Last year I legally changed my name from Amy Caren to Jamie Ray. If you have changed your name you know it is a complicated thing to do, socially and legally. Once you get the court order, you have to change all of your paperwork. All of it. And I didn’t want to keep seeing mail with my old name on it.
When I changed my name I kept my sex marker at F. This irks me, because if I could, I would set it to N/A, or N/F, or ∏, or Q. Something more descriptive than F. I could handle two markers, one for sex (Female) and one for gender (Butch, Queer, or Trans*). It would be more honest.
Gracie asks for what she wants. When she wants to come up on the bed or couch, she grunts a little low “urg” to get my attention, and waits for an invitation. When she wants her belly rubbed, she rolls over and taps her tail. When I have ignored chow time she lies down in my sight line and stares at me. When she is ready to go out she goes to the door. When she is bored she goes to her toy box and throws everything that is in it onto the floor. When there is an “urgency” she noses me and dances around. There is no confusing or mistaking any of these signals. Gracie is confident. Gracie is a good girl.
I find it difficult to ask for anything. I learned to suppress my desires. I learned to stop saying what I wanted because I wanted to be a boy. What game do you want to play? What do you want to dress up as for Halloween? What do you want to do when you grow up? Do you want to play house? What do you want for your birthday?
The message was clear. If I told the truth, I got in trouble. If I lied, I betrayed myself and ended up with a Barbie Dreamhouse. Either way, I was not getting the hockey skates. The safest thing was to say nothing, but you can’t stay silent forever. I know, I tried, it doesn’t work.
Donna wonders why, after all of our time together, am I still so secretive? Why can’t I just tell her what I am thinking? Why is it so difficult for me to talk about my feelings? Why can’t I tell her what I want? Why do I hesitate? Why don’t I trust her?
I still feel like the eight year old who yearns for hockey skates but is afraid to ask for them. I hope that refusing to suppress my trans*-ness, my boy-ness, and my more than vanilla butch-ness, will eventually let me loosen my tongue. I would like to answer Donna’s questions honestly, without fear, and without squirming in my seat. I would like to be as confident as Gracie. I would like to be a good boy.
The least butch thing that I do in “real life” is to go to Weight Watchers. I’ve been going for eight months. I do it stealth. I am embarrassed to tell anyone that I joined. The weekly meetings are my nightmare of a straight suburban housewife’s Tupperware party. They even give out stickers for minor victories (Bravo!) and keychain/bracelet charms for major accomplishments. It is a relentlessly cheerful heteronormative environment. It is enough to raise the lint on the back of my flannel shirt.
At least one of us feels like an elephant.
I have been pudgy since I was old enough to reach the cookie jar. I ate to stuff down my feelings. I denied the correlation between the volume of food and alcohol I ingested and my size. I hid my sex behind a layer of fat.
I never tried theme or fad diets. I subscribed to the feminist anti-diet approach, which works great if you don’t care how much you weigh. I attended some eating awareness groups run by the Women’s Therapy Center Institute; they helped me cut down on bingeing. I read Geneen Roth’s books on compulsive eating. I could blame my inability to make the connection between being chubby and not wanting to be a girl on the exclusion of transgender/butch/lesbian issues from the material covered, but I know I am good as avoiding what I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see a girl in the mirror. Or an elephant.
No, I’ve never been asked that question. Today I was “Sir’d” while I was waiting to buy a loaf of bread at Bien Cuit. I did not correct the counter-man, and he did not apologise. Mostly I am read as female but several times a week I am read as male. I answer to either.
I realize that it would be easy to be consistently read as female. That it is completely in my control. If it bothered me to be “Sir’d” I could be “Miss’d ” or “Ma’am’d” in an instant. It isn’t that strangers don’t pay any attention when they look at me. They don’t see obvious female clues, so they default to male. I don’t do any of the things that women are supposed to do to look like a woman. Some people get confused because they see my gender, but they don’t see my sex. Some people get angry because they think I should be easier to read. They don’t like having to think. Some people hate ambiguity.
In theory, I could wear earings that dangled. Or I could wear glasses that are feminine. I could carry a purse. I could tweeze my eyebrows. I could shave my legs. I could wear make-up. I could wear a scarf like a woman wears it. I could style my hair differently. I could wear jewelry (other than studs in my ears). I could wear women’s clothing, or a woman’s winter jacket, or a woman’s hat, or women’s gloves. I could color my hair. I could show cleavage. If I did just one of those things, if I gave just one visible clue, I would automatically register as “Miss”. But I am never going to do any of those things. I am never going to make an effort to look like a girl for anyone. I make an effort to look the way I look.
I am so far down the butch bunny trail that I couldn’t even remember the word that went with eyebrows (shave? thin? thread?) and I started to write “wear a purse” because the phrase “carry a purse” is not in my vocabulary. I have to accept that it is no accident when I am “Sir’d”. I have to accept that when I look in the mirror I want to I read myself as “not a girl”. I have to accept that whichever way you read me, by sex or by gender, you are right.
Imagine my surprise as I was taking a walk through Battery Park City at lunch, thinking about the blog, and out of the corner of my eye I saw this bus. I thought “no way”. But there is always a way. Hey! That’s my bus! Apologies to Paul Simon.
If I could be as cute as Gracie women would stop me on the street and ruffle my hair and say that I was the cutest thing ever.
I never felt cute as a child. I desperately wanted to be cute. I wanted to be handsome. My fantasy was that I would be scooped up and hugged because I was too cute to walk by. I wished that women’s heads would turn because I was so handsome.
I did not want to be pretty; pretty was for girls. If anyone’s head turned it was because I was one awkward chubby kid with short hair in an ugly dress. And my mother was probably speaking sharply to me.
When I walk Gracie women stop me on the street and say “oooh what a cute dog!”. Gracie is a big flirt. She lays her ears back and pulls on the leash to say hi. She smiles at the woman passing by. She gets up on her hind legs and waves her front paws. She loves toddlers. She sticks her nose into strollers. She will make a bee-line for a woman on a park bench. She will sidle up to strangers and rub her head against their legs asking for a little scratch. She has admirers in the neighborhood. Tom and Bill carry special treats just in case they run into Gracie out on her last walk in the evening. She is a popular girl.
I was not a popular girl (already I can hear myself muttering “I was not a girl”). I was not a popular child. I was a shy kid who wanted to be a cute boy (in my mind there was no other kind). The girls at P.S. 40 said I had cooties. I was teased and picked on. I kept to myself. I thought it was my fault for being weird.
I get to be cute by extension when I am out with Gracie. When I am walking her I feel cute too. Loose, relaxed, bouncy, free, real, approachable, friendly. Now if I could just learn how to flirt.
After a brief break due to Hurricane Sandy, Thanksgiving, Donna’s birthday, Hanukkah, my birthday, Christmas, and New Years, I waddled back to the gym. This is the obligatory January gym post.
The very first time I went to the gym I felt like Moby Dick. I was one big whale of a butch flailing around. Donna had basically told me to get my middle-aged gut to a gym and get in shape. She was worried about me because my Dad died young (43), and I take after my Dad (homely looking). Donna doesn’t often ask me to do things that will make me appear more butch so I didn’t want to refuse her. I hoped that going to the gym would help me close the schism between my head and my body. That working out would make my body feel less alien. That it would cast out the demon of dysphoria.
My Dad didn’t play sports, didn’t use power tools, didn’t own a car. I am not a macho butch or a manly butch or even a gentleman butch. I am a nerdy Jewish boy butch. I am a pudgy wuss. I am just like my Dad. Continue reading →
I got my first dog, Lena, after I moved in with my girlfriend. Getting a dog was a condition of our moving in together. I really wanted a dog. I’d never had a dog, but I knew I couldn’t commit to having a dog if we were living separately. What I didn’t know, was that when I am with a dog, I become a boy. It works like magic. The dysphoria disappears. I am temporarily transformed.
Lena was a great dog. She was a shepherd mix (a hiker upstate told me that she thought Lena was a Malinois Shepherd). Her original owner died of AIDS, and his brother had promised to find Lena a good home. I saw a flyer about her on a table at an ACT-UP meeting. When I brought her home, Donna said it was as if I had brought my new mistress home to live with us. I was hooked. I was finally a boy with a dog. Every morning we went out and played ball. We came home and hung out on the couch and read. I stayed a boy and Lena grew old. She was sixteen when I put her to sleep.
I needed another dog, but Donna was not ready. I was miserable. I missed Lena. I missed being a boy. I felt disconnected from everything. I snuck onto the Internet to look at rescue dogs. Finally Donna said “I can’t stand it anymore, get a dog”. She said she’d like a black dog with ears that hung down and that was smaller than Lena and had a white spot on her chest. I wanted a dog that I could take to the dog run and was good with kids. I wanted a rescue. I wanted another Lena. But instead I got Gracie.
I adopted her “sight unseen” from All About Labs via Petfinders. She was supposed to be a ten month old Flat Coat Retriever mix, but when she popped out of the rescue truck she looked like a Border Collie that fell into the inkwell. I call her my Borderline Collie. I call her the Black Enigma. She loves a belly rub. She won’t play fetch, catch, or Frisbee. I love Gracie. I’m her boy.
The first time I brought her into my apartment she ran figure 8’s in the living room, jumping up on all the furniture. Then she threw herself at my feet, rolled over, and wanted me to rub her belly. She wriggled on the floor and grunted like a wild little pig. Then she barked at me until I rubbed her belly. You can guess who was trained first. I should have called this blog A Dog and Her Boy. It might be more accurate.
I spent the last third of 2011 and all of 2012 obsessively thinking about being butch and/or transgender. I read a bunch of books. I thought about my childhood. I thought about my adolescence. I examined by behavior. I examined my material closet and my mental closet. I went around in circles chasing my tail. I ended up back where I started, but not quite in the same place. Everything looked vaguely different. I’d like 2013 to have more clarity than the muddle of the last two years.
I always thought I was a boy, even though I was told I was a girl. This got paraphrased in my brain as “I want to be a boy”. This sentence repeated itself so many times in my head over the years that it became background noise and I stopped listening to it. I am listening again. Instead of ignoring it I am saying “Of course I always wanted to be a boy because I am a boy”. I experience this the clearest when I am with my dog Gracie, who can not talk me out it. She loves me just the way I am. A boy and her dog.