20 Million Questions
And my irreverent answers, which should be taken as representative of NO ONE'S OPINIONS BUT MINE.
May 5th, 2010
What terms do you use to identify or describe yourself (ex. transgender, transsexual, genderqueer, trans man, trans woman, femme, androgynous, FTM, MTF, gender-bender, bigendered, drag queen, cross-dresser, fag, queer, boi, womyn)? Why did you choose these particular terms?
There’s a slew of coy, new age euphemisms like "two spirit," etc, but they’ve always struck me as unbearably pretentious. I refer to myself as a transsexual -- or often trannie, as a shorthand -- because that's what I am. The term doesn't have any particular resonance for me, it's more like a fact. I am a transsexual the same way that I am twenty-five years old and 178 cm tall.
If I'm talking about the subculture, or about "other people like me," I'll say FTM. When I'm feeling crass I like the word "transfag" because it encapsulates being, specifically, a gay FTM. I like the word fag more than "transman" or "genderqueer" or whatnot, because I never wanted to be a transsexual, I just wanted to be a gay man. These days I pass for male so well that it doesn't even feel like passing anymore—I'm just a guy now, so more often than not I'm simply 'gay.'
Are there particular terms that you would like other people to use when they talk to or about you? Are there others that you find offensive?
As I said, I think certain terms are kind of silly, but at that I'll just do some private eye-rolling; I'm actually quite difficult to offend on this subject. After all, none of these words mean anything more than the spirit in which they were intended.
The fact is, most people know less than nothing about transsexuality. (Misinformation ranking below ignorance.) Many people are willing to learn, but in the mean time you're going to be subjected to a lot of gauche but well-meaning questions. It's pointless, and actually rather unfair, to get offended at people for that.
I don't even find the idea of being called an "it" offensive. Before starting on hormones I spent several years feeling neither male nor female at all, but in between. It was jarring to hear any sort of gendered pronoun applied to me (and at the time I was getting both), and I realized that I was sort of an "it" in my own head. Androgyny is a state I don't mind, and I would rather be an it than a she.
Have you changed your name or started to use another name some of the time? What did it mean to you to make this change? How did others react and how did you feel about their reactions? How did you choose your new name?
I don't remember when I chose the name Gabriel. I remember my mom, ages ago, telling me about some of the names they'd been considering when my younger brother was born. ‘Gabriel’ had made the shortlist, and I immediately felt kinship with the name, even then. If I’d been born a boy, that might well have been me, so when I started thinking about going trans and was in the market for a new name, there was never anything else for me. I’ve been Gabriel from the start.
(In retrospect, ‘Gabriel’ has turned out to be kind of a pain in the ass since I moved to Japan and that’s a fiendishly difficult name for the Japanese to pronounce. Introductions at dance clubs usually go like this: them: WHAT’S YOUR NAME? me: GABRIEL. them: WUT? me: GABRIEL. them: WUT? me: NEVER MIND. If I were going to pick again, I’d probably go with Adrian, but it’s too late, I’m already Gabriel.)
I suppose there is some self-consciousness in telling people your new name, because if they think it’s dumb you can't even blame it on your parents. Most people think Gabriel is a cool name, because it’s not so common these days, are sort of bemused that it makes no homage to my given name (Calynda), and want to know how I chose it.
Have you asked others to change their pronoun use when referring to you? (Ex. she, he, ze) What were their reactions? How did you feel when people referred to you by your preferred pronoun? How did you feel when they mistakenly or purposefully used your non-preferred pronoun?
Before I started on testosterone, I never asked people to call me ‘he’ if they didn’t want to, because I believe very strongly that gender identifiers are drummed into us from a very young age and the decision to call someone ‘he’ or ‘she’ is usually instinctive. If I wanted people to call me ‘he,’ then the obligation was on me to come off as male; if I didn’t “feel” male to them, then it was unfair to get angry and browbeat them for being unable to shake a lifetime of conditioning and use the pronoun that didn’t match.
These days I don’t even come off as gay to most people, let alone give them cause to suspect I might have been a girl before, so there are only a few people (friends from before my transitioning) who still mess up pronouns on occasion, and now I get annoyed with them. My mother is the worst offender; she tries her best, but I made the transition overseas so she’s only seen me about four weeks in total since my voice dropped. Without my masculine self there as a regular reminder, I don’t blame her for having trouble thinking of her daughter as a man.
Also, ze is a stupid pronoun, in my considered opinion.
Have you altered your body in any way through the use of hormones, surgery, or other methods? How did you choose which of these methods to use? Why did you decide not to choose others?
I was second-guessing myself for years about The Trannie Thing as I called it. I was 97% certain that this was what I wanted, but that remaining 3% was terrified of doing something permanent that I would regret. I was uncertain right up until I got my first shot of testosterone and then it just clicked, that yes, this was what I wanted. And since then, there has been no doubt in my mind.
Before hormones, my priority was getting my voice to drop, because that was the only remaining hurdle that was keeping me from passing as male. When I first came to Japan I was teaching elementary school, so starting on hormones then was obviously out of the question. That was my last job as a female (although a substantial number of the younger students were confused about my gender even then). I finished a one-year contract, moved to Tokyo, and within a month I was getting my first shot of testosterone. My voice dropped in five weeks flat, and I seamlessly got my next job as a man from start to finish.
Now I want top surgery REALLY BADLY because chest binders are unbearably hot in Tokyo summers and men’s fashion here looks a lot better on a sexy flat chest than one that's trying to hide breasts. Unfortunately I have no money.
Have you been discriminated against or mistreated before or after your transition? What were these experiences like? What do you think motivated those who mistreated you?
I wouldn’t call any of my experiences discrimination or mistreatment. My extended family, whom I’ve never meshed with well and seem like they should be very conservative, have been unexpectedly very supportive. It helps that I have an aunt who’s gay; she broke the queer ice in the family, and it’s just the next generation that has to up the ante. And for years they’ve thought I was a masculine lesbian, so the news that I was transitioning wasn't entirely out of the blue.
An MTF acquaintance of mine was hired and then quickly un-hired by the very company that I work for, ostensibly because she lied about her gender on her application, but more likely because she doesn’t entirely pass. As an FTM I get to dodge that bullet, because as soon as my voice dropped I was socially indistinguishable from a biological male.
Do you identify with feminism or feminist theory? Please explain why or why not.
I don’t identify with femininity, since that’s neither what I want to be nor what I desire romantically, and so by extension I wouldn't say that I “identify” with feminism, but feminism in principle I support strongly. I think a lot of people who are part of the backlash against feminism don’t realize how far we’ve come. The attitudes of chauvinism that feminism was created to counter have become very nearly obsolete; when you hear something like “a woman's place is in the kitchen,” it sounds like parody, it’s so ludicrously atavistic. People have forgotten, or were born too late to realize, that it used to not be parody.
Unfortunately feminism these days seems to have been overtaken by the lunatic fringe, or that’s the public perception of it. I would say that it's an exaggerated and inaccurate stereotype that nobody actually fits, but then at IDKE I met some lesbians who got on my case for being un-PC and they really did sound exactly like straw-man feminists. So there’s a reason why the stereotype persists, in any case.
Have you come into contact with books or people that discuss queer theory? What does queer theory mean to you?
Since I’m not exactly clear on what “queer theory” means, I’m going to say no. I know there’s been sort of a movement recently for use of the word queer as an all-inclusive label for the greater gay community, and I can get behind that. It’s certainly much less awkward than the alphabet soup of GLBTQI-whatever else they’re sticking on now.
What events and leaders are important to you in transgender history?
This is an area I know almost nothing about. I remember reading Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors back when I was first trying to figure everything out, and finding it very interesting. I don’t recall any of the particulars though, except for Feinberg's theory that societies who oppress women who have the most motivation to also oppress gays, because in a culture where gender matters, people who blur those lines are a distinct threat to civil order. In recent history, I believe we have Feinberg and Jamison Green and others of their generation to thank for bringing more attention to FTMs from the psychiatric community and getting the Harry K. Benjamin Standards of Transsexual Mental Health Care revised to be more suitable for FTMs.
What do you think causes people to be transgender?
I have no idea. Chemicals in the womb, perhaps? I don’t think it’s social factors, because transsexuality seems to be a history of people finding the strength to refuse to be what society would make them. And I don’t think it's higher levels of testosterone in my body, because prior to starting hormones I displayed absolutely none of the secondary effects associated with T—I had little acne, almost invisibly fine body hair, and a very low sex drive. (I was actually kind of afraid that I was going to turn out to be androgen-immune and testosterone shots wouldn’t have any effect. And then I would have had to kill myself or something equally drastic.)
Maybe it’s just part of your personality, like loving art or music or math, and you could choose to deny yourself, but your life would be miserable and incomplete without it.
Are you involved in transgender or genderqueer communities? What are these communities like? How did you meet these people?
No. I’m not very social, and I’ve found that I don’t often have much in common with other FTMs. My foray into looking for FTMs in the States took me to IDKE, where I met a number of people that I didn’t get along with at all. In Japan, I posted on forums and message boards a few times trying to meet FTMs there, but correspondence never went very far. It would go something like this:
Me: So what are you into?
Them: Hmmm.... Hmm.... Hmmmm.... I like... drinking?
Me: You’re fired.
I did, eventually, out of a ridiculously improbable coincidence, discover that a student of mine was an FTM. He’s been trans since before anyone knew anything about FTMs in Japan; he got top surgery before he started hormones, before he knew about transsexuality as a recognized mental disorder, before he even realized that he wanted to become a man, he just knew that he didn’t want breasts. He’s not at all plugged into the FTM community here either; I think he’s fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of trans as an identity rather than a means to an end. Because for all intents and purposes, he’s done—he’s gotten top and bottom surgery, changed all his papers, and his girlfriend of ten years doesn’t even know that he was born female. And although I think he should be a little more open about it, I can understand his feelings—I never wanted to be a transsexual either, I just wanted to be a guy.
What has been your experience as a transgender/gender-variant person within the larger LGBT community? Have you experienced discrimination from the gay and lesbian community or do you feel your identity has been embraced?
In general, the LGBT community has been quite supportive, in the abstract, righteously supportive way that liberals usually are of minorities. That sounds kind of catty, but it’s not, really—a lot of the gays and lesbians I meet don't know much about being trans, or their only exposure to transgender culture has been drag queens, so their reaction is usually like, “That’s cool, that’s different, I don’t really get it, but By God, your right to do it should be protected!” Which is great, I do appreciate it.
Since I started passing, lesbians don’t mind me. Before my voice dropped, back when I looked like a girl in men’s clothes, I didn’t get along with lesbians because they were always pissed off when they found out I wasn't interested in girls—like the clothes and the masculine manner had been false advertising. The only time I've ever encountered strong anti-transsexual sentiment was from a lesbian at, of all things, the International Drag King Extravaganza.
Which transgender or gender-variant people are you aware of who have been featured in the media?
The first example that comes to mind was the transman in America who chose to get pregnant, which I had mixed but predominantly negative feelings about. On one hand, who am I to rain on his right to get pregnant? But on the other, the jarring images of a man with full goatee and a hugely pregnant belly are exactly what the trans community doesn’t need, because they just scream “sideshow freak,” the stereotype that we’re already having enough trouble distancing ourselves from. Also, he’s more likely to bring attention to the fact that in America you can get your gender legally changed while your girl-bits are all still intact, and I was fully expecting somebody to try to remedy that. In Japan, for the sake of tidy bookkeeping, you can only change your legal gender if you A) have no kids and B) have been surgically sterilized.
I think most trans people in the media are drag queens. They are the most visible and most mediagenic. That said, I don’t think portrayals of drag queens in the media has much to do with perceptions of FTMs, because we tend to be pretty tame and invisible.
Do you feel transgender people are accurately portrayed in the media?
The only media even close to mainstream that I can think of that's had an FTM as any sort of main character was in The L Word. I haven’t seen it, but friends have summarized that plot arc for me—FTM in love with a lesbian, torn over whether to transition or not, (so far so good, those are issues that real transsexuals have to deal with) but in the season finale decides that she doesn’t need to change after all, that she’s happy being a lesbian. Which to me, is about as false and offensive as the idea that all a lesbian needs is the lovin’ of a good man to turn her straight. (Actually, I can see someone making that decision in the short term, that being with this person is more important to them than transitioning, but the issue is not going to be OVER. They’re going to keep trying to be a man, and it’s only a matter of time before that breaks them.)
I suppose Boys Don't Cry also counts as mainstream media featuring a transgender person. I really wanted to see it when it came out, but my parents said no because it was rated R and I was fourteen or fifteen at the time. (Hilary Swank made a really pretty boy.) After I went off to boarding school and wasn't under parental supervision anymore, I rented it and watched it with my then-boyfriend. I think he fell asleep, but I was really into it. This was before I figured out the trannie thing, so I didn't know why I was so drawn to that movie, but I was.
In general though, I think the biggest issue for FTMs is their utter invisibility in the mainstream media. On one hand, that's what we want. General consensus is that if no one knows you're trans, then you've succeeded. On the other, it means no FTM role models, and certainly no gay FTM role models. While I was figuring this out, there was no FTM character or personality I could look at and say, He's really cool and sexy and awesome, and I wouldn't mind being like that.
I think part of my long resistance to the idea of being trans was that I saw nothing desirable about it. Being gay, yes, that was sexy, but trannies don't get the same sort of good press as gay men do. In fact, they've sort of moved to fill the role that gay characters did twenty or thirty years ago: the occasional campy and supportive friend, backup dancers to the main character. The author gets to have a cookie for being inclusive of the T in GLBT, and the reader gets to feel progressive for being abstractly supportive of trans rights. What depictions there are of trans characters feature flamboyant MTFs who can't pass (but are more fun than a barrel of monkeys, of course) and dumpy former dykes who pass so well they're invisible. They never get to be either protagonist or love interest, and so what else could we be expected to take away from that? It's fine to let trannies hang out in the background, but God knows who'd want to date such people. In short, they are only occasionally interesting and never actually desirable.
So where are all the trannies in fiction? Why are there none of us getting to have grand passion? Where's the epic romance that has more to do with who they are than what's in their pants? In the absence of stories like that, we're left with the unfortunate implication that we have nothing anyone would want. Maybe someone will settle for the trannie eventually, or maybe they'll get lucky enough to find a chicks-with-dicks fetishist -- all in all, a depressing prospect.
I think what it comes down to is that most people tend to forget they exist, and trannies themselves wish they could too. After all, we didn't want to be transsexual; we just want to be the opposite sex. The goal is to DO trans, not be it. Which is why I know of at least three gay FTM writers, myself included, who write male-on-male fiction but don't touch trans issues -- and no wonder, since writing is about exploring what we want to explore. Why dwell on the trans thing in the one place where we don't have to?
Many transgender people come out as lesbian or gay earlier in their lives. Was this the case for you? How was your second transition similar or different from your first?
I claimed the label of “bi” when I was younger (late high school and college) even though I was always more attracted to men than women, because I was drawn to the gay community and I wanted to be a part of it. The gay/queer identity resonated with me a lot even before I figured out how I fit into it. At the time I hadn't yet figured out the trannie thing, so being bi seemed to be my only ticket in. I was willing to date girls and sleep with girls if that was the way to be accepted as queer.
I didn’t tell my parents that I was bi—not because I was afraid to tell them, but because I wasn’t seriously involved with any girls and so I figured that until I was, it was a non-issue. However I’d always leaned masculine and my best friend is female (and we practically lived in each other’s pockets in college), so pretty much everyone assumed I was a lesbian. Including my mother, apparently.
We were painting furniture together when I was home for the holidays and chatting about what had been going on in my life recently. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, which I wasn’t very upset about because he’d been really pretty but we were otherwise incompatible, and I remarked as much to my mother, concluding that with my course load I didn’t have much time for a boyfriend, and what time I did have I would by far rather spend with my best friend.
My mother was silent for a moment and then she asked, directly, “Do you have homosexual tendencies?”
“Er,” I said. Paint, paint. Looking for a way to wiggle out of that. Not finding any. “Yes.”
“I thought so,” she said placidly.
Because I’d been quite well-trained not to lie to my parents. She’d asked me before if I was a lesbian, and I could with complete honesty say no. Hence, her trying again with “homosexual tendencies,” which gives less room for sophistry. I find the episode and that turn of phrase hilarious, and it’s entered the repertoire of in-jokes between me and my friend. My mother is rather disgruntled by that, since she hadn’t been trying to be funny, it’s just that she’s a nurse and so her phrasing went toward the technical.
Apparently she never told my father, on the assumption that she was protecting my privacy, when I consider something told to one parent to be fair game for both to know. Especially if it means that I don’t have to tell him.
Do you now or have you ever lived in a “grey zone” between genders, either by choice or by necessity? What is or was this like?
For several years I was essentially male until I opened my mouth to talk, at which point my voice would give me away and people would realize that I was female. And on the other hand, sometimes not—some days I passed very well, and some days I didn’t, and it seemed very independent of how I was dressed or how I was feeling. Public restrooms were always an ordeal, as they are for most trannies, because I’d have to try to gauge how well I was passing, whether I would get called out in the men's restroom or whether women would hit me if I used the ladies’ room. I never did end up having any trouble in the men’s room—men aren’t especially talkative in the restroom, and as I said, if I kept my mouth shut I passed pretty well. (The one and only time that a man did talk to me was at a truck stop in west Texas, of all goddamn things, which was really the last place that I wanted to get noticed.) Women have done double-takes, covert and otherwise, and more than a few times on my way out I ran into women coming in who did a double-take and started to apologize because they thought that they were going into the wrong restroom. Awkward, but not insurmountable.
When I came to Japan I taught elementary school way out in the countryside. The teachers, generally oblivious to the clues that would set off anyone’s gaydar in America, didn't seem to notice that anything was off about me, or maybe they just attributed it to my general foreign-ness rather than me being a weirdo. The kids, however, tended to get confused, especially the younger ones.
My first day, when I was making the rounds at the classrooms and doing my self-introduction, I liked to open the floor to questions (in Japanese) from the kids. Some of them asked me how tall I was, or what my favorite food was, etc. One kid, a second-grader, asked me "which? man or woman?" Which I didn't quite parse the first time, because it sounded like he was asking which I liked, and I was thinking, That's an awfully precocious question for a second-grader. Then I got it, and I was sort of stunned into silence. I remember thinking, Kid, I wish I knew. Then the teacher, mortified, intervened and took the kid out into the hallway for a thorough and thoroughly undeserved talking-to.
Another time I was giving a kid a piggyback ride around the school, and that was the first time he was high enough to notice that I had a chest. He looked down to his friend, who was standing nearby, and asked with surprise, “Is English-sensei a man or a woman?” And the girl was like, “A woman, stupid.” I felt sort of bad that the kids were getting confused and then getting in trouble for it when it really wasn’t their fault, I was the one giving all the mixed signals. But mostly I was pleased -- proud, even -- that some innate masculinity came through even when I was forced into female clothes.
What methods have you used to “pass” or to be seen by others as your chosen gender?
I took vocal training for a while, which was of limited effectiveness, but my coach was a lesbian who was very active in the local queer community and she hooked me up with a lot of information and resources that I might not have found otherwise.
I do chest-binding, obviously. I started with ace bandages, as I think everyone does, but they have a tendency to compress after a while and become horrendously uncomfortable. I discovered that using back braces over the chest does an excellent job making a flat, masculine shape, but the velcro edges have a tendency to slide out of line and scrape over your skin. Also, it is very, very hot in the summer. These days I use nabe shirts, a Japanese product specifically designed for FTM transsexuals.
Occasionally I’ll stuff a sock in my underwear for verisimilitude, but really, I don’t expect anyone to be paying that much attention to my crotch. (Although there have been dudes in clubs who made a grab for it and didn’t understand when they came up empty.)
I shaved even before I started on T, because a website I read pointed out that soft, downy hair on the face (as women have) is a subtle but strong indication of femininity, whereas if you shave it off you look like a freshly-shaven man. True facts! It makes more of a difference than you’d think.
What social interactions have been easy or difficult for you in your chosen gender? What are your new male or female spaces, such as bathrooms or friend circles, like for you?
Interacting with women is easy, because I’m not feminine and I feel that the difference in our mannerisms is appropriate. Interacting with Japanese men is fine, because if I’m a little off, they attribute it to the culture divide, not the gender divide. Interacting with other foreign men, however, makes me nervous, because they’re well versed in western male mannerisms and I can’t shake the vague background anxiety that they’re going notice me doing something wrong.
(I was socialized as female, after all, and I’m finding certain habits very hard to break, mostly in gestures and intonation. Occasionally in content as well—I get “oh crap, a [straight] guy wouldn’t say that” moments.)
But that’s also tied in with a reverse sort of culture shock. I feel out of place in America these days.
My interesting experiences with the differences between male and female interactions mostly occurred just after my voice dropped, when I still felt like I was passing as male rather than being male.
Are you employed or in school? If so, how have your employers or school officials reacted to your transition?
I work at an English conversation school, a very large company in which the right hand often doesn't know what the left hand is doing. There are two relatively separate hierarchies, the foreign teaching staff and foreign managers, and then the Japanese sales/reception staff and their bosses. My foreign bosses know that I'm legally female, they know I go by Gabriel, and I don't see how they could possibly have missed the fact that everyone else thinks I'm male, but I've heard from two different sources that they refer to me in the third person as "she." Once was to my roommate whom I'd helped get a job interview there and the other was to one of the Japanese staff girls that I happened to be dating at the time, so in both cases it was no harm done, but I don't know what they think I am. On my paperwork it's about 50/50 whether they’ve put me down as male or female. None of the other teachers know, and only the one staff girl knew, because we were dating and she googled me.
Like I said, I don't get discriminated against for the simple reason that people don't know; I don't look like a transsexual, I just look like a guy. Other trannies have to deal with way worse than I do.
Are you religious or spiritual? How has this interacted with your transgender identity?
I am strongly atheistic. I wish I believed in reincarnation, so I could believe that in my next life I might have a shot at being male from the start, but it seems very unlikely.
Do you consider yourself an older or more senior member of the transgender community? What has aging been like for you with a transgender or genderqueer identity?
Not at all, I am a young’un. I don’t look forward to aging as a transsexual, but the alternative is dying young, which I’m not so hot on either.
Were you in a sexual/intimate relationship when you started your transition? Were you able to maintain this relationship?
No, and that was partly by choice. I had heard many stories of the difficulties in keeping a relationship together as one partner changed sex, and I didn't want to be put in the situation of having to choose between keeping someone I loved or being the person that I wanted to be. There's no way for that to end happily.
Have you formed new sexual/intimate relationships during and after your transition? What has it been like seeking out these new relationships or navigating them once they are established?
Not much. Casual sex with friends when I visited the states, but dating in Japan has proven difficult. I don't come off as such, but I'm kind of antisocial and basically a huge geek who would rather surf the internet than go to bars. I'm gradually getting better, but it's hard for me to work up the confidence to pull hot guys. I feel like I'm leading them on, fronting like I'm the top I'd like to be, when the fact is, I don't have the equipment for that and I'm not creative enough to offer a substitute.
The problem is that I'm profoundly uncomfortable with my own body -- not just the lack of a penis, but my breasts that have atrophied since starting T, and which do not go well with the hair that's started growing on my stomach. Also, while I'm slim by American standards, I still have a slightly feminine fat distribution, which means more fat on my thighs than I'm comfortable with, and also some fat that migrated to become love handles at my waist. Now imagine getting naked with flawless and freakishly skinny Japanese boys, and that will give anyone a complex.
I've done a little bit of dating, but it's only progressed to bedroom shenanigans once. I hooked up with this impossibly beautiful Japanese guy and we had really lousy sex, which was due partly to my body issues, partly to differing cultural expectations, and his Japanese-ish lack of enthusiasm. (It is an unwritten law in Japan that whichever partner is not currently on top is required to lie there like a starfish.) My other failures with dating have had less to do with me being a trannie (though my lack of confidence certainly doesn't help) and more the fact that the Japanese have very different ideas about dating, ones that frequently leave me baffled.
Has your libido or sexual orientation changed during your transition?
“Always hungry and always horny” was the refrain when I first started on testosterone. Climbing the walls with it, horny from when I first opened my eyes in the morning, eating breakfast, still hungry, eating more breakfast, go upstairs, realize I'm already hungry again and go eat some more. I could jerk off three times a day if I didn't have anything better to be doing. Several years later, it's tapered off significantly, and tends to vary depending on where in my shot cycle I am. (I get a shot every two weeks.) At my peak, I have the sex drive of a man and the refractory period of a woman. I've also become more visual in my porn tastes since starting on T. Before, I looked to text porn for my inspiration (not romance novels or the like, I'm talking straight-up porn in text form, a la Penthouse Letters), these days I find myself gravitating more toward pornographic videos and more turned on by images.
Are there particular sexual acts that are comfortable or uncomfortable for you in your chosen gender?
In theory I'm okay with everything (except for rimming, which has nothing to do with being male or female, I just can't get over how unsanitary it is), in practice I'm uncomfortable with anything at the moment because it would require letting someone else see my body, which is very much a work in progress.
What was it like for you growing up? Did you feel different from other children or teenagers or did you feel like you fit in? Were you aware that these differences had to do with your gender?
If I was different, it was because I was the vaguely loner-ish smart kid. I was in high school before I started feeling that I wanted to be queer (wasn't sure how), and in college before the pieces clicked together and I realized that I wanted to be a man. Even then I was very uncertain, because my childhood as I remembered it did not fit conform to the standard transsexual narrative. ("I always felt like I was born into the wrong body, etc...") It took working at an elementary school and being reminded of a bunch of things I'd forgotten about, or failed to connect, to realize that this is a thread that's been running through my whole life.
Growing up, did your parents and family recognize your gender variance? How did they approach it?
I don't think anything I did as a child was perceived as gender variant. This was the 1990s -- girls were just as likely to romp and play with Legos and have water balloon fights as boys. When I was in first grade my parents signed me up for ballet, which I found pretty boring, and the next year they signed me up for baseball, which was also boring. I don't remember asking for either of those though, so they must have done that on their own. Eventually I hit on football as being friggin awesome.
My parents prided themselves on not raising their children differently based on ideas about gender roles, which is mostly true – however, they forget that they used to buy Ninja Turtles videos for my brother, but My Little Pony for me. At the time it didn't occur to me to protest, because I just watched my brother's Ninja Turtles.
Did you see any professionals (psychologists, social workers, physicians) as a child or teenager to talk about your gender variance? What was that like?
When I was still trying to figure out whether or not I was really a transsexual, I went to a psychologist in Austin for a while. The game plan was just to present all the evidence for and against, and let her decide. (She was the professional, right?) I talked a lot and it helped me organize my own thoughts at that early stage, but the psychologist herself wasn't very useful. They're all so afraid of getting sued that they won't say anything committal, just that I "needed to be more certain of myself before taking any permanent steps." Thanks a lot, lady.
In Tokyo I saw two psychologists, one time each. At that point I was looking into psychologists because I had my eyes on the horizon and was thinking of the doctor's letter I would need to get hormones. The first guy wasn't actually licensed, so even though I really liked him, I didn't see him again because he wouldn't be able to write me that letter. He gave me the only useful piece of advice I got from my therapists: which was that transitioning is going to be crazy enough, and I ought to have the rest of my life as stable as possible before I try it. (My life at that point was pretty unstable, independent of the trannie thing—I was about to move to Tokyo without a job, without a real apartment, and without any friends to provide a safety net.) In the end I didn't follow his advice, because I saw my chance to start hormones (the only time I could, when I was between jobs) and I took it. But it was good advice, and he was the one who gave me the info for a clinic in Tokyo that provided hormones.
The other psychologist was a frankly unbelievable asshole, practically a caricature, who hit every bad stereotype about over-diagnosing psychologists. For example, his clock was nearly fifteen minutes fast (FIFTEEN!) just so he could be all "Gotcha! You're kind of OCD aren't you?" when people noticed.
Growing up, did your schools and teachers recognize your gender variance? How did they approach it?
At the high school I went to, a boarding school for nerds, they had a cross-dressing beauty pageant. I won "Most GQ."
I wasn't particularly gender variant in public school, not to a point where anyone noticed, not even myself.
A theme, however, that has come out when talking with people who knew me before my transitioning, is that none of them would have predicted that I would turn out to be FTM, but none of them are surprised when they find out that I did.
How do you feel about the categorization of transgender feelings as a psychiatric disorder? How do you think transgenderism should be categorized?
If it requires medical intervention for you to be happy, then it is a disorder. Call a spade a goddamn spade. Why do we need hormones and surgery if not to "fix" what's wrong with us? What is that if not a disorder?
Gay is not a disorder. Masculine (or feminine) expression is not a disorder. Transsexuality, I think, is. I imagine a lot of people chafe at having the label of "mental disorder" attached to them, but in my opinion it's just sort of a fact o' life. This is not me being self-hating, because I don’t think it’s any more inherently shameful than a kidney disorder is, but clearly from all the angst involved, something’s not right here.
Have you used hormonal treatments to change your body? What medications have you taken and what changes have you seen in your body? How much do your medications cost?
I started on testosterone a little over two years ago. The basic shot is 2650 yen (roughly $30) every two weeks. The first clinic I went to also did some basic bloodwork every couple months, which was another $35, and once every six months I had to get a full exam that cost about $300.
Which would have been fine, except right from the beginning my doctor diagnosed me with high cholesterol and started prescribing meds to keep that down. Then he told me I had a problem with high uric acid, which meant more meds. Then he changed my cholesterol medication, and then apparently my testosterone levels had dropped and I was having to pay for a double dose when I went in for my shots. After a while I really started to wonder if I needed all these meds, or if he was just making money at my expense. (It wasn't even like he wrote me a prescription that I had to go fill somewhere else, I was buying the meds directly from the clinic.) There were some weird irregularities in the pricing too, but he didn't (or wouldn't) speak English, which made it difficult for me to get clear answers about what exactly was going on. He didn't try to explain anything to me, just talked in Japanese too fast and too technical for me to follow and kept pushing more and more expensive medicine, making vague, threatening-sounding noises like, "If you don't take this you'll get cancer AND DIE!" or "you'll get kidney stones AND DIE!" or "you'll have a heart attack AND DIE!" When I tried to object he just told me that I had to take these meds or he couldn't give me hormones anymore, which of course shut me up right quick.
Finally I met another FTM who introduced me to his clinic instead. I met the doctor there and showed him my results from the other clinic, including my cholesterol numbers that said HIGH printed on them. The doctor looked at it and asked if I'd been fasting before I took the test. I said that I hadn't, and he said that in that case, the numbers weren't high. First thing he did was do a blood work-up of his own, and the results came back fine. It seems as though the other clinic was taking advantage of transsexuals who don't know any other places to go. Bottakuri, as they say in Japanese -- a rip-off.
Have you legally changed your name during your transition process? What legal process did you have to go through to change your name?
Yes, but it took me a while. The inconvenient part of doing this overseas was that I couldn't legally change my name/gender without going back to the states for a least a couple months.
The day after I moved back to the states, I went downtown with my mother (I couldn't drive) to start the process. In Texas, anyway, you have to go to the police station to get fingerprinted so that they have a link between your new identity and your old one, then you have to troop over to the courthouse and buy some paperwork (cost about $200, I believe) and run it to six different locations to get stamped by various people, and then a month later show up at a court date so the judge can rubber-stamp it. With the notarized copies of the court order, you then go to each records office individually (Social Security Card, birth certificates, driver's license) to get them reissued in the new name. Time-consuming, but not insurmountable.
Have you legally changed your sex? What did you have to do to have your sex legally changed?
No, and I'm not sure if I plan to. Since I'm primarily sexually interested in men, and neither America nor Japan allow gay marriage, it's in my best interests at the moment to remain legally female. Having an F on my driver's license doesn't bother me much, because in my experience, no one EVER notices that.
Are you an immigrant or do you have transgender friends who are immigrants? What is the experience like?
I'm an American expatriate in Japan, but I don't feel that that experience overlaps much with the transsexual experience. I'm an expat, with everything that entails -- language barriers, being visibly alien everywhere I go, employment and visa issues, cultural incongruence. I'm also part of the gay community here, which is very partitioned off from the mainstream in its own little gay ghetto (Shinjuku ni-choume). And then once every two weeks I make a trip down to my clinic and get stuck with 50 cc of testosterone. My life in Japan is much more about the gay experience than the trans experience.
What do you know about transgender and gender-variant communities in other countries?
Seeing as I’m living the transgender experience in Japan, I can probably answer any questions you've got. General impressions though...
Japan is simultaneously both more and less restrictive than America when it comes to homosexuality and other types of gender-deviance. It’s not a Christian country, so they don't have the religious imperative to hate gays, but it’s a society that highly values conformity, and being gay or trans is not that. You’re not going to get gay-bashed here and gay characters/personalities on TV are a non-issue, but out and proud is not typical of Japanese gays. I don’t think any of my Japanese ex-boyfriends have been out even to their parents. Essentially, it’s an entire country of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
As for trans communities, that's one sliver of the greater gay community, which is already a niche market. However, greater Tokyo has 25 million people which means niche markets of ANYTHING can thrive. Queers in Japan don't seem to go much for daytime activity groups, hiking or bowling or poetry reading. It’s almost all centered around the nightlife, a lot of it’s commodified into host clubs and the like, particularly the trans communities. Last time I ran a search looking for places that FTMs hang out, I found about fifteen FTM host clubs, where you can pay an exorbitant amount of money to drink and have hot FTMs flirt with you. (And there are probably about ten times as many MTF hostess clubs.) In other words, queer Japan is much more oriented toward catering to the people who fancy transsexuals, rather than helping the transsexuals to create a network among themselves.
What books or articles have been most helpful to you in understanding your transgender or genderqueer identity?
I read so many things on the internet when I started researching transsexuality, lots of blogs and personal sites with people talking about their own experiences. I read the handful of books I found about FTMs -- I liked Leslie Feinberg and Jamison Green; I really disliked "Just Add Hormones."
It was eye-opening to me, not for the content, but because that was my first experience with suddenly wondering which pronoun to use when talking about various authors. Feinberg stands proudly in the middle, which means (with my dislike for the ze pronoun) that I end up going through contortions to avoid using any pronouns at all. Jamison Green's voice in his autobiography read as very strongly, very clearly masculine, so I thought of him as male from the start.
The author of "Just Add Hormones," however, felt female. When I was talking about the book I kept accidentally calling the author "she," and then catching myself and being like, "Oh man, I'm such a dick, invalidating his gender identity like that!" and then DOING IT AGAIN five minutes later. The voice just didn't feel masculine, and that was making it really difficult to remember to call him "he." Which is probably what shaped my belief that if you don't come off as your target gender, it's unfair to expect people to call you by the pronoun that doesn't fit.
Which websites with transgender themes do you use most often? Why do you like them or find them useful?
There was one website I remember in particular, an FTM who kept very detailed records of his transition, all the legal, medical, and social aspects of it. It was very informative, but I lost the link and I can't find it again. I also remember that he was seeing a therapist who had implied that the recommendation letter was going to be in the bag, finished four months of therapy with him and told him that what he really needed to do was come to terms with being a lesbian. (This to a boy who really was a textbook example of an FTM.) Which, yeah, highlighted exactly how arbitrary the psychologist's letter of recommendation is, and made me wonder how psychologists were likely to take my history, which isn't the stereotypical experience at all.
Have you come into contact with especially supportive or knowledgeable health care providers or a particularly good medical clinic? Would you be willing to share these names and contact information as a resource for others?
If you're in Tokyo, My City Shinjuku Clinic is great, cheap, and the doctor speaks very good English. Ikebukuro Central Clinic is a rip-off that will try to force unnecessary medication on you and the doctor is thoroughly unsupportive.
Doug Berger, a psychiatrist in Tokyo, is dangerously inept and ought to be stripped of his practice. I went in there to talk about transsexuality and after twenty minutes he tried to diagnose me with hypomania.
In San Antonio, the man you want is Dr. Calzada.
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