Over on Reddit someone asked about a sadness they've started feeling when crossdressing. Amy's comment hit home, and I had this to say:

If I had to guess, I'd also say dysphoria.

For me, 'cross'dressing was always a bit of a double-edged sword. Most of the time it was great, especially when I was younger and just figuring things out. But sometimes, and especially more-so as I got older, there was the side of it that made me feel terrible. Part of it was as Amy_of_Dallas says, that the clothes don't hang quite right, etc. But mix in with that the feeling of being a fraud, the suspicion that maybe I wasn't a woman, or when every moment of enjoyment is tainted by the knowledge of that impending crash in a few hours when you'll have to change back before [whatever], then the feeling that I'd never be able to be what I wanted, that the closer to it I got the further it was just out of reach, the shame and grief of daring to be a human being, of daring to be happy.

In the beginning, 'cross'dressing was great. It was my little secret, my playtime. I could lounge around and read books or play games and for once just be. But by the end, it was something I loathed; something I'd try to hide, even from myself, lest I be drawn in once more and for those few brief moments of solace pay in weeks of lament.

That was a big part of what pushed me over the edge in the end. That I could not escape this "addiction" after years and years, and yet that it brought nothing but sorrow. Now of course (or, I suppose, I shouldn't say "of course") things are much better. As soon as I made the decision to transition and started taking steps on that path, this angst cleared away. But then, now it's become daily wear. It's just clothes. I suppose it always was. But now there is no denial, no knowledge of the impending crash, no secrecy nor shame, no fearing to never become what I always knew myself to be.

Besides, the clothes fit a hell of a lot better now ;)

So someone on reddit asked about what sex is like for trans women, for the sake of writing a comic. The question was respectful enough, unlike the exploitative shit such questions usually entail. But as is usually the case when cisgender people ask us about our lives, I get the feeling that the very phrasing of the question misses the point. Trans people are people too. I wrote a rather long series of replies trying to unpack why I felt the question missed its target, and I thought it'd be worth repeating here.

[0] Hey. I'm writing a comic. There is a trans woman in it. She dates and has sex with a cisgendered woman.

I'm not going to get super explicit in the comic, but I don't want the scenes with them to seem disingenuous, so if I may ask some practical questions…

Transwomen who are attracted to women, what do you do exactly? Do you like to have penetrative vaginal sex with them? Do you like to receive oral? Do you prefer that your penis not be verbally acknowledged? Most importantly for my purposes, what kind of language do you like your partner to use when referring to you and your body?

I've known and spoken to trans* people a lot and talked with them about their lives and emotions and all but I would feel kind of weird asking them "So hey, how do you like to fuck? I'm only asking because I want to plagiarize your words and profit off of them financially". It's pretty easy to find writing and essays online by trans* people about what their childhoods where like and how it feels to be them but less in the way of nuts and bolts descriptions of sex. I realize the answers to these questions are likely not the same for everyone, but any perspective you could give me on this would be helpful.

[1] Well, trans folks are raised in the same prudish culture as cis folks are, so it's no wonder we tend not to talk about sex ;)

Actually, sex is even more complicated for us —as a group, not necessarily as individuals— because of how many trans people (particularly trans women of color) are involved in sex work as a result of the systemic injustice we face. Working in the sex trade, especially when forced to do so to survive, is going to have profound ramifications on how one responds to sex. Most of us here and elsewhere online are middle-class, and therefore cannot speak directly to all the issues this entails.

Transgender people also have to deal with sexual abuse and domestic violence, same as cisgender folks. It's tempting to say we're worse off here than the cisgender population, but it's hard to back that up due to the usual problems of underreporting as well as the interaction with transphobic violence— which often comes as the result of sexual encounters or has a component of sexualized violence incorporated into the hate crime itself.

In general, I'd say that sex is for us much like it is for everyone else. And that includes sex workers, sexual abuse survivors, domestic violence victims, etc, etc. So without knowing more about your character, it's difficult to see what sort of answers you're looking for. The only trans-specific sexual questions I can think of are mechanical details (which are irrelevant if you're not being explicit), choice of terminology (which is personal/individual/unique), or if she's still dealing with extreme issues of dysphoria (in which case I think you want to know more about dysphoria than about sex per se).


[2] Another thing to bear in mind is that how sex goes is going to have a lot to do with the cis woman too!

Were the two of them together pre-transition? If so, how does she feel about that? How has she dealt with the change in viewing her partner, from seeing her as a man to seeing her as a woman? If the trans woman hasn't had SRS, does the cis woman have hangups about what she's "supposed" to do with "boy parts"? If she's lesbian, she may have issues with identity, past abuse, being actively turned off, etc. If she's bi, she may have issues keeping her interest in men, and what she likes to do with them, segregated from her interest in women and what to do with them. If they were together pre-transition, maybe she's straight but still in love with partner despite that; maybe her straight identity is in crisis, or maybe she's fine with the incongruity.

Remember, it takes two to tango.


[3] P.S., I hope I don't come off as being too critical. There's just a lot of stuff to unpack here. As a writer, I think the proper way to look at things is that transgenderism is just another character trait— like age, ethnicity, class, or being a veteran, addict, immigrant, etc. Transgenderism isn't something the character does, what she does is work, go to school, fight crime, raise kids, whatever. However, because she is trans, the world is going to look at her and respond to her differently; it's going to throw different obstacles in her way, things that cisgender people don't have to deal with or would react to differently. And all of this applies to sex just as much as to the rest of life.


[4] Just to throw some personal data in here:

Trigger Warning: childhood sexual abuse )

Considering that, in the US, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse, and 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are victims of rape, there's a very good chance that one or both of your characters would have similar issues around sex. It may not be something you want to explore in the comic, but it's definitely something to bear in mind.

vlogs

Nov. 23rd, 2013 01:08 am

So, I never really got into the vlogging thing, but I was cruising around YT today and found some fabulous ladies and I've been enjoying their vids. So, without further ado:

Seventeen

Nov. 15th, 2013 01:09 am

In talking about trans* stuff recently, I've been throwing around the fact that it was about 15 years ago I first sought to transition. But last night I did the math, and realized that means I was 17. Seventeen! and already I had been dealing with dysphoria long enough to recognize it for what it was. Still a minor, still not allowed to make my own decisions. And even still, I would've gone sooner if I could have; I was only out of the clutches of my abusive family for a week or two when I did go.

Lest you get the wrong impression, that was far more than half a lifetime ago. I was "born" in the summer of 1994. Oh sure, the date on my birth certificate is much earlier. But that summer is the beginning of the continued consciousness I've borne ever since. Before then, there are no memories. No, that's a lie. There are a few. A few scraps floating in the aether, untethered from any sense of time, devoid of any connection to one another. More like recollections of a previous life. Dangerous shards best left untouched. As far as any sense of self and consciousness goes: I was born in '94 on the steps of the ATS, standing next to a couple boys from my hall and another boy I had the deepest crush on, the four of us staring at a map trying to figure out where the ATS was. Four years later and I'd be walking into the health center at my uni, asking how to transition.

So when I say it was 15 years ago, that's three quarters of my life ago. I've known it was a long time, but I never really sat down to do the math until last night. I'm bad with time. Maybe it's because of those missing 13 years, but I've never been able to get a handle on the concept of age. When others say they did such-and-so when they were X years old, I never know how to map that back onto my lived experience. Because if X is less than 13, there isn't any lived experience to map onto.

Having decided to transition now, I only wish I could've started sooner. The longer your body is ravaged by T, the harder it is to undo the damage. Of course, those fifteen years ago I never could've succeeded. At 17 there's no way I could have afforded the transition, even if my parents wouldn't have disowned me two years later like they did. I was terrified of the idea of starting and then getting stuck in between, unable to finish, unable to adopt a natural life as a woman. The world was a different place then from how it is now. When wrestling with the decision, the biggest thing tipping the scales was my fear of transmisogyny. The fear of getting caught in between, the fear of losing financial solvency, the fear of never finding someone to love me, all of these were but symptoms of the true fear: the fear of being unable to endure the misogyny, transphobia, and homophobia I saw all around me. I saw how women were treated. I saw how queers were treated. There's no way I could have survived it then, and I knew it. The world is far kinder to us now than it was then.

The therapist I got when I first sought transition was another reason for my decision. I had been in therapy for some years already, and both of my previous therapists were excellent. I was in a far healthier state of mind entering undergrad than I had ever been in before. On top of that, moving three thousand miles away from my family did wonders for my mental health. All the same, I was still dealing with the vestiges of all that abuse, and needed someone willing to help with that. But no, the person I got wanted only to talk about the trans* issues, ignoring everything else I was dealing with. After the second visit, I just never went back. A couple months later I attempted suicide. Wasn't the first time. (It was, however, the last time.)

It's only been since starting to transition that I've drawn the connection between my depression and being transgender. So I never would have drawn a connection before between the failure of my therapist and the suicide attempt; but looking back now, it's a bit too conspicuous. A couple years later I entered therapy again, briefly, in the latter half of my time as an undergrad. I liked her. But, burned by my previous experience, I made sure to never bring up the trans* thing. Though even if I had, I couldn't really transition then either. My parents had disowned me halfway through undergrad, and so I'd been paying my own way for two years and was already in major debt. And this would be around the time Bush utterly destroyed the economy. Even as it was, I spent the next couple years doing my best to avoid becoming homeless.

Psychically exhausted and lacking a support net of any kind, there's no way I could have transitioned 15 years ago. Destitute and in debt, there's no way I could have transitioned 10 years ago. At best, maybe I could have started 5 years ago. But then maybe my wife wouldn't have been as ready and able to handle it then. When we got together, I made sure to bring the trans thing up— as I always do with my partners. So she knew, she's always known. And yet, like me in my early 20s, she secretly hoped it would go away in time. But like every other trans person's story I've heard, the dysphoria never does go away, it only gets worse in time.

Unexpected

Nov. 14th, 2013 04:30 pm

Unexpected effects of losing most of my body hair:

  • Realizing how many freckles I have
  • Rediscovering scars I'd forgotten about (from back when I used to SI)

Parents

Nov. 9th, 2013 11:12 pm

On monday I will be sending my parents The Letter. Although I've come out to many people over the past six months, this letter has been the hardest one to write. For everyone else, I know what to say. For friends: they already knew (to varying degrees). For colleagues: I can keep things formal, business like, just the necessary facts. But parents...

All throughout my childhood, my father had severe anger management issues. After being diagnosed with diabetes, that's basically gone away. But, the other thing is he has a strong vein of homophobia. It's not that he hates gays exactly; rather, he has a long history of making intolerant jokes and otherwise displaying his internalization of the homophobia rampant in society. When telling stories about the gay coworkers he's had, the caricatures he draws are extremely offensive and belie his inability to see them as wholly deserving of respect.

As for my mother, oh where to begin? She's extremely passive aggressive. The only way she knows of to interact with the world is through passive aggression. She can't help but to throw barbs and quills, even in the most kindly discussion. Well over a decade ago I legally changed my name, and I'd been going by [real name] for a few years before that. Every single member of my family respects this and has switched to calling me by my name— with the marked exception of my mother. Every time we talk, she makes a point of "accidentally" using my dead name, of refusing to acknowledge that I had never accepted that name, even before discovering my true name. My father accepts it, even in her presence. My aunts and uncles accept it, even the ones I don't talk to often. My grandmother accepts it; iirc, she was the first to accept it. I love my grandma. But no, my mother has chosen to take every chance she can to deny my agency and personal identity.

To top it off, years ago something cracked and she dove headlong into christianity. She's always been christian, mind; but she used to listen to popular music, have friends outside of church, etc. Now, it's only church groups and christian rock and bible quotes and all that shit.

So yeah. I have to be very explicit about setting the boundaries here. And yet, I must figure out how to do so in a way that doesn't come across as extremely rude. While I'm not dependent on them in any way, and would be fine with them disowning me (again); naturally, it'd be nice if they were willing to accept me for who I am. Moreover, I must be sure not to give my mother any wiggle room for denying the truth, nor any ammunition for her passive aggression.

Wish me luck.

And now, the sober morning after, I'm left again with the feeling that there's no way I could have T-day during winter break. Sigh.

Also, I seem to be developing a crush on one of my coworkers. Alas, they're taken; and I don't think the relationship is poly/open. Oh you silly teenage hormones. You gonna get me in trouble.

again.

please ;)

And now it's time for drunken late-night blogging. Just watched Lockout. Hilariously bad movie. Lots of great one-liners. But lots of cliched characters, drawing on standard racist/sexist stock. If you can drink yerself past that bit, then it's pretty good fun.

This last couple weeks have been really good. Couple things happened. First: formed a new circle of friends online. Super awesome people. Hopefully they'll think I'm cool, in time. More than just finding cool people, this really drove home how socially isolated I've been since leaving Portland. I had so many different circles there. Since leaving, well, there's a reason I'd fled the east coast in the first place; and I never expected this segment of the midwest to be nearly so bad. All my extended family are from the midwest, but a different state, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. Oh how little did I know. Then again, maybe this is like traveling to foreign countries: there's a big difference between a few weeks visit and actually living there... Anyways, yeah, good people. That's always nice. Though it's so sad that they're all online, and so widely spread around the country.

Second: I feel like I've broken through a wall. It's been just about exactly six months now since starting HRT. I noticed lots of changes in the first few months, but the last couple months it's felt like I hit some sort of plateau. Felt a bit like the testosterone-fueled brain-stupid was coming back. Then, a couple days ago or so: wham! The gears fit into place, and everything started rolling again, faster than before. Whatever it is, it's been wonderful. But now I'm hesitant—

See, originally, when I started everything, I'd been hoping to be able to set T-day for sometime around the newyear; start that RLE with the new semester. But then, as the plateau feeling came on, I figured I wouldn't have a chance of passing until the summer break sometime; so, dejectedly, that became the new plan. But now, now I'm impatient. I just want the damn lie done with, want T-day asap. Of course, "asap" is gonna hafta mean after the semester ends; so winter break, just like the original plan. But can I make that work? Or rather, how can I make that work? Cuz this waiting is killin me.

One of the well-known but seldom discussed effects of HRT is that it can change your orientation. Jenny Boylan discusses this in her memoir She's not There, where her endocrinologist states that of trans women who were only interested in women pre-HRT, about a third remain that way, a third switch to only liking men, and a third become asexual. I have no citations for these numbers, but it's certainly something that's common enough that my endocrinologist made sure to mention it before I began HRT. And it's something folks talk about on reddit.

While I do not claim the label, I'm perhaps best described as pansexual; that is, I'm not just interested in men and women (as bisexuals are), but also interested in androgynous, agender, genderqueer, third-gender, and non-binary folks. In short: sexy people are sexy. If anything, I'm more drawn to non-standard genders. Though that could just be selection bias, since folks with non-standard genders seem more likely to embrace other ideologies I admire.

But the interesting thing, the reason for this post, is that I have always felt the pull of multiple orientations— even when the target of that desire is the same. While I like everyone, I especially like women. Sometimes that attraction has the feel of a man liking women; sometimes it has the feel of a woman liking women. To me, those two desires are completely different. The sense of fulfillment they bring, the sort of activities they evoke, the overall mode of my involvement with those desires and activities; all are different. Just to be clear, this sort of orientation switching is orthogonal to the top/bottom switching you get in kink and gay circles. It's not about who's in charge, or who's doing what to whom; it's something else. In my experience of top/bottom switching, I have a fair deal of control over which I'm in the mood for at any given point; whereas with the orientation/desire switching, it's something outside of my control.

Since starting HRT I've noticed the balance of those two orientations changing. They're both still there, so far, but the gap between them is growing; they feel even more different now than they did before. In addition, those "straight" desires have greatly diminished. And, like many trans women, I am extremely grateful for that. It's so much easier to live life when you don't have to constantly police those desires. So much easier to avoid unintentionally acting like a jackass. On the other hand, while the "straight" desires have been receding, my lesbian desires have only gotten stronger. I have always identified as lesbian, even before recognizing myself as trans. As a teenager, cis guys often made jokes about being "a lesbian trapped in a man's body"; and I was always offended by their jests, because it always felt so true for me.

All this fits into a larger theme I've been pondering lately. In particular, I think the sex/gender/orientation framework taught in Queer Theory 101 is deeply flawed. The reasons why, I'll cover in later posts. But what can "orientation" mean once we take into account the fact that HRT can change people's orientation? or the fact that people can simultaneously experience multiple orientations towards the same target of desire?

Linkspam

Nov. 7th, 2013 12:27 am

For those of you who haven't read it yet, this is a powerful piece on what it is to be a woman raised as a boy. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, don't read it if you're not in a safe place right now. But please, do read it, do share it. The rest of Little Light's posts are just as good, but I was just reminded of this one and of how much it hit me the first time to read it.

For anyone who may be questioning, Zinnia Jones has an excellent post discussing eight signs of (indirect) gender dysphoria. It's well worth your time. If you're familiar with the basic notion of dysphoria and just want the symptoms, feel free to jump down to where those start.

Another bit about me: I've always suffered from severe clinical depression. I had a really shitty childhood, so I always just assumed that was the cause of it. When I approached my psychiatrist to ask for a letter for HRT, I only then noticed I'd never brought up trans things with him before. Because in my mind, I've never associated my depression with my gender nor my dysphoria. Just didn't seem relevant before. However, when I mentioned this to my wife, she immediately leapt to thinking they were connected. She's convinced that after transition is well underway I'll no longer need antidepressants.

Every one of ZJ's symptoms describes my childhood perfectly, including (post-childhood) the last one. As soon as I started HRT I started feeling happier, more normal, and just plain better. Even just a couple weeks in, I felt better than I have since... puberty? since forever? Whatevs. Point is things are so much better now. If you are questioning, please, do yourself a favor and look into HRT.

Looking back on life, I now see myself as always having been female. However, I only really recognized that I was trans sometime in highschool (iirc). While I have never identified as male or masculine, and have always thought of myself as feminine/girly, it was not until highschool that I became aware of the notion of transgenderism— aware of the possibility that I could be female and not just feminine.

Even after this realization struck, it took a few years to come to terms with the idea, and to realize that this possibility was indeed a fact about myself. This delay was for the most part due to the time it took to divest myself of the transphobic and homophobic parts of my upbringing. But eventually, removing that self-directed stigma, I recognized the truth. This was, literally, half a lifetime ago now. When I entered undergrad I sought to transition but, for reasons I'll discuss another time, decided against it. Still, I recognized that the only way I could be true to myself was to be open about being trans. So even though I decided against transitioning, I've been sure to let anyone who cares to know that I am trans.

After deciding not to transition lo those many years ago, it's a decision I'd never really revisited; much despite my dysphoria getting worse and worse. And then, for whatever reason, this past spring I was driven to reconsider. And, reconsidering, I decided to transition. I've been on hormones now for about half a year. In the beginning I noticed lots of little changes. The most important one was the sudden overwhelming sense of rightness. I've known unquestioningly I was trans for half my life now, and have been publicly open about that fact for well over a decade. But even though there's been no question in my mind for all that time, there's something fundamentally legitimizing about starting HRT and getting empirical evidence that, yes, my brain does in fact work much better on estrogen than testosterone.

Welcome

Nov. 5th, 2013 05:07 pm

Hello,

I am a trans woman, and this blog is all about that fact. As mentioned in my profile, this is a sockpuppet account. While I am a fan of radical transparency, there are many things I am willing to discuss among friends but not willing to announce to the whole world. For example, discussing the gritty details of my own transition and telling the story of my lived experience as trans. The purpose of this blog is to tell those stories more publicly, for the benefit of other transgender and questioning people.

Profile

shoryo

March 2014

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