Archive for November, 2010

Hello World

As I grow more comfortable with my gender identity, and my body, I feel compelled to tell my story to those who will listen. It’s a way of declaring to the world: I exist. I am here. I am present. Life is, in a way, about expressing oneself; of allowing oneself to simply be, like a rose or a tree or a bird or a stone. It’s not always safe to be in this world. There are predators out there, poised to jump on vulnerabilities. We carry with us wounds and scars from life’s battles. We learn by falling, then getting up and carrying on. It’s not always fun but it should, at least, be interesting — if we open our eyes and see.

My life, at times, feels surreal — like I walked out of a Salvador Dali painting before all the paint had a chance to dry. Things, objects, ideas, they shift and move as I move. I see only what my vantage point allows; and my vantage point is constantly changing. Sometimes, oftentimes, I feel like a foreigner in my own skin; an alien who woke up one day and found himself/herself/theirself staring out of human eyesockets like in that TV show Third Rock From The Sun. I ask myself who am I? And I realize that there is no one answer.

When I was a child I used to have this dream of falling off the face of the earth and falling into space. Falling, or flying, depending on your perspective. The dream would terrify me because it felt like I had nothing holding me down, keeping me in place. How do you orient yourself when you have no centre, no anchor to guide you through the swamp that is the universe?

All things being relative we must, in some way, become centres to ourselves. Sometimes I feel like I contain the entire universe inside me and it’s only my skin keeping me from dissolving into the space around me. Energy trapped within a thin membrane that can and will fall away at any moment. But this membrane, this skin, it breathes. It lets in the universe and lets it out again, it breathes through me and carries me on through this life.

But lets not get carried away.

Then I wake up and I crash into the murky reality of my life. The routine of it: the 9 to 5 job (more or less), the having-to-make-my-bed-every-morning and the clean-the-toilet every weekend. The doing-the-laundry mundanity of what it means to be alive here, now, today, in this world, this city, on this street. How to reconcile these two experiences of life?

My life is a combination of the sacred and the profane. My farts and belches stand side by side with the thrill of seeing a sunset or the haunting beauty of a favourite melody.

Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me: it sucks away the majesty of my existence and leaves me standing in a fog of doubt and depression. When that happens I need to remind myself to take a step — it doesn’t even matter in what direction — so I can see again. There is beauty in this world. I am beautiful. And yes, I exist.

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November 9, 2010 at 6:41 am Leave a comment

The Unusual Man

Intersexed is a label that is considered outdated these days, more usually replaced by the medical term disorder of sex differentiation or DSD. However, it used to refer to those who are born with genitalia that are not immediately discernible as either male or female. For example, an infant may have an enlarged clitoris (or microphallus, depending on your perspective) and labia, or undescended testicles along with a vaginal opening, or some other configuration of non-normative genitalia.

I had none of those things.

When I was born, I had everything a little girl could possibly ask for: a vagina, a clitoris, labia, XX chromosomes. As I grew older, the label ‘girl’ was applied to me and I tried to manoeuver within its confines. I should have been capable of comfortably bearing that label, considering that I was surrounded with women. I had a mother and two sisters, my friends were mostly female during my teens, and I had no inkling that there even was such a thing as people born between genders or, anathema of anathemas, people who changed genders.

And yet, I felt trapped in a destiny that didn’t belong to me. Finally, when I was 24, I started hormone treatments — testosterone injections — to masculinize my female body. At the time, surgery seemed drastic and I hoped that hormones would be sufficient to make me feel comfortable in my skin. But as the hormones kicked in and I saw the dramatic effects on my mood and physique, I realized that the path I had started on was far from over. I began to research my options. In 2007, at age 28, I underwent chest reconstruction surgery. Three years later I underwent a complete hysterectomy. The body that once had been recognizable as female, was now no longer classifiable. My body was rendered intersex through surgery.

But as my surgeries come to an end, and my energies are free to move in new directions, I find myself confronted with a new line of inquiry. While I appear, at least in most social contexts, masculine to the world at large, my body, scarred as it is from surgical intervention, carries with it the memory of where it came from. My journey to masculinity is unusual. So unusual, in fact, that I find myself wondering whether I am male at all.

Have my life experiences removed me so far from the normal growing up realities of regular boys that I can even claim to share a gendered identity with them? Or am I relegated to a kind of third space, a space of ambiguity that excludes me from the more mainstream society I try to inhabit? Can I ever be anything more than a second-class man?

Society is changing, slowly. Where once people of colour had no right to vote, they now inhabit positions of power. Where gay men and women once were listed as mentally ill in the DSM (the diagnostic Bible in North America for mental illnesses) more and more of them are able to live productive, socially accepted lives; they are doctors, lawyers, politicians, and athletes (although many athletes still remain in the closet for fear of financial and social repercussions).

Already over the six years of my transition social attitudes have changed dramatically, mostly for the better, towards transsexuals. I have witnessed a rise in nuanced, scholarly articles about transsexualism. Most provinces in Canada now cover some combination of hormonal and/or surgical intervention for those categorized as gender dysphoric. An increasing number of youth are rising up to claim what is rightfully theirs: a life in the gender they feel most comfortable inhabiting.

My life as a man has consisted of a series of stops and starts. I have learned to inhabit this new label like an athlete who labours to improve on his previous performance. Masculinity is the language I choose to speak and yet, at times, I speak it with an accent, I feel. Gender is so much more than one’s chromosomal makeup, or one’s ability to pee standing up. Even genitalia is not as central to my being as once I thought it would be. A man, after all, is made up of many parts: biology, social expectations, personal history.

I am an unusual man. Masculinity is my journey; it is my destiny. And as I travel along this road less travelled, I’m as yet unsure of where it’s leading me, or whether there is a final resting point.

November 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm Leave a comment

Trans Sexuality

A friend of mine recently told me that he didn’t like it when I called myself trans. In his eyes I was a man and I should see myself as one, period. No need to qualify myself as a transmale or transsexual. While I appreciated his acceptance of my chosen gender, it made me think about how I view myself. For all intents and purposes I am a guy like any other. I interact with the world, socially at least, as a man, and no one questions my masculinity. No one, that is, except for me.

Sometimes I forget that I’m trans, and on those days I am happy. But every now and again, something will happen to remind me of my difference. A co-worker’s passing comment on the “weird” person on the bus that you couldn’t tell if they were a man or a woman. Or, if I’m walking home, I’ll pass someone who is, like me, trans and I will smile uncomfortably (depending on how well I know them). My trans identity sits uncomfortably with me. It’s not that I’m ashamed exactly. Oh hell, of course I am. I feel inadequate. As a man, as a human being, as a person. Sometimes I don’t like to see myself for what I am.

The place of most discomfort is the dating scene. I have met a few cool men (and women) who have shown interest in me. But then, when my trans identity is exposed, well, at that point, matters get complicated. If they accept my body, I inevitably feel inadequate in my own abilities to satisfy them. If they DON’T accept my body, it’s just one more reminder that I will never have a normal, healthy, functioning romantic relationship with another person.

I try to tell myself that it’s all in my head, that if only I act with confidence, I will find someone who accepts me. But changing the way the head works, isn’t easy. I’m getting better, more comfortable with myself, and am learning to enjoy the company of others more and more. But successful romantic relationships still elude me. It’s not for lack of interest. Those who do express their attractions to me run the risk of alienating me for exactly that: I’m suspicious of anyone that is interested in my freakish, malformed body. Something obviously must be wrong with them, I tell myself — even as I chide myself for the absurdity of this observation. Then there are those who I fall in love with and who do not love me back. The agony of unrequited love wears thin after a while, and frankly I’ve had enough of that.

Learning to let go of the fear of rejection, that is what I work on these days. Learning to accept that some people will like me, others will reject me, and that’s OK. That happens whether you’re straight, gay, trans, intersex, disabled or a beautiful Adonis. Learning to be comfortable with my own body; that’s the hardest of all.

November 2, 2010 at 5:28 am Leave a comment


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