Today I was rereading, for the millionth time, Paul Monette’s Last Watch of the Night. The book is a collection of his essays written in the last few years of his life, before AIDS got the better of him in February, 1995. The essays are placed in the order in which he wrote them; as time passes, as he senses his time drawing near, so does the urgency of his writing, drawing nearer to the surface and ever more insistent. Paul is my favorite writer, and this my favorite book.
I was reading the third essay in the book, “My Priests,” as I’d recently suggested it to a friend of mine in the clergy. I wanted to have it fresh in my mind for when she and I talk next. But, as is usually the case with Paul, I came to his words with one expectation and left them with something quite different. This time, triggered by just two sentences, I found myself vividly remembering, almost reliving the moment I took my first shot of testosterone, and all the madness leading up to it. Just these two sentences – a question and Paul’s answer – meant for an entirely different topic, left me crying openly and suddenly in a coffee shop on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I realized I’d never written any of this down, the events leading up to taking my first shot, and so here I am, with this story to tell more than 18 months after it all unfolded.
I first told my parents that I wanted to transition around Thanksgiving, 2009. Our first conversations were chaotic and hurtful, every single one ending in either tears or yelling or both. I received my prescription for hormones later in December, with plans to start T on New Year’s Day, sucker for symbolism that I am. But Christmas came and I went home to spend difficult time with my family, hoping to mend fences first. WASPs that we are, confrontation was put off until my last night in town. Hours and hours this fight lasted, once it finally started. I kept believing that if I just explained enough, said enough words, they would suddenly understand. But the fix to my hurt was the cause of theirs, and nothing I said was going to change that. They, on the other hand, kept offering the most hurtful things that have yet been said to me in my life; they repeated that they’d be neglecting their parental obligations if they didn’t say these things, if they didn’t do everything possible to stop me from “doing this.”
What are we supposed to tell people?
You’re asking us to live a lie.
You’re choosing to spend the rest of your life deceiving people. Perfecting the art of deception.
You’ll never be a man.
How can you live with what you’re doing to us? To our family?
Even now, I can still hear them saying these things to me, and all the other things that would be said over the next months.
And so I left, my relationships a million times worse than when I’d arrived. I got on a plane to Minneapolis to spend New Year’s with Angela and Andrew, but instead of starting T, I cried and cried. I mourned, just as my parents must have been. They’d left me with an impossible choice – myself, or my family. One at the cost of the other. Of course I knew that I had to choose myself; after a lifetime of choosing everything except myself, I had only bits and pieces put together to resemble some version of a whole me, and I needed more than such a falsehood. Besides, the fights were only happening because I’d already made the choice. And so I cried because I felt as though I’d just lost my family, that this pursuit of authenticity was finally, finally happening but with the condition of doing it alone. I cried because I felt as though I’d just left home for the last time.
I didn’t start hormones that day. Or the next. The idea of taking that first shot was no longer a happy one. It no longer carried the magic, heartbeat-altering excitement. What had once been the most tangible, about-to-happen gasp of fresh, sweet, cold air was now painful and grief-filled. A couple weeks went by, and school started again. My friend and I even had an “It’s a Boy!” party to celebrate that we were both about to begin hormones, even though I very much had no idea when I would. I suppose I was waiting out of respect for my parents. Hoping that they would see (someday) that I was just as hurt by Christmas as they’d been by me – that they mattered to me, and that I was affected by their pain. I suppose I was waiting because I didn’t know how to tell them I wasn’t.
My roommates and I decided to take a last minute trip to New York City over MLK weekend, the extra day off school giving us a cushion for travel. I’d only been there once before, when I was 16, a girl, and tripping over myself on my way out of the closet. I was Christian at the time, thinking about seminary, promising myself I’d wait until marriage (to a boy!) to have sex. I was, in fact, dating a boy, despite a growing attraction to a girl in my school who would later be my first girlfriend. I had long hair. In short, I was, literally, an entirely different person the last time I’d been to New York. Getting to see the city through a new person’s eyes was, I think, exactly what I needed. A new city. New sights. New thoughts, new surroundings, even just for a few days. And this time, there were a few places I was burning to visit.
I dragged the group to Stonewall almost right away, telling the roommates the story along the way of how butches and queens of color were the ones to start the revolution, and not by throwing a fucking parade. We turned the corner on to Christopher Street, and were closer than we thought we’d been, because all of a sudden there it was. Neon lettering lighting up the street, even in the middle of the day, and surrounded by posters of upcoming balls and parties. We went inside and played a round of pool. I bought everyone a drink to celebrate just being there. I remember thinking it was surprisingly small, and unassuming, with only a few posters in the whole place making reference to the bar’s place in queer history. We were the only ones there, save for the old butch bartender, clearly amused at my excitement.
The next day we went to see the Angel Bethesda in Central Park. It’s a central image in Angels in America, a play and movie that is as close to me as Paul’s writings. I’ve written here before about how Angels has shaped my queer life, reminding me of my past, connecting me to myself and my community, helping me think about change and impermanence. The show closes with a scene at the foot of the statue, with Prior telling the audience directly, “We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.” We went toward the end of the day and got a bit turned around in the park. It was January and the sun was setting quickly; we finally got there, but with just a few minutes of daylight left. I called an old friend from college that I hadn’t spoken to in a long time, but he’d introduced me to Angels all that time ago. We talked for a minute and I sent him a picture. I did my best to take it all in. All the change that had happened since the first time I’d watched Angels, all the newness of myself and all the hurt in my life right then. I walked up the same stairs that make the last image of the film, leaving the park and then leaving New York the next day.
When we got back to Michigan, I decided to finally take that first shot. With Angela and Andrew on video chat – Andrew helping me fumble through the mechanics for the first time, Angela holding my hand, so to speak – it was somewhat close to my original plan to start hormones while with them on New Year’s. I took the shot, and the moment passed quietly. No fireworks. Nothing magic. Just some more tears, and the only word that made any sense: bittersweet. And that was that. I’d started hormones, at long last. I didn’t tell my parents until two months later, and even then I didn’t tell them when I’d started, only that I had.
And now more than a year and a half has passed. My parents are I are better, though they still struggle with many, many parts of my life. I took another shot yesterday morning, and the routine of it all makes this Christmas/New York story seem so ineffably distant. Until Paul.
So what is a pilgrimage anyway? I suppose it has to do with the baggage you carry and the baggage you manage to shed.
I went to New York to get away. To spend time with a chosen family that saw me and loved me for myself, without pretense or conditions. I went to Stonewall to visit my political origins, and I went to Bethesda to visit my spiritual ones. And I went to shed the baggage I’d been carrying for so many years. To find and finally give myself permission to become this more authentic self.
And now, remembering that pilgrimage, I’m coming to realize that I’m still on one. Every day. Working through the baggage I carry, deciding what to shed and what to keep. Still pursuing myself, and still working toward what’s better. What’s next. The world is spinning forward, and I’m right there with it – one pilgrim among many.
I struggle with some members of the lgbtq community. Or, they struggle with me (trans stuff more generally). Probably both.
I don’t mean struggle in a “we just don’t get along” kind of way, but rather an emotional and political tug-of-war between family members. Do you all know what I mean? Think of the family member (given family or chosen, either way) to whom you are closest, who understands many of the most important pieces and experiences of your life and celebrates and mourns many of the same moments you do. Now think of the family member whose politics and/or general worldview drives you fucking crazy – crazy like an itch under the skin that you can’t quite get to – to the point of exhaustion, who sometimes says offensive or ridiculous things about people you care about, who doesn’t seem willing to listen even when asking a question. Now imagine those two are the exact same person.
That’s how I often feel about these people in the lgbtq community: they are my family, and they “get” what it means to be us. But they don’t “get” me at all. My part in the “us.”
[This sounds so indulgent and trite as I write it out. ("You don't know what it's like to be like me!") Sorry. Please bear with me.]
Today I was out for breakfast and overheard a nearby conversation. There were two people at the table, and they stumbled onto the particular topic of gay and lesbian frustration with transpeople. One person began to voice what she’d apparently heard many times from other members of the lgb community, but it all seemed to flow pretty easily from her, as though she herself agreed or at least struggled in the same ways. There were a lot of sentiments surrounding resentment, hurt, and abandonment. I’m paraphrasing her now, but as best I can remember:
It’s just really frustrating, you know? Women have fought so hard to be free of the patriarchy. Why would women [transmen] just give up on that to become a man? Like around Stone Butch Blues, there was just such a vibrant life for butch women and a growing community around that, but now that these medical interventions are more available, a lot of those women are doing that. And it’s like they use the gay community for support until they get their hetero identity, and then they just abandon us. They can get married now and they can disappear into the rest of the world and they do, and they want nothing to do with us anymore. Like, what do they want from us? I don’t know. That’s just what it seems like a lot of older members of the community feel, anyway.
I’ve both heard and had these conversations before. More times than I care to think about. I know I’ll have them again. But every time, they hurt. I can never just walk away from these experiences – and it’s precisely because the people saying these things are family. I don’t want to walk away. I want them to understand. I want them to get the pronouns right. Even if you disagree with or don’t understand someone’s life, why would you choose to ignore such a simple request as respecting one’s chosen pronouns? It costs absolutely nothing to give respect, and it earns a great deal of respect (and appreciation) in return. It’s one of the easiest ways to be an ally.
I want them to work on their assumptions. Not all transguys were butch before they transitioned (or after for that matter), nor were all transguys even part of the lgbtq community to start with. Further, saying that we all just “get” hetero, get married, and disappear forgets all of the transmen and transwomen who now identify as gay men or lesbians, who very much denounce marriage or heteronormativity, who very much work against “blending in.” These are all just terrible and inaccurate assumptions to start from, and they erase the experiences of a huge number of people. And you know what? None of us get to criticize the transfolk who do go stealth, or other queer folk who don’t identify that way. Being out and being political are privileges, and refusing to recognize that as such sets a dangerous precedent. It sends the message that to be queer, you have an obligation to be out, all the time – even when it’s unsafe. Not exactly the right idea, especially for our youth (and those with less money!), who don’t always have means to get out of dangerous or difficult places.
I want them to work on their understandings of queerness itself, and patriarchy. Why does being in a seemingly heterosexual relationship mean someone is not queer? My girlfriend and I might look like we’re in a heterosexual relationship, but our queerness is the most integral part of our relationship. Maybe being gay (or straight) is about sexual orientation, but being queer is about an orientation to the world. It doesn’t just go away because I transitioned. There is nothing inherently patriarchal about transition either – the act or process of transition does not mean one is somehow buying into the patriarchy, or even into a gender binary. (How is being seen as a man any more binary than being seen as a woman?) It’s not as though being transgender somehow automatically makes one part of the patriarchy. Hardly. Whether a person is sexist, classist, racist, ableist, fatphobic, transphobic, or just plain mean is almost entirely up to them and how they choose to live in the world, to relate to and treat others, and so on. It’s our choices and our ideologies – not our bodies – that determine the kind of person we are. In other words, bodies and biology aren’t destiny, and feminism taught us that a long time ago.
But mostly, I want them to work on seeing me as family too. “Using” the community? (This is maybe the part I feel the most sad about.) I do “use” the community. I use it for finding and creating family. For safe spaces, with people who understand why those spaces need to exist in the first place. For venting when straight people say stupid shit like “But we don’t have a straight pride day.” For celebrating the incremental political victories together, and then for regrouping because we all know there’s still more ahead. I won’t apologize for “using” the community that way. That’s what a community is for. And sure, individuals go through cycles of how much they lean on their community. Now that I’m further along in my transition, I need the community a little less – because I have me a little more. But that hardly means I don’t need the community at all, or that I will ever abandon it.
I don’t expect everyone to “get” all of this from day one. I certainly didn’t, and I was/am the one going through it all. I want them to work on all these difficult ideas, to ask these questions because when I have done so, it’s changed my life for the better in incredible and fundamental ways. Spending all this energy on resenting each other, on blaming each other for our losses, on criticizing each other’s choices – all of it undermines our community – our family – far more than those individuals, losses, or choices ever will. If nothing else, I want them to because I am a part of the community too, and family members do this for each other. We try harder.
As requested by the lovely Kaitlin, here’s the handwriting pic.
First and foremost, many apologies for such an absence! Last school year I didn’t do so well, given my pretty consuming focus on transition. I’ve spent this school year really recommitting to my school and work, so in turn there have been other pieces of my life that took a back seat – obviously, the blog was one of them. But, I’m back! Or so I hope/intend. Tuesdays are the plan right now – once a week to get back into the swing of writing (other than for school).
So much has happened that I never got around to writing about! I don’t know where to begin. Ideally I’ll write about all these things in turn, but here are some bigger things from the past half year or so.
I’ve had a girlfriend for most of the past year. Her name is Alison, and she’s wonderful. We seem to be the “opposites-attract” poster couple, and our Sagittarius (her) / Libra (me) dynamic is an interesting one, to say the least. But she’s been of growing importance over the year, and has been an incredible support through all these changes. (Also, not trivially – she has turned me into a cat person. Not to the exclusion of dogs, mind you, but still. This is a big deal for me.)
Last July, I went to an Indigo Girls concert with Alison (gay gay gay) and had a really good, full circle kind of experience there, given my love/history with IG music. The last time I’d been to a concert of theirs was just before I’d started gender counseling, and I remember looking around the concert hall and wondering whether transition would mean the loss of this community. This time, a band named Coyote Grace opened – the lead singer is a transman. I pretty much lost it (just a little) when Amy Ray did a solo performance of “Second Time Around,” which is the song I have playing in the background during every shot of testosterone. The whole concert was just… calming. Reassuring.
In August, I was able to legally change my name and gender, which was just all kinds of wonderful. It’s also led me to think a lot about the privilege of having all that paperwork in order. I also did aftercare for my best friend Jonah following his chest surgery. That was both really wonderful and really difficult, as his mom was there and she just reminds me so much of my mom. I couldn’t help feeling like the things she said were all things my mother felt but never said. Also, being on the other side of the waiting room doors gave a lot of new perspective to my understanding of my own surgery.
The first semester of school went well, but not as well as I’d hoped. I did well in two of my three classes, but really struggled in the third – mostly due to the ungodly huge workload from my teaching assignment under a horribly unhelpful professor. I took a class outside my department, and for the first time I experienced a room of peers who didn’t know that I was trans. It was a safe space, as the course was in feminist methods of research. I made a couple new friends, and eventually I came out in the course of (relevant) class discussion. I continue to experience the privileges of being read as (cis)male, and it’s both revelatory and unsettling in ways I hadn’t quite expected. It also puts a lot of new decisions on the table, like when and where to disclose that I’m trans. Anyway, in terms of my body, I struggled with aftercare for my scars, which I actually wrote about, and also with getting back to the gym. I’d been fairly diligent in getting to the gym before surgery, and was then under strict orders to take it easy after surgery. So I suppose this was another case where getting back in the swing of things was difficult for me. I should mention that the gym isn’t only about health for me, but also a part of my transition and body projects. (Something else to write about.)
This semester is going much better than the last, and it is also my final semester of classes! I have a very full plate before I can move onto work on my dissertation, and it’s a little overwhelming at times. However, I’ve been working on reorganizing my life and restructuring my work habits. I’ve struggled with ADHD for a long time now, and have just recently been getting the help I needed all along. (If you’re interested, check out this book as soon as you can. It’s seriously been a game-changer for me.) I feel like I’m at a place where all I want to do is my own research, my own work – forget classes! forget teaching! Bring on the problems of the world, because I am finally ready to get to fixing them. But, hurdles are hurdles, and I’ve got to jump those first before I can get to the finish line. One bite at a time.
January 18th was my one year anniversary on testosterone, and just a few days ago was the one year anniversary of my pre-op consultation with Dr. Medalie. My one year anniversary of the actual chest surgery is so ridiculously soon that I don’t know where the year went.
The holidays were much better than last, save for a pretty bad experience of transphobia at my bank at home when I tried to change my name. My mom stood up for me in a pretty awesome way. We had dinner one night with my godfather and his wife, which was the first time I’d seen them since before I’d started testosterone (and had surgery!). It was difficult because of the amount of time that had passed (and the letter to which I never responded), but ultimately not so terrible. I still struggle with finding the line between having compassion for others’ pain or difficulties with my transition, and having compassion for myself by not feeling guilty for their responses or wondering what in the past I could have done differently. Similarly, I still haven’t “come out” to the extended family. They live a few states away and we rarely see them. I’ve never felt particularly close to any of them except for my grandparents, and especially not after some pretty offensive lectures from them on separate occasions about race, politics, (homo)sexuality (“We don’t have straight pride day!”), and whether I have the right to express an opinion to them… etc. In other words, I don’t feel particularly obligated to justify my life to them, as is surely inevitable once they find out, but the longer I wait to tell them, the longer I’ve put my parents in an awkward closet of sorts.
I often think to myself (particularly after realizing a mistake I’ve made), “There’s no handbook for this.” No one tells you how to come out to your parents, and especially how to tell your baby sister. No one tells you about the bitter part of the sweetness of taking your first shot, or seeing your chest for the first time after surgery. I guess that’s what all of this, all of our queer blogging and archiving, is really for – writing ourselves down, to start piecing together these handbooks a page at a time.
I think it is finally time for the triumphant seasonal return of the sweater.
I often wear basic or solid shirts and then rely on either my tie or sweater for patterns or detail. Thought I’d mix it up today. Black shirt with white plaid patterning, solid black skinny tie from American Apparel, and lightweight purple v-neck sweater from Gap.
In August, I got the chance to do top surgery aftercare for my dear friend Jonah. (Remember that awesome mixtape?) While we were in Cleveland, Dr. Medalie did a quick check-up on my chest. At the time, I was about three months post-op. He was happy with the overall aesthetic of my chest, but not as much with the “hypertrophic scarring.” Hypertrophic, as best I know, just means red and raised. Nothing is infected, wrong, worrisome, or otherwise bad. It’s just an aesthetics question, and as a plastic surgeon, Dr. Medalie isn’t quite as .
Anyway, he sent me a pack of high quality Novagel silicone gel sheeting. The basic idea is that I cut strips of this silicone sheet to fit my scars, and then lay them over the site. The gel part loosely adheres to my scar sites, and then somehow works against the hypertrophic aspects. I’m unclear as to the actual process, but this is what it looks like.
Talk about cyborgs, right? I just started wearing them today. I guess I put it off because I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of my scars, and couldn’t quite convince myself one way or another as to whether I actually want to reduce the appearance of my scars. Anyway, although it’s only been one day, they’ve certainly begun helping. My scars seem much… calmer. Less raised. Working as planned.
But here’s where things get eerily full circle. The gel is purposely not strong enough to adhere by itself (like a band-aid), or else it would hurt to remove. This means I have to secure it somehow to my chest.
So I’m back to binding, in a way. All this time later, and I’ve come, strangely, full circle.
An ace bandage was the first way I ever tried to bind, way back in senior year of undergrad. I realize that was all of three years ago, but it feels like a lifetime (or more). I’ve literally been reborn again and again in those three years; I’ve given myself over to a new life as a queer (not gay) person, a new life in a different state, a new life as a graduate student, a new life in a different name, and now this year a new life in a different (and still changing) body. Across all these lives and years and experiences, the most stable piece of my life was – ironically – my body. More specifically, it was my struggle with my body.
Binding became my ritual, my daily practice; it was an impermanent body modification to make that person in the mirror a little more intelligible to me. Recognizable. It was a process and a doing, the outcome of which was a physical sensation and a mental appeasing that together bought me a little time and a little comfort. However, the longer I went on binding, the less time it bought me; each day it seemed less comforting than the day before. It wasn’t enough.
Now, this practice seems so, so long ago as to be completely foreign; wearing this bandage again, though, reminds me just how much it remains intimately, hauntingly familiar. This reprise is a little triggering, to say the least. I can sense that nagging dysphoria creeping into my periphery. Making me stare in the mirror just a little longer to pick out the flaws, smooth out and tug on my shirt just a little harder to hide unwanted curves. Cloud my vision just a little more.
But it’s just in the background. I know better now. I remember who I am. So for now at least, it’s mostly only triggering thoughts, rather than fears. Full circle, not full of doubt. Strange how then, when I first put on an ace bandage, the ideas of surgery and a different body seemed so far away as to be completely foreign. And now, after surgery and in that very different body, it’s the bandages and the binding that seem foreign.
Today is the first day that the Law recognizes me as Logan. (What a thought to begin the day!)
I posted recently about this legal process, which has been both lengthy and expensive. Yesterday, however, was brief and sweet.
My dear friend J. (the one for whom I made the mix tape) and I made our court dates for the same day. We’d planned to meet at the courthouse, but ran into each other earlier as we voted at our local precinct, an elementary school across the street from that little bakery I so appreciate. It was so picturesque: J., leaving for the courthouse, just as I pulled up to vote. We caught each other’s eyes through our open car windows, and just laughed with a familiar non-surprise at our unplanned crossing of paths. We laughed again when we realized we’d dressed alike, as we often do: khakis, brown dress shoes and belt, a blue dress shirt and a fierce, narrow tie. (His was plaid, and mine was striped. You know, in case you were wondering.) And, of course, the always fashionable “I Voted” sticker, to prove to the judge what good citizens we transmen can be.
He waited while I voted, and then we drove together to the courthouse. We went to the third floor and sat quietly, just the two of us. A few more people trickled in, then the judge, and our hearings began. I was second on the docket, and J. third.
My birth name was called. Unrepresented, I walked to the podium alone. The judge asked me to announce and spell my birth name for the court. I’m told this doesn’t always happen; courts that are more sensitive to this process probably wouldn’t flaunt or force this recognition of a name no longer in use. But for this once, I didn’t seem to mind. Almost as though it was ceremonial – one last time, in front of the Law and my chosen family, will I voice this part of my history, because from now on my new self is also my legal self. A reversal of greetings: goodbye, and then hello. So yes, one last time, I said my old name, and said goodbye. And then:
“What would you like for us to do, today?”
“I’d like to legally change my name, please, to Logan Samuel.”
“For what purpose?”
“I’m transitioning. And for personal preference.”
“Have you ever been convicted of any crimes?”
“Are you aware of any creditors who might be defrauded by this name change?”
“Very well, I find no reason to believe this request is made with fraudulent intent, and I have an affidavit stating timely publication of a notice of this request. Does anyone object to this grant of relief?”
[my heart, jumping a bit]
“Very well, I grant this request and have signed it so ordered.”
She smiled so warmly. And then it was over.
J. was called next, and took his turn standing before the court. A few short minutes later, he and I hugged tightly, and called each other by our new, legal names.
A day later, I’m still thinking, more than anything else, about language. The most emotional moment in this whole process was the simple language the judge used yesterday. Not its brevity, or its authority, but that this language was formulaic, chosen for her, used for any multitude of purposes (but almost certainly without thought of changes like mine), and nonetheless captured so much of my emotion.
A “grant of relief,” indeed. Such relief in recognition.
Maybe there’s a little room in the Law for me, after all.