Tag Archives: Gender

Running from Femininity

what is femininity?I’ve written over 150 posts on this blog. I’ve never written about my own femininity.

Femininity. It’s a word I run from even if I can’t explain what it is. I’ve spent over 50 years resisting compulsory femininity. I know that everyone, from John Wayne to Dolly Parton, is a mix of masculine and feminine. No matter what your gender identity is, there is some femininity in it. I have a hard time admitting to mine.

In nice weather, Donna likes to walk with me to our local playground. She likes to point out how cute the girls are, and she wishes she could find outfits that are as bright and lively as what they are wearing. She’d gladly trade places with them. I tell her I understand how she feels, even though that isn’t what I feel. I remember what it feels like to be in a playground, at recess, wearing a dress. I’d gladly trade places with the boys.

My mother and my grandmother dressed modestly and neatly; they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. They looked in the mirror before leaving the house to make sure their hair was in place and their make up was fresh. They looked down on women who dressed provocatively or flamboyantly and on women who tried too hard to be stylish. They looked down on women who “let themselves go”. Their notion of femininity was narrow and constrained. Continue reading

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

What Happens When You Stop Hating Your Body?

I don't need to be Charles Atlas...

I don’t need to be Charles Atlas…

I was at the gym, doing seated overhead dumbbell presses (shoulders). I looked up at the full length mirror to check my form and I didn’t flinch. I didn’t judge. I didn’t wish I had bigger muscles or less flab. I didn’t wish I was using a heavier weight. I didn’t wish I was a boy. I straightened my left wrist and shifted my forearm to get back on course. I did a few more reps and finished the set. I wiped down the bench and racked the dumbbells.

It occurred to me that I don’t hate my body. I’ve stopped running the old tapes through my head.

When I first started telling my women friends that I thought I was trans, and that I didn’t know if I was going to take testosterone or get top surgery, they asked me why I couldn’t just accept my body the way it is. They’d tell me there is nothing wrong with me, that I am fine the way I am. A big strong butch. They were coming at it from a body positivity view. From a we don’t exist for the male gaze view. That you shouldn’t hate your body, you should hate the social construct of body image and beauty.

I didn’t know how to answer them back. What they said was true. Like them, I was taught to scrutinize my body and to judge it against everyone else’s. To fix my imperfections. To strive towards an unattainable standard. They weren’t wrong, but they were missing the point. I used to think that I hated my body. I said I hated my body. Now I realize that hate is the wrong word. I used to hate lima beans. I still hate liver. My body caused me pain. 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

One Person’s Chore is Another Person’s Pleasure

How-Mom-Cooked

One of my mother’s favorite ingredients.

I’ve been cooking for comfort. Nothing fancy, nothing colorful, nothing trendy. Food to read by. Food to hunker down with. I used to think of cooking as women’s work. I know activity has no gender; the person doing the activity is gendered (or agendered), but I steer clear of activities I associate as feminine. At home, I never saw men in the kitchen unless they were mixing drinks or washing dishes.

My mother did not enjoy cooking. She took advantage of the miracle of canned and frozen convenience foods to get dinner for four on the table every night. She believed that everything needed to be fully cooked to be safe to eat (including canned asparagus, frozen tater tots, and steak). My mother owned two infrequently used cookbooks (The Settlement Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking); most of her recipes came from the back of the soup can.

Growing up, I put home cooking in the chore category with sewing, laundry, and cleaning. It didn’t occur to me that it could be a pleasure. I left for college with no domestic skills. A barbarian baby butch. 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

You Look Great, Did You Lose Weight?

One_lucky_butchNo, I lost my breasts. Except that I can’t really say that. I can’t easily explain, to someone who barely knows me, that I did lose weight, but they are probably noticing that I had top surgery (in December 2014) and then I went out and bought clothes that fit me. I lost some weight, but mostly I lost my shame. Not all of it, but a healthy chunk.

My dentist was the most recent person to ask me “You look great, did you lose weight?” He is a middle-aged straight white guy. He looks like he is in good shape. I imagine he has an easy life, but all I know about him is that he lives in the suburbs and took over the dental practice when his father retired. We mostly discuss my teeth. He is big on flossing.

He told me to “keep on doing whatever it is you are doing” and I was tempted to explain just what it is that I’m doing. He was picking up on something, but it eluded him. My transition is only visible if you know what you are looking for.

The gracious thing to say is “Thank you, I feel great.” and move on, but I hate when people bring up my weight. His statement implied that I used to look overweight, uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfashionable (true on all counts). He might have meant to pay me a compliment, but instead he fat shamed me. I don’t want it to be all about the weight. 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

Confessions of a Non-Dancer

like-father-like-son

Fred Astaire and Fred Jr. By coincidence, my dad’s first name was Fred.

I don’t dance. I refused to take dance lessons. Modern, ballet, or ballroom. I refused to let my dad teach me to Lindy or Waltz. It was too girly. If I had been allowed to learn how to lead, in pants, I might have done it. If I could have imagined myself as Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, I might have done it. But I was damned if I was going to pretend I was Ginger Rodgers. It was a short-sighted decision. To dance naturally you have to start young; it has to be in your bones.

I never learned to partner dance. I can barely dance solo to rock or disco – I shuffle my feet and flap my arms and try to sway on beat. I didn’t dance until I was in college. I learned on a tiny dance floor in the back of The Saint (Boston). There was a mirrored ball and cigarette smoke. It was too crowded to move.

Of all the girly things I refused to do as a child, and there were many, I only regret not learning to dance. I do not regret not learning how to sew, knit, do needlepoint, put on make-up, put together an outfit, walk in heels, flirt, do gymnastics, play jacks, or use a hula-hoop. I’m thankful that I thought swimming, ice skating, and cooking were neutral to masculine activities (life-guard, hockey player, and chef).

My parents met at a synagogue dance. I watched them dance at parties and bar mitzvahs. I was always surprised that they danced so well together. Dancing changed them from parents into a couple. They looked like they knew what they were doing. They told me that dancing was an important social skill that every girl should have. I didn’t listen.

I didn’t dance in front of the mirror. I sang along with the radio, my feet firmly planted on the floor. I didn’t dream about dancing with boys. I dreamed about being a boy. Continue reading

Top Surgery Revisions: Dog Ears and Nipple Reduction

frankenstein's-monster's-chest

Frankenstein’s chest.

After the drains came out, after the packing and the bandages were unwrapped, after the swelling went down, Dr. Weiss told me that he wanted to do minor revisions. He was unhappy with the dog ears in the center of my chest and with the size of my nipples. He thought my chest could look cleaner and more balanced. He told me to think about it; there is no charge for the revisions, they are in-office procedures, and they can be done at the same time.

I decided to wait and see. To let my chest settle in. My nipples are prominent, but in the range for middle age guys. I’m still a little self-conscious of them. The puckering in the middle that Dr. Weiss called “dog ears” is subtle; it doesn’t even show when I wear a close-fitting T-shirt. It is only an issue if I’m naked, or topless. It is purely aesthetic. A hard choice for someone not used to looking carefully in the mirror.

When I do look in the mirror I see the scars. Two long scars, one on each side, going from the middle of my chest to under my arms. They are much more noticeable than the puckering or my nipples. The scars are healing well, fading slowly from red to pink. It is hard to imagine that they will ever be invisible. The scars do not bother me at all. I’m adding them to the list of other scars: the one on my thumb from whittling wood (age 11), the one on my leg from climbing a chain link fence after too much beer (age 19), and the one across my “bikini line” from getting a hysterectomy (age 48). Continue reading