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

The Paper Chase

All week-long I’ve been singing snippets from Alice’s Restaurant; Arlo Guthrie’s long shaggy dog song about being inducted into the Army. I got processed to go back to work part-time as a consultant at Transit.

Elvis at his Army physical, 1958. Photo by Don Cravens / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Elvis at his Army physical, 1958. Photo by Don Cravens / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

It took four months for my paperwork to crawl through the bureaucracy and get approval from the ethics board. It took another month for Human Resources to give me an appointment to get processed. As Yogi Berra said – It’s deja vu all over again.

My first day at Transit was my worst day on the job. I was a self-conscious chubby 22-year-old out of the closet baby butch lesbian. It was my first day out of jeans. I did my best to dress for success. I wore clean underwear and a normal bra, a pair of grey wool slacks, a pink Oxford cloth button-down shirt, and a tweed blazer. I wore a strand of pearls to make sure everyone knew I was a girl, even if I wasn’t so sure about it myself. Continue reading

The Sanity Clause

This is the recommendation letter for top surgery that I wrote but didn’t send. Disclosure – my therapist reads my blog because I am not a big talker.

Jamie is an adult and is mature enough to decide to get top surgery. If Jamie wanted breast augmentation I wouldn’t be writing a permission letter, you’d just ask what cup size and take the money. 

As confused as Jamie has been about being trans, and as long as it took to get to this point, I don’t think anyone can talk Jamie out of this. It is her their body and I am honestly tired of listening to her them complain about wearing a binder and being a boy. Enough already. Please schedule this ASAP. Maybe then she they will deal with the remaining issues so that she they can finally finish therapy.

Grouch Marx and Chico Marx discuss the "Sanity Clause" in A Night at the Opera.

Grouch Marx and Chico Marx discuss the “Sanity Clause” in A Night at the Opera.

I’ve written my own recommendation letters before. A letter from a professor for a job, one from a friend for a co-op apartment purchase package, and my annual performance review at work. I always knew what to say.

Lo, those many years ago when I started therapy, I told my therapist that I had three issues I needed to work on: compulsive eating, my Dad’s death, and “gender stuff.” I spent many years avoiding talking. It’s been an expensive game of chess. One move and then a lot of silence. Then another move. When she questioned me I clammed up. Session after session. She waited me out.

I’m slow to trust and make personal connections. I expect people to judge me.

I look like an old-fashioned butch lesbian. Masculine attire, short hair, sensible shoes. A long-term relationship, a cute dog, and a dented green Subaru Outback. I thought I was keeping “it” under control. No one questioned whether I was butch enough; no one asked me if I was transgender. When there was an opening to talk about it I teetered on the precipice, but regained my balance. Continue reading

On Not Starting Yoga Class

Butch-WeightliftingBefore I retired, I put up three goals on the white board in my cubicle; to get my 401K/457 accounts maxed out,  to get my weight down to 140 lb., and to reliably bench press 75 lb. I hit the first two goals, but I got stuck at bench pressing more than 65 lb. I considered hiring a personal trainer to see if I could do it, but it seemed like cheating. As I tried to get past 65 lb., I realized that not all goals make sense.

I also made a list of things I wanted to do with my free time. So far, I’ve only learned how to work out with kettlebells. I haven’t started the second blog I want to write, I haven’t attended introductory yoga, and I haven’t cleaned up my room (I straightened out and rearranged the piles).

I’m an obsessive person. I try to divert myself from binge overeating and compulsive shopping by taking on new projects (paradoxically every project requires purchasing some books or equipment). If you looked at the stack of books by the couch, you could figure out my current project is revamping my gym workout. There is also a book on hoarding, and another on Afghanistan.

It took me ten years to get bored with free weights. I like how butch it feels to use dumbbells and barbells. It separates me from the women at the gym; they mostly use the circuit machines and rarely use the benches. They go to yoga and dance classes; the studio is always full of pencil thin women in their thirties.

Working out helps me manage my gender dysphoria and feel strong in my body. I don’t compare my muscles, or how much weight I’m lifting, to anyone else. Some women are scared to work out because they don’t want to look muscle-bound; I wish it was that easy. I accept that if I don’t use testosterone my body will never look ripped. I will never be able to lift significantly more than I do now. I can master the form. I can get compact and sturdier. I can feel more powerful. Continue reading

Every Shirt Tells a Story

My favorite T-shirt, even though it does not fit.

My favorite T-shirt, even though it does not fit.

My oldest piece of clothing is a heather blue wool sweater vest. It is over fifty years old and belonged to my Dad. I can’t wear it. My freshman year in college I washed it and threw it in the dryer. I didn’t know any better.

I can’t throw the vest away. I can’t fix it. It shares space in my closet with other articles of clothing that are symbolic. There is a beautiful striped men’s T-shirt from J. Crew that is about 20 years old. It never fit. I ordered it pre-internet, from a catalog, over the phone. I’ve hardly worn it. For many years it was too small, too tight across the bust and hips, and too long. Even when I tucked it in, it didn’t fit right or look right.  I held onto it because I wanted to wear it.

I lost weight and now the T-shirt is too big and too long. It will always be the wrong cut. Twenty years ago guys wore their T-shirts baggy and tucked in. It was designed for someone who is six feet tall. Yet I can’t imagine throwing it away. It represents a hope I used to have. That a piece of clothing had the power to change my life, to transform me from a self-conscious butch lesbian into a handsome teen age boy. Continue reading

My Last Mammogram

Photo by Wendy Thomas (see notes)

Photo by Wendy Thomas (see notes)

I had my last mammogram on Monday. I put it off for four years and only made an appointment because my surgeon required it before he would clear me for top surgery (bilateral mastectomy).

I’ve had other mammograms. This one was no different except that it was the last one. I was anxious in the radiology clinic waiting room. The TV blasted the Good Morning America show and it was impossible to read the book I brought with me (Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin). All the women in the room were quiet. They dressed up for their appointments, as if they were going to an interview. I felt overly self-conscious; a parody of a butch lesbian in jeans and a plaid shirt. I wondered what they would think if they knew why I was there. Continue reading