Are We There Yet?


And it really is a BMW. Really.

I went for my pre-op physical for top surgery. No big deal. Blood test, urine test, and an EKG. Montefiore Hospital. An hour on the subway; the next to the last stop on the #4 line in The Bronx. I didn’t read or listen to music. I looked at everyone else on the train and wondered what they saw when they looked back at me.

I was anxious about the blood test. I am afraid of needles. I have a 50/50 chance of fainting when I give blood or get a shot. I told the nurse I wanted to recline so that If I fainted I wouldn’t fall out of the chair. We talked about our dogs until she finished drawing blood. She has a brindle pit mix. I survived.

It was the EKG that got to me. Another nurse left me behind a curtain and told me to take off my shirt and lie down on the gurney. I remembered that I was wearing boxers that stuck up above my jeans and a binder (Air Max velcro). She attached the EKG electrodes to my arms and legs and then she struggled a little to get them under my binder.  She didn’t say anything and I was just about to offer to loosen the velcro when she got the last one attached.

While I was on the gurney I realized that once I have top surgery this is going to happen every time I have an EKG or a physical. It will be awkward. With my shirt on, I will be a hard to read flat chested butch. WIth my shirt off, I will be transgender. In no-man’s land. Continue reading

Are You an Apple Trapped Inside a Cranberry?

Do you ever feel like you are an apple trapped inside a cranberry? Or like a cranberry trapped inside an apple? Or maybe you feel like a cran-apple (or, as auto correct would insinuate, like a crabapple)?

Thanksgiving can be a tough time for U.S. fruits like us (transgender, butch, queer, or otherwise gender nonconforming). The ramp up to the holidays is packed full of images of heteronormative families in joyous and loving celebration. The women are working in the kitchen, the men are in the den watching football, and a well-behaved dog is peacefully snoozing by the fireplace. It is a constant reminder of how I don’t fit in, and why I don’t want to fit it. And that I am estranged from my birth family. It ended with Thanksgiving.

When Donna and I started our relationship, my mother would not invite her over. She was trying to keep my grandmother from “knowing.”  We were supposed to be one small normal happy family. The main source of happiness in my life was, and still is, Donna. Back then, I didn’t have a dog, but my mother would not have allowed me to bring the dog either.

I wouldn’t go to Thanksgiving without Donna. I hoped my refusal would pressure my mother into coughing up an invitation. It didn’t. We table hopped for a few years, but I wouldn’t go home. When Donna and I moved in together we decided to make Thanksgiving dinner in our home. We invited some friends over. Twenty years later, we are still cooking for the same crowd. My grandmother and my mother are both dead; stacked one on top of the other in a mausoleum in Westchester.

I spend a lot of time in November thinking about the meal. Donna and I collaborate (negotiate) on which dishes to rotate in or out. We each have our favorites; it is too much work and too much food on the table to make all of them each year. But there are always two cranberry sauces. Donna likes the traditional sauce, and I like one that is all mixed up and savory. There is no acceptable compromise.

I used to make a different savory sauce each year. A cranberry chutney with fresh and candied ginger, onion raisin cranberry confit, a cranberry salsa with cilantro and poblano peppers. Two years ago I sampled a spiced cranberry apple sauce at the Greenmarket and thought “I could reproduce this.” It took three tries to get it right, but it was good. So good that It found its place in the Thanksgiving canon, and can not be swapped out.

This year the experimentation has shifted to the “onion dish”. November means trying out some new recipes (sweet and sour onions) and tweaking old ones (jeweled roast vegetables). The dishes must be able to be made ahead of time and taste good served at room temperature or reheated with everything else after the turkey comes out of the oven. I’ve still got a week left to play.

Because I write about what is on my mind, I offer you these two recipes. Cis Cranberry Sauce for Donna, and Trans Cranberry-Apple Sauce for me. If you have never made cranberry sauce at home, it is super easy, and way better than what you get in a can.

Cis Cranberry Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) cranberries, picked over and rinsed (remove any that are soft and squishy).
  • Grated zest of one small orange (if you have a Microplane grater use it, otherwise use a box grater and try not to grate any of the white pith).

In a three quart saucepan, bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil. Add the cranberries.
Bring back to a boil, boil for a minute, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the berries have stopped “popping” and the mixture thickens.
Turn off the heat, add the orange zest, and stir to incorporate.
Let rest for a couple of minutes, and then transfer to a storage container.
Makes about 2 cups.

Trans Cranberry-Apple Sauce:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 bag (12 ounces or 3 cups) cranberries. Picked over and rinsed (remove any that are soft and squishy).
  • 3 cups chopped apples – apples chopped roughly to the size of the cranberries. I use Macintosh but you could use Windows.
  • 1/4 cup currants (OK to substitue raisins)
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (OK to substitue wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (add more while it cooks if you want it spicier – Donna is a spice wimp).

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, bring the water and sugar to a boil.
Add all the other ingredients and bring back to a boil. Boil for a minute.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Adjust salt and red pepper to taste.
Let rest for a few minutes and transfer to a storage container.
Makes about 4 cups.

I scheduled my top surgery for after Thanksgiving so that I could shop, cook, and clean for the holiday. I am thankful that I am able to do both, and thankful to Donna for being here with me.

Notes: I was looking for an article on the history of how “fruit” became slang for gay. Instead, I turned up this bizarre clip from the CBC on how the Mounties tried to use a “fruit machine” to identify gay men during the early 1960’s.


How Dare You Presume I’m…?


San Diego Gay Pride March, 1983

When I realized I was gay I came out with a vengeance. When I realized I was transgender I came out with a whimper.

I came out in my residence hall my first week at college. I came out to my mother and brother at the end of my freshman year. I came out to my co-workers on every job. I came out because I believe there is no point to being in the closet. Being gay is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep private. Being gay means being out.

I fit the butch stereotype of a masculine female. I show up on everyone’s gaydar but not on their transdar. When asked “Don’t butch lesbians just want to be men?” I said “No!” because it was the “correct” answer. Even though it wasn’t true, for me.

Coming out as transgender is different from coming out as gay. Different presumptions. When I tell you I am gay I am stating that I am sexually and romantically attracted to women. When I tell you I am trans I am stating that I don’t self-identify with my birth sex or the gender imposed upon me when I was born. Continue reading

The Other Side of the Shore


Bras Across The Bridge – Breast Cancer Awareness – 2011

I managed to make it this far without going through the social rites of passage for a Jewish-American girl. No Bat Mitzvah, no Sweet Sixteen, no Prom, no graduation party, no wedding. No ceremony to mark the crossing of a line, the shift in status from childhood to adulthood. No ancient rituals, no reading of texts, no scarifications.

Maybe scarifications. I’m counting down the days to top surgery (December 8). If top surgery is my rite of passage, it is not clear to me what is on the other side of the shore.

I’ve been low-key about it because I don’t want to put a hex on it. I am thankful that Donna remains nominally onboard and reconciled to my going through with it. I’ve read up on tips for top surgery and what to expect while you are recovering. I ‘m making a list of what I need to do around the house to prepare. I want to make it as easy on Donna as possible.

Over the last fifteen years I’ve had four surgeries (one to repair torn knee ligaments, two to remove fibroids, and a partial hysterectomy). I learned that I get nauseous and depressed from anesthesia. I learned that I am impatient to recover, that I get bored staying at home, and that I don’t like to ask for help.

But, I am channelling all of my anxiety about top surgery into the realization that I don’t have the right outfit to come home from the hospital in. Or for lounging around in while I recover.  Or for taking a walk to cool my cabin fever. Continue reading

Living with the Dichotomy

Butch-cognitive-dissonanceI am trying to listen. Without interrupting, without succumbing to distraction, without shutting down. This is what I hear my six-year-old self say (in not quite six-year-old language):

I’m not a girl. I don’t want to be a girl. It doesn’t feel right. I can’t pretend I’m a girl. I hate being a girl. I can’t pretend I’m happy. I don’t want to grow up unless I can be a boy. I want to wear boy’s clothes and play baseball. I want a boy’s name and a crew cut. 

I want to be like my Dad. Not like my mother. Not like my grandmother. I don’t want to grow up and be a wife or a mother. If I could, I would turn myself into a boy. Continue reading

Grammar, Preferred Gender Pronouns, and I

butch-tool-kitThe past imperfect: I was thinking about my pronouns. I recently joined a group that starts off every meeting with each person sharing their first name, preferred gender pronouns (PGPs), and answering the question of the week (e.g. who is your favorite cartoon character?).

Most cisgender people have no problem disclosing their pronouns, and resort to the pronouns they were assigned when they were born. Their gender expression is the same as their sex, and both are congruent with their pronouns. It is tidier when everything matches and nothing changes. There is nothing to explain.

I feel trapped when asked to share my PGPs. I can barely say they/them/their. I know I secretly prefer he/him/his, but I won’t say it. It would be a “pronouncement” that I’m transitioning socially. I’m not ready. I may never be ready. 

Being asked to state my pronouns makes me feel like I’m “not trans enough.” I hedge my answer. I explain that most of the people in my life, including Donna, use she/her/her, but I prefer they/them/their. I don’t hear the question as “What do you prefer I use when I refer to you?” – I defensively hear the question as “Do you use male pronouns and why not?”

In my mind he/him/his pronouns and testosterone go together like love and marriage. As the song states “you can’t have one without the other” even though I know several exceptions to this rule (butches on low dose testosterone who use female pronouns, and trans guys who have never gone on testosterone and use male pronouns). Name change and top surgery don’t push you over the pronoun cliff unless you choose to jump. Continue reading

What to Wear to Work – Dressing While Butch

What to wear if you are butch?

What to wear if you are butch and transgender?

After five months of slumming I laid out work clothes. I want to feel comfortable going back to the office. I tried on a few permutations of jeans, button down shirts, and sweaters in front of the full length mirror with the lights on. Five years ago this would have been a humiliating and depressing task. Now, I only wish I had sent my sweaters to the cleaners in April instead of throwing them in a heap to moulder.

Except for senior management, new employees, and ambitious scum, no one at Transit dresses to impress. There is a lot of cheap polyester. Dated and out of fashion. There is no incentive to buy new clothes if you can still fit in your old ones. There is no written dress code. The expectation for men is a shirt and tie; the expectation for women is nothing that I would wear. My perpetual dilemma. Continue reading