thing. I have also known for a while that I tend to be anxious and unable to sleep just before my period, though that has gotten better this year. That is pretty common, and probably due to the decreasing progesterone. I usually feel great during the first three days of my period, when everything is low. I used to get bursts of anger but not recently.
HormoneCycle

Fig 1.1: random unsourced chart from The Internet. Day 0 is the first day of menstruation.

Definitely hormones aren’t the entire story and my mental health is a complex culmination of things, and obviously hormones themselves are much more complex than the chart implies. This is also based on observation and fitting of my menstrual cycle and not blood tests, so I don’t actually know my levels for sure. But increasing estrogen does seem to be an unpleasant thing for me, which is unusual but not unheard of in cis women. Everyone reacts to hormones differently, but in general the decreasing levels right before menstruation is the unpleasant part, which is why premenstrual syndrome is a thing.

There isn’t necessarily a solution to this, nor is it an extremely debilitating problem, though being able to identify what is happening does help when I occasionally suddenly can’t function for no apparent reason. People put up with a shocking amount of terrible shit in relation with their menstrual cycles and that is considered “normal”. Or, if they do try to do something about it, they are usually told, maybe after a bunch of scans etc that don’t find anything, that there is nothing medical science can do for them and they just have to put up with it. Which, first of all, is not true. There are hormonal methods of regulating or stopping periods that are generally considered safe, and should be tried or at least considered if your menstrual cycle is causing debilitating pain or otherwise significantly impacting your quality of life. Some doctors just aren’t up to speed on that front and you should maybe try another one. (I asked the uni health service doctor about this once and he hadn’t heard of it and laughed at me.) But that also isn’t a perfect solution because messing with your hormone levels is always iffy and lots of people have weird side effects on birth control pills.

Which brings me to testosterone. If I want to even out my estrogen levels I could take birth control pills, which are rather expensive, and might fuck me up even more, or I could take T. And that’s a whole other thing.

There is some evidence that trans people with physical dysphoria may simply have brains that aren’t suited for the bodies they are born with. Trans people who start Hormone Replacement Therapy often talk about how more than the physical changes, the most positive change is that their emotions start to make more sense to them. It’s like they’ve been living on the wrong hormone all their life, and their brain and body weren’t supposed to be bathed in the amounts of hormones they naturally produce. This is the part of transition that is impossible to predict or know until you try. It is impossible to know if you will be more functional on different levels of hormones than the only levels you have known. (We also cannot know if there are cis people who might be happier on different hormones, but most of them aren’t asking themselves that, which in my opinion is their loss.)

I don’t know how I would emotionally respond to testosterone until I try it. That’s not helpful for decision making. So I think about how I feel about the other changes. I don’t want to be read as a man all the time. I like many of the things about me that are soft. I like having soft skin. I don’t want to look like a man. But I want to move a little in that direction. I don’t know, ideally I would have a mix of gender signifiers. I want a more masculine face and body shape but not a lower voice. But I also wouldn’t mind having a slightly lower voice as long as I didn’t read as completely male. You know?? But the voice drop on T is weird and you have to stretch and do vocal exercises for optimal results, and I am lazy af. I could also voice train without T but I am super awkward about that. I am neutral about having more body and facial hair, but I’m chinese so I wouldn’t get a lot of that even on a full dose of T. I think that I don’t have specific dysphoria about particular traits, I just want a more even mix than I currently have. I think that I would like to look “soft boy”, and not just soft. (I love the term soft boy and hate that it now means something bad.)

What is dysphoria and what is just, vanity? Do I even have dysphoria or is it just an aesthetic that I want? I want more muscle tone, and I know not all of that comes naturally with T. I will have to work out, but I am lazy and most likely will not. I would LIKE to have a flat chest, but I don’t have debilitating dysphoria about it. Is that enough to justify surgery? Surgery is a big deal. Would I rather have my current chest or a flat but uneven/scarred chest if surgery goes badly? Whenever I see someone with beautiful pecs, my wish for top surgery increases. Wanting that is different from just wanting a flat chest. Do I have unrealistic expectations? Do I just want to transition because I keep looking at beautiful men thinking that’s how I want to look? Would I still want to transition if I end up average, which is realistically what will happen? I feel like I should only get surgery if I think it will make me happier no matter how it turns out.

When I imagine myself years later post-physical transition, I think of myself, but cooler.. more powerful. Do I just want to transition for aesthetics? Do I just like the idea of change and transformation? Do I think that looking different will change the things I don’t like about myself?

Currently I’m just sitting on these things. It doesn’t really bother me that I don’t have answers right now. I have loose plans to start low dose T and get top surgery in the next few years if I decide I do want them. Maybe at some point I will just have to take the leap, but I also have the rest of my life to decide. I am fortunate that none of my dysphoria is crippling, so none of this is urgent. But I also think that I deserve to take the steps that will make me happy, without having to be suffering where I am now.

I do know that I definitely don’t want a hysterectomy though. Apparently removing your uterus might suppress ovarian hormonal production, while oopherectomy would stop that completely. That commits you to permanently supplementing either estrogen and progesterone or testosterone, because not having one of these in healthy amounts is pretty bad and causes osteoporosis. I don’t want to do this. I am extremely okay with having a uterus. I don’t mind it much, and it’s good to have a backup source of hormones that I don’t have to buy. In Singapore you have to do this in order to change your gender marker, but fortunately I don’t want to do that either. Mainly for safety reasons I would rather have an F than M, even if it disqualifies me from subsidized public housing. No, I would not remove my uterus or give up my F for subsidized housing, though I joke about it frequently.

Transition: where I’m at

Help I’m Gay

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So my sexuality is “fluid grey ace *hand wave*”. I don’t really think about it super much, it varies from time to time and is probably somewhere on the ace spectrum but IDK TBH.

Recently I found myself with a crush on a girl in uni, which has never happened before. I have passing attraction to female friends, but not a crush, which got me thinking about stuff. I think that whichever gender I date it will be gay, but I have never really considered the logistics of falling in love with anyone other than a man. Some assorted thoughts:

Legally, if this hypothetical non-dude does not have a different gender marker than me, I will not qualify for a government flat. Getting married and applying for a flat has always been how I envisioned my life going, and what my parents expect to happen. Not having that firstly is a reminder of how much economic discrimination queer couples face, and secondly shakes up my plan.

I will also not be able to get legally married. That doesn’t mean I can’t still get married, and I would like that, I think. But would my relatives come to my wedding?? At the moment I don’t really see the need to come out to my extended family gender-wise, which has been fine. But if I have a non-male partner, I would have to come out about that, possibly only when I send out wedding announcements.

It’s all p annoying. Being genderqueer doesn’t mean that I get to (or want to*) date either binary gender with symmetrical ease, because dating the gender I was assigned at birth would read as “gay”, and that is much harder than the alternative which is normative. If I did change my gender marker, which I have 0 desire of doing, or even start to be read more as male, I would have the reverse problem. And then of course dating a non-binary person would also be uncharted waters, but our wedding will probably be fab af.

*: I find myself extremely repelled from the idea of dating a straight guy and being read/moving through the world as a straight couple, and feel like that’s not something I want, regardless of government benefits

In conclusion. This was an annoying thing to think about, but it is also nice to be able to have these concrete things that I think I will likely do: have a partner, settle down, buy an apartment. I might be overthinking all this, but well. I might not do any of these of course, but it is A path and it is nice to have at least one before me. I did not always have this, and the future was a frightening and impenetrable fog, which was much worse.

Help I’m Gay

Reattach, i

The other day I went to a really old Chinese barber. The shop was old, as was the barber himself. The shop smelled faintly of medicated oil and had old photos and newspaper clippings on the walls, like my grandmother’s house used to. Teochew music played softly while the men chatted in teochew, my mother’s mother tongue.

I was comfortably at home, and yet also out of place. This is my heritage, one and a half generations removed, such that I can only think about it in English. I do not understand teochew, but hearing it spoken brings up sense memories of visits to Malaysia, listening to the adult women talk about adult stuff in the late afternoon, swathed in the warm glow of half-sleep.

This is my heritage, a few genders removed. Going to the barber is a deeply cultural experience of masculinity and male bonding, as salons are spaces of female bonding. This is why traditional barbers have survived the new wave of anonymised express $10 cuts. This is part of what it means to be a Teochew Chinese man.

In a different life, perhaps I would be at a barber’s with the men in my family, sharing in our masculinity, participating in the banter. Instead I got a glimpse through several panes of glass, listening mutely while people talked around me, the strange girl who wants their hair super short for some reason. But that was enough that I felt a connection I had not realised I was craving.

I rarely think of my gender and my Chineseness together. I am genderqueer, and I am 华人, but not at the same time. I think about almost everything in English, but my memories of childhood and home are in Mandarin. I do not have words for my gender in Mandarin, and so my gender is for me an acultural and rootless “thing I learned from the Internet”. I am now learning how wonderful and important, and possible, it is to reconnect these things. Transition is both detaching and reattaching; I cannot do the former without the latter, because a gender with no cultural place cannot survive. My gender cannot be acultural, and the other day in a barbershop I found a small space for its recognition.

Genderqueer in Hong Kong (cantonese, chinese subtitles)

(Related reading on the classist and racist white narrative of queer liberation that falsely frames the western world as the frontier of egalitarianism, and expects non-white people to abandon our families of origin “too traditional” or “uneducated” to hold space for queerness, Coming Home: Queer South Asians and the Politics of Family, Alok Vaid-Menon)

Reattach, i