Category Archives: Butch Or Trans?

Masculine Enough

butch-stretchLast week at work, in the middle of the afternoon, I pushed my chair back from my desk, and said “It’s time for the seventh inning stretch.” What I meant was, I’m bored, and I’m going to get another cup of coffee and walk around the office. It is exactly what my dad used to say when he got up from the couch, during a commercial, for a snack.

There are many facets to my gender expression. Where did they come from? How much came from my dad and my brother? How much of it did I learn by osmosis? How much by imitation? Is any of it genuinely authentic?

I adored my dad and I was envious of my brother. My dad was squishy. He was masculine enough for a middle class Jewish man with a desk job in Manhattan. He was an avid Met’s fan. He watched as many baseball games as possible. When it wasn’t baseball season he talked about pitchers and catchers and spring training. He taught me how to watch the game, and, indirectly, how to talk about coaches, players, umpires, fielding strategies, rules, and stats. I still, obviously, pepper my speech with baseball idioms. Continue reading

The Fork in the Road

I came to a fork in the road and I moved the fork.

When I started writing this blog, I stood on the border of butch and transgender, with one hiking boot firmly planted on each side. I was unable to budge. I had never truly, fully, thought of myself as a woman, but as an increasingly older boy. I had suppressed and avoided making a choice, all under the rubric of being butch.

Grant Wood’s American Gothic, 1930

The sticking point was that as masculine as I felt and looked, I didn’t picture myself as a straight middle-aged white man. I could not authentically place myself in that construct. Conversely, I couldn’t tolerate picturing myself as a middle-aged woman. The dysphoria was too raw. No one over 40 wants to picture themselves as old, but I still wanted to be a boy. I did not know who I wanted to be like when I “grew up”. I knew I was trans, but I didn’t know what words to modify it with.

I share a history with kids who were raised as girls but didn’t want to be girls. With tomboys, with kids who rebelled against their parents and teachers, who created their own internal boy lives, and who defiantly stayed true to their boy selves. Whether they identify as butch or transgender or any label on the spectrum. Whether they identify as women, men, both, or neither.

I feel a kinship with masculine women and feminine men. With people who look queer. With transgender people who don’t always pass. With people who walk down the street and go about their business with their chins up knowing that other people are staring at them. Continue reading

The Paperwork Obstacle Course

Babe Didrikson, demonstrates her hurdling technique. 1932.

Babe Didrikson, demonstrates her hurdling technique. 1932.

In July, after my intake appointment at Callen-Lorde (NYC’s LGBT health clinic), my nurse practitioner told me that my cholesterol was high. I needed to lower it before I considered starting testosterone. I bought a bottle of fish oil.

I carried a card in my wallet, with the name of a prominent cardiologist on it, for three months. When I called, the office manager told me that I can’t schedule an appointment until the cardiologist looks at my file. She gave me her name and the fax number, which I wrote down on the back of an envelope.

The next day, I pulled up the Callen-Lorde patient portal expecting to send my results over. I attempted to log in. I tried every permutation of my user IDs and passwords. I phoned Callen-Lorde, and they realized that when they initially registered me they incorrectly entered my e-mail address in my profile (which explained why I never got any emails from them). I dropped by their office to straighten it out and re-register.

I went home, set up the user name and password, wrote the password down on the patient portal information sheet, opened up my file to get my results, and couldn’t find them. I clicked around a lot and gave up. I was going to call Callen-Lorde back and ask where to find my test results, but it was late in the day and the medical records office was closed. I had to wait until the morning.

I thought about calling Callen-Lorde every day, but there was always an excuse to put it off. I waited for a month. Continue reading

Ma’am and Microaggressions

Comic by Transitive Properties (see notes).

Comic by Transitive Properties (see notes).

Every time I get called Ma’am, it’s like getting slapped in the face with a dead fish.

For years I’ve tried to adjust to strangers calling me Ma’am. I’ve tried to ignore it. To acknowledge it and let it roll off of me. To accept that in a cisnormative society I’m perceived as a masculine female or as a butch lesbian. To accept that some people must use only Sir, Miss, or Ma’am in their jobs. To accept that other people can’t imagine any other alternatives, even when one is standing right in front of them.

I’ve tried to listen to the tone of the Ma’am. To guess the intention. Is it friendly? Is it innocent? Is it automatic? Is it sardonic? Is it because they don’t know what else to call me?

I wish it didn’t bother me. There are far worse things going on in the world than the cashier at Whole Foods calling me Ma’am. Or the bank teller. Or the staff at the front desk of the gym. Yet each Ma’am smacks me in the face.

I don’t know if calling me Ma’am counts as a microaggression, but it feels like one to me. Columbia Professor Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” Microaggressions are “different from deliberate acts of bigotry because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm.” Microaggressions “include statements that position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same.” Continue reading

Why I Hate Filling Out Forms

filling-out-forms-while-transI ended up being listed as Queer and Genderqueer in Callen-Lorde’s computers (with no preferred pronouns). Callen-Lorde is NYC’s LGBT health clinic. You make an appointment, fill out the forms, talk to a nurse, get your blood drawn, wait two weeks for the results, and if everything is good, you can get a prescription for cross-gender hormones. Normally I’m pretty speedy filling out forms. I’d already put down my sex assigned at birth (F) and the sex on my insurance (F), but I was flummoxed by these two questions:

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 3.38.45 PM

If the questions were fill-in-the-blanks I would have answered Sexual Orientation: butch (attracted to femme women) and Gender Identity: trans. Instead, I held the pen in the air and just stared at the questions. Confused. Lots of choices, but none of them are mine. Continue reading

Surf and TERF

"And so castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually." Jimi Hendrix

“And so castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually.” Jimi Hendrix

An old friend of mine has become a hard-line Radfem. Donna asked if we could stop and visit with her on our way from New York to Cape Ann (she lives in the feminist stronghold of Northampton), and she said no.

She said a lot more than no. She’d read Gender Hurts by Sheila Jeffreys and agreed with everything in it. I sat on the beach, surfed the internet, and downloaded a copy (see notes below). I wanted to understand what I was up against.

If you are unfamiliar with the Radfem perspective, this is my brief summary based on reading the book:

  • Gender is a caste system constructed by the patriarchy to oppress women.
  • Gender should be abolished.
  • There are only two sexes – men and women. It doesn’t matter how you identify, what hormones you take, and what surgeries you have; there is no escaping your original genitals and chromosomes.
  • Changing your sex (Radfems don’t believe in gender) is an illusion, a delusion, or a fantasy.
  • Trans women are not women; they are men who claim they are women. They are out to destroy feminism and lesbian/women only spaces (by invading them and insisting on their right to be in them). Radfems believe that only “women born women” can know what it feels like or what it means to be a woman.
  • Trans men are women who claim they are men. They have mutilated themselves to gain male privilege. They are unwittingly destroying feminism and lesbian/women only spaces (by leaving the community and taking their partners with them).
  • Radfems do not recognize/use the terms gender binary, cisgender, non-binary, or genderqueer; you are either a Radfem or a dupe/puppet of the patriarchy. They consider the word cisgender to be a slur because they believe that women are by definition “women born women.”
  • Women should choose, as a political act, to be lesbians or remain celibate.

Whew. Radfems are a small (tiny) segment of feminism. I would say fringe, but I know that many mainstream feminists also sit in judgement. They doubt the authenticity of trans women’s lives (without demonizing them) and think that trans men are butch lesbians who drank the Kool Aid. On a really bad day, when I am wracked with self-doubt, those thoughts cross my mind, but then I talk myself out of it. All gender identities are valid, including mine. Continue reading

Greetings from Cape Ann

Cape AnnI’m on vacation and I promised Donna and Gracie that I would not post or write while I am away (two or three weeks). However, a blogging friend, Mrs. Fever, invited me to write a guest post on her blog Temperature’s Rising, and I invite you to read the post (link is below) and also to hop around her blog.

Before you link, some of Mrs. Fever’s writing is NSFW! It is however, excellent and often hot. So be forewarned. My post is pure vanilla,  and discusses various aspects of my coming out stories. Plural.

The link is here. Happy reading, happy July. See you in a few weeks.

The Rest of the Testosterone Circus in My Head

The Bearded Lady is 3rd from the left.

The Bearded Lady is 4th from the left.

Last week I posted part of my internal dialogue on low dose testosterone. This week I continue the argument. I also learned two new terms: “androgenic alopecia” which is the medical term for male-pattern baldness, and “hypertrichoisis” which is short for abnormal hair growth on the body.

You say you are in the middle, but you are actually just at the far end of female. To get to the real middle you need to take testosterone.

I know where I am. I don’t need to take testosterone to feel like I’m in the middle. I get read either way until I speak. Strangers resist seeing the middle. It confuses them. They want to pigeonhole me back into something they understand: butch lesbian. A Jamie on a low dose of testosterone could look just as confusing as a Jamie on no dose, except for maybe a lower voice.

There is no “real middle” in-between the two social constructs of female and male; there is only a place that I call the middle. I’m not sure why I don’t call it genderqueer. I’m not sure why I don’t call it non-binary.

The part of the middle I am comfortable in is the masculine middle, not the feminine middle. I am not fluid. I don’t have days where I feel female or want to be read as female. I’m in the middle, but it is the boy/man middle. I’m not sure how much deeper into the middle I can go. I’m not sure that testosterone will take me into the middle instead of directly to male.

You only want to take testosterone to fit in. You want to be able to say that you are on testosterone so that people will take you seriously.

I’m embarrassed that there is some truth in this statement. I’ve never felt like I fit in anywhere and mostly I’m OK with that. I didn’t fit in as a girl. I didn’t fit in as a butch lesbian. I’m used to being an outsider. I’m used to being a couple of standard deviations away from the average. Continue reading

No Dose Testosterone

super-trans-hormonesTestosterone. I talk myself into and out of taking it about once a week. I’m intrigued, but skeptical. Back when I thought the choice was to stay butch or transition to male, I decided not to start it. Then I realized that was a false choice. That regardless of how I identified, I could do whatever I needed to do to feel whole and authentic. Nothing was off the table.

Testosterone. I flinch when I write the word. I forget that I create my own testosterone. Everyone creates natural estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, but in radically different proportions. I have no idea what my hormone levels are, but I know testosterone is in the mix. Do I want more?

I taunt myself with the question “If you are really transgender, then why are you so hesitant about increasing your testosterone level?” This is a rephrasing of “If you were really transgender you’d be taking hormones.”

I can debunk that. Testosterone, as we know it, has only been available since the late 1930’s. Transgender people existed before synthetic hormones existed. There are people who can’t get access to hormones (money, gatekeepers, availability), and people who have medical contraindications. And people who choose not to take hormones. They are all still trans.

Taking hormones doesn’t make you transgender. Surgery doesn’t make you transgender. Your choice of pronouns doesn’t make you transgender. I don’t identify with the sex I was assigned at birth. That is what makes me trans. That is what I would tell my seventeen year old self. If they would listen. Continue reading

Sitting on the Fence

It is hard to lasso Androgel.

Getty_Images  It is hard to lasso Androgel.

Donna caught me by surprise. She said “Stop saying that you’re not taking testosterone because I’m against it. I don’t want to be in that position anymore. Make up your own mind. Do whatever you want.”

It would be nice if Donna had said this lovingly, with the caveat that she will support me whole heartedly. That I will always be her Jamie no matter what path I take. Whether I am butch or trans. That I should do whatever I think is best for me. But that wasn’t exactly what she meant.

In January Donna had open heart surgery to replace a heart valve. The outcome, according to all her doctors, is excellent. The valve took, she didn’t get an infection, her heart is pumping properly, her heart rhythm is good, she doesn’t have atrial fibrillation. Continue reading