Sustainability

I’m not writing about Atlantic Codfish or non-GMO corn. I’m trying to balance my butch identity with my transgender identity; to walk the trans-masculine tightrope. It is about being honest in my relationship, talking in therapy, being open at work, and showering at the gym. It is about the long haul.

Philippe Petit crossing between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, 1974

Philippe Petit crossing between the unfinished towers of the World Trade Center, 1974

It isn’t about labels. It is about asking for, and accepting, support for who I am. I am not good at the getting help thing. Sometimes I feel like I am lost, without GPS, and afraid to ask for directions. I don’t know if I am just around the corner from my destination, or if it is still miles away.

What does it take to live as a non-binary (genderqueer, agender, or neutrois) person? I’ve been visibly queer since childhood, but it wasn’t always intentional. I couldn’t stomach the alternatives. What does it take to do it deliberately and consciously?

Please don’t answer patience and perseverance.

Being in the middle feels more right than the alternatives. I don’t think it is a rest stop on the journey to trans man, but stopping short is socially awkward. A body in motion stays in motion.

No one outside the community has asked me what my preferred pronouns are or used them in my presence. I fill out forms that require me to check off M or F. When I self-correct the form, I am given the lame excuse that the computer will only accept one or the other. There is no box for butch, trans-masculine, or queer. Just F or M, when I need FML (see my notes if you are not familiar with the acronym).

When-you-can't-check-off-butch

I am still looking for the PATH.

I had to choose whether to go through life defaulting to F or transitioning to M. I’m in default F mode, confusing people without apology. I don’t think I need to change my gender marker or take testosterone, but I can not make compromises that throw me into the vortex of body dysphoria.

There are some things I can compromise on. I can tolerate being seen as female as long as I can express that I am trans-masculine. I can tolerate dealing with a women’s locker room freak out when I forget that I am wearing boxer briefs and a binder. I can tolerate female pronouns even though I prefer the third person singular. I can live with the institutional default to F, even if I would check a different box if it existed.

I found out that I can’t compromise on my name or top surgery (although I did agree to delay surgery until December). I can’t compromise on what I wear (jeans, button downs, flannel shirts, and T-shirts). I can’t pretend that I am just butch; I can’t pretend that I am not transgender.

My plan for the fall is to line up support for top surgery, for staying in the middle, and for being open about it. I want to be in it for the long haul.

Notes: Philippe Petit walked that wire without safety nets and without permission. A summary of his story is here. While I was at NYCT, my co-workers had a chuckle as senior management tried to place the blame on low-level staff for the unintentional sign f-up. Here is CNET’s report, and for a history of FML there is this post at Cracked.

42 thoughts on “Sustainability

  1. krisalex333

    At least you are moving forward, Jamie. Keep balancing. I’m also on that wire without a safety net – let’s live dangerously, but let’s live. That vortex of dypshoria reminds me too much of ” when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Take care.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m moving forward – I’m not sure exactly to what. I’d like to be able to promise Donna that I’ll settle back in to myself after top surgery, but she understandably does not really believe me.
      My biggest question is am I merely making the dysphoria tolerable, i.e. allowing myself to be miserable in a manageable way rather than making myself happy (would I be happier if I transitioned?). Questions that can’t be answered without taking action.

      Like

      Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m getting in gear for it. I’ve got a pre-surgery mammogram scheduled, and I’m going to have my therapist write a letter to my surgeon (I will write a sample one). I contacted my insurance in January and they made it sound nearly impossible to get coverage, but when I called back last week the criteria were different and it sounded plausible (the paperwork equivalent of the trans* triathlon competition).

      Like

      Reply
  2. txbridgefarmer

    It must be hard to be true to yourself when society wants to force each of us into a neat little box.
    I don’t envy the struggle you are having but I have faith that the path you are on will guide you to your final destination of becoming comfortable in your own skin and being able to identify as YOU choose. As for patience and perseverance? Entirely too overrated!!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Switching things up in middle age makes it harder to be patient. I feel like I waited all these years to figure stuff out and accept it, and I don’t want to waste anymore time (which I am sure you can relate to). Hard concept to explain to my insurance company.

      Like

      Reply
  3. Aegithalos caudatus

    I’ve catapulted from butch to genderqueer to (currently) transmasculine in a matter of months and your posts are giving me a calm perspective in a complicated storm. It’s tricky being neither one nor the other (to a binary society) but knowing with your absolute personal truth that you do exist, that you are a something, a someone. Society and bureaucracy isn’t set up for us, we’re miles ahead of little boxes and binaries, and while this is wonderful and as it should be, it sure gets tiring banging your head against it all the time.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my posts. I understand why a lot of guys want a zero to sixty accelerated transition, but it is not my style nor the endpoint that I want to reach. But I also understand why a some folks can’t tolerate staying non-binary over time – it is exhausting sometimes – and I think that some transition to male, and others default back to a more female identified place because the binary poles feel safer and more familiar.

      Like

      Reply
  4. mandi009

    Congratulations on moving forward with top surgery! I wish insurance companies were better in covering it. For many people, it is necessary for their well being and I wish insurance companies would see it that way.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I put money away out of pocket because my insurance company has not been good in the past about paying for surgery. However, they seem to have shifted (crossed fingers) and may actually cover it (if I jump through the paper work hoops correctly). I’m going to try and see what happens.

      Like

      Reply
  5. Mrs Fever

    A body in motion stays in motion.
    I don’t know if I am just around the corner from my destination, or if it is still miles away.
    I am still looking for the path.

    My mind has been turning over these truths since I first read your post this morning. I am acutely attuned to these sentiments. Separately, and as a whole.

    Being in the middle feels more right than the alternatives.

    Life is a continual process of becoming; from the first heartbeat to the last it is all a middle ground, and we must each find our toeholds to carve our our paths in that vast space of in-between.

    People speak sagely about black-and-white versus shades of gray, but not all of us are quite so monochromatic. Life is a full spectrum of color. Ride your rainbow, my friend.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. The middle ground seems so middle-aged, middle-class, and middle-of-the-road (when all the kids are FTM), that it is hard to remember that insisting on being authentic is actually a radical act.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Mrs Fever

        Nobody knows what’s best for you but you. Well-meaning as others may be, they cannot choose your direction for you if you are to be at peace with yourself.

        I am reminded of a lyric from Sara Bareilles:

        Who cares if you disagree? You are NOT me.

        Like

  6. PlainT

    Sounds like the path of least resistance in society is to roll to one side or the other, and since transitioning is more accessible these days it may feel like the “easy way out”. I’m early in my questioning, still cis-presenting, but I foresee a long time of of straddling the line before I inevitably choose. It’s hard not being 100% one gender.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Ess

      I often wish that I were a transman, but no matter how hard I try, I feel just as uncomfortable beeing seen as a man that I am being seen as a woman. As long as I walk the middlegrounds between male and female I feel comfortable with my self and it doesn’t bother me to much how other people see me, or what they call me.
      It is still more acceptable to be transsexual than transgender, but I hope that will change eventually. At least it has started to move.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Jamie Ray Post author

        I was able to look at your blog (Google translate is amazing), and I think I subscribed to it through the WordPress reader. I’ll keep an eye for it. As the stigma wears off being transgender some people who would not have transitioned to male will opt for a non-binary transition.

        Like

    2. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve always presented (even as a child) as tomboy, then butch/masculine. It was clear to me that I wasn’t gender normative but I didn’t know what to do with it. I believe in a transgender spectrum. It is just difficult to live that way in the “real world” although I am doing so.

      Like

      Reply
  7. urbanmythcafe

    “Man on Wire” is my number one favorite documentary of all time. FML is what everyone else on the team says after the walk.
    Non-Binary is way exhausting. But, sometimes it is the only way.

    I can tell that you are retired now. I used to look forward to your posts every Wednesday morning before work. Now, strangely, the posts don’t appear until later. Like when you finally get out of bed at 11:00. Enjoy your retirement. 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Honest, I am getting up at 6:00ish instead of 5:00, so I am posting between 7:00 and 7:30! I am going to start going back to work as a consultant (limited by the state to an average of 50 work days) next week (in jeans and hiking shoes).

      Man on Wire is a great film – I’d be hard pressed to name my #1 documentary, it might be Word Is Out, because of where I was when I saw it and how it affected me, but I’m already starting to doubt myself (what about The Trials of Henry Kissinger or The Times of Harvey Milk).

      Like

      Reply
  8. lostinthelakes

    I can definitely relate, very much, to your post. I’m not exactly a kid, but I certainly know how hard it is to balance a middle-of-the-road identity when it seems like everyone around you is transitioning. My partner and I adhere to all kinds of rules, but it’s very difficult to be out in the world where those same rules don’t apply. I’ll surely be writing more about this because having just had top surgery, it’s front and center. I am so glad that you will be able to have surgery soon. You are not alone!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hi and thanks for reading and commenting. Always good to hear that someone else is figuring out the DIY gender identity. The most difficult part for me has been trying to hold my relationship together and to both respect Donna’s concerns but push her to be more accepting at the same time.
      All this stuff can wreak havoc on a relationship.

      Like

      Reply
  9. averyteoda

    Thanks for talking about this. I wish more people would talk about the confusion and balancing and uncertainty of issues around transitioning.

    I’ve run the gamut of identity in the three years since I realized I was trans. I started off thinking maybe I was agender, because neither male nor female fit and I wasn’t sure I was both. Then I started inching toward FtM because I started to become more comfortable with my masculinity. I sort of took it for granted that I would transition fully. But the longer I sit with the idea of being trans, the more hesitant I am to fully transition. I’m not sure whether it’s gender role dysphoria–the idea of being perceived as a man isn’t that appealing–or whether I’m honestly sitting somewhere closer to the middle of the gender spectrum. I’m not sure how okay I am with being androgynous, because even after top surgery, people still gender me female (I’m not on T, so I don’t have the body hair or voice to reinforce masculinity). I would like to have my masculinity recognized and validated, and that’s not happening right now. On the other hand, I’m not at all comfortable with separating myself from femininity, either.

    The “I’ve always known” and “born this way” certainty of the binary narrative is the one that’s most validated, and any narrative outside of that feels like a dirty secret. When I hear those narratives, it feels wrong to NOT be certain, or to believe I can live in the middle. I think all we can do is what feels most right at the time.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad you found my blog and I appreciate your comments. I struggle a lot with trying to understand the difference between how I want to see/experience myself and how much is how I want to be seen.

      Top surgery for me is all about how i see myself and getting my chest back. Since I bind, I don’t think it will look that different to anyone other than me and my partner. I really want to see that chest.

      I always wanted to be a boy (the classic butch/trans narrative there) but there is a big difference between boy and man. I’m not so sure at this point I want to be a man, but I do want to express and experience my masculinity without self-censorship or apology.

      Like

      Reply
  10. ayellowcrayon

    Hi Jamie Ray. I just wanted to say ow much I appreciate your blog. It’s so honest and intelligent and there’s not a post that goes on here that I haven’t found interesting or thought provoking. 🙂

    Like

    Reply
  11. Pingback: There are changes ahead | Watch your fingers

  12. Pingback: Discomfort | Watch your fingers

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the nomination. I have a pathological aversion to participating in blog awards – I’m glad you like reading my blog and want to pass it on to others – but I’m not comfortable nominating other blogs and asking them to do stuff (part shyness and part not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving them out). Take care.

      Like

      Reply
  13. anexactinglife

    Hi Jamie, this is something I think a lot about. Everyone is so accustomed to seeing the Middle Way as the easy way, but in terms of gender, it is just the opposite. My gendered life is very simple (cis F) but I still bristle when a co-worker says, “OK, ladies, time for lunch!” or “We need a guy with big strong arms to carry that steel shelving unit for us.” And if everyday sexism is difficult, how much more so trans* discrimination and non-binary obliviousness.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      And it is hard to “correct” people when they mean well. There was one guy I knew at work (he didn’t work in my building but came by every so often) who always called me honey or dear, and he was a lovely Neanderthal (think Tony Soprano) and I figured I would only hurt his feelings since he was doing it as a gesture of liking me. It was so incongruous that my co-workers would occasionally mimic him when they needed a favor from me.

      Like

      Reply
  14. MainelyButch

    Our journey’s are so similar. I hear you on the difficulty correcting people, it makes me nervous too. I liked your take on “’I’m in default F mode, confusing people without apology. I don’t think I need to change my gender marker or take testosterone, but I can not make compromises that throw me into the vortex of body dysphoria.” That’ single sentence sums it up. 🙂 ~MB

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I go back and forth on this (in my head) – whether it is better to do the minimum possible in “transitioning” or whether I should just “do it”. I keep leaning towards the slow route (Donna still feels like I am rushing full steam ahead but I know that is just her perspective) in the hopes that I will find the place that feels most comfortable/authentic. The difference between being 21 and 55.

      Like

      Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The whole binary construct of transition sometimes drives me crazy. I like WTF, it allows for the “I don’t know exactly what I am and that is OK, because I do know that I am not what anyone expected me to be.”.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Mara Migraineur

        Yes! Sometimes (err, a lot), it feels like those are sort of taboo things to say in the world of transgender support, like, okay, now we’re going to toss out the idea that a spectrum exists. Wait, what? Now we’re back to either/or and black/white? And “specialists” will tell me that my young child is too young to understand ‘gray’ and middle ground…and yet they are the one who has said they are a mix of everything from the get go. So I find myself find myself fighting against the people who think they’re “doing the right thing” and that is a really hard, lonely place to be in sometimes.

        Like

  15. RonaFraser

    Suddenly realized I’d missed a couple of your posts somehow! And I missed this one saying you were going ahead with the top surgery! I think that’s great. I think that one of the toughest things/times in our lives is when we are in the throes of a big decision. In general, I think we make these decisions bigger than they are (e.g. deciding whether to move to another city… you can always move back…), but this decision is a bigger one, because it ain’t so easy to go back! And, of course, it makes a difference to how you look to yourself and others from now on. I have trouble with decisions and can only imagine how tough this one is to make… but it sounds to me like you are finally listening to what YOU want and that is a good thing (and not easy, in a time when everyone’s opinions are all around us!). Perhaps I will use your decision to inspire me to get off my ass and go for what I want in life… maybe… 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I am so not the poster child for decision making. Donna finally said that she would support me but that she needed time to work on wrapping her brain around it and lining up her friends for support. She suggested December and I said are you sure? She said go ahead, so I scheduled it.
      I’m hoping she doesn’t freak out again, but I’ll deal with if she does. I think she recognizes that there is no turning back at this point.

      Like

      Reply
  16. Pingback: Butch as a gender expression and/or a style | not giggles but chuckles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s