Tag Archives: gender

Trans 101: Back to Basics

The most basic of basic Trans 101.

If you feel like a Neanderthal, or a two year old, or a two year old Neanderthal when it comes to understanding transgender identities, let me just break it right on down for ya.

A transgender male is a female-born individual who identifies as male and can be anywhere on the spectrum of medically transitioned – from no medical intervention at all to completely medically transitioned, including surgery and hormone replacement therapy.

Laymans terms: I identify as dude, therefor I am.

Another way of thinking of it:

Think of transitioning in terms of geographically relocating.  Some guys are born male – these guys are the “locals,” this is who they’ve always been. Some guys “moved” here a long time ago and just fit right in, it’s as if they’ve never lived anywhere else. Some guys just moved here and are still trying to learn how to be a local. Be welcoming to the newbies, you have much more to offer them than you think.

If you have a guy friend who happens to be trans, you need not do anything other than treat him just as you would any other dude.

All of everything I just said is exactly the same for transwomen, except replace the words guy, dude, and man with chick, dudette, and woman. Ta-da.

 

 

For further consideration:

We live in a world where there are two predominantly socially-accepted genders: male and female. Think of it as Democrat and Republican. You know there are other parties out there, and chances are you don’t totally subscribe 100% to your chosen party. (And hell if you’re smart, you know it’s all just a sham anyway). Gender works similarly and there are people out there who have chosen to not conform to male or female and blaze their own path of gender identity. (Gender anarchy!!) These folks may identify as genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or they might ditch labels altogether. We won’t get too deeply into it since we don’t want to overwhelm your little toddler caveman brain, but these folks are out there and they are revolutionary and deserve equal amounts of respect.

 

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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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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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Old Journal Entry #6

When I first started questioning my gender identity, I found a community of transmen on this online diary website called Live Journal. I was floundering so much for a sense of community and I was so excited to find them, but it actually turned out to be a disaster for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into. However, I have found a great community here in my city of Philly, so I’m happy now and that’s all that counts. But I’ve decided to share with you some of my journal entries from the early days of my gender questioning.

Sixth Journal Issue:

February 19th, 2011

Wow, here I am nearly a year later since my last post.

Whew! Ummm… hehhh…yeahhhh…..

I have a good excuse though! Beginning in April (a month after I posted my last entry), 2010 officially became the worst year of my life.

My dad had a massive heart attack and almost died, I’ve been unemployed, I had a really fucked up job thing happen at the end of December, and not that it’s a bad thing, but I’ve been going through this transition process which has just been really hard. So yeah.

I think I mentioned in my last post that my transition is moving along at a snails pace… well, it still is! I kinda went nuts for a little bit and read all these books about gender — 14 in total I believe — and was just totally freaked out.

I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who analyzes EVERYTHING. To death. Beyond death. I’m in the afterlife chasing thoughts down and analyzing them some more.

The transition thing kind of blew my mind I think. Something I think that was happening was I was kind of having a quarter-life crisis. I think my transition was compounding the slap-in-the face that being an adult, college graduate in a shitty economy was. I started freaking out over kind of “killing off” my teenage self – this wild, mischievous girl named Raeann who everyone loved and was always doing something crazy. I think the truth is, transition or not, I’m simply not that person anymore. But it’s kind of freaky to not be the person you once were, and to be a person of a completely different gender at the same time. It’s a bit of a mindfuck, if you will.

Another thing that I was having a hard time with was not feel “trans enough.” I kept meeting all these trans guys who have had chest surgery, have been on T for years, are solidly male-identified and that’s just not me! In the major city where I live, at least lately, I haven’t felt very welcomed by some members of the community. There are other genderqueer people out there that I’ve yet to meet. I am going to be in a show next month with a lot of genderqueer people so hopefully I can meet some new people.

I kinda used to go nuts wondering who I should be, and I spent a better part of a year basing my identity off everyone around me – my partner, family, friends, those other trans guys, even strangers on the street and in the subway. Everyone except myself.

But lately I don’t give a shit! I just stopped caring. I have no idea why, when, or how, but I did. I am just myself. I have no gender; I have all genders at once. It makes no sense so why worry about it anymore?

It’s been very liberating. I do kind of feel trapped and feel I need to act a certain way sometimes in public, but for the most part I’m working hard to ignore those pressures and trying to have pride in my mixmatched, mixed up self.

I think a lot of me coming to this realization came along with my discovery of Buddhism, which is all about loving and accepting yourself for who you are. Also, being in the Buddhist community in a very queer-friendly major city, I feel that I am not being judged.

I’ve been using meditation (although as of very recently I must admit I’ve been slacking) and just trying to clear the clutter in my brain. This is the first time since I began experiencing severe depression 12 years ago that I have just stopped and tried to breathe and clear my head.

I’ve been mentally sick for such a long time that it’s been hard being a somewhat well person. It’s as if I’ve been programmed to self-destruct myself. I think I am a very self-destructive person, and it’s been kind of hard to overcome that. How does a negative, pessimistic person who is chronically depressed turn into a positive, optimistic person who rolls with the punches? It’s a transition in itself! I’ve been working hard at breathing, experiencing the world “as is,” recognizing that bad things will happen but I ultimately chose my own level of suffering, and basically I chose my own level of happiness. These things are coming together at a snails pace as well…but slow and steady wins the race, right?

In terms of the transition process, I haven’t made any physical changes yet. I do have my heart set on chest surgery, and am working getting the funds together for that. Would love to have it done in a few months.

The jury is still out on hormones for me. They don’t seem that crucial to my process of transition, but I may change my mind later? Who knows. For now, not something I’m concerning myself with.

I’m binding more and more. When I’m not using a wrap, I use an undershirt and tuck it in realllyyyy tight so it kind of flattens my chest. Both are super uncomfortable and I hate doing it, but I love having a flat chest so I bite the bullet sometimes.

The biggest thing to change is that I came out to my mom about a month ago. She actually handled it AMAZINGLY. She was basically just like I love you no matter what, you gotta be happy, etc. It was a dream coming out moment! I know there is a lot of hard roads ahead and a lot of things she may not realize (that she is going to have to stop calling me Raeann, for example) but I think she knew this was coming and had prepared herself for it. She didn’t even cry! Wtf?! lol

I am very, very, very soon going to be asking my friends to refer to me with male pronouns. I don’t think this will be a big deal. It might be hard with my friends from home who have known me as “she” for my whole life, but I know they love me and want me to be happy, and I we can keep an open communication flow going.

I guess my advice to anyone who might be reading this blog is to be COMPASSIONATE toward your family and friends. This process is going to hurt them, you cannot avoid that. It is how you handle the hurt that will determine the outcome of your relationship. You are of course entitled to protect yourself emotionally, but don’t alienate yourself and don’t let the guilt consume you.

In fact, don’t feel guilty. Just be there for them, be compassionate, be loving and be steadfast in your decision and confidently guide them to what you need from them so they are assured this is what you need and is going to make you happy. If they love you, they will get over it. And if they can’t get over it (in a reasonable amount of time) then sadly it’s time to move on.

I got this fortune cookie a while back that really helped me, it said:

“You can judge the true character of a man by how he does for those who do nothing for him.”

I think that’s something worth keeping in mind!

Anyway, until next year! haha I hope not… but until next time!

Peace and Love

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Old Journal Entry #5

When I first started questioning my gender identity, I found a community of transmen on this online diary website called Live Journal. I was floundering so much for a sense of community and I was so excited to find them, but it actually turned out to be a disaster for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into. However, I have found a great community here in my city of Philly, so I’m happy now and that’s all that counts. But I’ve decided to share with you some of my journal entries from the early days of my gender questioning.

Fifth Journal Issue:

March 22nd, 2010

The last post that I wrote was about being partnered with someone and going through the transition. That’s probably been the hardest part, since my gf started dating me when I identified as lesbian (as she is a lesbian). She is doing a LOT better and she started going to a local support group (in philly – contact me if your s/o is interested) and I hope that helps some too. She’s very scared that our relationship dynamics will change and move out of her comfort zone, though I keep trying to reassure her that I’m sure that things will only get better. I think mostly we are just trying to take everything one day at time.

I’ve still only come out to just two people, although I’m ready and would like to come out to more. It’s just so hard to say it! Even though I can be really outgoing, I tend to get really nervous sometimes and I’ve been so nervous to tell some friends. I also am having a hard time find the right opportunity. “So, what did you think of that movie? Oh yeah, it was great. Oh by the way — I’m trans!” I’m sure a lot of my friends probably suspect it, and would be totally cool with it, but still. I’m thinking of just saying “fuck it” and writing a damn email already. That’s the only way I can think of to say it, because when I try in person, nothing comes out.

I’m also nervous because I just had a job interview earlier today that I actually think I may have a really good chance at getting. The only thing is that it’s at the college I graduated from, the department that I worked in as a student worker. Now I’d be transitioning on the job with a bunch of people who have known me for six years as a woman. The college I went to is an art school and everyone is really open-minded, but it just seems like a really good opportunity at sort of an odd time. We’ll see, I might not even get the job!

Other than that, I’m excited that summer is coming and that I can have a fundraiser or two at my studio space to earn the $$ to chop off the boobies. Or maybe maybe if I get the job, my health care would somehow cover it (doubtttt ittt). Either way, I’m getting excited that hopefully in about a year or so chest surgery may be a reality. I can’t wait!

I did bind my breasts recently for the first time, which was something I never thought I’d do. My boobs are pretty big and they hurt a lot, so I really had no interest in it. But, I tried it, and I actually liked it a lot. It was kind of hard to breathe, which I didn’t like at all, but it finally did feel nice to be somewhat flat-chested.

As I said earlier, I think I’m just taking things one day at a time. The transition process is coming along at a snail speed, but I keep trying to tell myself that I will get there eventually. I have noticed that since I came out to some friends and have been able to be more open with my girlfriend, my depression sharply decreased and my motivation and overall well-being have been way up. I think this is also because I’m not working and have been able to eat really well and exercise (and not be stuck all day at a job that I hate) and I’m currently spending my time working on a project I’m very passionate about (which I will write about soon, I promise). It will be interesting to see how these things fluctuate once I start working and my day is mainly devoted to a job that I don’t love (although if I get this job, I will really like it a lot). I realize that the transition won’t ever solve all my problems (ESPECIALLY not my money ones, lol), but being able to be my true self has lifted my spirits tremendously. In the past four months, I’ve only been mildly depressed twice, just for like two days at a time. Usually in that time I’d experience severe depression with suicidal thoughts probably at least twice, for at least up to two weeks at a time. Sometimes I’ve experienced severe depression with suicidal thoughts for up to a month!

I hate to be cliche, but prior to come out, it’s very scary to think about but my will to live was plummeting. I really hope that my depression will continue to stay on a mild, manageable level from now on and even if it occasionally slips into the despairing level, I will be much better equipped to handle it because it won’t feel like I’m in a constant mental battle to survive. As I said, I’m very curious to see what having a job and being out (at least to friends and maybe family at first) will do for my mental health. If I begin to get severely depressed again from working, I think it may be time to explore that issue and to get a psychiatrist’s opinion on just how disabling my depression is. Currently, where I’m at now, I feel like I can manage pretty well, but we will see.

Anyhooha, that’s about all! I hope everyone is doing well and trying their hardest to be their true selves, whoever that may be, and working towards making themselves a better person altogether!

Peace and love

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