Life/transition goals update

“We can run into the most remote regions and what we flee will still be so thickly daubed all around that we madly turn and run ever further never suspecting that the social, that which we run from, is stuck within us; it’s our ligaments and tendons and joints and blood. It was not leaving society behind that gave me clarity. Society came with me, stuck to me. There is no escape from everything which has made us; there is only its slow, arduous processing.” – Waking up Trans in the Wild

I haven’t written much here this year. I am doing a year abroad, one semester in Germany (April to July) and then one in London (August to December). In a way this year feels like a year away from my “real life” at home, and the things that felt pressing back home I have been leaving on the back burner, partly because I cannot do anything about them right now and partly because I have just been so occupied with adjusting to being abroad.

Right before I left I actually tried to start the process of starting testosterone despite still being quite conflicted and uncertain, but then realised that it would be wise to wait a year to be back because finding a doctor etc would be complicated. And then it happened that some people from a hospital in Thailand that I had sent top surgery enquiries to were in town, so I had a consult with them. I went with the idea of it just being for future reference, with no real plans for the next few years.

I have been away for two and a half months now. It hasn’t been the smoothest, and I miss home a lot. There has been so much to do and so much to adjust to, I simply did not have the same amount of time to constantly worry about gender as I did at home. But the quiet passage of time, meeting new people and realising how I would like to be perceived, and meeting and talking with other trans people, has slowly built a certainty in me that the constant back and forth with myself did not.

I have been spending a lot of time alone or with strangers, which provides a different perspective than my frustrations back home with my group of friends who weren’t very on the ball about my gender. I also went to a trans youth and a nonbinary group meeting here in Munich, and met many awesome and beautiful people. It is kind of silly but that let me see what was possible and what I might want for myself. I did not realise this, but I just didn’t know that many trans, and especially nonbinary people.

Something I am very afraid of is becoming ugly. What if I end up ugly?? Meeting more trans people helped with that a lot. I met the most beautiful person the other day, who had been on T for a while. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it was slightly difficult to breathe around them. It was a mixture of attraction and jealousy, I think :p I also met a trans girl who had a really lovely voice. I really love trans women’s voices, and would like to sound like them. I think it is the mixture of pitch and inflection. The Very Beautiful Person said something that has stuck with me: they weren’t that sure about starting T, but looking back realised they couldn’t have not started.

I continue to be uninvested in and vague about my sexual orientation. I really haven’t had time to think about it. I do occasionally get crushes on people? But I still have not identified any particular gender or genders that I am attracted to or can imagine myself dating. Sex is even weirder to think about, so I don’t. I do think that I will be more open to dating men after I transition.

I now have a better idea of what I want from transition (body hair, slight voice deepening, face and body fat redistribution, top surgery). I often need to remind myself that transition will not solve all my problems. I would still be the same person, and thinking of my post-transition self as a different person is a trap created by self-loathing, I think. “It’s okay to hate myself now because everything will change” isn’t a great mindset for personal growth before I start hormones.

Maybe it is easier to feel clarity now when there is nothing I can actually do. I think that when the time comes the doubts and fear will come back, and I will procrastinate. But how long do I want to continue living like this? A few years might be okay. The rest of my life, not so much. I write now, so that I may remember.

Here’s a transition inspiration moodboard I made last year:

Screenshot 2017-12-02 01.26.05

 

PS: I have been writing a little bit on quora. I quite like my answers to What does being nonbinary mean to you? and What is gender dysphoria like for nonbinary people? These, I think, were pretty good distillations of everything that I have been working through on this blog.

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Life/transition goals update

On Dysphoria, 3

What do I experience as dysphoria?

I feel really uncomfortable meeting new people, or thinking about the people who already know me now. I feel like they are not meeting the “real” me, and fantasise about meeting them again a few years later in my final form. My body feels like being very under-dressed at a fancy dinner, and the idea of anyone seeing me like this is horrifyingly embarrassing. Thinking about being seen makes me want to throw up a little bit. It makes me sad and want to hurt myself.

But I feel really comfortable meeting trans people. It was so pleasant to attend a trans youth group in which lots of people looked like me. You know that thing where trans people add each other on facebook and pretend not to notice deadnames? It feels like we also do that for each other about our bodies. We politely ignore the features of each other’s bodies that we know do not represent us.

I once complimented a cis girl on her hair after she had to have it cut for basic military training. She told me that that wasn’t her, and to please imagine her in my head with long hair. Can everyone do that for me? Nobody can control how other people think of them, and everyone wants to. (What other people think about you is none of your business.) I would like if everyone’s mental image of me was just a block of static and a pop-up that said “rendering”. The ability to choose how you look to others is part of why lots of trans people play video games, I think.

When I look in the mirror, I feel okay. I think that objectively, I look okay. This may change, I know that some people feel retroactively dysphoric when they look back after starting to transition, because you get used to things. I don’t like how clothes look on me though. Swimsuits are impossible.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to breathe. It feels like nothing will ever get better, or there’s no better to get to. That feeling, more than anything else, is the most unbearable. Being able to even identify the things that hurt and can be changed has taken a long time and helps a lot. One day at a time. But what do I do while waiting to transition? How do I live my life feeling half-finished? What if, to cope, I convince myself that I don’t need to transition and land right back at square one? I am writing this down now so that I remember.

Hey google, set a reminder for 2019

On Dysphoria, 3

On Dysphoria, 2

In my previous post On Dysphoria, I talked about how gender dysphoria is a vague catchall term that I don’t feel is applicable to me.

A friend posited to me that part of my hesitance to name dysphoria in reference to myself might be me minimising my pain. Like, yeah people treat me like shit and I feel shit about it but it’s not THAT bad.. right?

I think she has a point. Sometimes being mis-pronouned makes me so uncomfortable that it ruins the next few days and I dread or avoid social situations in which it could possibly happen (ie all of them). Being illegible weighs on me. I don’t know if this fits the clinical definition of dysphoria, and it doesn’t sound like the innate visceral feelings that I hear other people talk about, but it does sound like some “gender based discomfort”. Part of why I don’t want to name it is that I think it’s not as real or as bad as what “real” trans people with “real” dysphoria go through.

I am still cautious about labelling things “dysphoria” without specification or examination, as in the previous post. However, I am allowed to feel pain in whatever form I experience it without minimising or dismissing it as not real. The gender binary does violence to my identity constantly, and pain is a real and valid response.

On Dysphoria, 2

On Dysphoria

I no longer find the concept of “dysphoria” to be useful in reference to myself, and no longer refer to myself as dysphoric. Dysphoria is a big, somewhat amorphous word that obfuscates nuance. I sometimes find that putting that label onto my feelings prevents me from exploring them further; it is a “just-because” answer.

I have been reading some detransition blogs, and this has been one of my key takeaways. One criticism detransitioners have of how transition currently functions is that the moment a person has “dysphoria”, transition is often the only solution offered by medical professionals, and the nature of the dysphoria is not discussed.

I am speaking personally, of course. Lots of people find dysphoria a useful framework within which to understand their experience of the world, which is fine. However, I also find that medically, the concept is mainly used to 1. Gatekeep transition related procedures, and 2. Medicalise transness by making it a diagnosable condition.

I have several issues with the medicalisation of transness. I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of discussing my gender with doctors. Anxiety, cancer, the flu, are medical issues. My gender is not. My gender is a personal thing I have no desire to have examined or treated or even talked about under fluorescent clinical lights. Gross!! My gender does NOT need treatment. I resent having to broadcast my gender in order to access physical transition.

I disagree that “do you or do you not have dysphoria?” is the right question to ask before “allowing” somebody access to medically gatekept transition related procedures. A better question would be, “would you or would you not benefit from this procedure?”. The former values cis bodies above trans bodies. It implies that without diagnosable, “clinically significant” dysphoria, no assumed-cis person would transition or be trans.

I think that the psychological treatment of gender dysphoria should be separated from physical transition. For some people, physical transition is all that is needed to deal with dysphoria. That is fine. I am instead concerned with folks who may also benefit from therapy (i.e. most people, including cis people). Treating physical transition as the ONE answer to dysphoria does a disservice to people for whom physical transition may only be part of the answer, for any amount of reasons.

Clearly, if a person is in “clinically significant” gender-related distress, which is how dysphoria is defined, they should get professional help. But mental health professionals are simultaneously supposed to help people cope with gender dysphoria while gatekeeping access to transition. This is a conflict of interest, and for many trans people, therapy requirements become hoops to jump through rather than any opportunity for actual meaningful therapeutic relationship. I think that these functions need to be separated by demedicalising and providing free and easy access to physical transition.


The idea that cis bodies and lives are valued above trans ones is elaborated on here in Julia Serano’s piece on detransition and desistance. An example she provides is that if an assigned female at birth cisgender girl started producing testosterone (possibly due to an intersex variation), she would find it much easier to access hormonal treatment than a transgender girl, despite comparable safety of the treatment, and age/maturity of the girls. A transgender girl is much more likely to be told to live with her “natural” body until she is “old enough” to decide, while we are much more likely to accept that of course the cisgender girl is correct in her assessment that she does not want the excess testosterone. Thinking that everyone should obviously try as hard as they can to be as cisgender as possible is the same condescending position as “queer people deserve rights because queerness is not a choice… because who would choose THAT?”.

Transness as a choice, rather than an objective discoverable Truth, is elaborated on in Ozymandias’ blog here. They write that an identify-based framework in which you try to figure out if you are REALLY trans, and whether what you feel is REALLY dysphoria is often recursive and unhelpful. If transition would improve your life, you can just do that.

These are of course unorthodox views not in line with WPATH standards. The medical establishment, after all, is always between two and five steps behind trans people. This does throw quite a wrench into my hopes to qualify for transition…

On Dysphoria

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.

 

Boxers, Birthdays

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

Underworks Binders Masterlist

The underworks website is a huge confusing mess. Here’s a summary with reference numbers that you can type into the search bar at www.underworks.com.

Econo high power compression chest binder: top 943, tank 947(long)
Cotton lined power chest binder: top 975, tank 977(long)
Cotton concealer chest binder: 988(long,half binding)
Tri-top chest binder: 983
Microfibre concealer v-tank: 996(long)
Ultimate chest binder tank: 997(long)
Microfibre conceal crew: 998(long)
Extreme Magicotton Sports and Binding Bra: 3108

Most of the binders, except the sports bra, are under men>compression shirts. The one most people talk about when they talk about underworks binders is the tri-top (983), but there are actually Options.

For the short binders, econo/943, cotton-lined/975 and tri-top/983 look pretty much the same. The econo/943 is cheaper, with only one slightly translucent layer of material (the tri-top/983 is 3 layers) and hence suitable for people with smaller chests who would not benefit much from additional binding power. The cotton/975 is also one binding layer, but lined with cotton on the inside and MUCH more comfortable than the other two, which are scratchy nylon/lycra/spandex material on both sides. The cotton/975 is lower cut than the other two, which might result in some spillover at the armpits. The tri-top/983 is A LOT stronger than the other two, and much more difficult to get on.

Comparison with gc2b: gc2b (another popular line of binders) is made of swimsuit material except the binding panel, while underworks is all-round compression. gc2b feels MUCH nicer and less rough overall with better and sturdier design, but causes back pain for me due to proportion of shoulders or something, which is why I’m trying different brands. Unlike underworks, gc2b is specifically designed for trans people, shapes better, and is more bindy than the econo/943, less bindy than tri-top/983. Price is about the same, underworks shipping (to singapore; idk about other places) costs more and is much faster.

For the full length binders, stomach compression tends to “smooth things out”, and is good for bigger chests to prevent slipping out, but can be uncomfortably constricting and tends to ride up. Consider heat! The 988 is long but only bindy in the top half and has the benefit of looking like a tank top without stomach compression. The 996, 997 and 998 are fully compressing and only differ in neckline and sleeve shape. 988 vs 997.  996/7 vs tri-top/983.

The binding sports bra/3108 is more comfortable and less bindy than the other binders, and hence may be useful for people with larger chests who don’t want that much compression, or in combination with the full length binders (3108+998, video). Sports bras don’t do anything for people with chests smaller than the built-in cups though, obviously. (As such a person, I usually wear training bras without the cups. Occasionally I use athletic tape. I don’t bind very often.)

Underworks Binders Masterlist