Still here! With bonus musings about a problem I never anticipated….

Hey there, people who follow my blog. I’m still alive!

I’m aware that I’ve been unusually quiet recently. But I suppose it’s a case of no news is good news, because I actually don’t have that much to say—shocking I know . Life is ticking along, I’m doing pretty well most of the time and a lot of my transition stuff feels mostly over and done with now.

I decided to write an update today because June holds a couple of significant anniversaries for me, so it’s a good time for reflecting on where I am now and how I got here.

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It was in June 2016 that I first truly admitted to myself that I was ‘probably transgender’ (my thoughts at the time), and started to tell family and some close friends. Speaking the words out loud is what set the wheels in motion for transition.

Then one year ago tomorrow, in June 2017, I had chest reconstruction surgery. This was a huge milestone for me, and was an incredibly positive step. It’s probably no coincidence that this was the point when I started to blog less often, because it truly felt like I moved into a new stage of my life once that surgery and recovery was over. The physical change came with a great sense of peace, and I finally felt as though I could stop chasing something that was out of reach and just be.

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That’s not to say that my transition feels over necessarily. My body is still changing slowly from the hormones, puberty is a long haul, but the changes are slower and more subtle now. I’m starting to get gendered correctly more consistently by strangers, although it’s still a bit hit and miss. (The demographics of who reads me as male and who reads me as female is fascinating but there’s probably another whole blog post in that. Feel free to remind me to write it). Getting misgendered is weird and awkward but I’m used to it by now. More annoyingly, I still sometimes feel slightly surprised when I’m gendered correctly, but I can’t help it. I look forward to the day when I can just expect it. I guess my brain still needs a bit of catching up time. I have a lot of years of thinking I was female to override.

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One of the interesting things I wanted to touch on today, is how being read correctly as male sometimes causes problems for me in a way that I never anticipated. The problem is, that when people read me as male, they are usually reading me as significantly younger than I am—probably around thirty at the most.

You might think this is a good problem to have, and in some ways I’m totally okay with it. But where it becomes problematic is when I have a conversation with someone and start talking about my life experiences. If I mention that I used to be a teacher, and then say I gave that up eighteen years ago, there’s usually an awkward pause (if not an outright expression of disbelief). I can see the mental cogs turning while the person does the mental arithmetic and realises something doesn’t add up. Similarly, if I say that I have a seventeen year old child, that sometimes gets me some pretty weird looks too.

This is frustrating, because on the one hand it’s wonderful to be read as male and just be myself. On the other hand it’s uncomfortable to feel that I have to be cautious about everything I say. I’m normally an open book type of person, but I don’t necessarily want to have to disclose my transgender history to new acquaintances. It’s not a guilty secret, yet I’d rather that wasn’t the first thing someone finds out about me. I don’t want to be ‘that trans guy’ to everyone I meet for the rest of my life. I’d rather be ‘that short guy’ or ‘that guy with the octopus tattoo’ or ‘that guy who makes up weird shit about his life that can’t possibly be true, because he’s way too young to have been a teacher in the nineties…’.

I’m not sure what the answer is, other than some kind of ageing potion. Maybe I just need to talk less.

Yeah, right!

 

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Happy International Transgender Day of Visibility! Why Visibility Matters.

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. It is a day for celebrating transgender people, raising awareness, and showing support for the trans community.

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What is visibility?

Visibility is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: the state of being seen.

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Why does it matter?

I’m speaking from a deeply personal perspective when I tell you that visibility and representation is enormously important. As a child of the seventies, I grew up in the days before the Internet and social media. As a child, teen, and young adult I never saw anyone like me represented in the media — apart from maybe George in Enid Blyton. But George was as oblivious as I was!

Therefore despite knowing that I didn’t feel like a girl when I was a child (and never feeling like a woman when I grew up) I didn’t understand that this was something that other people felt too. I didn’t know there was a word for what I was, and I didn’t know that there was anything I could do about it. The only transgender representation I ever saw in the media was of trans women. Therefore it never occurred to me that it was possible for someone to be FTM (female to male) transgender.

It wasn’t until I ‘saw’ a male transgender character in a story that I finally started to make sense of the underlying feeling of unease and wrongness that had been my constant companion throughout my life.

Visibility helps transgender people work out who they are, and know that they are not alone. And of course visibility also helps cisgender people to understand trans people better, and know how to be good allies.

Visibility isn’t just about individuals

Visibility isn’t all about individual trans people sharing their stories. Advocates are important and do a huge amount for raising awareness. But it’s important to remember that many trans people don’t want to be visible in that way. They may value their privacy and not wish disclose their history, or they may not live in a place or a situation where it would be safe for them to do so.

Visibility is also about positive representations in the media, in art, in books, in movies, and TV shows.

If you would like to know more about trans issues this link is a good starting point:

https://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

 

Public misgendering, and how to avoid being the person who ruins someone’s day…

I had a really uncomfortable experience yesterday.

I went to a community event. Prior to that I’d liaised with one of the organisers by email. Because we’d only communicated that way, he had correctly assumed my gender as male.

So far so good.

But when I arrived and found the person I needed to speak to, I introduced myself, and his immediate reaction was: “Oh. I’m sorry. I thought you were a man.”
This was in a crowded place surrounded by other people, so naturally I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

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My (incredibly awkward) response was. “I am a man…. It’s complicated.”
Note to self: Drop the ‘it’s complicated’ in future when asserting my gender. It doesn’t help.

We moved on swiftly, and pretended that whole exchange had never happened for the rest of the event. But it left me feeling like utter shite.

I want to be very clear that I don’t blame him for being confused. I’m a realist. I’ve been on testosterone for less than a year. My voice is androgynous. I met him in the dark so he couldn’t see my stubble. I was wearing a hat so he had no hairstyle to go on. I was wearing a thick coat so he couldn’t see the shape of my torso. I’m 5’ 3” and pretty damn cute for a guy (if I say so myself), so when I am read as male people usually assume I’m about 20 years younger than my age… So I’m never surprised, or offended when people aren’t sure about my gender.

Furthermore this man was of the generation who has usually had very little experience of dealing with transgender people. Chances are he’s never knowingly met another trans person (he’s probably met several but didn’t realise it). So when he met me and got things so badly wrong, he wasn’t deliberately being transphobic or mean. It was an honest mistake.

But just because it was an honest mistake on his part, didn’t make the whole experience any less painful and humiliating for me. In some ways it’s almost worse actually, because it reinforces something that I know, but normally try to forget about—and that’s the cold, hard truth that despite nearly a year on T and undergoing chest surgery, I still don’t get read reliably as male. Some people still look at me and see something I’m not, and it’s probably impossible to imagine how horrible that feels unless you’re transgender. 

I’m not asking you to understand, and I’m not asking for your sympathy.

What I am asking you to do, is this: Next time you meet someone whose gender is ambiguous. Stop and think, and if you’re unsure, then please:

  • Don’t assume someone’s gender based on physical characteristics
  • Don’t challenge them if they don’t fit your idea of gender norms.
  • Judge people on how they present.
  • If in doubt, avoid explicitly gendering someone

If someone is presenting in a clearly masculine/feminine way, or if they introduce themselves with an obviously gendered name, then that’s a good clue as to how they identify. But remember that some people are nonbinary and don’t want to be gendered at all. If you’re not sure and there is a reason you actually need to know (spoiler: usually you don’t need to know someone’s gender anyway), then either ask someone what their pronouns are, or simply avoid using pronouns if you’re not comfortable doing that.

Voice Changes and Singing: The trials and tribulations of transitioning from boy soprano

This gets a bit technical with music-related terms. Apologies for that but it’s hard to explain it any other way.

When I made the decision to start taking testosterone, I was excited about the prospect of my speaking voice changing. I’d always felt self conscious about it, and wanted a lower voice. But as someone who has always loved singing, and as the director of a choir, I was worried about what would happen to my singing voice.

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I knew my singing voice would inevitably change, but I didn’t know how much, and how difficult it would be for me to control my new voice as it dropped. I was warned that it might be hard to sing at all for a while. Given that I teach my choir by ear — so I sing every phrase to them for them to repeat back to me — I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out.

The changes were slow and subtle at first. Initially I noticed that my lower range expanded and became stronger quite quickly. Within a couple of months I was able to sing tenor which had previously been the part I struggled to reach low enough for. At that stage I could still manage the soprano (the highest part), but the quality of the sound I made started to deteriorate. As my lower range strengthened and gained resonance, the higher notes became reedy and more like a falsetto than a true soprano. After about five or six months on T I could still get the high notes out, but I sounded like someone who’d been breathing in helium.

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At that point I experienced a more sudden and noticeable voice drop, and the top end of the soprano was more or less wiped out. I started to rely on playing a descant recorder, or singing an octave down when I was teaching. Soon it was not only difficult to sing the soprano part, but also the alto. And where previously I’d always sung the bass part an octave up when teaching, that was becoming a challenge too and I could just about manage to sing it in the correct register.

This is when I noticed a peculiar problem that’s pretty unique to someone teaching a choir with a voice that’s going through male puberty. Once I started to switch octaves, it totally threw my choir. I realised that this is because when you sing, you instinctively pitch your voice in the place where you can sing the tune. But this is different for the average male and female voices. Someone with an adult male voice trying to sing along with a female voice will automatically drop down an octave. Likewise a woman or child trying to sing along with an adult male voice will instinctively pitch an octave up.

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The problem for me, and my choir, is that at the moment my voice is stuck in a place that’s very much between male and female. I can sing almost as low as most cisgender men, but I don’t have the same resonance or sound quality that they do. So when I sing the bass line in the correct register, the basses in my choir still try and drop an octave below me — which puts their voices in the basement and is impossible for them to manage. Conversely when I sing the soprano part an octave down, the sopranos still try to match my pitch and usually end up singing too low. So it’s all fun and games as I have to try and sing higher, and then I squawk and make horrible noises. But as someone in my choir said to me this week when I came out with a sound like a dying donkey, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” I guess that’s the best I can ask for 🙂

 

Glass Walls One Year On: An update and a thank you.

Being transgender is a slow, gradual process of change. There is no one day you can look back on and think: That was when my life changed forever.

There are many significant milestones along the way, and dates that feel worth remembering. The day you first admitted it to yourself. The day you told someone else. The day you came out publicly (if indeed you ever did, because it’s not a prerequisite). The day you changed your name legally. The day you started hormones. Surgery dates. The first time you get called sir instead of madam by a stranger (or vice versa).

Today is a significant date for me, because this time last year I posted on my real name Facebook profile (as oppose to my author one) and told a lot of people who had known me for a very long time that I was actually a man on the inside. I also explained that I’d spent a very long time feeling ‘wrong’ and not quite knowing why, and I hoped by transitioning I would be able to get to a place where I felt ‘right’ at last.

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Around that time I wrote a poem, Glass Walls, about how I’d finally dug through the denial to come to my realisation. In that poem I talked about how I’d been trapped for a long time. I felt as if I’d reflected back what people expected to see when they looked at me. Whereas on the inside of those mirrored walls I was someone completely different… and I was lost. Breaking free of those walls seemed terrifying because I was leaving that facade to expose my true self to the world.

This time last year I was literally shaking as I pressed Post on some words that I would never be able to take back once they were out there. I knew I was choosing a road that was going to be hard, and painful. But I also hoped it would be transformative and ultimately bring me a sense of peace that I’d always been lacking.

So where am I one year on? I changed my legal name shortly after I came out. And as I’m fortunate enough to have been able to fund my treatment privately so far, I’ve now been taking testosterone for 8.5 months, and I had chest reconstruction surgery almost 4 months ago.

Chest surgery was a huge game changer. Living life free of binders (things that squash boobs flat to hide them), and sports bras is miraculous. I had a lot of anxiety leading up to the surgery but I haven’t regretted it for a second since it was done. I have huge scars, but they’re fading, and I see them as a badge of honour in my battle to free myself from that glass prison I was in for so long.

Male puberty is in full swing with unpredictable voice changes, patchy facial hair, greasy skin and spots. My face is changing to look more masculine and my body fat is redistributing to a more male pattern. I still don’t get read reliably as male, especially when I talk to people. But I don’t turn heads in the gents, and rarely get questioned about my identity on the phone anymore.

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Most importantly, I’m happier with my body and myself. After years of not knowing who I was and feeling a disconnect between my mental and physical selves; now, when I look in the mirror I recognise the guy looking back at me. Sure, he might still be an ugly duckling in puberty years, but I know who he is. And even if he never turns into a swan, I’m okay with that.

Mentally I’m in a better place than I’ve been for a very long time. This year hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to deal with a relationship break up and negotiating a new family structure at home; the stress of appointments; surgery; dating etc… But despite all of that I feel pretty good most of the time: contented, peaceful, and filled with a new confidence that whatever life throws at me, I can probably handle it.

I’m very grateful to all my family and friends who have stuck by me and supported me. Not in huge, obvious ways, but simply by getting used to my new name and pronouns, and by accepting me for who I am. It means a lot.

Thank you.

Six Months of Male Puberty: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I passed an important milestone this week. Yesterday marked six months on testosterone for me. It seems like a good time to reflect how far I’ve come, while also being aware of how far I still have to go.

Puberty is a slow process, whether it’s the naturally occurring type or a second one induced by hormone therapy. Most of the advice and information tells trans people to expect to see changes for up to five years at least, although most of the most noticeable changes often happen in the first two years. So, six months is still relatively early days.

The changes are subtle (gradual voice drop, acquisition of facial hair, fat redistribution etc) but are gradually adding up to me being read as male by strangers more often. The weird part for me, is that I never know what assumptions other people are making about my gender. Unless they happen to use a pronoun in my presence, or an obviously gendered term like sir or the dreaded madam I have no way of telling how I’m being categorised. But given that I can wander into the men’s toilets without causing a stir — and was getting some very odd looks in the ladies the last couple of times I tried to use them — I think that on balance the world is mostly seeing me as a bloke now.

My voice is the main thing that still lets me down. It’s a lot lower than it used to be, and now technically measures in the male range.

From pre-T to now, courtesy of an iOS app called Speech Test (where do I sign up for those muscles?):

Unfortunately the lack of resonance and years of ingrained feminine speech pattern still makes me sound rather androgynous. I don’t get challenged when I give my name to banks/insurance companies etc on the phone anymore though, so that’s progress.

My family and friends are getting used to talking about me using he/him pronouns, and it makes me happy when I hear them do it. I know it’s been really weird for people who have known me for a long time, so I appreciate how hard everyone is trying with this. The closer people are to me, the harder it is, but my ex/coparent/partner-in-crime and my kids are managing to get it right 90% of the time now, so if they can manage it then I figure anyone can.

The last six months have been a rollercoaster for a variety of reasons, and being on testosterone is the least of them.

  • I’ve been busy with work, friends, and family, and dealing with the fallout of my transition. This has affected relationships in unexpected ways as well as predictable ones.
  • I’ve been getting used to being free and single (although still cohabiting incredibly amicably), and have launched myself into the insanity of online dating as a gay man.
  • I had chest surgery six weeks ago, so was busy preparing for that, and then dealing with recovery.

The most important part of this post — I feel good. I’m happy and at peace with myself in a way that is new. I’m finally starting to feel like I know who I am after years of being lost in a post female puberty wilderness of feeling fundamentally wrong. Being authentic and honest about who I am is a wonderful feeling, and I have no regrets about making that leap of faith.

So to sum up, life is crazy, and difficult at times, but it’s also pretty damn good being me.

Here’s to the next six months!

Are you a girl or a boy?

I haven’t been asked that question since I was about twelve years old, and although I realise my appearance is confusing to some people I was honestly never expecting to be asked those exact words at the age of forty-six.

The whole conversation was a shitshow. So I will do my best to recreate it here.

Setting: The local pub – in a small village where LGBTQ+ people are either absent or invisible for the most part.

Cast of characters: Me, one of my cisgender female friends, and a very drunk cis/straight bloke (who was at the bar with a group of other drunk blokes).

My friend and I are sitting at a table having a drink and a chat. Drunk bloke swaggers over and sits in the extra chair at our table, manspreading as if his balls are the size of a small country. He hugs and kisses my friend, then turns to me and sizes me up (as much as he can given that he probably can’t focus properly).

Drunk bloke: She’s fucking great isn’t she? I love her.
Adds meaningfully: And her husband’s fucking great too. He’s one of my best mates.

Me: Yeah, I know man. They’re both great. I was at their wedding recently.

Drunk bloke: Stares and looks confused after hearing me speak…. Are you a girl or a boy?

Me: rolling my eyes. I’m a boy.

Drunk bloke: Turns to speak to my friend rather than me. But she sounds like a girl.

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Accurate gif is accurate

My friend: He’s a boy. This is my mate. We’ve known each other for years. He knows Andy too.

Me: rolling my eyes more and getting impatient for him to fuck off. Look. I’m a man, but I’m transgender. I was born a girl, and now I’m man. My voice isn’t that low yet because I’ve only been on testosterone for six months.

Drunk bloke: Looks slightly bewildered but spreads his hands placatingly. Oh, fair play. Fair play. Well, you take care of her. She’s great, and her husband’s a top bloke.

Me: Sighs. Look mate, I’m not into women anyway. I’m gay. So her virtue is safe with me.

Drunk bloke: Stares.

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I can practically hear the gears churning in his alcohol addled brain at this point while he tries to wrap his brain around the intersection of gender and sexuality, and probably fails.

I decide that challenging his views about treating women as possessions who need to be claimed, owned, and defended by men would be too much for one evening. I think his head might explode if I introduce another new concept.

At that point he clearly decides I’m not a threat, and buggers off back to his cronies at the bar.

I wonder whether he’ll remember this conversation this morning?

Gender Euphoria is Real

So… a lot of my blog posts have talked about gender dysphoria. Where gender dysphoria is a state of unease, sadness, or distress that’s directly linked to someone’s gender identity.

Well, gender euphoria is a thing too. And it’s basically the opposite. So gender euphoria occurs when you finally feel that your inside is matching your outside and let me tell you, it’s pretty great. It’s like planets finally coming into alignment after a million years of circling around and not quite coinciding.

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Today I had one of those moments. I’m only 3 weeks and 3 days post top surgery. And my surgeon said I should wait 4 weeks before starting to run again. But I’m a terrible patient, and I think I’ve bounced back faster than most and everything is healing up just fine. So today, I put on my running kit and left the house with the intention of half walking/half jogging for half an hour or so.

But once I started running, I didn’t want to stop. I’m a big believer in the whole ‘listen to your body’ thing. And my body was saying:
Dude, seriously. This is fucking awesome. You’re awesome. Don’t stop. Run like the wind!

So I ran (like a slightly sluggish breeze, but whatever) for about twenty minutes, and it was BRILLIANT. Running, with a vest top on and no sports bra. This is the stuff that pre-transition trans men’s dreams are made of. Seriously. I fantasised about this for months as my surgery date approached. Any time I felt nervous, or had doubts that I was making the right decision, all I had to do was put a sports bra on and remind myself that top surgery would mean I never needed to wear one again.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that most cis women hate sports bras too. Who wouldn’t? They’re designed by Satan and are awful… and boobs are a pain in the arse when you’re running blah blah. But presumably you like your boobs most of the time, even if you hate sports bras. And if you really hate your boobs in every possible way, then I can give you the number of an excellent gender therapist to discuss this with.

 

 

 

Coming Home: Post-op Musings

Warning:

There is a pic of my 10 day post-op chest at the bottom of this post. If visible stitches aren’t your cup of tea, you might not want to scroll that far. 

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Today I had the post-op appointment for my recent chest reconstruction surgery. Throughout the process of planning this surgery I tried to keep my expectations very low.

I knew I needed to do it, but I was anxious about going through with it. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the results; or that even though I desperately wanted a flat, masculine chest, it would take me time to adjust to the reality of such a huge change.

So today, when the dressings came off I was braced for disappointment. I was ready to look down and feel shock, disconnect, or even grief. I was prepared to deal with the need to mentally recalibrate in order for my new chest to feel like part of me.

But as the dressings fell away and I saw how my chest looks now, I felt an amazing sense of peace. It felt so right.

It felt like coming home.

I can still remember how it felt when I was a child running around on the beach or in the garden without a shirt on, and now, thirty-five years later, I finally feel reconnected to my body. This is how I was always supposed to look.

This is me.

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Update: Chest Reconstruction Surgery

Greetings, blog followers!

Trigger warning: contains some references to surgical things, but the gory details are mostly in external links rather than in my post. 

So, as many of you already know (if you follow me on social media type places) I had chest reconstruction surgery on Monday 19th of June with Mr Andrew Yelland in Brighton. The goal of chest reconstruction (or ‘top surgery’) is to create a natural male-looking chest.

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I’m on day 4 post op now, and recovery is going pretty well as far as I can tell. My chest is currently covered in bomb proof dressings and I have to wear a tight compression binder over the top of that. It’s a little disconcerting having no clue what’s going on under there (stitches and staples apparently). But I have very little pain and everything feels okay, so I’m working on the assumption that all is well. I get the big reveal at my post op appointment on Thursday next week.

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I didn’t really know what to expect from recovery, so have been going with the flow. Happily, it’s been much less painful than I was expecting. I’m more uncomfortable because of the binder than the actual incisions. The heat wave during my first two days of recovery didn’t help with that either. Sleeping is tough, because I’m trying to stay propped up so I don’t accidentally roll onto my side. But all in all I feel mostly okay. Just tired, and bored of sitting around.

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For those of you who are interested in the details of the procedure I had (double incision with nipple grafts), you can read more about it on my surgeon’s website here. I didn’t have drains, because he no longer advocates their use. The compression binder should take care of fluid build up, and he will drain any that’s accumulated when I see him for my post op appointment next week. Other than that detail, though, this is pretty accurate.

If you’re interested in the truly gory details, I found a video on YouTube of the same surgery performed by a surgeon in the US. The basic procedure is similar, although the exact details might be different – I don’t think I had any liposuction.

I’m very glad I didn’t watch it before I had my surgery. It’s not for the fainthearted and I definitely don’t recommend you watch it while eating. But it’s utterly fascinating. What with the nipple resizing cookie cutter, and the staple gun they used on his nipples, I now feel rather like a cross between the Great British Bake Off and a primary school art project.