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Body musings

September 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I had a bit of a confrontation with the mirror recently. I’ve had an interesting relationship with my body, there are lots of things I’d like to change and not just having to do with gendered characteristics. I really want electrolysis on my face, facial hair is the number one body-related dysphoria trigger for me. I’d also like to gain weight, and stop having quite so much acne. And I’ve never been sure what to do or think about my genitals (I don’t like them, but I like some of the things they can do, and I don’t like my alternatives, though I like some of the things those could do too…).

But I’ve realized something. Out of all the things I dislike about my body, the thing I hate the most is the meanings other people put into them. I had a period where I was shaving off all the hair I could reach, because body hair is “masculine.” That stopped mainly for economic reasons (many many razors, gets expensive over time), but now I’m at a point where I just don’t feel like it anymore. I’ve gone back to shaving my armpits (because having hair there makes me feel grotty) and chest (because I think my five chest hairs look funny), but other than that I discovered I don’t care. I don’t dislike any part of my body because it is “masculine”, I dislike them because they feel weird to me. What I do dislike is the fact that people look at my body and think “male” automatically. Mens bathrooms and male pronouns cause me much more distress than any part of my body (usually, I might make an exception for facial hair).

I might have once described myself as (and some people might now describe me as) male-bodied. But when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a man’s body, or anything that remotely resembles maleness to me. I just see me. Maybe that’s new, maybe that’s something to do with self-acceptance or something. I’m not sure. Right now, I’m just baffled that anyone could look at me and think “man” (and I’m not particularly androgynous, especially when you take off my head [please don’t do that literally]).

Another reason that I did so much shaving, or that I until recently was somewhat fixated on physical transitions (to what I couldn’t tell you), is that I was trying to exercise some measure of control over my body. I don’t have much say in the functions of my endocrine system, or in my genetics. But it turns out that what bothers me more is the lack of control I have over people’s perceptions of me. I actually have no idea how people see me at any point in time, even people I’ve told about my gender identity (I’m a bit afraid to ask those people, not knowing what the answer is). While I would like to do a lot more exploring with my gender expression, I’m generally comfortable where I am and shouldn’t have to express as obviously ambiguous just to have people read me as non-male. I’m starting to think that the idea that I would have to do that, or that I had to do some sort of physical transition for my feelings to be legitimate, is something that was pushed on my by society at large. That my non-binary gender is only “real” if I have to jump through hoops and go to a huge amount of trouble to express it.

That’s not to say that I’m not going to do anything about my body. I’d still like to get electrolysis. And figure out something to do about the Pendulums of Awkwardness that doesn’t get me put on expensive hormones for the rest of my life to avoid osteoporosis. But I’m doing those things for my own self, not to try to express some performative gender that shouldn’t need to be performed. I should be able to be my gender, not have to show it.

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Decisions, decisions

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

There is some “debate” over whether being queer (or homosexual or trans or whatever) is a choice or not. There is evidence, from both the lives of queer people and biology, that it is not, but that’s not going to be the focus of this piece. I’m seriously on the fence about the use of science in civil rights. It’s not that I think it wouldn’t help, it could (while simultaneously hindering, in a “Twilight of the Golds” type way, science is neutral like that), and I don’t think it’s a question that shouldn’t be asked from a scientific “we like to learn things” perspective. I just think that the issue is moot. My response to the scientific end of whether being queer is a choice is “we don’t really know yet, who cares?”

From my personal experience, and the experience of those I’ve spoken to, it also does not seem to be a choice. However, I again think that this is moot, whether being queer is a choice or not has nothing to do with whether or not there is something wrong with it. I choose a lot of things that other people consider wrong that are completely neutral. Many people decry metal and tabletop rpg’s, and I really couldn’t argue that my preferences in music or hobbies were based in biology. The issue is that the arguments brought up that being queer (usually addressing homosexuality) is wrong fall short, whether they be religiously based or questions of “health and safety” (aka blaming people for the discrimination they face).

The thing is, if there were something wrong with being queer, it would be wrong even if it were inborn, and if it was neutral then it would be so even if someone were to choose it. So the real issue is not whether it is a choice at all. (Though I did hear someone argue that anyone choosing to be queer would be wrong, while it being inborn is OK; a speaker at an LGBTA meeting at my university and a major “WTF” moment for me.)

But my biggest issue with this debate is one common response to the “it’s a choice” accusation: “who would chose this?” I understand that people use it to point out the discrimination faced by queer people, but the tone that often accompanies that seems to paint a picture of perpetually unhappy people. I’ve been thinking about that question for some time and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is “me”. Now, I don’t wish to imply that I have chosen my sexuality or gender, I don’t seem to have had much say in the matter (though I have total control over the labels I use and how I express myself). However, knowing what I do about myself, having faced what I have so far, I wouldn’t change anything. If I could go back to my 11 year old self and change my budding sexuality, or back to my four year old self and normalize my gender identity somehow, I wouldn’t put in the effort. My 11 and four year old selves felt differently at the time, but my current self is not only OK with these aspects of me, I consider them to be preferable for myself to the alternatives. So if I can (retroactively) chose a queer gender and sexuality, then what is wrong with anyone who might do so in real time?

Dissociation and why spoons are not for everyone

July 20, 2010 3 comments

Ever since hearing about spoon theory not too long ago, I’ve been trying to reconcile it with my experiences. I have issues with dissociation and depression, and from hearing other people with similar issues talk about “counting spoons” I thought it might help with my self-care. Unfortunately it hasn’t been working.

Take this morning for example. I woke up early (hey, 9 am is early for an unemployed student on break), took a shower, and treated myself to a decent breakfast. I felt good. Taking stock of myself I began making plans for the day. Not far into my carrying out of said plans everything broke down. For some reason, getting a glass of orange juice and starting the dishes was too much for me. I had a particularly horrible dissociation experience, my limbs became unfamiliar, as did all the sensations coming from them, as did my internal organs, making every breath and beat of my heart a violent attack. In half an hour I went from happy and functional to lying on my bed begging an empty room to “make it stop”. I haven’t figured a coping method to deal with the internal stuff (I can’t really cover up my organs like I do my limbs because they’re already inside me), so the only way to escape was to relax enough to fall asleep for a couple hours. Spoons can’t cover this sort of event; I went from having plenty more than I needed to not being able to move very quickly with no warning or triggers.

The opposite happens with my depression. Oftentimes I feel like I don’t have the energy for something, force myself to do it anyway, and it ends up being what makes me feel better. It’s the amazing fluctuating spoons, they crash and replenish of their own accord and counting them at the beginning of the day isn’t going to do me any good particularly. The best I can do is try to figure out what causes crashes (if anything) and prevent that.

I give in: an actual intro of sorts

June 13, 2010 4 comments

So, I’ve mentioned in my profile that I identify as androgynous. It is, I suppose, time for me to explain what I mean by that, largely because everyone will have their own idea of what it’s supposed to mean. This is the part where I give the disclaimer that every person’s gendered experience is different (that is every PERSON, not every trans person) and that my definition of what it means to be androgynous will be different from others identifying themselves as such. Here we go.

The basic principle behind it all is that I am neither male nor female. I do not personally consider myself a fusion of the two. I mix “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics and behaviors rather freely, but I don’t associate those with being male or female particularly so they don’t inform my identity. Neither do I identify as neutral, or nothing, I have a gender of some sort, I just have no helling idea what to call it. The visual I use to explain it is this: imagine a line, with male on one end and female on the other. Now picture a dot way up in outer space away from the line. Doesn’t matter where really. That dot is me. Naturally this causes some basic communication issues. I’ve already discussed the pronoun issue, but it goes a little deeper than that. Gendered language can be really subtle, and I miss a ton of it. It takes me a moment to realize I’m being referred to when people say “he”, so imagine my confusion when people refer to the male/female ratio of a room or comment on any non-stereotypical behavior of mine. I basically don’t get standard concepts of gender, I’ve learned what constitutes masculine and feminine behaviors in my (contemporary American) society but I don’t really grok any of it on a deeper level and speaking about it is kind of forced for me.

In terms of body issues, which are rather common amongst trans folk, it fluctuates. I personally don’t identify with my body, and how much that bothers me really depends on my mood and level of undress. I hate facial hair and don’t identify with what’s growing out of my chin that sometimes I forget it grows back. I am occasionally legitimately surprised at my body when I undress, like I expected it to change while I wasn’t looking or something. Occasionally it manifests as serious psychological pain, in the vein of what others refer to as “dysphoria”, though this has become rare as I’ve learned to “deal” with it (I think my methods for that deserve their own post, suffice to say there are probably better methods out there). As I am a college student and not exactly well-off, actually doing something about my body surgically speaking is a ways off. I try not to think about it too much.

The last thing I want to mention is how triggering gender stuff can be. Pronouns or gendered words being used in reference to myself, especially if I have to use them, can cause or exacerbate a period of depression, anxiety, or dissociation. Bathrooms also can be a huge issue. If I know I’m going to be home or in an area with gender-neutral bathrooms anytime later in the day, I tend to hold it in public unless it’s an emergency. If I’m already having issues (see depression, anxiety, and dissociation above) I avoid public restrooms or even going to the bathroom in general to the point where it may be unhealthy (ever not go for two days, yeah, bad idea). I think details about bathrooms deserve their own post as well.

Hopefully that was enlightening. If this is stuff you already knew about and had a handle on, good for you. If it’s new to you then that’s good too, check about for more. I don’t have a lot of resources linked here, but some of the people I link to have plenty so go for it.