go on T
My real life is:
when I will be happy
go on T
My real life is:
when I will be happy
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.
In the middle of last year I moved back home to my parents for the summer break and got an almost full time job waitering. I didn’t have time or freedom to drink. The job gave me structure and purpose, and I was exhausted and content at the end of every day, reducing the negative emotions that caused me to want to drink in the first place. Sobriety, structure, and the proximity of my parents all worked together to reinforce each other and resulted in my best stretch of mental health in some time.
My self harm, caffeine, and alcohol use are maladaptive coping mechanisms. What has worked so far for me in avoiding them has been relieving the stressors causing me to turn to them, such that I simply don’t need them any more. Trying to directly stop the behaviours without addressing the causes didn’t work because it was a lot of effort that I wasn’t convinced was worth it. “Why shouldn’t I do this thing that makes me feel better?” was an argument with myself that I usually lost.
However, there really are healthier coping mechanisms, much as I instinctively deny it, and continuing to rely on unhealthy ones prevents me from learning them. Evidence: I do feel better when I stop doing these self-destructive things. Feeling better makes me less likely to do those things and go improve my life, leading to Virtuous Cycle of Good Mental Health and Happiness.
Some of the literature around recovery and sobriety has been helpful to me, and I am less concerned with discussing what alcoholism is and whether I technically qualify than with how I can in practice make choices that I can be happy with. I have found that I cannot consume any amount of alcohol and ultimately be happy with that decision. I use alcohol to avoid negative emotions and fill time, especially to procrastinate while avoiding the guilt of procrastination. Anything less than total abstinence is a rapid slippery slope, and the spectre of alcohol quickly takes over my life. I feel good for a short, reckless, while, then my mood and mental health go to shit and it takes weeks of sobriety to get back to where I was. This description really resonated with me: “The effect alcohol has on your emotional state is not unlike the effect that sunglasses have on light.” When alcohol feels like an option, my life feels dulled and darker, both because of the chemical and because real life doesn’t feel like it really matters when there’s an easy out. Sobriety feels clear and sharp and bright. Alcohol also is just a huge time and money sink, and caused me to go to shitty parties with people I didn’t like, where the only pro was alcohol.
Thus, this year I have decided to make a proper commitment to sobriety, instead of letting it happen by chance. This means total abstinence from alcohol, including “tasting”. There will be no concession or leeway on this.
Some learning points from last year when I “kinda” decided to stop drinking but with little conviction: Most of my difficulty was social, because drinking is socially acceptable and expected, unlike self-harm which most people agree is bad. Almost all the times I wavered were due to lack of assertiveness. I wanted to avoid having to explain why I didn’t want to drink, and it was often easier and less awkward to go with it. (It is difficult for people to talk about their personal relationship with alcohol without other people feeling judged. But I have no idea how other people relate to alcohol, and it is not usually my business. Maybe other people can drink socially; that’s fine, I just can’t/don’t want to.)
I have some shame around my inability to consume alcohol like a “normal”, functional person without going off the rails, and so subsequently also around my attempts at sobriety. Alcoholism is something I associate with middle aged men with beer bellies, and I think I am “too young”. Even the word sobriety makes me uncomfortable. So when people ask why I’m not drinking, I don’t know what to say. I don’t have an easy, socially acceptable answer like “I’m pregnant/muslim/both”. I don’t have the confidence and commitment to say “I don’t want to” and stick to it, because sometimes it’s not completely true. Friends whom I would otherwise have confided in also tend to ask me this question in wildly inappropriate situations. Like… I would tell you, but now is not the time to get into it, in front of all these people!? So I just make inarticulate gestures at them? Haha.
Probably eventually I will get to the point of being comfortable with “I don’t want to”. Meanwhile, my action plan for 2018 is to either say “I am recovering from alcoholism”, and let them decide whether or not I am joking, or to say “mental health” and shrug vaguely. I will ask for water in situations where people are holding drinks and I don’t want to be empty handed.
By putting all this in words, I hope to cement the commitment in my mind. I will also be reaching out to some friends for support and accountability (which is scary af but I am ON IT). I also found this video on partying while sober and queer to be very helpful, since many queer spaces revolve around alcohol. In particular, I will be practising “have a purpose”, eg music/dancing/a friend’s birthday party, in spaces that have drugs or alcohol around, beyond just being there, as well as “contact a sponsor or supportive friend” if necessary.
2018 will be a challenging year. For much of it I will be alone 7 time zones away from home, doing self-directed research work on a flexible schedule, all major triggers. But there will also be exciting opportunities, and I will be doing everything I can to improve my odds and rise to the occasion.
This month I tried to go on T, which didn’t work out. I also realised that somehow I had gradually surrounded myself almost completely with cis people who constantly misgender me despite knowing better and having had more than a year to get with the programme.
I am angry and exhausted and isolated. I am trapped in social norms under which my gender cannot be legible because there simply do not exist norms for being genderqueer, and there is nothing I can do to be legible. I am trapped in a patriarchal power structure under which I will never have the ease enjoyed by straight cisgender white abled men. I will always be disadvantaged because of how I exist in the world.
Normativity is comfortable for those who can inhabit it. The word “comfort” suggests well-being and satisfaction, but it also suggests an ease and an easiness. To follow the rules of heterosexuality is to be at ease in a world that reflects back the couple form one inhabits as an ideal.
Heteronormativity function as a form of public comfort by allowing bodies to extend into spaces that have already taken their shape. Those spaces are lived as comfortable as they allow bodies to fit in; the surfaces of social space are already impressed upon by the shape of such bodies (like a chair that acquires its shape by the repetition of some bodies inhabiting it: we can almost see the shape of bodies as ‘impressions’ on the surface).
You can feel the categories that you fail to inhabit: they are sources of discomfort. Comfort is a feeling that tends not to be consciously felt.
For some bodies to stand is to withstand. We can be exhausted by the labour of standing. If social privilege is like an energy saving device, no wonder that not to inherit privilege can be so trying. There is a politics to exhaustion. Feeling depleted can be a measure of just what we are up against.
Therapy makes me angry. This isn’t a *me* problem, it’s a *the rest of the world* problem. I resent the suggestion that *I* should change anything about myself. Trying to explain any of this to people also makes me angry. Trying to explain a source of discomfort to people who are comfortable (“labels don’t matter, we’re all human!1!”) is frustrating. I shouldn’t have to catalogue and exhibit my pain, or satisfy idle voyeurism, in order for people to treat me decently. Please stop waiting for me to say “please don’t misgender me because it hurts my feelings” before you will pay attention and stop misgendering me. Just, be a fucking decent person whether or not you have power over me?? It’s as if some people need to be reassured that they have the ability to cause grievous hurt before they can magnanimously decide to not do that.
Why should *I* have to explain anything! Cishet people never have to justify to two mental health professionals their decisions to not have HRT. Cis and gender conforming people never have to explain to their friends what it means to be their genders, or why they’re still their genders whether or not they wear makeup. It is understood. But the result of me refusing/not being able to explain is that I am simply not understood.
Audre Lorde writes about anger in The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism (1981):
Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. And when I speak of change, I do not mean a simple switch of positions or a temporary lessening of tensions, nor the ability to smile or feel good. I am speaking of a basic and radical alteration in those assumptions underlining our lives.
My response to racism is anger. That anger has eaten clefts into my living only when it remained unspoken, useless to anyone. It has also served me in classrooms without light or learning, where the work and history of Black women was less than a vapor. It has served me as fire in the ice zone of uncomprehending eyes of white women who see in my experience and the experience of my people only new reasons for fear or guilt.
In The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (1977) she writes:
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.
I don’t know how to do any of this. It is difficult and unfair and frustrating. My instinct is to turn the anger on myself and self-destruct, because I am the one thing in this world I have control over and can easily change. That helps nobody but it is easy. I have no visionary words for great social change or relief or solidarity for the downtrodden. I am just a regular person who happens to be genderqueer. Why can’t everything already be easy. But here we are. Here we fucking are.
I often hear the explanation that gender euphoria is the opposite of gender dysphoria, implying it’s a happy, light feeling; the opposite of pain. That has not been my experience. Gender synchrony, for me, has been about pain. I experience it as a knot of pain in my solar plexus, inexpressible, almost unendurable. This is my attempt at unknotting, weeks, months, a year later.
A catalog of all the complicated, painful feelings I had about cutting my hair, wearing boxers, etc etc:
Growth, change, these are painful things. Perhaps the opposite of pain is pain, but a different kind. A good kind.
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.
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.
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.