Tag Archives: trans*

The Nipple Edition


Top surgery. The big reveal. Frankenstein’s monster, 1931.

The thermometer hit 80ºF (27ºC) in New York this week. It is T-shirt season. This is the first week I’ve been out in public wearing just one thin clingy layer. Me, my nipples, and my dog.

I like the contour of my chest in a T-shirt. I like the definition; clavicle, sternum, pecs, and nipples. It looks like a male chest attached to a short and not-quite-so male torso.

Last summer I wore a heavy T-shirt over my binder. I didn’t want the binder’s outline to show. I have not figured out how I want my T-shirts to fit. I’m not sure what is too tight around the chest, what is too loose, what is just right. Where the sleeve should hit my bicep. How the bottom should hug my waist. After years of being overweight, I lean towards loose. I’ve bought and/or returned a dozen different T-shirts. The one thing they have in common is you can see my nipple bumps. I’ve kept a boy’s XL from Lands End, a men’s S from Uniqlo, and a men’s M from Bonobos.

My nipples are prominent. My shirts feel oddly transparent. Prior to top surgery my nipples were invisible; smoothed over by sports bras and binders. Women’s nipples are supposed to stay hidden. The last time it was fashionable for women to poke through a sweater was in the 1950’s, when bullet bras were popular. Even now, magazines routinely airbrush out all evidence of nipples. Even on male models. Continue reading

Shirts vs. Skins

My kind of locker room.

My kind of locker room. Getty Images.

Another visit to the gym and another epiphany. In my previous post I wrote that I feel physically safe in the women’s locker room, but not emotionally safe. I try to ignore my emotions. It is machismo.

I use the women’s locker room because I think I should be strong enough to handle it. I think I should have a thick skin and not be bothered by how out-of-place I feel. That changing at home is wimping out. Because I don’t want to let the girls with the pony tails chase me out of the playground again. It is grade school, redux.

I also realized that I want to change and towel off like a guy, not a gal. I want to wrap the towel around my waist, not around my chest like a strapless little white cocktail dress. I don’t want to look like a woman, even in the women’s locker room. Even though I’ve never used a men’s locker room, I know that guys don’t wrap like that.

Not me. Not Gracie. But I'd wear the green towel that way.

Not me. Not Gracie. But I’d wear the green towel that way. Getty Images.

If I brought a beach towel I could put it over my shoulders and cover everything in a more neutral way (thank you to Mary for sharing your coping mechanisms).

I’ve only seen a few women completely naked at the gym. It is a breach of etiquette to stroll around the locker room naked. It is a breach of etiquette to look at someone while they are changing, especially if you can see anything. Especially if you are a butch lesbian or a masculine genderqueer person with a vagina. Better to be stared at than to be caught staring. Continue reading

A Perfect Summer

Gracie gets in the way during the photo shoot of my camp mementos.

Gracie gets in the way during the photo shoot of my camp mementos.

The summer I was seven was a perfect summer. I went to sleep away camp. My grandmother paid for it so that my mother could have the summer off; I was getting on my mother’s nerves. Saint George’s Camp for Girls was a traditional camp, run by the church that housed my brother’s Cub Scout troop. 

My brother was going to the boy’s camp and I insisted that if he went I went. I didn’t want to be stuck at home with my mother. She did not know what to do with me.

Sending us to camp was a lot of trouble for my mother. She had to buy trunks, sheets and blankets, sleeping bags, and camp uniforms. Labels had to be sewn into everything, including our socks and underwear.

I’d never spent a night away from my parents. I’d never been allowed to pick out my own clothes. The camp uniform was a pair of navy blue shorts topped by a white T-shirt with “Saint George’s Camp” in large red letters across the chest. Campers were only required to wear uniforms for prayers and dinner, but I wore my camp uniform all the time. I was proud of it and liked it better than what my mother had packed for me. I also wore my New York Mets cap; I only removed it for meals, prayers, swimming, bathing, and sleeping. Continue reading

Why We Fight

On January 14, 2014, I participated in the panel “How to ACT UP” at the New York Public Library. In keeping with the title, I unexpectedly outed myself as trans. In front of several hundred people.

March on Washington - 1987

ACT UP at the March on Washington, 1987

I spent seven years in ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). We demonstrated by marching in the streets, disrupting FDA hearings, and throwing the ashes of our loved ones over the White House fence. We were trying to save lives and the government wasn’t paying attention. The drug companies were overcharging for ineffective drugs. My buddies were dying. We were consumed with anger.

I was one of many activists who burned out. When I left ACT UP I lost contact with most of my activist friends. I went back to my normal life. I became unmoored. I was not the only member who suffered from loneliness and the loss of meaning in my life. We started talking to each other again after Spencer Cox’s death. We did not want to lose another comrade. Continue reading

Chest Envy (Freud Was Wrong)

Louise Brooks In Butch Drag

Louise Brooks, flapper icon

My mother took me shopping for my first bra during the first week of 7th grade. I was a chubby prepubescent eleven year old. It wasn’t clear if I had breasts or chest flab. We took a trip to a store with a back room and an old lady wearing a cardigan. She wielded a tape measure. I took off my shirt and my undershirt and she wrapped it around me, proclaiming “38AA.” I didn’t want to wear a training bra. I wanted to wear my undershirt. My mother wanted to make a lady out of me. By any means necessary. Continue reading


Celebrating-butch-losing-weight I hit my goal at Weight Watchers. It took me 15 months to lose 25 pounds. At 140 pounds (5’4″) I am solid, not svelte. In Levi’s speak, I’m down from a snug 36 inch waist in a “relaxed” fit to a comfortable 32 inch waist, even in a “slim straight” cut. I haven’t worn 32’s since the last millennium. I’m ready to celebrate.

I wrote here about the incongruity of joining Weight Watchers. How it is geared towards straight, conventional, suburban women. Soccer Moms and Grandmas. Other women talk about losing weight to feel more attractive, to look better for a wedding or family reunion, to fit into a particular dress. Every week I weigh in, attend the meeting, and feel like an outsider. Not because I’m not fat enough, but because I am gender trespassing. Continue reading

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Note: In preparation for writing this post Gracie and I watched all 174 minutes of The Sound of Music. The last time I saw it, I was still in high school. I watched it with my girlfriend; we were stoned and spent most of our time making out.

My first celebrity crush was on Julie Andrews, in the role of Maria in The Sound of Music. I was six, my family had gone to Radio City Music Hall to see the movie for a big night out. I already knew the music because we had the original cast album from the play. I was not prepared for how lovely Maria was, and how sweet she was towards the seven children in the Trapp family (Liesl, Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl). I was doomed. I wanted to be Kurt. I wanted Maria to be my governess.


Kurt is on the far left wearing leather lederhosen.

I particularly wanted to have lederhosen made out of curtains (Maria made Friedrich lederhosen from old curtains). When I first saw the movie, it was all about Kurt. On re-watching it, I can see that he played only a minor role in the movie (two love stories and the Anschluss are more important).

I am a second generation American Jew, of Polish and German descent. Little Jewish girls are not supposed to run around in lederhosen. My family still identified German products with Nazi Germany (e.g. Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz). In that culture wearing lederhosen would have been perceived as hardly different from wearing a swastika. No lederhosen for me; no celebration of Oktoberfest either.

I am not a person who moves quickly; I do not have a crush of the week. I am loyal. I am not onto the next big thing. I focus intently (compulsively) on things and work my way through them very slowly. When I was a child I listened to The Sound of Music soundtrack over and over and always imagined myself as Kurt.

For years, even after I came out, even after I identified as butch, I allowed myself to have an active fantasy life. In that fantasy life I allowed myself to be a boy. That boy was drawn from movies, from books, from television, and from music. The fantasy sustained me for a long time. Then it didn’t.

Did You Ever Have Cooties?

I-am-a-butch-or-transgender-child-with-the-cootiesIn my elementary school (P.S. 40 Manhattan) there was a clique of girls who stuck together from kindergarten through sixth grade. The two ringleaders were Wendy and Julie. They decided who could be popular, who was tolerated, and who was excluded. I was excluded, which wasn’t all bad, because I didn’t want to play with the girls. But they also decided that I had cooties. Consequently, I could not play with anyone else.

I never learned how to jump rope, play jacks, hula hoop, use a pogo stick, or do those hand clapping games (Miss Mary Mack).  I wasn’t allowed to play with the boys either. I endured seven years of line-ups and recess being teased and called names.

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Why A Duck?

I am viewing the last two years more like a clarification than a transition. I started out butch, I incorporated trans*, I am still muddling through. Either I will figure it out or I will just keep reading and thinking.

What does it mean to me (this week) to say that I am trans* but I am not transitioning? I’ve been reading the classic text, Harry Benjamin‘s “The Transsexual Phenomenon”.  It is out of print (and very dated since it was written in 1966 post Jorgensen but pre Stonewall); you can download it  from tgmeds.org.uk/downs/phenomenon.pdf (I would provide the link but I got bounced out of the WordPress Reader last week for linking to something that annoyed the system and I am not taking any chances this week). The is the link to last week’s post.

The simplest description of transgender is that what is “between the ears” doesn’t match what is “between the legs” – i.e. your gender doesn’t match your sex. My gloves don’t match my shoes. But it is way more complex than that. Continue reading

If the Shoe Fits (7M)

There was a lot of stuff I wanted when I was a kid that I couldn’t have because it was gender inappropriate. Getting the girl’s version was almost as bad as not getting anything at all. A new pair of white figure skates meant it would be at least two years before I could hope for a pair of boy’s black hockey skates.

Even though my parents were frugal, they drew the line at cross-gender hand-me-downs. I would have been OK with getting my brother’s old black figure skates, but my parents grudgingly bought me new white ones. There was palpable anxiety on their part about the “phase” that I was going through, and my mother wanted me to look like a girl. I now own a pair of hockey skates. I don’t skate often, but when I do, wearing them makes me happy.

I can’t buy everything I wanted as a child. The black cowboy outfit will not have the same effect now as it would have had when I was six. I will not enjoy reading the complete Hardy Boys. I have no use for a baseball glove and I throw like a girl. But I still yearn for all the boy stuff I coveted and was not allowed to have. It is the yearning, not the actual stuff, that I need to figure out how to handle. I censor what I want because I think I shouldn’t want it. I don’t feel entitled to it. I should grow up already.

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