Top surgery!

I had my top surgery on October 26th, 2012 with the amazing Dr. Kathy Rumer of Philadelphia, Pa. I will edit this post later and add the details about the surgery, but I want to post some tips and things to think about before they leave my mind. I just want to happily report that my surgery was an amazing success. I am 9 days post-op writing this and feeling great. I’m only having slight soreness and my chest looks amazing! I’m on the road to feeling at home in my body for the first time, and I’m enjoying the ride very much. 🙂

 

1 Week Post-Op. Just got my bandage off and drains out the day before this picture was taken. Still wearing neosporin with non-stick pads on my nipples and an ace bandage around my chest. Very little soreness. Lookin’ good!

Well Hello! (like a year later)

So, I haven’t posted in a million years. It’s been a while, whew! Well, I’ve been up to a lot. 2012 has been the most insane year ever. I can’t promise that I will post consistently, because I can only get to the blog when I have time, but I just wanted to say that I’m still here! I have some time in the coming weeks so I am hoping to post a few things. Hope everyone is well 🙂

Hello Free Library Folks!

Hello! Rae here! I just wanted to give a special shout out to anyone who is visiting my blog because they read an article about me in the BiblioFILe Fall Newsletter (Independence Branch Friends Newsletter).

I’m so excited to have been a part of the newsletter and to give back to the library, which has given me so much.

The money that I raised to donate to the library was half of the money that I raised at a fundraising event for my chest masculinization surgery. I created an event that was held at the William Way Community Center that was called Being Queer Saved My Life. So often we hear of our queer identities being a source of pain and death, so I decided to create an event that highlights how being queer is the best thing that ever happened to some of us! Performance artists and activists spoke personal narratives, interpretative performance, and sang about being the joys of being queer, and there was a community open mic portion as well. I raised around $600 and I kept $300, gave $150 to the Independence Branch Library and I strolled over to Giovanni’s room and spent $150 on titles the William Way Community Library didn’t have and donated them to that library. Yay for books!

My chest surgery is a key element of my transition, and I patiently and eagerly await the day that I have the funds collected to pursue the surgery – a $7,000 procedure (read more about chest surgery on the Low Down section of my blog). I am currently still raising funds through a project I started: The 7000 People Project. The goal is to get 7,000 people to donate $1 to my surgery. A Japanese proverb says that even dust overtime can become a mountain 🙂 I’m also trying to use the project to examine the human experience of self-actualization, something that is not only relevant to the transgender experience. If you have $1 to spare or an idea about what it means to discover “self,” please visit http://7000peopleproject.org!

 

Than you for reading my article, and please feel free to visit my websites anytime!

For anyone who didn’t get to read the article, here it is:

If you’re interested in checking out the Barbara Gittings LGBT Collection at the Free Library Independence Branch of Philadelphia, it’s located on 7th street between Market and Chestnut. You can visit http://freelibrary.org for more info!

Transgender Day of Remembrance Poem

Goodnight Bravery

Rest still, brave one

You no longer have to fight

Lie peacefully in the darkness

I will hold your light

I will use my own eyes

To see the things you can no longer see

If you lived in lies

I promise to set your truth free

In your last moments

I wish there was something I could have done

I wish to have held your hand

To tell you that you are beautiful and loved

I’m sorry that you passed in loneliness and fear

Please know that you are not forgotten

We all remember, we are all here

And we are growing stronger and more restless

With each passing year

We could never forget

But we will never forgive

We will keep fighting

Until the year each and every one of us lives.

 ©R. Drew 2011

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Donate $1 to My Chest Surgery!

Today I have launched the 7000 People Project. An interactive social exploration of self and a fundraiser for my chest masculinization procedure. I’m testing the 7 degrees of separation by trying to raise $1 at a time.

DONATE $1

Indiegogo.com/7000peopleproject

Visit my website:

7000peopleproject.org

Hi St. Joes People!

Hi folks that I visited at St. Joes on Wednesday! (11/2/2011)

Just wanted to say that you all were so lovely and I am so thankful to have been a guest in your classroom. Thank you for letting me share my experience with you and for listening so compassionately and intently. You’re the best! If you ever need to email me, please do so! rdrew.philly [at] yahoo [dot] com.

Please remember! Everyone who is trans walks a different path. There are so many expressions of gender across the board other than just male or female. Don’t assume someone identifies a certain way and challenge yourself to use gender neutral language.

Here is a quote you may like to keep in mind: “I know a space is safe when beauty in all forms is protected.” -Anonymous
Here are some things extra that you can do that we didn’t talk about in class:

  • Be kind and courteous and don’t assume or judge
  • Don’t fall for the gender trap! You can be whatever kind of man, woman, or in between human being you want. Sing, skip, wrestle, and enjoy whatever makes you happy and have the courage to not fear of judgment from others.
  • Turn off Facebook and spend that precious time educating yourself via blogs, websites, etc. Do a google search and see what happens!
  • Explore your own privilege
  • Start a conversation, be an ally!
  • Call out a homo/transphobic friend, family or community member
  • Suggest LGBT-friendly changes in policy and physical space in your communities
  • Use your faith to further your understanding of diversity and tolerance, and be an example for others

Thanks ya’ll! See ya next time! Visit my other sites if you want. Chest surgery fundraiser: 7000peopleproject.org and my professional site raeray73.wordpress.com

Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

I am writing because I need to share something with you. Most of you know that I’ve been struggling for a few years with issues of gender identity.

 I’ve gone through about two years of struggle, sadness, introspection and self-actualization and the conclusion that I’ve come to that transitioning to male and identifying as a transman will bring me peace and happiness.

 I’ve shortened my name to Rae (which most of you call me anyway), I am now asking you to use male pronouns when referring to me (he/his/him) and I will be physically changing my appearance with chest masculinzation surgery and testosterone hormone therapy.

 Making these decisions and coming out (I am out to my family, some friends, and my employer and coworkers) has already eased what at times has felt like the weight of the world on my shoulders. Depression symptoms, moodiness, substance abuse and anger issues that I had have been dealing with since age 13 have almost vanished into thin air. While I do suspect that those will be lingering problems throughout my lifetime and transitioning is not a “cure-all,” I am living life with a clarity of peace that I have never experienced before. It feels amazing, too.

 I want you all to know that this isn’t something that is a spontaneous or poorly thought-out decision. I’ve been seeing a therapist for about a year and half and even had to get a written letter of approval before I could consult with a surgeon about chest surgery. I’ve worked this out with my therapist, close friends, partner and my family. I’ve taken my time to make sure this is what I really want to do with my life, and it has become clear to me that this is what I need to do in order to survive. I’m sad to tell you that at the peak of all my confusion about my gender identity, I seriously considered taking my own life.

 Although we aren’t as close as we once were, I love you all and value you all so much. I hope know that you’re all amazing, open-minded people, and I hope that you will continue to love me for my soul. I am changing my body, but my soul is staying the same – just getting bigger, brighter, better and ready to love as fiercely and as unmercifully as possible.

Hope to hear from you,

Love,

Rae

I wrote this email for a few close college friends, but I wanted to share it with all my friends who visit this site.

Binding

What is binding? It is using something – a tight shirt, a specially-fitted garment, an ace bandage (dangerous though, do not use that) – to compress and flatten your breasts to give yourself a flat, masculine-appearing chest.

A lot of transmen have disdain or at least discomfort surrounding their breasts. Breasts are a secondary sex characteristic – just like widened hips and menstruation for women and deeper voice, facial hair, and muscles for men – that is developed by your body during puberty to prepare you for child rearing and make you more recognizable as the male or female biology that you were born as. Children who haven’t gone through puberty often are very gender-neutral looking because they lack these secondary sex characteristics.

Because the world can easily recognize and assume that a person with breasts, softer curves and a higher-pitched voice is a woman, transpeople are often pressured to try and disguise most of these aspects until we are ready for and can afford surgery and/or hormone therapy treatment. One aspect of that disguising is trying to erase the appearance of our breasts by binding. The end goal is to look simply flat-chested.

Not every transman binds. Some transmen bind every day. Some transmen bind occasionally, for job interviews and professional appearances. Some transmen can’t go get the mail without binding. It all rests on one’s personal level of comfort. I even know transmen who could give a shit less about what people think and refuse to bind. There are many varying degrees all over the spectrum.

I personally bind every day. I can go get the mail without a binder on, but I hate doing it. I won’t go get coffee or run to the drug store across the street without my binder on. I bind when we have guests over, even if they are dear friends.

My binding has been an evolution. At first, when I was still identifying as female with a lot of question and gender issues, I refused to bind. My breasts always get extremely tender and sore during my lovely menstrual cycle, and I couldn’t imagine binding. It seemed so painful.

After I started coming out more as trans, I started binding when I gave transgender lectures or when I performed, or when I went out to a bar or to dinner. At the time I was using an ace bandage: bad move. To try and get my chest flat, I would wrap it entirely too tight. I could barely breathe. Performing was the worst because my heart would race since I was nervous and I could feel that it was under stress and pressure due to the huge force of compression that I was subjecting it to. At times I felt I was going to pass out right on stage. There is one picture taken of me performing in which my face is literally purple.

However, at that time I was poor and uneducated and desperate to look closer to who I imagined myself as. Those circumstances put me in serious danger – probably more serious than I even realize.

I next switched to an abdominal binder that I would use to wrap around my chest. It was meant to apply compression to the stomachs/abdominal areas of patients who had just had some kind of stomach abdominal surgery. This was also made by Ace, but it was less constricting. It was more expensive though – about $40. However, a small price to pay for the luxury of being able to breathe and not feeling like I was going to die, but the binder looked awkward under my shirt. It was basically a big, stretchy band about 7 inches across that I wrapped over my breasts then velcroed. It never velcroed evenly, and the velcro always scratched me. The velcro never layed flat and there was always this one weird, pointy edge sticking up right underneath my left breast. I was constantly self-conscious about it used to always hold my arm in front of it so nobody could see the little piece poking through my shirt. Whenever I wrote tighter shirts, you could sort of see the band across my chest, so I stopped wearing a third of the clothes that I had in my closet.

When I got a new, physically demanding job I could no longer keep my posture hunched inward and my arm in front of the pointy piece, so I eventually chalked up the $60 for a professional binder from the company Underworks. (http://ftm.underworks.com). The binders from this company are the only binders I recommend. It is the safest and most comfortable. They are actually a company that makes surgical chest compression binders for post-operative cismale patients (cis meaning men who were born men and stayed that way: check the glossary page if you’re having a hard time keeping up with terms!). They found out that a lot of transmen started using their binders as a means to flatten their chests until they could afford chest surgery, and they started selling and advertising them directly to transmen.

I’ve had the binder a few months and it’s definitely a welcome change from my last two binder experiments.

This is the Underworks binder: it actually kind f just looks like a tank top or undershirt.

This is the end product: a really flat chest under my t-shirt.

Here is a video about my binder:

Binding is a necessary step for me. It helps me feel more like I have the body that I’m supposed to have, and it makes me appear more male in society. It’s not easy though, and not fun. Binding is painful. Although my breathing isn’t restricted (anymore), my muscles are, especially those in my back. The binder holds my body in the same posture all day. There have been times when the single only thought that filled my mind was the moment I could go home and tear my binder off and stretch my back muscles out. At the end of a double shift at work when I am standing and moving all day long, my spine sometimes feels like it is going to snap in half since I haven’t been able to stretch it for hours. I also wear it every single day, and I have very sensitive skin, so I’ve developed acne all over my back (so hot, right?). I also shudder to think what compression and probably restricted blood flow is doing to my breast tissue. The hardest thing to know is that until I can afford the $7,000 chest masculinzation procedure – that most insurance companies won’t pay for because they view it as “cosmetic” surgery – I have to make a choice of whether or not I want to do serious harm to my mental health (not wear it) or physical health (wear it).

Sometimes I dream about my binder. I had a nightmare last February while I was camping in a cabin with my Fiancee and friend. In the dream, I awoke in the cabin and went to the kitchen where I got some plastic wrap. I began wrapping my chest with it over my pajamas and started putting random things against my chest and wrapping them tight to me. I realized the wrap was too tight and I started to have a seizure and I thought I was dying. I woke in the middle of this but was still too sleepy to differentiate between wakefulness and dreaming. I went back to sleep but awoke later feeling extremely anxious. Later in the day I had a severe panic attack.

Just yesterday I also dreamed that that I was wearing my underworks binder. Sometimes, with certain shirts, the binder makes my chest look large and puffed out. In my dream I saw myself in a picture, and my chest was hugely puffed out and distorted. In the dream, I thought I looked like a monster.

If what I’ve said has troubled you, there is something you can do. Part of the reason transmen bind is because our appearance of breasts in society is automatic “female” label. Sometimes we even slap that label on ourselves when we don’t have our binders. Next time you see a person with breasts who you’re not sure how they identify, don’t automatically assume they are female. Also, if you have a loved one who you know binds, gently remind them that you will still see them for who they are even if they aren’t binding (don’t be pushy and insistent about it though, some transmen are just too uncomfortable to take their binders off). Even if seeing the outline of their breasts as opposed to a flat chest is a bigger mental stumbling block to seeing them as male, try really hard.  Think man boobs – you know, that 400 lb dude at the beach who should really be wearing a bikini top. Being reassuring. Be on your A-game with pronouns. Make it seem like it’s not a big deal at all and it doesn’t change who they are and how they identify. Because it really doesn’t, only society tells us that it does.

 

 

 

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I’m Engayged!

On October 9th, 2011 on a swinging bridge in the middle of the River Gorge of the Nantahala National Forest, I asked my partner of five years to spend the rest of her life with me. She said yes!

The perfect proposal spot 🙂

Please!?!?!?!

Yes. 🙂

Bon voyage girl stuff!

Recently I got rid of the very last of my girl stuff. This was really just some underwear and bras. It took me a long time to finally get rid of it all, even though I hadn’t worn it for probably a year or more. I think it was more a hang-up over the bras, because I still do have breasts so there was this fear lurking somewhere inside me that I would need them for something. I don’t know what, though. I will confess that I did keep one, just in case. I can’t completely banish that fear. Maybe I’m just hoarding sports bras. Oh, who knows. It’s been interesting – my little departures from my life as female. I think we’re all a little resistant in some ways to certain changes, even if we know they’re exciting and good for us.

Although it’s hard to not physically look male in really any ways and to get called the wrong pronoun all the time (called “she” instead of my preferred pronoun, “he”), I am trying to find value in the space that I am in right now. There is something really special about that space, that gap in time when you are poised between the person you were and the person you are becoming. The Buddhists think that this is the only way you can live happily: exactly where you are in the moment. Maybe they’re right?

 

 

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