Category Archives: Body Image and Clothing

On Not Using The Locker Room

vintage-women-changing-on-beachI went back to the gym after taking two months off. As soon as I entered the New York Sports Club, I remembered why I hadn’t been back. I didn’t want to use the women’s locker room. There have been several critical moments in my transition where parts of my routine that I could previously tolerate suddenly became unthinkable. Where my ability to dissociate snapped. Where the cognitive dissonance broke the sound barrier.

Every time I entered the women’s locker room I steeled myself for a question, a comment, or a dirty look. Unpleasant incidents are not unusual when you are butch, gender non-conforming, queer, or transgender. I thought I should be strong enough to handle the occasional negative reaction. That it was their problem, not mine.

I expected that as my dysphoria decreased, as I became more comfortable in my body, I would feel more entitled to use the locker room. Instead, the opposite happened. I felt increasingly out-of-place there. I was forcing myself to do something that felt wrong. To me. I was actively  misgendering myself. Continue reading

Mind/Body Congruence and a Gray T-Shirt

This is the shirt on the Gustin model, not me!

This is the shirt on the Gustin model, not me.

While on vacation, at the beach, in Gloucester, I experienced a moment of mind/body congruence. It was fleeting, but notable.

I was getting dressed to take a walk. I put on a new gray T-shirt, old olive hiking shorts, and gray sneakers. The new T-shirt looked good on me. I looked in the mirror and thought “If I saw a guy coming down the street wearing this outfit, I’d think that he was nicely, if monochromatically, put together. I’d make a mental note of it.” I liked how I looked in the mirror. There was no dysphoric distortion.

That sentence should be in bold caps. I LIKED HOW I LOOKED IN THE MIRROR. One day, I hope this will be a normal, daily, event. It doesn’t happen often enough, but the possibility exists.

I’ve chosen my own clothing since I was old enough to get working papers and an after school job. My mantra was “everything goes with blue jeans”. Since then I’ve owned and worn a steady supply of T-shirts, flannel shirts, button-downs, sweat shirts, and jeans. I’ve bought lots of clothing that I liked in the catalog or in the store. I liked them in my dresser drawer or hanging in my closet. When I wore them, though, they didn’t look right on me. The clothes were simultaneously too loose, too tight, and too long. I was too short and too round, and too female. The solution was to never look in a mirror. Continue reading

Between the Neck and the Knees

strike-zoneFor most of my life I paid as little attention as possible to everything between my neck and my knees. I was shocked each time I got my period. I didn’t track it and I didn’t prepare for it. It arrived, I dealt with it, and then it was over. I was in so much denial that I left no room for dysphoria.

Between the ages of 21 and 42 I never went to a doctor for a check-up. Or to a gynecologist. I had a superficial physical each time I was promoted at work. Other than that I only went to the dentist and the ophthalmologist.

I didn’t want a doctor to tell me to lose weight. I didn’t want to spread my legs for a gynecologist. I scheduled a routine physical (in 2000) only when I realized that I was the same age that my Dad was when he dropped dead from an aneurysm.

The week before my doctor’s appointment I bought a new cotton futon for my bed. The old one was 12 years old and lumpy. I sleep on my stomach, but I was having trouble sleeping through the night. The nurse practitioner examined me, and told me I needed to lose 40 pounds. She asked me how long it had been since I saw a gynecologist. I told her the truth. She insisted on doing a pap smear and a pelvic exam. After the exam she asked me if I’d noticed a lump in my abdomen. She guided my hand over my belly from the left side to the right side. I felt it. She said it was probably a benign fibroid and that I should get a sonogram and then consult with a surgeon about getting a hysterectomy.

When I went to sleep I felt the lump again. It was big. It wasn’t the mattress. Continue reading

Downward Dog or Warrior Pose?

warrior-pose downward-dogAfter two years of procrastination, I signed up for a four-week Fundamentals of Yoga class at Integral Yoga. I put it off because thin women in stretchy yoga pants intimidate me, and because I would not be caught dead in stretchy yoga pants. Yoga pants remind me of the hideous leotards and tights that my mother made me to wear to gymnastics and modern dance classes.

If I develop a yoga practice, I want it to feel aligned with my gender. I’m hoping that yoga will be another transition tool. I want it to help me manage my anxiety, calm my brain, keep me in touch with my body, and improve my flexibility and balance. I’m two weeks into the course, and I’m ambivalent.

I go to the gym for strength training and cardio. I don’t enjoy working out, but I like how I feel after I work out, and I like how it has changed the shape of my back and shoulders. It took me years to feel comfortable using free weights and barbells, and to stop worrying about whether anyone was watching me. After I work out I feel a little stronger and more confident. I can turn my brain off during a workout because I’m concentrating on my form, but the moment I step outside my brain starts chattering again. Continue reading

Sporting a Beard while Wearing a Dress

Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

Alok Vaid-Menon of DarkMatter

At each of the four NYC pride week events I went to (Trans Day of Action, The Drag March, The Dyke March, and The Big March) I saw a smattering of what, for the lack of a better term, I will call “people with beards wearing make-up and dresses.” Some were gay men, presumably cisgender. Others were either gender non-conforming, non-binary, genderqueer, or trans. I couldn’t tell by looking.

Some wore garish or exaggerated costume, some were in classic drag, and some were dressed in an outfit that would not have attracted attention if it was worn by someone else. I mean someone who “was trying to look like a woman is expected to look”. This last category, of mixed gender expression, is the most visibly jarring. Picture a masculine haircut, a trim beard, a little black dress, and pumps – or what Alok is wearing, above.

This is not an attempt at the air-brushed androgynous look. This openly contradicts the “rules” of passing. By showing a heavy five o’clock shadow or a beard they are not hiding or obscuring that they spent a significant part of their teen/adult life with high testosterone levels. Continue reading

I Speak Through My Clothes

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Wolfgang Krodel – Adam and Eve

Everyone uses clothing to tell a story about themselves. We dress to communicate our identity, religion, gender, marital status, tribe or clan, sub-culture, profession, and/or social status. Some people dress to blend in and others dress to stand out. We expect that everyone will understand the meaning of our choices. Conversely, we expect to read others accurately.

Humans first started to wear clothing 170,000 years ago (warning: tied to the evolution of body lice). They made garments to protect themselves from the cold, the sun, rain, thorns, insects, and poison plants. The first evidence of ornamental clothing or jewelry is from 75,000 years ago. As humans developed better skills at farming, tanning, weaving, sewing, and metal working, they created more durable, comfortable, and decorative clothing. Clothing laws were not far behind.

The Bible has many rules about clothing. It prohibits women from wearing men’s clothing and men from wearing women’s clothing. There is a prohibition on wearing cloth woven from a mix of linen and wool. There are prohibitions on flaunting your wealth. There are modesty codes to prove piety and restrict sexuality. These rules are the Judeo-Christian origins of contemporary gender policing. Continue reading

Reason for Visit?

LOW-DOSE-TESTOSTERONE-RISKSOn the part of the form that said “Reason for visit?” I wrote “discuss high cholesterol and the potential health risks of starting testosterone”. The Cardiologist listened to my heart with a stethoscope, took an EKG, looked at my blood work, asked me some questions about my exercise and diet, and asked about the circumstances of my parents’ deaths. I walked out with a prescription for low dose Atorvastatin (20mg once a week to lower my cholesterol) and a follow-up appointment in May.

He also gave me the green light for going on testosterone. He said that if I thought I’d be overall happier and healthier on testosterone then I should start taking it and we’d watch and manage my cholesterol. I should be ecstatic; my cholesterol was the only medical obstacle to starting testosterone. Instead, it sent me into another confused tailspin.

I talked to my Nurse Practitioner at Callen-Lorde. She offered to write me a prescription for testosterone and I told her I wanted to wait. She said to call her when I was ready. My next appointment isn’t until September.

Putting off taking taking testosterone feels different than saying “I’ve decided not to go on it.” Even if the outcome is the same. When I think about never going on testosterone, I get very sad. Crying sad. Raging at the unfairness sad.

It lets loose all of my childhood denial. I’m not really a girl, I can’t really be a girl, there has got to be a fix for this, I’m really a boy, and someday I’m going to turn into one. Somewhere in there I still have hope, even though nothing short of a time travel machine can turn me back into a boy. Starting testosterone won’t do it; it will make me look and sound like a man.

My reasons for wanting to start are straight forward. If I don’t try it then I will never know if it is the right thing for me to do. If I don’t like it, I can stop and call it quits. I want it to lower my voice. I want it to make people stop Ma’aming me. I want it to nudge me along.

My reasons for refraining are also simple. I might not like how I masculinize. Donna might not like how I masculinize. I will have a lot of explaining to do as I change, and I’m not sure what to say about it. Continue reading