Still Here

But everything is more subtle, a complexity words will not convey. What people experience is more poignant and endearing to me than I’ve ever know.  Maybe some deep but obvious (aren’t they all?) haiku is necessary:

A withered blossom,

Wandering within the breeze,

Rejoins the fresh earth.

Hell Bent

I wrote this for a story years ago, but I suppose it’s really just autobiographical.  Though I am trying not to be led into absolutes, this passage still holds true today. It is a moment of  crisis I lived over and over in solitude, happy that our old house bordered a huge area of land without houses, people, or even roads.

Staring at the thin, green blades through a watery blur brought him a short peace he did not desire. How pointless. To consist of a body unwilling to change, an organic vehicle guided by a genetic master, bent always on a single course and offering only the semblance of control.

He closed his eyes, hoping that the grass would hide him forever in the thin forest. His despair pooled into a lump below his stomach, nauseatingly stoking an anguish he dared not try to extinguish.  A cloud, so rare and thin in the near vacant sky, passed overhead. For a short stretch of uninterrupted shade, the cicadas around him ceased their noisy drone. He felt the chill of a sunless world, a forest absorbed by the despair of his moment. And though the sun’s immediate return reminded him that the workings of the world do not heed human whimsy, he continued to hope that despite all such indifference, his pain would resound somewhere within their confines.

This could be anyone’s anguish, though. Raging against genetics is a fairly popular past time, probably something we could stand to share more openly.

A Very Small Thing

I want to say something definitive here, but the only thing definitive I have to say is this:

What I have is worth too much to throw away with feel-good absolutes.

Meaning? I have run out of lengthy internalized debates and long-term goals for myself. I am trans, and that is all I can promise. Whatever that means in 6 months or in 6 years is a matter best left to time. Physically, I value a large degree of femininity, much more than the amount of masculinity I was granted by genetics at birth. Socially, I prefer a mix of the two genders, and I sometimes overdo feminine presentation in an attempt to make up for not being physically female.  This happens most often when I feel I have something to prove, so maybe there will come a day when I’m done with feeling inadequate around those that frequent my life.

I am always reminded of Soul Calibur and how Siegfried starts most battles saying, “I’m through with nightmares!” Adorned with glistening plate armor, he proclaims his freedom from the creature known as Nightmare, the beast that he once was. Funny how something with such little depth can impact somebody who desperately wants to proclaim a similar victory. In this one instance, calling the monster “Nightmare” works really well though, because Siegfried can reference that dark past while making  nothing more than a generalized statement about his attitude towards life. It’s kind of stirring. Stuff like that makes fighting game characters endearing, as opposed to using direct narrative or exposition.

So, in an attempt to become this shining new Siegfried, triumphant over past sorrows,  I traverse each day telling myself that pronouns (he, him, his) and names mean nothing while still approaching each moment as a chance to conquer built-it masculinity like facial hair.  I would love if English used gender-neutral pronouns like Chinese, but I’m not about to start asking people to use new words outside the normal English lexicon.  What I’m saying is that I’m trying to forge some new identity, like Siegfried’s suit of brilliant armor, one that works outside of male and female. And I need to find pride in that creation to survive. I have told everyone I want to be a woman, that I have always wanted to be a woman, and that I personally feel like a woman. That will never change, because that is the clear-cut absolute, the simple road for myself and others. Even if the simplicity lead to pain, at least I could be categorized by myself and the outside world without challenge. But what if (cue Liam Neeson voice) I can become more than a man… (or woman)

What if I can find that answer outside given knowledge? What if I can find that self-sacrificing answer that still brings some degree of triumph? What if I could pull an Edward Alric and give up something important to me (a female body) for something equally as important (my marriage)? Could I be feminine enough for myself without always overcompensating? I think it’s possible, but here I am trying to make another far-reaching goal, instead of just living in the moment.

It would be easier if society just accepted that male and female can both fall anywhere on a spectrum of masculine and feminine without suddenly becoming taboo . Then it would be so simple and clear. That third choice would be so obvious if men and women went to the store and just bought “masculine and feminine” clothing instead of “male and female” clothing; if  removing  a man’s beard was just an everyday choice (however painful) akin to a woman who chooses to wear makeup (however time-consuming); if  women could choose to bind their breasts without making a statement; if men could chose to conceal their genitals with more restrictive undergarments (perhaps in order to wear something more fitting and feminine). What if our entire presentation was just a cobble of what we liked and disliked about masculinity and femininity instead of a determined set of clothing for each sex?  Is it really so radical? I have known enough people that wish for such a world.

But since that world does not exist, I have to pose a question to anyone that knows me. You don’t have to answer, of course.

Do you know what the above scenario means to me? How everything hinges on being able to believe in it, even though it’s not a reality? What successfully putting on that self-fashioned armor will mean to everything I hold dear? If you do, you have to know that the armor won’t always be consistent, that it will have to change, to endure hardship and trials, from myself and my loved ones. It will have to change with age but still represent all that I am in the process, both the masculine and the feminine. If it cracks and fails, I will find myself back in a realm of absolutes, where the only answers involve unimaginable loss.

What I mean to say rather pleadingly to anyone reading this is:

Please, help me find pride in this process.

Consider how the little things make or break a moment in time; how gender exclusion makes some people feel suicidal, depressed with their inability to be themselves without a barrage of medical adjustments, after which society will still exclude them from the simplest things in life. Or maybe just consider not laughing at a sexist joke that is particularly biting. Do you really think all women are one way and men are another? Even if a generalization is 80% correct, does that make it a complete truth? Does that make it worth saying for the bravado and pat-on-the-back assurance it brings? Is it worth breaking apart a human psyche that doesn’t fall into that percentage, even if that leftover number just amounts to a handful of people? Is that a worthwhile way of promoting our beliefs? Does ignoring or lambasting gender diversity make it go away? Or does it just ruin the lives of those caught between the two extremes?

I don’t mean those questions as an attack, just something worth thinking about. It would be boring if everyone felt the same way about everything, but there is always room for consideration -not wholesale support our lifestyle changes, just consideration. A very small thing.

Studying

I’ve been reading this book:

What can I say? I’ve never been so humbled. Yes, this is a book primarily about the lives of transgender people and those that love them; however, I have never read such a thorough and blunt deconstruction of gender. This is not a feel-good book or even one about happy endings. It is a discussion on gender that could apply to anyone.

This book makes me cry, but it also calms me. It makes me introspective about a topic that felt fully explored in my life. And I think that is a very good thing, both for my patience and for my marriage. Helen Boyd, the author, never makes me feel at fault for being trans, but she also manages to convey the loss any woman would feel for her significant other in this situation. The way she explores gender and how it’s affected by class, race, ethnicity, and age would make anyone re-examine who they are and how they live.

In any case, she explains it all better than I ever could. Check out the preview sections on Amazon if you’re interested.

Remember when Bilbo asks himself about keeping the ring? This picture from the movie has been kind of a gag for me lately, but that attitude (however dark and ominous) is something I often tap for inspiration. It’s definitely a feeling of self-entitlement, one layered with contempt for any arguments to the contrary. If you forget the context of the movie, it’s also one of personal strength. I think I inwardly make that face all the time, and it’s primarily caused by two things:

  • Not giving a damn about gender expectations, wearing what I want in public, trying on what I want in stores, and remembering that the rest of the world doesn’t dictate how I express my gender
  • Being ready to define my own gender after being exhausted with the MtF trans community and the often-read obsession for immediate HRT (understandably more important for younger people), sculpted eyebrows, feminine hairstyles, perfect makeup, and name changes

I think the first item in that list is pretty common, but I really want to know something:

Does anyone else ever feel that same exhaustion from the second reason? And is that exhaustion driven purely by my own impatience and jealousy? Or is it more indicative of a need to still break out from the binary, even though I want desperately to be considered a woman?

I’m 30. I have a wonderful wife who is still with me. We are in therapy together, trying everything we can to stay married. There is patience, compromise, and uncertainty. Lots of uncertainty. Neither of us know the future, but we know that everything is a process.  I am jealous of people who claim that their wives “immediately went and bought them some clothes” or have “unconditional acceptance”, but I also lament people whose relationships have come to a crushing end because of ultimatums thrown out by both sides. Transition isn’t just about our own change; it’s about the people affected by our change.

I have been trans for as long as I can remember, long before I came out to my father in junior high and felt guilted into suppressing myself (to be fair, he is fully supportive now and even apologetic about his original reaction). I am proud of what I’m doing to transition.  I’ve come out to so many important people in my life, slowly and responsibly.  I’ve done quite a bit of hair removal, and I have to stop myself from getting carried away in a tidal wave of feminine expectations.  Like anyone, I want to know how beautiful I can be; I want to see that image in the mirror. But I also want to carefully define what being a woman really means to me. I have an older co-worker who always looks at people obsessed with their appearance and says, “Take a picture honey, because it won’t last forever.”  I think that’s fair advice. We want to be women, but even cis-women have a large spectrum of attitudes and appearances.

I  don’t want to take away something from other transwomen or say that they aren’t owed this excitement with their femininity. They have certainly endured enough for it. My main point is that there is a MASSIVE push to do several things as fast as possible, many of which may not truly define our own selves as women. I  realize that several of these things are simply to “make up for” not being born into a female body, to make do with the bodies we now have. They are also part of experimenting, of finding what really appeals to each of us. I simply think we need to remember that society and media have defined many of the things that we attribute to being a woman. We can do ourselves and cis-women a huge favor by helping to re-define that image. It may sound like too haughty and too meta of a goal  for a group of people struggling to be accepted as their true gender, but we are in a unique position to break down some of those gender barriers if we’re willing to accept the challenge.

Thank You Ma’am

I guess I never expected to hear that. And yet I did, just yesterday at a convenience store.

I don’t know if anyone else is like me in this regard, but I have spent most of my life over-analyzing the authenticity of certain situations. I pick them apart, consider motivations, and then decide if the interaction was truly worthwhile. With age (and wisdom from my wife), I’ve shed a great deal of that concern. So suffice it to say that I don’t care why the cashier said it. The wavy but short hair? The tiny padded-bra-breasts? The scoop neck? The skirt? A combination of it all? Whatever cued their auto-response to me as female (because I doubt any serious thought went into that 30 second transaction) isn’t  of any concern to me. What I care about  is how it felt. And how it felt to spend the entire day presenting as if there was nothing special, strange, or wrong with my appearance.

It felt wonderful. I know it probably didn’t feel that way for everyone, especially not my friends or family. But again, thanks to them for LETTING me know how that felt, because it’s something I’ve never had in my life; something I never expected to have; something I didn’t think I deserved. There is still something to be said for androgyny and the “gray zone” between genders. What I’m celebrating here is that I was everything I wanted to be yesterday, in front of everyone, and without any serious changes to my body. It’s something I need to remember.

Progress

What is life like for someone who has told their family and friends that they’ve always wanted to live opposite to their assigned gender (but then appeared to do very little about it afterward)?

I’m sure this question isn’t new or profound. I need to answer it for myself, though.

From my perspective, nothing I do is ever enough, especially when what I’m doing is barely apparent to anyone.  I can wear a t-shirt fitted for women, cover up some stubble with makeup, or try to find a more androgynous style for my hair. I know what this probably translates to isn’t much more than “some guy wearing a tight shirt with messy hair”. I guess my mileage varies in that regard, and I should just be happy with the strides I have made. I just hope those strides will one day be visible to others.

For instance, I shaved with a disposable razor while in Japan last week. Now, was this because of super-heated sink water and Japanese-honed steel? Or was it because the laser treatments are starting to really show some progress? It’s probably a mix of both, but I can confidently say that I would NEVER have been able to shave with a disposable razor at this time last year, not without some serious heartache. Even though I can still see a large amount of stubble around my jawline and mouth, I know that I’m getting closer and closer to a face without beard shadow. This is the crux of my sanity. I’m finally seeing myself in pictures and not immediately zoning in on facial hair. I can shave every day (once it heals from laser-rific destruction) and not demolish my face in the process. That’s huge.

But it doesn’t make me more of a woman to anyone except myself. While that may not be entirely true, there is nothing special about a man having facial hair removal. It doesn’t say, “I’m transgender, genderqueer, or androgynous.” It simply says, “I hate shaving.” At least that’s what most people think when they hear I’m doing this.  I guess that’s why there is something special about wearing feminine clothing. It’s not that I HAVE to wear a skirt to be happy (though they can be nice); it’s that wearing such clothing is the only way I have to make a declaration about my gender.  And I can deal with the fact that I’m ugly in them, that I don’t meet a societal standard for female appearance. Because you know what? Neither do alot of other women.

And that’s where I find myself questioning. How much is enough? How much will be enough? Can I avoid hormones? Are they an inevitability? Would I be perfectly content if I could just wear the clothes I want when I want and not be addressed as a man? If, despite my masculine features, I could just declare myself a woman and not make the kind of permanent bodily changes that could ostracize the most loving person in my life? Or will that declaration alone be too much?  That ambiguity and uncertainty is what I mean by “Formless” in this blog title. It’s my journey between absolutes, something that I think is both sorrowful and invigorating.  Conveying those emotions to the people around me is something I desperately want to do here.

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