Tag Archives: authenticity

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

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

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

Learning How To Tie My Shoes

bunny-earsI don’t remember learning how to tie my shoes. I grew up before Velcro and I refused to wear Mary Janes or flats. All of my shoes were lace-ups. I’m pretty sure I was taught the “bunny ears” method before I mastered the adult method. I made a double knot to avoid tripping on my laces.

I am a walker. I started walking around the city when I was eleven. My school was 1.5 miles away; it didn’t take more time to walk than to take the M15 bus. I liked the independence and the adventure. I used my bus money to buy a pastry or a bagel at one of the bakeries on my route. I double knotted my shoes so I wouldn’t have to stop and re-tie them. The knot and I were both chubby and clunky.

I own 13 pairs of shoes that lace up (five pairs of sneakers, two pairs of light hikers, two pairs of work boots, two pairs of chukka boots, a pair of boots for my transmasculine soul (see below), and a pair of insulated snow boots). I am hard on my shoes. I either wear down the soles or wear through the padding on the back of the collar. I try to rotate my shoes so they will last longer, but I notice myself mostly reaching for my light hikers. The ones with the fat round nylon laces that keep coming undone. Continue reading

In Remembrance

Mourning all people who have died, Paris to Beirut

PHOTO: ANDREW RENNEISEN/GETTY IMAGES

Saturday afternoon I went to a vigil at the arch in Washington Square Park. I went in solidarity with all people; New Yorkers, Parisians, and Beirutis. It was a silent, somber, vigil. I overheard a smattering of people whispering in French. I stayed for an hour; observing, reflecting, and quietly mourning. Their losses and my losses.

I could not stop myself from people watching. It was cool, and sunny. A day for a jacket, gloves, and a scarf. No hat. I stood next to a French man who wore his scarf in a particularly French way; wrapped around his neck with the edges tucked under. Graceful, casual, natty. I made a note of it. I felt a flare of envy. I wanted to be a boy, to look like that man, and then it subsided. Five years ago it would have sent me into a tailspin.

Every loss is connected to every other loss. Whether I am mourning for someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or for someone who could not find a way to live authentically in their own body. Whether they were killed by a suicide bomber, by AIDS, or by their own hand. Continue reading

The Empty Pouch in My Boxer Briefs

how-i-pack

A genuine Jockey underwear advertisement, circa 1955.

There is an empty pouch in my boxer briefs. I notice it, but it doesn’t bother me. I don’t pack.

I never thought I was missing a penis. I was envious of my brother because he was a boy; not because he had a penis. I kept hoping that I’d wake up and be a boy. I prepared myself for this by practicing boy things, including standing up to pee. I gave that up after a few days, and went back to memorizing baseball statistics and solving math puzzles.

There is a hole in my vocabulary. I rarely talk about my genitals or anyone else’s. I don’t like to use either scientific terms or slang. The words sound foreign to me. Growing up, I pretended there was nothing there, the way male and female dolls are smooth and intact under their clothes.

Maybe because I was attracted to women, I didn’t pay any attention to penises. They seemed superfluous, and vaguely unclean, except on marble statues in the museum. Maybe because they seemed so important to everyone else I decided they were unimportant to me. Denial and dissociation as a defense against dysphoria.

I refused to wear fancy underpants. The kind with lace or hearts. I really wanted to wear my brother’s Fruit of the Looms. I knew not to ask (once in a while I stole a pair), and settled for six packs of plain white panties. When I grew up, I bought the simplest cotton hipsters I could find. White, black, gray, or navy. Jockey for Her. I pulled on my Levi’s to cover them up. Then it occurred to me that I could wear whatever underwear I wanted, regardless of what went in them, or what they were designed to cover. Continue reading

Imagining the Future

When I was a child I could not imagine the future. I could not picture myself as an adult. What I might look like, who I would live with, or what I would do. I drew blanks.

I knew what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be a girl. I didn’t want to be like my mother. I didn’t want to marry a man and have kids. I didn’t want to be a wife. I didn’t want to be a career woman in a skirt suit. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to do the long list of things that my mother did to get ready. I didn’t want to bother with pantyhose, lip stick, eye liner, foundation, perfume, hair spray, or nail polish. I didn’t know there were other options.

I survived by resisting my mother’s attempts to make me look like or act like a girl. I survived, but I did not thrive.

I thought in double-negatives. I didn’t do what I didn’t want to do. This is not the same as doing what you want to do. Whenever possible, I didn’t do the girl stuff. I dragged my feet and resisted. Sometimes I didn’t do anything at all. I stayed in my head or I read.

All of my fantasies were about being a boy. I kept the cognitive dissonance to a minimum by not fantasizing about being either a man or a woman. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to be a blank. Continue reading