Be still my heart

This solitary isolation mode I’ve voluntarily agreed to, in the interests of public safety, isn’t so bad. Sure, it was a shock at first. Now, I’m finding more to add to the Happy Jar. This was going to be a chatty, long-winded affair, and because it’s late and I’m tired I’ll convert it to point form.

Zoom turns out to be a much more enjoyable and reliable experience than Skype. It’s perfect for psychologist appointments and group chats, for a start. Who knows how much more fun I can have if I can remember to wear the appropriate set of spectacles and find the app settings.

I’ve rediscovered the joy of organising and editing photos. Let’s just say they need organising if I’m to keep what’s left of my hair. Tonight I downloaded trial versions of ACDSee for Windows and Mac. So far so good.

I’ve set my laptop to display a never-ending slideshow of my favourite photos. Revisiting happy moments and favourite locations in this way, even while ironing, lifts my spirits.

My home is gradually becoming cleaner than it’s been for … a while.

I actually WANT to exercise, due to the lack of incidental walking. My home is SMALL.

I WANT to organise and declutter – basically because there’s no running away from the mess, haha.

I’ve been reminded of how many people I know, despite my socially-avoidant ways, and how sweet they are.

Australia just received a new season of Ozark on Netflix, and, best of all, I’ve discovered Mae Martin.

Name change oversight

Here’s something I overlooked – the name listed for my supermarket deliveries. I’ve used the old name and password combo for years and it’s not been an issue.

Now the rules have changed and grocery deliveries are only available for vulnerable people – the elderly, the disabled and those required to isolate themselves. I qualify. But I need to verify my eligibility, and my delivery info and my ID no longer match.

I can fix this. It might take a while, as the phone and webchat options are both swamped and it’s not possible for me to update my name at my end. I’m just astounded to be still finding areas of my life that I forgot to update the paperwork for. And I wonder who might be in a similar situation.

I love Ivan

So I am reading Rebent Sinner, by Ivan Coyote, and having a “thank God for you!” moment. So many familiar experiences, expressed potently and with flair.

Word choices are crucial, and fun, even with small vignettes. Ivan’s an expert, an artist.

* * *

I left my psychologist’s office feeling odd, yesterday. It’s taken me a lot of late night writing, and now reading, to get the gist of why.

It’s hard for cis people to get the gist of what I say, even if they’re open to it, or gay. I’m a little ahead of them with my years of research, questioning and lived experience, and I express myself better in writing than verbally. So missing the gist is to be expected when I’m confused, even when they’re “aware” or trained. But by crikey where do I even go for therapy if I don’t want to educate them or have taken all year to psych myself up to talk about something and need them to get it, like now? I don’t know any trans psychologists in my town.

My ex would say it is what it is, and it is probably ok now that I have read me some Ivan. Thank you, Ivan.

* * *

If you’re not trans and want to read more trans content, there are numerous great bloggers. Just pop trans in the search bar. If you want books, maybe start with Ivan. Distilled observation, heart and wisdom.

That’s how I do it

Surprise! Today I’m back to my adventures in gender. Who knew?

***

It’s hard to know what will trigger a person and therefore derail a perfectly good opportunity to come out to someone. Well, sometimes I have a clue and yet decide to use the correct terminology anyway, as a shorthand.

Buzz! Incorrect! Don’t try that again!

It was time to tell someone close to me that I was male and not the female they knew me as. Seemingly out of the blue, they threw in a phrase that told me they had been thinking about it already, or had been primed by a mutual friend. Gathering my courage, I said I hadn’t known the right time to tell them I was transgender. I started to add that they’ve possibly noticed changes in me…

Immediately they were off on an ill-tempered rant about letters of the alphabet and how everyone is human and about the person who had introduced themself at a bus stop as bipolar, and the scourge of political correctness and that it’s ok to make mistakes… and they only stopped when they knocked something to the floor with an expansive gesture. Then we were talking about the item they’d knocked over, and I felt relieved.

It’s true, I’m a person who can claim an alphabet letter. A person who has never participated in a Pride march and whose idea of hell is to be the focus of a roomful of people. I like to blend, because of past assaults. Ideally I’d like to be invisible. So coming out to people I like is done after careful consideration and a fair splash of courage. Not the liquid sort, as it messes with my meds.

I made my excuses and left, shaken, not knowing what to say next.

This person just returned to my door to give me something they found during a decluttering session, as they knew I’d appreciate it. They’re a generous, kind, funny and all round lovely person, which is why I’d decided to let them further into my psyche/life. I guess I just didn’t approach it the way they needed it to go. Now we know that the word, ‘transgender’ sets them off.

I’ve found that a lot of people react to jargon. I do too. Acronyms, business-speak, bureaucratic double talk and spin doctor poppycock, it’s all bunkum to me. Even seemingly innocuous words are catalysts. The other night I recalled a craft workshop where I refused to make hexagonal boxes because I had a bee in my beret about metaphorical boxes and labels for people. I was so painfully aware of not fitting into the boxes others had made for me, and so wary of claiming labels that might box me further in, I kind of went off on a rant on the poor teacher. No doubt she backed away warily, just as I did earlier today with the person I tried to come out to and broach the topic of pronouns with.

(Speaking of pronouns, this person doesn’t use ‘they/them’ pronouns in everyday life. I’m using ‘they/them’ pronouns in this story to preserve their identity, in case they or anyone close to them stumbles across this post. Stranger things have happened.)

It was no skin off that craft teacher’s nose if I didn’t make a box. But I am very careful about going places with anyone who might make my agoraphobic experiences even more uncomfortable. That includes those who might refer to me as “she” as I approach a male-gendered public inconvenience.

No doubt I’ll try broaching the pronoun thing again. No doubt next time I’ll avoid all mention of labels and instead keep the subject light and jokey, so that they can hear me. I feel a bit like a Park Ranger doing landscape interpretation for visitors. This is how we don’t destroy the rock art. This is how we preserve biodiversity. This is how we help trans people feel welcome and included (and keep us alive and well). There’s a lot of invisible work behind our survival. And when we speak, it’s not about showing off or being a pain in the buttocks. If I got nothing else accomplished today, I hope I’ve made that point clear here.

No idea what to call this

Tonight, ABC TV broadcasted an episode of Four Corners that focussed on four Australian non-binary young people – Dakota, Riley, Audrey and Olivia. I ended up crying because I was so happy for them. They had supportive families and so early in their lives had figured out who they were and what they needed, in terms of gender. Suddenly I felt like writing again.

I get sick to death of talking about gender. The more I say, the more I notice, and the more fed up I grow. Occasionally someone will intimate that trans people are obsessed about gender. I’d say that it’s society in general that’s obsessed and we’re the messengers being shot at (or the coal-mine-dwelling canaries, if you’d like a less violent metaphor). My own discomfort with the status quo just sucked up all the air in the room, man. Once I received the medical care I needed, life improved so drastically that I considered everything else to be gravy. I’d much rather talk about the critters I saw at the river, or the latest book I devoured in one sitting. Or, quite frankly, not talk at all.

I started this blog as a way to confront my own anxiety around being seen. For most of my life I’ve known who I was but lacked the ability to get my needs met. At different points in my life I didn’t have the words, the confidence in others’ listening capacities, or the confidence in the existing social systems to support me. (Or, let’s face it, the cash.) Now I finally have those words and have received support. The wider community’s willingness to listen has increased somewhat, along with the predictable pushback. Social change takes time, we know, and I’m so happy to see and hear these kids talk about their lives.

From time to time I wonder why the heck I’m still blogging at all, given that I’m now less anxious and would prefer to stop banging on about gender. When I revisit earlier posts, I see that I intended to help both myself and others. I intended to be the person I needed to read about when I had felt alone and interminably weird. So although I deviate into book reviews and nature observations, I keep trying to share my life in a way that may be useful to others. 

Lately I’ve been quiet because my head’s full of static. There’s nothing useful there, for now. I’m doing some things that are constructively challenging, shall we say. It’s good, it’s growth and there’s nothing I wish to share about that now, so moving on…

My first love recently told me that I’m still very much the person they knew, all those years ago. “Thank God!” I said, laughing. The point of all this gender transition palaver was to make my outside match my inside, not to become someone new. 

Hidden memories of disgust

CW: non-detailed mention of genitalia.

*

In earlier posts I’ve mentioned a lack of memories of transmasculine people. Thanks to a few posts by fellow bloggers, I’m suddenly remembering. And I’m embarrassed by my own disgust and I have to be honest about it. There’s no other way forward. 

Forgive the messiness of this. Emotion and memory are messy enough, but I’m thinking aloud and aware simultaneously of my inner process and all the poppycock gifted to me by others. The straights, the queers, the fearful, the traumatised. 

I have to admit that I laughed a lot as I finally came to terms with being a trans guy. I’d had a lot of fun stirring others with my “all white men look the same to me – who are you again?” and my “oh I don’t read books by men any more, they’re so passé.” I’d delighted in getting sports betting fanatics off my back during the dreaded men’s football season by saying, “all footballers are rapists.” It was so effective as a conversation stopper. And then when I came out I added yet another tired old white guy to the tally – just what the world craved! 

Sometimes feminists do enjoy badmouthing men. Not all men, haha, but boy, a lot of us deserve it. There’s just no getting around the stats for murder, rape and general mayhem. It can be a source of pride to say women are biologically superior, that if women ruled the world we’d all be happier, and that testosterone is the source of all evil. 

A lot is tongue in cheek. A lot is a way to discharge ongoing tensions involved in dealing with outdated and unacceptable attitudes on a daily basis. And sometimes trauma crystallises into self-protective and toxic rhetoric of its own. 

When I came out to my family in the 90s as a lesbian, my mother asked me why I hated men. “I don’t,” I said, “Some of my best friends are men. I just don’t want to have sex with them.” “Any more,” I would have added, if she wasn’t so focussed on me becoming a virgin bride one day. Other people automatically assumed I’d been hurt by men. Some assumed that I’d been molested as a child. For goodness sake, said one therapist, if that were the cause, there’d be darn few heterosexual women at all. 

At the time I found the p*nis disgusting, and a lot of male attitudes and behaviour disgusting, and had discovered that I had a lot more fun with women. It was a relief to stop trying to be a good heterosexual woman and embrace my true nature instead. 

While questioning my own discomfort, my dysphoria, I discovered genderqueer erotica. For a while I inadvertently came out to librarians, as I requested everything available on the LGBTIQ list. What struck me most, among these erotic stories, was the total absence of v*lvas. I’m still astounded. When I read Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano, even this absence made a curious (unhealthy) sense. If you read Julia’s book, you’ll see what I mean.

As I’ve said before, each group has social dynamics and I kept bumping into people who had vested interests in conformity. Part of me craved the intellectual rest and security of submitting to others’ rules. I explored all kinds of factions and theories within queer culture. Then retreated to my own corner to sort through it all and decide what fit me best. 

I remember hushed discussions of trans people and of particularly butch women who seemed to be taking masculinity ‘too far.’ At the time I remember agreeing, silently, that men were bad and looking too much like a man was bad. I was frequently read as male myself, but that was ok. I found that I enjoyed the ambiguity and fluidity of sexuality and gender. 

Later, I feared taking my own masculine presentation ‘too far,’ and wondered where the line was.

I’m drawn to social psychology and sociology, being bewildered and bothered by much of society. It’s a comfort to think that someone might have useful insights. They’ve studied the nature of groups, for instance, and ways in which groups foster cohesion. Identifying a shared foe is one method, as amply illustrated by politicians who frequently scapegoat the vulnerable. Ignoring the fact that all (most?) of us contain our own unique mix of both oestrogen and testosterone, some groups choose to scapegoat one of those hormones, equating it with the worst of human nature – a scourge, or a weakness.

So it was with me at one point. I’d only needed to analyse one edition of one newspaper to form the view that men were the source of all evil. Testosterone was toxic and the p*nis a weapon of mass destruction. Most further news broadcasts reinforced this. Personal anecdotes from friends and acquaintances reinforced this. The idea of someone within the lesbian community ‘becoming a man’ or even looking ‘too much’ like a man was appalling. Disgusting. I was ok with trans women because hello! Women! But to go to the dark side? Oy.

So I empathise now with my older lesbian friends who find my transition shocking. I see their aversion and yes, their disgust, and their struggle to understand. I see some of them embrace trans women and mouth platitudes of inclusion while curling their lips at trans men and non-binary people. And while I’m hurt, I do save space in my heart for them. After all, it took me a long time to accept myself, and these friends can’t see inside my soul. 

I even make space in my heart for that vocal minority who seek to keep themselves safe  in changing rooms and public toilets by traumatising transgender people and placing them in unsafe situations. As all I’ve heard from them are expressions of fear and hatred, rather than a wish to resolve the situation to the benefit of all concerned, I can only guess at their motivations, their triggers. I’m guessing that p*nises are synonymous with weapons and trauma for them, regardless of the owner. If this is the case, then I empathise with the panic. Given that I experience my own panic attacks and phobias, I won’t question their sanity. 

But I do question their morality. We here in Australia have a (recent) history of indiscriminately killing anything that has offended us, plus any of their families and their friends. We kill sharks swimming and feeding in their own darn habitats, trees that stood innocently by a road used by drunken/suicidal/speeding drivers, and eagles that have a perfect right to kill their own meals. We don’t stop at one, but forcefully assert our assumed dominance. It’s stupid and wrong. Shaming, blaming and attacking trans and gender diverse people is wrong. Making innocent people pay for someone else’s transgressions is wrong.

Like the ridiculously polarised arguments between cyclists and motorised transport users, the solution lies in design. There are multiple design solutions already available, so enough hate already. Let’s move on. 

After reading a blogger’s personal list of things that disgust them, I recalled my own discomfort and disgust. And after reading Trans Narrative’s book review of We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, I recalled earlier mindsets, lingo, and social contexts of the 1980s and 90s. And I remembered a photographic exhibition, Assume Nothing: Celebrating Gender Diversity, that I attended with my ex-partner in the early 2000s. I had been drawn to it so strongly, without knowing why. It was a lot longer before I figured it out and even later that I borrowed the (gorgeous) book by Rebecca Swan, from the library.

I’d like to end by saying that it’s an interesting time to be a man. To be a trans man. To have lived experience in feminist and women-only environments, and to participate in conversations about toxic masculinity, gender equality, sustainability, and what it means to be a whole, happy and healthy human being. I’m learning so much and am grateful to have this outlet for my thoughts. Thank you for reading. 

Now, who on earth is that old white guy in the mirror?

*

I had a lot of fun writing this. Along with the blog posts mentioned, I was inspired by Luke Turner’s beautifully honest memoir, Out of the Woods (2019) – wholeheartedly recommend that book, too.

(I truly found the list of things that evoke disgust to be interesting and thought provoking. Cannot locate it now, sadly.)

Pity

This is one I am hesitant to post. Normally I’d rather appreciate others than express frustration and disappointment and resentment. But if I bottle this stuff up, it will still be there and will obstruct the flow of those more enjoyable sentiments/posts. I’d prefer it to be a shorter post as well, but here we are.

Mother-loving expletives. Why is it always the mother in the expletive? But I digress.

***

Pity achieves nothing except to annoy the sh*t out of me. My being trans shouldn’t make me an object of pity in anyone’s eyes. Nor should my depression and anxiety, for that matter. Compassion is welcome, but pity feels disgusting. I’m sick of being told I’m ‘brave’ by people who refuse to step up and treat me with respect. They are among the very people who make my life uncomfortable. So that they can keep pitying me, perhaps? Ugh.

The other day I corrected someone’s pronouns for me – first time ever. In general I’m very gentle with those around me, for multiple reasons. ‘Do unto others’ is uppermost, along with a willingness to acknowledge the steep learning curve for those with no trans experience. Unfortunately I’ve paired these with a desire for peace at almost any price, and a general lack of confidence in others. I’ve been overly accommodating, and shot myself in the foot.

You may have heard of ‘spoons’ in terms of energy? Well, I lack spoons to deal with others’ prejudice or wilful ignorance. If someone wants to learn and asks me directly for information, that’s another thing entirely. Those are spoons well spent.

But the other day I was stressed and angry and forgot to be endlessly patient. I was busy mutilating my garden to accommodate tradespeople, and my soul hurt. When a couple of people approached and referred to me as ‘she’, I curtly corrected them. They had the information, they should have known better, and I didn’t feel any guilt for my shortness. Amazing really, for me.

Anyway it made me wonder what it might take for others to get with the program, and what it might take for me to be more assertive, day to day. I don’t want to keep correcting people and I don’t want to be angry. It’s exhausting and pointless.

How many cis people does it take to change a lightbulb? The lightbulb has already changed. Keep up.

What people tend to forget is that they are not the only person I feel obliged to be patient with. I’m amazed by how often it happens. “Sorry, I’m trying!” Yes, I get that. But how slow are you? I don’t usually think of you as slow. Now I’m wondering whether you were ever used as a juggling ball as a baby. If I were a rock icon who changed their name for the sake of frivolity, you’d be on it in a second. What do you think this tells me about you?

A long distance friend was compassionately asking whether I thought my family of origin would ever learn to use my chosen name, and I appreciated the question. I know this cis friend has their own family issues. I said that my family last saw me about six years ago, pre-everything. When I started the long transition process, I wrote to explain everything, then we discussed it over the phone. They’ve heard my voice change over time and seen my new birth certificate. They’ve finally stopped sending me gendered gifts, but using my new name is a different hurdle. It’s started to sh*t me.

I’ve been amusing myself with my wittily scathing letters, all unsent, due to the above-mentioned reasons for sparing them/us any further unpleasantness. I’m letting them get away with disrespecting me, and what’s in that for me? Martyrdom, conserving my spoons, and if I’m completely honest, a sense of superiority – because I know that I would not treat another trans person like this.

Seems like a strange thing, this sense of superiority. Back in the 90s, I observed that queers often displayed such an attitude toward straights. Many queers knew how to treat their partners as equals, free of gender roles and constraints. They knew how to negotiate satisfying and consensual sexual experiences. They were witty, creative and charming and willing to step outside of convention in order to be true to themselves. Taking pride in their superior skills seemed a nice way to counteract the daily disrespect and stigma encountered in the straight world.

***

I don’t want to be the angry friend or the distressed family member. I don’t want to be pitied or told I’m brave. All I ask is to be treated with respect. In this case, basic respect means using my updated name and pronouns. Really, it’s baseline respect. Kindergarten level simple.

***

Cis people could put themselves in my shoes and consider how they feel when others misname or misgender them. Once or twice might be ok. If it happened every day, and only by people close to them, how would they feel? If I misnamed and/or misgendered them every time we met, and endlessly apologised (or not), could I really call myself a friend? Would they speculate about my sanity? Would they want me in their life?

This is what I want to say to some people who don’t know about this blog: “It’s now over five years since I changed my name, and my patience is worn thin. I’m not out to everyone, so if I’m out to you, and you want to remain in my life, try harder. My disclosure was a sign of my trust and respect. For goodness sake show me that you (still) deserve that.”

My pronouns are they/them, or he/him. If your brain explodes, I’ll help you reassemble it (or create an artwork from the pieces).