Tag Archives: body image

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

Hiding from the Camera

girls_with_vintage_camerasThere are only a dozen family photographs of me as a child. There are a handful of elementary school portraits and class pictures. My high school yearbook. Then I disappear from sight.

There are no pictures of me between 17 and 24; between when I came out and when I met Donna. I hid from the camera. I felt fat, ugly, and awkward. I didn’t want to be reminded of how bad I looked.

Donna came with her camera. She loves to take photographs.

I hated my childhood pictures. They were proof that I was a girl. There are no candid photographs. No happy, relaxed shots. I am posing. Stand up straight, look up at the camera, smile, don’t move. Continue reading

Why I’m Still Butch

Why-I'm-Still-ButchBecause I can not picture myself as a middle-aged straight guy any better than I can picture myself as a middle-aged lesbian. I can’t see myself. Either way. A butch buddy told me that “the difference between butches and trans men is that butches want to be boys and trans men want to be men.” There is some truth in that statement.

Three years into accepting that I’m transgender, I’m still hanging in the balance. I’m not a girl, I don’t feel like a woman, I wish I were a boy, I’m not sure I’m a man. I still identify as butch. I can see myself as butch. I can see myself after top-surgery. Butch doesn’t have to qualify a noun. Neither does transgender.

All of the terms that I use to describe myself are masculine or gender neutral (with masculine as the default) – gay, queer, butch, genderqueer, non-binary, transgender. I avoid using the ones that are female specific – lesbian, dyke, even female-to-male.

My rejection of all things feminine, my rigidity about masculine gender expression, and my lack of gender fluidity keep landing me back on the trans-masculine spectrum. I know there are butches out there who are comfortable being female, but I am not one of them. It doesn’t mean I am not butch. Continue reading

Managing My Dysphoria

Winter is finally over. I am shedding my winter layers. I am molting like a snake. Any day now it will be warm enough to walk around in jeans and a T-shirt. The pear trees are flowering. I got caught in a sudden rain shower that cleared as fast as it started. Afterwards, I smelled the warm wet sidewalk. It is a summer smell. I am not ready for summer.

Donald-Duck-Buck-NakedIt is impossible to accurately explain body dysphoria to someone who never had it. Each time I catch a glimpse of myself I expect to see someone else. My dysphoria is visual. My dysphoria is dissociative. I’ve learned I can manage it by keeping my hair short, wearing masculine clothes, de-emphasizing my breasts, and avoiding mirrors and reflective surfaces. I’ve learned I can manage it by avoiding bathrooms, locker rooms, dressing rooms, gendered spaces. I have expended a lot of energy manging my dysphoria, but it won’t go away. Continue reading

Leaving Egypt

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. The first night of Passover is next Monday. Donna and I are having eight friends over for seder. It is a feminist seder with an alternative Haggadah. I’m sorting through my recipes to decide what to cook. I’m sorting through how I am going to relate to being a transgender butch reading a lesbian-feminist Haggadah.

Second night seder is at BC and Ruth’s. It is a queer seder, with a lot of people I know from AIDS activism. I am more relaxed at it because I am not cooking. I bring one dish, home brined pickled salmon. It is easy to make; I just have to remember to start it five days in advance.

The Sinai Desert - Wikepedia

The Sinai Desert – Wikipedia

The Haggadah includes the retelling of the story of the Exodus. The story of Moses leading the Jews out of slavery, out of Egypt. It about their hesitation to leave, their doubts, and their impatience while wandering in the desert in search of the promised land. The rituals of Passover require us to experience Passover as if we personally went out of Egypt. It reminds us that liberation and transformation are possible. It reminds us that we are in the diaspora; we are still in the desert.

I am still searching for a place for myself within the Jewish tradition. I don’t want to make Aliyah to Israel or claim a birthright. I hated the gender rigidity of my synagogue and the language in the prayer-book. Yet I continue to experience myself as Jewish (cultural and culinary) despite distancing myself from mainstream Judaism and the state of Israel.

A few years ago, at second night seder, Richard challenged us to think about leaving our own Egypt. To whom, or to what, am I a slave? What does it mean to be free? From whom am I fleeing? Where am I trying to go? These are questions I’ve struggled with all year. My Egypt is not the Egypt of my ancestors; my Jerusalem is not an occupied city in contemporary Israel. Continue reading

Why I Hate Girl Scout Cookies

The Butch's DilemmaJust when I thought I had finally worked off the weight I put on between Thanksgiving and New Years, just when I was shaking off the end of winter sluggishness, just when I had dreams of spring asparagus and Alphonso mangos, Girl Scout Cookie season arrived.

I hate Girl Scout Cookies.  I hate everything about them. I bought four boxes at four bucks a pop because my office mates sold them for their daughters. My policy is to comply with most forms of work place extortion. I buy something (magazine subscriptions, crappy chocolates, raffle tickets) from everyone in the office who asks; I don’t want to be accused of being cheap or playing favorites.

According to the Girl Scouts, they sell 200 million boxes of cookies each year. Hundreds of them end up in my office. There are open boxes of cookies everywhere. For weeks. I can not get away from them. And, like a perverse version of the kid’s game Go For Broke, I have to get rid of my boxes without eating anyone else’s cookies. This year I have zero tolerance. I am not going to eat a single one. Continue reading

Mourning a Lost Boyhood


Photo by xakeshot on deviantART

I can accept that I am butch and transgender, but I have trouble accepting that I will never be a boy. It should be obvious; I am chronologically an adult. I can’t time-travel backwards. It is unfair that I only got to be a child once, and that I went through it as a girl. No second chance.

The adults tried to convince me that I should want to be a girl. That I should be happy I was a girl. I kept hoping I would morph into a boy. I refused to believe that body parts were destiny. I kicked and screamed and dragged my feet through childhood. I would not march willingly into the strange territory of teenage girls. I dug in my heels and hoped for a miracle. Continue reading

Naked in the Mirror

mirrorI don’t walk around my apartment naked. I wasn’t raised that way. My older brother and I shared a small bedroom in a small apartment. We wore clothes until bath time or bed time, changed into our pajamas in the bathroom, and went to bed.

Once we were old enough to wipe ourselves and dry ourselves we were not naked in front of our parents. Nor were our parents naked in front of us. They were buttoned up. They did not hang around in pajamas, bathrobes, or loungewear. If you were awake you had all your clothes on. Except at the beach or the pool.

The four of us shared one bathroom. There was a mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink; the only full length mirror was on the inside of the door to my parent’s bedroom. To use it you had to close their door. I never looked at myself in it dressed. I never looked at myself in it naked. I did not want to. Continue reading

The Sweet Spot


The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Haunts Me

I’m still trying to find my sweet spot. The place where everything butch and everything transgender fits together and feels right. I’m not there yet, but I am closer than I was last year. I’m still evolving. I need to eat an ice cream cone.

The sweet spot may sound like a pathway to  either gastronomic pleasure or sexual pleasure, but it is actually a music and a sports metaphor. In the analog era, audiophiles tweaked the sweet spot. It was the place where you got the best sound in the room. The complete stereo effect. A different kind of non-binary; the precise balance between the left channel and the right channel. In baseball, the sweet spot is the perfect place of contact on the bat. The home-run spot. I’m still looking for it. Continue reading