Pulling Apart (On Deserted Islands)

“Your voice is like a girl but you look like a boy I’m confused”

I’ve learned that the vast majority of people of all genders do not like their voice unless it is something they have consciously worked on, because it is a naked vulnerable undisguisable part of us. We can train and control the voice, but it is still our voice. This is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of people sound perfectly fine. This suggests that disliking one’s voice is not actually about the voice itself.

A misogynistic and patriarchal society tells us a lot of things about voices that are read as female. We are conditioned to perceive a man’s voice as authoritative and a woman’s as annoying and shrill. Lots of women lower the pitch of their voices in order to be taken seriously.

We also know that there’s no such thing as “sounding like a girl”. Girls can sound all sorts of ways.

I believe that: 1. Sounding like a girl is not a thing
2. I sound fine
3. Girls sound fine

I sound fine. My body is fine as it is. I recently discovered that a sizeable number of people think I’m cute (a surprise!). I am lovable as I am. There are people who will let me be their boyfriend and call me handsome and pretty in equal measure. I am in London right now where non-binary genders are affirmed a lot more frequently than I am used to. On bathroom signs, in the announcements on the tube that recently changed from “ladies and gentlemen”, among cis queers who actually know what pronouns are and don’t require a long explanation. All this has taken a lot of the pressure off and made me feel like maybe I don’t have to go on T to have gender-affirming relationships.

Most of the time my voice and body don’t inherently bother me unbearably. In spite of this, I want to go on T. If the whole world always affirmed my gender regardless of how I look or sound would I still medically transition? If I lived on a deserted island would I transition? The answer is not clear to me. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think answering either way makes my decision more or less valid.

Maybe there is something deeper under these layers of socialisation and perception. I don’t know what it is, and I feel it only faintly. I don’t think that we exist apart from socialisation (Waking Up Trans in the Wild). Nevertheless, I will keep pulling at the threads.

Pulling Apart (On Deserted Islands)

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.

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

Sobriety 2018

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.

Sobriety 2018