Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Response to "Why I'm Not Pagan"

I was reading this article entitled "Why I'm Not Pagan" on Rogue Priest.  And admittedly, it's an ancient article.  It's from like 2011.  But it's new to me, so I'll write anyway.

I don't know if the person who shared this article meant to sing its praises, criticize it, or just present it as an alternate opinion.  Personally?  I think it's a frustrating article.  It's not offensive, really.  It's just that there's a lot in it that's confusing or inaccurate, and it's really reinforcing a lot of damaging, alienating issues within the Pagan community.

First, let me explain something about this that really is important:  "Paganism" as a non-offensive term is a self-identity.  First and foremost.  When deciding whether or not somebody is "Pagan," the number one deciding factor is whether or not they are OK with being called that.  And this author's reasons for not owning "Pagan" are perfectly fine.  Any non-typical Pagan will probably have experienced the frustration that comes with having people think they know what you practice and believe.  For instance, having people assume that I am a Goddess-worshiper, or adhere to a heterosexual-sex-based view of the seasons, or believe that nobody should ever ever curse--and having people interact with me as if these are self-evident facts--that's fucking annoying.  So if Jacob wants to bypass that whole muck by identifying as "polytheist" but not "Pagan," then so be it.  That's fine.  And there are plenty of other traditions and people that do the same.

Here's the problem, though:  He's using a really shitty definition of "Paganism."  Both explicit and implied.  And by using those definitions as if they themselves are self-evident, he's reinforcing that very same frustration for the rest of us.

So a few months ago I wrote on the subject of Wiccanate privilege, which is an admittedly-shitty (I didn't make it up) label for the way Wiccan beliefs and practices--and beliefs and practices mostly associated with Wiccans--are given too much preference in Pagan thought, books, festivals, and groups to the point where people erroneously define Paganism itself based on Wiccan beliefs and practices.  In it I wrote:
...a non-Wiccan Pagan who goes to a "General Pagan" event can reasonably expect that other people who attend will probably misrepresent us, define Paganism in such a way that it excludes anybody who isn't Wiccan or Wicca-inspired, lecture us about ethics that have nothing to do with our religious traditions, and insist that we shoehorn our Gods and our mythology into a Wiccan understanding.
What it looks like, from my perspective, is that Jacob and other members of his group felt out of place at Pagan events because the people at those events were running on shitty, Wiccanate definitions of Paganism.  It has nothing to do with whether or not Jacob would be "lying" if he called himself "Pagan."  He wouldn't be.  If he wanted to use that word, he would meet all of the other established criteria.  There's nothing about being Pagan that requires invoking the four directions, using the Greek elements, mixing practices between cultures, celebrating Sabbats or Esbats, expecting clergy to actually be trained, practicing Witchcraft, standing in a circle, or--and I find this one fundamentally insulting--not using traditional altar etiquette (as a Pagan who worships ancient Egyptian Gods, things like altar etiquette and purity are still important to me).

Saying "I don't identify with this term because of baggage" is enough.  Saying "I am not a Pagan" and then listing a bunch of New Age and Wiccan beliefs as evidence... no, that's not appropriate.  And it's stuff like this that reinforces the shoddy definitions of Paganism that Wiccans have crafted and continue to perpetuate.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 30: Haiku

Today's is:
Write a haiku about being trans.

Um... OK, I'll write one about my first shot:
On the longest night
Sharper than a pine needle--
Finally relaxed

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Business Trip Birding

I thought I'd give a birding update because... well, I haven't been birding very often lately and I am on a business trip traveling around Mississippi for a couple weeks.  That means that there are some birds here that I won't have an opportunity to see back in Wisconsin, so of course I'm taking any opportunity I can to see them.

First new bird I got?  Northern Mockingbird, right away.  I've never seen a mockingbird of any sort before, but there's just something... mocking-bird-y about them, so despite not having really looked into it before I pretty much immediately knew what they were.

I took a walk and found some Muscovy Ducks.  These are likely domesticated and therefore inappropriate for a list, but I did take some pictures.  They also charged me, which was horrifying.  I have a feeling that, due to their location in a heavy-foot-traffic area, they thought I was going to feed them.

In fact, as I write this I think I'll add a mini-list to the end of my Life List for the domestics and domestic-wild hybrids.  Just because they're pretty neat.

I got some pictures of I believe two other birds I found around this time that are... odd.  One of them might be a European Starling, but the thing is, we have Starlings everywhere and these are just... off.  So I'll be posting them to a bird ID forum to see if they're something else.  The other might just be another Northern Mockingbird with poor lighting.

Today we drove two hours, most of which was in marshy, country area.  That said, I got a lot of "drive-by" birds.  I came up with a system for that.  When I'm driving alone, I'm prone to stopping and taking better looks, but I was unable to do that.  So instead of just assuming my drive-by IDs were right, I'd see a bird I knew was new, look it up in my guide, and then look for it again to confirm the ID.  I didn't get many pictures at all--practically none that would give me an appropriate ID--but I did see these birds:
  • Black Vulture
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Fish Crow
  • Summer Tanager
 Of which the only one I actually photographed was a Black Vulture because we were driving.  You have to admit, though, that this is an impressive picture for shooting out of a car going 70mph without actually taking time to aim:

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 29: I don't even know what this is.

Today's is a weird activity but I'll do it just because:
Write out something positive about yourself using the letters of your name. Ex. Your name is Bob so B-Beautiful O-Outstanding B-Boy


J - Jack-of-all-Trades
A - Anthropomorphic
C - Clairsentient
K - Knowledgeable
S - Setite
O - Optimistic
N - Nudist

Friday, July 18, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 28: Daily Boost

Today's question is not directly trans-related.  In fact, the rest of the questions aren't really that... deep.  Anyway:
What is something you have to do everyday or else you feel like your whole day is off if you don’t do it?

I had to think about this for a while and I thought "You know, there really isn't anything."  And then I realized that isn't true.  Also the reality is sexually oriented so if you have a problem with that...  turn back.

So a quick story.  Long ago--not to give any details--I wound up in a conversation with a bunch of people who read in a guy's file that he "masturbates daily."  And they were really freaked out by that, like they thought it was the most deviant possible thing because apparently they don't get out very much.  I tried to tell them "You know, this actually isn't that abnormal," but they kept insisting that masturbating once a day is excessive.

And, well, I had to roll my eyes.  I have a really difficult time even getting to sleep if I don't have an orgasm at least once a day, at night before I go to bed.  Often more than once, especially if I don't have to work.  So when I was unemployed for a long time I was probably doing it once in the morning and once at night.

This is the point where some trans-man-specific TERFs (and yes, they exist) will cry out about how testosterone has turned me into a disgusting sexual deviant, but the reality is that I've always been like this, ever since I stopped being ashamed of the idea.  When I was a kid I'd try finding ways around it, like somehow it was "OK" if I didn't use my hands.  Actually, when I was very young--maybe first grade to fourth grade--I did it multiple times a day without knowing what it even was.  So it wasn't the testosterone.

Anyway... I was going to say "use of technology" but that's really not accurate.  I have gone entire summers without the use of a cell phone or computer, and that's in recent memory.  It's still not something I prefer to let go, though.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 27: Goals

Today's question is:
What goals do you have?

It's unclear to me whether the author intends to ask about transition related goals or life goals, so I'll write a bit about both.

My transition-related goals are... well, mostly complete except the big stuff.  I've already been through therapy to get hormones and I've been on hormones for a couple years.  I've socially transitioned.  I got my driver's license and name changed.  I'm out to my family.  I have a post-transition work history.

So most of my transition-related goals are surgical.  One thing that happens to a lot of trans people is that going on hormones emphasizes the things that hormones don't change.  So I'm a lot more dysphoric about my chest than I once was.  I'm not even close to affording surgery, but that's hopefully the next major step I'll be taking, followed by a birth certificate and social security change.

I don't know what I all want with regard to bottom surgery.  I'm pretty sure I want a hysterectomy.  Whether or not I get an oophorectomy (removal of ovaries) depends on whether or not I'll want to go off of testosterone by that point.  I do not want a vaginectomy.  I kind of like my vagina.  If I got bottom surgery, it would be limited to a clitoral release most likely.

Some non-physical transition-related goals... I want to go to some non-college queer and trans conferences.  One of the things about college conferences like MBLGTACC is that, although I love them, I'm pretty far removed from their target audience now.  It all depends on what's available to me, though.

As far as non-directly-transition-related goals, I'm working on building my career and trying to get out of my parents' house.  It's a depressing environment here that makes me feel like I'm walking on eggshells, the house itself is tearing apart at the seams and I feel like it's harming my health, and I need to just get away and have space to myself.  There's a prospective job opportunity coming up that I feel I have a good chance for, and I've already been looking into things like appropriate housing that'll take my dog and not be too expensive.

I'd also like more romance in my life, although that's largely going to involve dealing with my shyness and anxiety.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 26: Questions

Today's question is:
Do you feel comfortable answering questions about being trans if say your teacher/friend/stranger asked you?

I would be really offended if a rando on the street asked me a question about me being trans.  Typically there's no risk of that, though, because of years of hormones.  The reality is that being read as trans makes many of us feel really bad.  So if you do figure it out by seeing some of the markers of trans-ness on my body--my hand size and feet size for instance--you should really just shut up about it.  That's not to say that incidentally reading somebody as trans is inherently bad.  I'm actually really "good" at reading other trans men (which is one of the world's most useless skills by the way).  But many of us are really self-conscious about people finding out, and finding that somebody noticed can be very scary.

If somebody knows through some sort of interaction... say they recognize me from high school or some other pre-transition life period, or I've come out, or something like that, then I'm fine with answering most questions that aren't horribly invasive, the latter being gauged by how close I am.  A close friend could ask me damn near anything.  Hell, for really close friends I'm not even bothered by genital questions if there's a reason for them.  I can't think of any good reasons right now, but they might exist.

If somebody who knows is asking a question about sensitivity, then I encourage that rather than deplore it.  It gets annoying after a while if it's excessive to the point where it's disruptive, but otherwise it's fine.

I despise when people ask questions like "Is this offensive?" when their motivation is to try justifying why they can like it.  Like, I'm getting a lot of "America's Got Talent" traffic to this blog asking of Ray Jessel is offensive, and I can just tell from the wording that they're looking for that one trans voice that's going to tell them it's totally cool and hilarious and they're still good people.  That's gross.

That's not the same for everyone, of course.  Some trans people don't want you to acknowledge their transness in any way, and that's their prerogative.  I, though, am typically fine with it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Transgender Blogging Challenge Day 25: Doctor Visits

Today they just gave me a thing:  Doctor Visits.

I don't like doctor visits, but it's not entirely due to my transness.  Part of it is that when I was younger there were cases where my parents (usually my mother) would downplay any medical issue I said I had, telling me it was all in my head.  I get the impression they were mostly worried about what bills they were going to get, but it in many ways wrecked me to see my mom go to the doctor for seemingly every little thing only to have them not take me for things that really were medically significant.  The major example... I have asthma.  I suspected I had asthma for years, but instead of taking me to the doctor I was told it was "just anxiety" and that I should breathe into a paper bag.  Years of this went by, with long stints in which I had constant breathing trouble.  And I mean constant.  I didn't know what normal breathing even felt like.  Finally I went to the doctor when I was I think 21, because my boss made me go, and I was diagnosed with asthma.  Multiple times I've gone to doctors who have never met me and don't have my medical records only to have them say right away "this is obviously asthma."  But I still have a horror of going to the doctor and winding up with a major bill or being embarrassed to find that it was just anxiety (something that has never actually happened at a doctor).

Anyway, right now I go to a doctor who specializes in trans medical care who I learned about from my therapist.  I'm typically not that stressed out to go to her for that reason.  I have some friends who go to less-experienced doctors to get their hormones, and a lot of times they do things like start them on a ridiculously low dose or make them stop when there's even the slightest inkling of a problem (often based on what numbers are expected in women).  So they wind up with a slightly elevated blood count or some acne or weight gain and boom their doctor freaks the fuck out and takes them off their meds.  My doctor is much more knowledgeable than that.  I actually did have some side effects from T that suck... secondary polycythemia and higher blood pressure... and she isn't taking me off T over it.

I think that if she did want me to go off T I'd trust her judgment.  At the very least I've been on it long enough that the important irreversible effects are there.

When I do have to go to another doctor I actually rarely come out as trans, although it's reasonably obvious once I break out my prescription list.  I've had some irritating problems due to that.  One of the most notable was when I was having a work physical that wound up being public and the doctor made me take my shirt off in front of a bunch of cis men.  Luckily I was out at work, but it was supremely embarrassing.  He did apologize later.

Another time I went for what turned out to be, predictably, asthma; she made me go through a bunch of expensive tests I didn't really need because I happened to be on testosterone.  It wouldn't have been an issue for me if it weren't for the fact that these were things my regular doctor regularly tests for.

Another time I got bit at work and had to go get a tetanus shot.  Again, it was more awkwardness surrounding my prescription list.

So that's about it for doctor stuff.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Transgender Blogging Challenge Day 24: Artists

Today's question is:
Who is your favorite LGBT actor/musician/director/artist etc and why?

I don't really have a singular favorite, but I do have a few that I'll list.  It's not a very diverse list, regrettably, as I haven't delved into queer and trans music in a while.

Maddie Blaustein - I already talked about her, but she was the voice actress who played Meowth from Pokémon.

Joshua Klipp - Joshua Klipp is a trans male singer, probably most famous for his song "Little Girl" that utilizes both his pre-T and post-T voices.  Another song I love is "Rescue Me," although it's admittedly in a "so bad it's good" kind of way.

Alex Davis - Another trans male singer, has songs both pre-T and post-T so there's a huge difference in his voice between albums.  Some songs by him are "If Only You Were A Boy," "Man of the Year," and probably my favorite, "Come Back."

Ryan Cassata -  Another trans male singer.  If I remember right I only like one of his songs (if my iTunes list is to be believed) and that's the song "Soda Cans."

Kit Yan - Kit Yan is a transgender slam poet  notable for being the only person on this list I've actually seen live.  One of his notable pieces is "Open Letter to HRC."

Katastrophe/Rocco Kayiatos - Katastrophe is a trans male rapper I learned about from the song "The Life" that used to play on TV a bit.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 23: Stereotypes

Today's question is:
What stereotypes are put on trans people?

And you know, this is such a typical question that I almost said "fuck you" and didn't answer it.  This is not a challenge, it's 101 shit that makes me want to write my own list of more in-depth stuff.  With all due respect to the author, anyway.  So I'm going to talk about a few stereotypes that aren't as typically discussed or stereotypes that exist within the trans community.  Only a few, though, because I don't really like this question much.
  1. Trans men are accepted in queer spaces while trans women are not.
    For a while it felt like every other trans woman was talking about how trans men are oh-so-accepted in queer spaces and trans women aren't.  This is a half-truth, though.  Trans men in general face fewer risks than trans women, due to things like invisibility and male privilege.  But it's important to recognize that "queer space" is not all the same.  In many cases they're talking about queer spaces dominated by women that are ridiculously obtuse about fully including lesbian and bi trans women.  Gay and bi trans men have difficulty integrating into queer men's spaces, too, considering the phallocentrism of that community.  And you know what else?  There are trans women who are in those spaces, too.  So while it's an important issue to talk about, it's just not true that trans men are universally accepted in queer spaces while trans women are not.
  2. Non-binary people are just "trying on" transgenderism and will eventually come out as binary trans folk.
    There are certainly binary trans people (including myself) who once identified as non-binary of some type, but that this is overall the case is just not true, for the same reason "bisexuals are just gays unwilling to come out" is just not true.
  3. Testosterone turns trans men gay.
    Testosterone actually made me less gay, if that makes sense.  Here's the story:  I tongue-in-cheekly identify as an ex-gay.  I identified as gay for years.  No, strike that... I was gay.  I couldn't imagine wanting to have sex with a woman.  Then, during one of my more radical streaks, I decided that my lack of attraction for women was probably sexist and that I should be more open-minded.  After that I developed attraction for women.  In some--but not all--people, sexual orientation can be changed.  The problem with the ex-gay movement isn't that they say people can change, it's that they make it into a moral obligation where they just fucking isn't one.  Anyway, I identified as bi starting maybe five or six years before testosterone, so testosterone didn't make me bi.  But it did make my sexual desire and interests much more expansive to the point where I could theoretically be turned on by god-damned near anything if I think about it hard enough.  So testosterone can contribute to changing your sexuality, but it doesn't for everyone, and it doesn't typically cause a complete flip from straight to gay, and there are many more reasons somebody's sexual orientation might change than just hormones.
    I've heard, by the way, that there's a similar phenomenon among trans women.  The explanation I've heard from some of them is that sexual orientation and gender identity and expression are probably more linked than queer theorists want to admit, and that loving men as a man and loving men as a woman (and vice versa) just don't have the same vibe.  That makes a lot of sense if you ask me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Transgender Blogger Challenge Day 22: Careers

Today's question is:
Do you feel being trans holds you back from your career choice?

This is a somewhat complicated question for me because building my career has in some ways spanned through a "pre" and "post" period:  The "pre" being back when people viewed me as a butch woman, and the "post" being after I "passed" and people began viewing me as a man.

As for right now?  Not really.  The only time it affects me is when I have to deal with a background check that is actually seen by somebody making hiring decisions, and rarely has it actually posed a problem.  Documentation is a bigger problem than transphobia.  And that makes sense:  I am a relatively privileged individual.  I'm white, I'm educated, I'm male, people don't really read me as queer, I don't have a particularly non-standard gender presentation.

When I was going to school for Information Technology, though, then it was a bit of a problem... before hormones.  I'm reasonably good at figuring things out myself, and my teachers were more than willing to help me out, but in my classes I was surrounded by dipshit cis male libertarian capitalist pieces of shit.  When I wasn't on hormones and people read me as a butch woman (despite already having male documents and a male name), it was a regular occurrence that cis men would cut me off or wouldn't allow me space to speak, and since I didn't speak they assumed I didn't know computers very well.  And I know what any dipshit cis dudebro reading this probably will say:  "Well you just weren't assertive enough."

But after hormones, it just "magically" stopped happening.  People let me talk, they didn't cut me off, and people suddenly trusted my understanding more.  It was surreal and it was really gross.  And I'm certainly not the only trans man who has had that experience.  A great number of feminist-minded trans men got that way specifically because we recognized the huge differential of privilege that came with people suddenly seeing us as men.

This is the sort of experience that informs my perceptions when people try making the case that masculine women have privilege compared to other women, as well as people who desperately try to maintain that trans men as individuals have always had male privilege throughout our whole lives.  There are some respects where this might change the way we behave; for instance, during high school I deliberately changed a lot of behavior because people called it "feminine," and having a masculine-sounding name is likely to help a woman land an interview.  But it really isn't as simple as "masculine privilege."

In a nutshell, most of the issues career-wise I've experienced from being trans were due to misogyny, not necessarily transphobia.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 21: Cisgender People

Today's question is "What are your views on the cisgender community?"

I think this is a really weird question.  I don't consider what cis people have to be a "community" in the sense that oppressed peoples have "community."  When I say "trans community" I am specifically referring to a "community" that has a shared sense of belonging in that community.  And yes, I am aware that that's arguable, with people bickering and excluding and doing all sorts of shit to compromise whether or not it can really be called a "community," but discourse-wise I'm comfortable with it at least as a symbol of a shared oppression.

The issue with cis people as "a community" is that cis people by and large do not have recognition that trans people exist in any great quantity and as such would not consider "I am not transgender" to be a fundamental part of their identities.  Those that do are typically raging anti-trans bigots who spend a lot of their short time on this earth concerning themselves with disenfranchising people who aren't doing anything to harm them (Ragingly bigoted members of practically any oppressor group will also do this, too.  White people don't typically think of themselves as a "white community" unless they're raging racists, men don't think of themselves as a "male community" unless they're MRAs, etc.).  Cis people do not have a common bond of cis-ness.  They are not "a community."

But anyway, that's an aside based on language.  How I feel about cis people is more properly answerable.

And the answer is this:  Cis people annoy me and stress me out the vast majority of the time with their utter density.  Even unusually well-read and dear-to-me cis people are prone to saying and doing things that really bother me.  Often in such cases I have a difficult time saying something, especially with cis people who are significantly better than other cis people at trans issues.

It's really difficult for me to hang with a lot of cis people, especially straight cis people, for long periods of time.  Even people very close to me, like close friends and relatives, I've learned are probably going to repeatedly and intensely disappoint me.  I already pointed out in my essay on Ray Jessel that when that deplorable scene popped up I basically had to sit there and try to tune out my relatives who thought it was the funniest fucking thing in the world, knowing that if I say anything they're just going to get angry and defensive and accuse me of being "too easily offended" despite regularly just sitting and ignoring repeated transphobic comments to avoid hearing cis people whine.

And that's one of the things that really gourds me:  The cis-person whine.  Trying to talk to cis people about trans issues is one of the most infuriating things just because cis people have the tendency to whine about it rather than take it to heart.  Either they're whining about transphobia they think is concentrated in those other cis people or--more likely--they're whining about being called out or whining about being told some shitty thing they like is transphobic and whine whine whine whine.  That's the only way I can describe it.  Cis people whine a lot.  They whine about being called cis.  They whine about having to accommodate trans people like they accommodate cis people.

It's not that trans people don't also make mistakes, but it certainly feels a lot different when it's coming from somebody who is going through at least some semblance of what you are.  So for instance, there are some trans people out there who have a history of saying seriously dip-shitty things, or who pander to cis concerns and cis-oriented organizations that continually burn me, but it bothers me less than a cis person who does the same.  Why?  Because a trans person who uses language that might be problematic to refer to theirself, or who enjoys media I consider seriously transphobic*, or who otherwise picks a way of advocating that I would not is at least in a position to really weigh those risks and benefits for themselves.  A trans person who says "I'm going to support a trans-exclusive piece of legislation helping queer people because it's a stepping stone" is just plain not the same as a cis person who does the same.

* -- This does not count, for instance, trans men who defend transmisogynistic media and other levels of oppression and privilege.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 20: Parenthood

Today's question is:
"Do you want to be a parent, why or why not?"

And the answer is "absolutely not ever."

There have only been a few instances in my life that I've ever flirted with the idea of having children.  one of them was for a week when I was a caretaker for this absolutely adorable child at a summer camp.  I don't remember the rest of them, actually.  The rest of my life I've been either somewhat ambivalent or rampantly against it, but I didn't want to say anything because my relatives would be upset.

It's well-known, now.  And they are upset.  And it's really frustrating.

My father wanted me to freeze my eggs, which is an expensive endeavor for something I don't actually want.  My aunt recently started making comments about me becoming a father, and when I protested she insisted she meant adopting, which I equally do not want.  My grandma, not to be outdone, decided to say I "needed" to have "at least one" biological child.

My co-workers--people who don't even really fucking know me--have also made comments.  One woman, when I said I didn't want kids, said "You're young, you have time to change your mind."  This was a woman who was actively trying to have kids at 23... she is five years younger than me.  All I could think was "Yeah, I do have time to change my mind.  You won't."  Many of them have brought up things like the ever-so-heterosexist-as-well-as-presumptive "You'll never find a woman who will go for that!"  And when I say that I've been sterilized--and I frame it as a personal choice--they start telling me how sorry they are for my loss.  It's ridiculous and disgusting.

But that doesn't answer why I don't want kids.  And there are lots of reasons for that.

First and foremost?  I don't get anything out of kids.  I like kids.  Don't get me wrong.  I find rampantly-anti-child childfree people to be disgusting and annoying.  I worked with kids for many years.  I enjoy being an uncle.  But long-term exposure is deleterious to my health.  I just don't get anything out of constant contact with kids to rationalize the way they make me feel long-term.  Even now, my niece has been staying at my house a lot because it's summer and she's out of school... I love her to death, but it gets really annoying having to listen to her constant Minecraft bullshit (she loves trying to get people to listen to insufferable YouTube videos featuring crappy Minecraft parodies) or having her come knocking on my door to ask about petty things.

I don't have the patience for things to get broken on me all the time.  I know that when I was a child I broke a lot of my parents' things, and as I grew older my cousins broke a lot of my things, and these are memories that haunt me.  My brother has wound up with practically every expensive thing he owns smashed by his step-daughter.  I know I can't handle that sort of thing gracefully.

And that's actually a part of a more pressing issue... I have a very strict idea of how kids should be raised.  I believe kids deserve respect and autonomy.  I remember things like the one time I was ever spanked, knowing it was because my dad was frustrated and not because we deserved it or wouldn't have stopped misbehaving if he'd just asked us, having him gloat about it even as we are adults as if this was a central part of our character, and I think "Would I wind up so frustrated--knowing already that kids are frustrating for me anyway--that I'd turn my back on my principles?"  People keep telling me "you'd be one of the good ones, though!"  That might be true, but it also might not be true.  And it might help if I overall wanted kids, but I simply don't.

There are lots of others, but those are the main ones.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 19: Religion

Today's question is a great one.  It's:
If you're religious, how do your views effect being trans? If you're not religious what about your family's religions?

I can almost see the people become immediately offended by my answer here.  Ah well.  So be it.  First, I should mention something about myself that should be obvious if you follow me long enough:  I have a special distaste for Christian exceptionalism and supremacy.  One of the main points of this essay I wrote last year is that Christianity is not special or inherently more important than any other religion, its values are not universal, and so forth.  I have a very strong and persistent belief that Christianity in my country is an oppressor faith.  I want God and I especially want Jesus booted the fuck out of my schools, my government, and my job.  A lot of even liberal Christians are intimidated by this.  If this is you, please recognize that a lot of the things you take as for-granted religious liberties (such as the right to wear religious symbols to work or the ability to talk about your church or a religious retreat or a Bible passage you like without suffering from repercussions from it) truly are things that are not granted to all faiths.  When it all boils down to it, I've experienced more direct shit over being Pagan than I have for being trans or queer.

But anyway, my family members vary in religiosity.  My father is agnostic (I suspect more on the atheist side but I'm not sure), but raised Lutheran.  My mother is a devout Catholic.  My brothers and I were raised Catholic, although I converted to Paganism in my early teens.  I'm not entirely sure about my brothers' current religious alignments.  One of them has "Deism" on his Facebook profile.  We don't really clash with it, though.

My family is reasonably religiously tolerant, at least for people who have next to no actual religious understanding. They're the kind of people who it's seemingly impossible to convince that Christianity has no business in the aforementioned schools and government even though they don't think they want other religions impeded.  So when I came out to them as trans, religion didn't factor into it a lot.

It didn't, anyway, until my mom's dipshit Christian co-workers learned about it and started going all ignorant-Bible-blaster on her.  Rather than just say "this is not the sort of conversation we should be having at work," my mom decided to start asking me about this shit.  And my mom isn't able to believe that I'm not actually a Christian anymore (despite all evidence), so she cloaked it in language like "Well, I don't believe you're going to hell, but what if..."

In the end I actually wound up giving her a passage from the Apocrypha, which are books of the Bible that were taken out because they either weren't contemporary or they were weird or had political things the church didn't like.  One of the weirder passages is in the book the Gospel of Thomas, passage 114, in which Simon Peter gets all super-misogyny on Mary Magdalene, saying she shouldn't be allowed with them because woman germs or something.  It goes like this:
114. Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
Which I presented to her.

She hasn't really brought it up since, although (hopefully after I'm out of the house) we'll wind up having to really come clean about the fact that, no, I'm not a Christian and have no interest in being one.

As far as my own faith, I'm a solitary Eclectic Pagan, so on a personal level it's not a problem for me.  I'm devoted to the God Set, who is (based on the people worshiping him and his prominence in Kemetic circles) very fond of trans men.  And as a trans man, I don't really get that much flack for it in the Pagan community at large (there are a select few Pagan TERFs and cis-only men's mysteries assholes who specifically target trans men, but most of them are targeting trans women).

What I do get flack for is my practice, which is unashamedly queer-based.  That's not as much a trans thing as it is an internal problem with Wiccan beliefs being taken at face value as if they're "general Pagan" beliefs.  Which, by the way, they fucking aren't.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 18: Local Laws

Today's question is "How do you feel about the trans laws where you live?"

And the answer is "in many respects they're pretty damn shitty."

So first off, I live in Wisconsin.  There are some advantages to that in a trans context.  If you're in a gender reassignment program you are entitled to go to the DMV with a carry letter from a therapist asking to get your name and gender marker changed on your license even if neither has actually been legally changed through a court decision.  You don't need hormones or surgery for this, although unfortunately a lot of DMVs aren't aware of that (mine treated me very coldly about it until they found the legislation requiring them to do it).  The premise is that you probably will be getting on hormones sometime in the future, although to be honest I doubt that they'd make you change it if you never do.

However, changing your birth certificate does require a court decision, and I believe it says "AMENDED" on it, so it looks weird to onlookers.

As far as really local laws, I live around Fond du Lac, which recently became a very unsafe-feeling place for me and a lot of other trans people who live there or near there (and for anybody in Fond du Lac reading this... there are lots of us).  A well-meaning councilman introduced legislation protecting people in housing on the basis of gender identity.  It created a shitstorm of bigoted assholes handing out bathroom-panic fliers.  I emailed the representatives, and the only respectful response I got was from the guy who wrote the legislation (I can tell the others were trying to be respectful, but they abso-fucking-lutely weren't. One of them made a comment about me "using the bathroom of the opposite sex."  Shitbag.)

Of course, the only one who voted in favor of it was the guy who wrote the legislation, with the rest of them going on their merry-bigoted-way.

Anyway, I'm often pretty shielded by this sort of thing, being a hormonally-transitioned trans man and not, for instance, a non-binary person, a poorly-passing trans man, or a trans woman, which would make things a lot more difficult.  And it's certainly better than living places that want me to have fucking surgery before I can even get an accurate driver license.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Transgender Blogging Challenge Day 17: I'm changing this question tbh.

Alright, I need to get this off my chest first of all:  It really bugs me that this was just labeled a "transgender blogging challenge" and then suddenly there's a question that's mostly oriented toward trans men and trans masculine people.  So while the original question was "What’s your binding choice and why?" I'm going to change it to:
What are some of your choices of trans-related garments and items?
Which includes binding but also other stuff.

Anyway, my choice of binder is an Underworks Tri-Top Chest Binder.  These are around $30 each and only compress the top.  I used to wear the Underworks 997 (I think that's this one, they've changed some things around), which also compresses the belly a bit.  I'm less self-conscious about that now and so I only do the chest.  I always get them in black.  I don't understand why people get them in white because they stain very easily and are hard to get clean.

Currently I have two newer ones.  I always break them in before I wear them regularly... and how I do that really goes against the instructions because it's technically destroying them a bit.  I wash them with hot water a few times and throw them in the dryer.  Then I wear them for short periods of time before they finally get comfortable and I can wear them to, say, work.

I first tried binding when I was maybe 14.  With duct tape.  Don't do it.  Don't do ACE bandages, either.

My very first real binder as a trans man was actually a girdle bottom that I flipped upside down and cut a hole in the crotch of.  It worked... OK.  An Underworks binder was the first thing I ever bought with a debit card, as an aside.

Right now a binder is the only serious trans garment or item I use regularly.  I own a few packers and some STPs.  Honestly?  I only use STPs when camping or I know there'll be gross bathrooms now.  I don't have the same hangups about pissing sitting down that I did early on.  Meh.  They're really not worth the trouble of lugging around, especially since the only ones I can actually get to work are ones like the Freshette, which are huge and bulky.  I own a Mr. Fenis but I have yet to actually get it to work.

I don't pack anymore, either, like I just said.  With some pants it looks weird if you aren't packing... like there's some concave pit there (which I guess there is).

So, yeah.  That's about it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 16: My Rock Anthem

Today's question is:
What is your rock anthem?

My "rock anthem" is actually really easy... it's "I Am" by Godsmack.  It really doesn't have anything to do with me being trans, though, it has to do with the journey I went through to re-discover my God and the church I've since left.

Godsmack has the distinction of being the first band I actually legitimately purchased a CD from.  This song was actually on that first CD, but I didn't really pay much attention to it.  It wasn't until years later when a friend of mine let me put a bunch of his music on my iPod that I grew to like the song.  And it wasn't until I'd fully converted to Kemetic Orthodoxy that it became sealed in my head as "Me and Set's Song."  Because it really feels like that's what it is, from all the pokey little quirky references that seem to be about that journey.

I don't really feel the desire to go through and write a full run-down of what all about this song is significant, as most people who read it will not understand that significance anyway.  But yeah, that would be the answer to the question.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 15: Trans Identity

Today's question is:
How have you embraced your trans identity?

I'm less likely to seriously "embrace" my trans identity after many years of being trans.  I'm mostly ambivalent to it.  It's not that I'm not proud of the things I've accomplished, and I also enjoy meeting other trans people, helping other trans people, educating, and so forth, but it's not as central to my identity as it would have been four or five years ago.  Being queer is central to my identity, but as I feel like I've mentioned before I tend to make a very firm distinction between me being queer (sexual orientation, non-monogamy, kink) and me being trans (which doesn't feel very queer at all to me).  It's not something I enforce--if you consider transness to be inherently queer, I'd disagree but not consider it particularly offensive--but in my own worldview that's just not how it is.

Actual things I do include occasional education efforts (I used to do this a lot but not in a long time as there are many other trans people to take my place in that now), I help newer trans people when I know them in person (I tend not to mentor people I meet online anymore for a lot of complicated reasons, but that's not to say I never would), and I try when it's safe to remain visible.  For instance, when I go to Pride events I always wear something that marks me as trans, whether it's a button or a shirt or a ribbon or something, because testosterone has rendered me so invisible in those spaces.  I am also playing around with another blog that details specifically trans male issues with a diet/health focus. I don't know if I'll stick to it, though.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 14: Passing

Today's question is:
"What are some of your passing tips or things you do to pass?"

I avoid giving passing tips.  It's partially philosophical (although I think it's fine to give tips when asked, it does in its own way reinforce 'passing' as a moral value), but also a matter of effectiveness.  Especially when somebody gives you a photograph of themselves, I have no idea if you 'pass' in a real-world setting.  I have years of experience being around trans people.  I notice things that cis people don't.  I've read trans men who have been on T for years.  They pass perfectly fine, it's just that I have an intimate understanding of what T does to your body.  And there's nothing I can do for things like your hand and food size or your facial structure.

Back pre-T there were dozens of things I did trying to pass that in retrospect either hurt my chances of doing so or were terrible for my well-being, and I see tips like this being bandied about in trans male forums all the time.  I just want to vomit every time somebody posts a picture of themselves, asks "What can I do?", and is told "Lose weight, you have curves!!!" even though he is at a perfectly healthy weight and losing more likely won't remove the curves anyway.  Encouraging people to lose weight is useless and can result in people harming their bodies.  Some other 'passing tips' I commonly see include cutting your eyelashes (It doesn't work and I know somebody who nearly went blind trying that; don't do it!) or carving your hairline (it's really easy to create a hairline that is entirely unlike an actual masculine hairline; I know this from experience).

A lot of traditional tips will make you look really out of place, which doesn't help you pass (things like dressing super conservative, wearing very baggy clothes, or piling on layers of clothing), and some "common sense" type tips also are often ineffective or harmful (like wearing shoes that are too big to disguise that your feet are small, binding too tight, or trying to pull off fake facial hair).

That doesn't mean you can't do these things, but I think it's more important to concentrate on things that alleviate dysphoria rather than merely ways to 'pass' better.

I have a particular loathing of behavior-based passing tips, and there are two reasons for that.

First, I have a really nasty history with it.  There are a lot of stereotypically masculine behaviors (little things like how I hold schoolbooks or cross my legs) that I naturally picked up in high school because my asshole Sociology teacher literally spent lessons on gender roles nit-picking every feminine thing I did in order to "prove" that even butch women are still feminine.

Second, in many respects this encourages misogynistic behavior and posturing.  Telling trans men things like "women are reserved, men take up space!" and instructing them to thus start stretching out and taking up a shitload of space in public is basically training trans men to emulate behaviors that disadvantage women.  This is especially pervasive when some dipshit transbro tells younger trans men how to talk to women.  For fuck's sake.

Finally, it's important to reiterate that in most of these cases (except that last paragraph) these are more personal preference than anything.  There's nothing wrong with trans men trying to pass.  I just think there's too much emphasis on it culturally, and that leads people to throwing around some hardcore awful stuff.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 13: Bathrooms

Today's question isn't really a question.  It just says "Bathrooms."  Granted, that probably is a pretty self-evident subject, isn't it?

I'm not overly stressed out by bathrooms anymore.  Not entering and leaving them, anyway.  My appearance doesn't scream "transgender" to people (not unless they have a really good idea of what a pre-T trans man looks like).  However, there are some stressful aspects to it.

I don't use urinals and I don't stand to piss.  STP devices are basically a novelty for me.  I own a few, but I don't really use them unless I'm camping or hunting, and even then I'm more apt to just squat.  It's difficult to bring myself to go when I'm standing, even if nobody's around.

I also have a hard time sitting when there are people there, though.  Even though most people probably won't notice (if you pay attention in men's restrooms there are lots of guys who sit to urinate), it's still difficult.  I usually wait for everybody to leave.  I wish I didn't, especially since I work at a building where the bathroom stalls are constantly full, but it's just how it goes.

Anyway, let's talk a bit about my history in this regard.  For the vast majority of time I've been "out" I'd go out of my way to use gender neutral restrooms or single-person restrooms.  If I wasn't able to find these, I'd use the women's room.  The thought of using the men's room was a huge stressor for me.  My therapist actually pretty much made me start using men's rooms before she'd prescribe T to me.  I actually wish that there was a question dedicated to experiences in therapy because that fucking sucked.  I could have just lied, I guess, but it's not my style.  Around that time she got me a carry letter so I could get my driver's license changed to reflect my lived gender (my name had already been changed), and that made it a bit more comfortable since psychologically you feel like if somebody says anything you can just whip out your ID.

It didn't take long for me to be mostly comfortable with it after that, just out of brute-force exposure.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 12: Health and Wellness

Today's question is:
What are you doing to stay healthy for transitioning mentally and physically?

One of the things about testosterone is can have some not-very-good side effects.  In my case, it has pretty much strengthened things that already were problems before T... I gained weight, my blood pressure went up, my blood sugar got wonky, I also got secondary polycythemia which means my red blood cell counts get too high, which can put me at serious risk.  On that latter note, it's easily manageable with regular blood letting (yup, there's a disease that is actually treated with blood letting!).  So my blood counts are fine now.

I haven't been doing well enough to deal with the blood pressure and blood sugar, though.  Right now I'm in the middle of a very strict paleo diet.  It's making me lose weight very rapidly (likely from water loss and not fat, but as far as I know that's actually good for lowering blood pressure so that's good).  My blood pressure is lowering slowly.  I don't know what my blood sugar is doing, but it's probably at least improving just due to the relative decrease in carbs and elimination of the really nasty carbs (refined flour, for instance).

Mentally I mostly try to give myself space, take time for myself, an so forth.  My home life has been very tense, which is a bane to my emotional health and something I need to pay attention to or I'll explode on people (this is, by the way, not a testosterone side-effect; I've always been that way and I am actually less likely to explode).

America's Got Talent's Love of Un-Creative Transphobe Ray Jessel

July 25th Update (for original article scroll to page break):
I've been getting a lot of hits wondering what happened to Ray Jessel, who wasn't really mentioned in the last results show.  Based on the wording of these hits, I'm under the impression those of you coming here with these search questions are probably upset or confused that he did not progress further in the show and are wondering if it had something to do with the response from transgender viewers.  For those of you who are in this category, or close to it, this small update is for you.

I don't know if America's Got Talent cut Jessel because of the trans outcry and GLAAD statement.  I suspect that it might have had something to do with it based on the fact that they took the video off the AGT website and did not as far as I can tell feature his elimination at all on television.  If so, I'm glad they were quiet about it.  As a trans person, one of the most frustrating things I have dealt with in media is having to listen to cisgender (non-transgender) people lament and whine and pout whenever somebody makes the right call and removes a transphobic reference from their program.  If this is you, please recognize that you are promoting an attitude that for trans people--especially black and brown trans women who cannot afford medical care--can be harmful and even deadly (due to a high rate of suicide, murder, assault; and on top of that, less likelihood that justice will actually be served if the latter crimes are reported).

I don't dwell on these things too much in this essay, where I specifically am calling out the assertion that Kessel's song is "ahead of its time" or particularly creative.  I have chosen to focus more on the latter because I feel even people who truly do not think they are intolerant of transgender people were distracted by the shock value of Kessel's song without really considering just how hackneyed the entire concept really is.

I'm certain, of course, that at least some of you will click on this and then become outraged at me for having ruined your bigoted fun.  You are not my audience and I honestly couldn't give two shits what you have to say about it.  If this is you, you probably aren't used to people not thinking your opinions are significant or important (something which, unfortunately, transgender people have to live with on a daily basis).  And quite frankly, if you are not transgender and have never experienced what transgender people go through, no, your opinions and feelings on this just aren't that fucking important.

Finally, there really is no guarantee that Jessel was cut due to transgender outcry.  For all we know, his secondary audition was total piece of shit embarrassment.

Either way, I am personally relieved at the prospect of being able to watch America's Got Talent without seeing him again.

Anyway, for those of you actually interested in the content of the article as it was when I wrote it shortly after the original air date of Jessel's performance, it is below:

First, let me explain to you a bit what happened last night.

I sat down with my parents to watch "America's Got Talent."  This is one of my favorite shows.  I intensely look forward to it, especially the auditions, because you can see practically anything on it.  Where else am I going to see an awkward goth suddenly belt out opera, or a couple of lanky teens play Jimi Hendrix on cellos?  There was a little tenseness during a comedian whose name I can't remember's "trans parent" joke, but I brushed it off as a play on words.  It wasn't that funny, but it wasn't particularly offensive either, and moments of "what the fuck are people thinking" drifted in and out, as usual.

Then came the end, when an 84 year old man came out with a piano and sang what sounded like a pretty typical, sweet love song... and then the penis jokes came.  My father guffawed with the intense laughter of a cis man who finds the mere existence of trans women inherently hilarious and the very thought of falling in love with one repulsive.  And I felt absolutely awful.  The song isn't about me--people typically don't create the same jokes about trans men that they do trans women--but the fact that anybody can listen to this sort of thing and not immediately recognize the level of mean-spirited transphobia inherent in it is absolutely disgusting to me.

He got four "yes" votes, massive applause from the audience and judges, and this is what the America's Got Talent Twitter account said about him:

And if there's one thing that irritates me even more than having an obvious bigot applauded by thousands of people, it's the assumption that it's "original" or "ahead of its time."  Because you know what?  It's not.

You know what Ray Jessel's "talent" is?  Making the exact same goddamned joke that's been made by cis bigots since they learned transgender people exist, and being an old, white more-than-likely-cis man singing it.

"I fell in love with/had sex with a woman who had a penis/used to have a penis and this is somehow inherently disgusting and hilarious" is not original humor.  It and tropes similar to it (which are not meant to be humorous, but "dramatic" in a way where people sympathize with a bigoted cis person) been featured in scores of jokes, television shows, movies, and songs already.  Just a short list of media that has contained this same damn thing:
  • Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
  • Family Guy
  • South Park
  • The IT Crowd
  • Nip/Tuck
  • The Crying Game
  • Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the World (this was an odd example that actually involved two gay cis men unknowingly sleeping with a trans man)
  • Cake Boss (particularly cruel prank that involved a trans woman who wasn't in on the "joke")
  • The song "HermAphrodite" by David Lynch (This is about an intersex person, but I add it because the "penis that's bigger than mine" gag is in it)

It's unoriginal, and it's ancient.  It's not "a breath of fresh air."  It's same old same old.

And I've said it before but I'll say it again:  Cis people do not as a general rule have the understanding or creativity to develop trans-related themes and humor that aren't offensive or at the very least ridiculously uncreative.  When your jokes about trans people end at "trans people are inherently hilarious and if I say or imply a person is transgender people will laugh at that joke," then where is the comedic complexity in that?

But more importantly, we need to recognize that just because cis people are laughing at it doesn't mean it's good humor.  This is oppressor humor.  People laugh at it because they aren't affected, they don't think they know people who are affected, and even if they do know people who are affected they either don't understand or don't give a fuck what the repercussions of those jokes really are.

And in this case?  Jokes like this one create an atmosphere of callous disregard for trans women and reinforce an environment where cis people are considered in some way "justified" if they go ballistic, harm, and even murder women when they learn they are trans.  Trans people, especially trans women and especially trans women who are members of other oppressed groups are a vulnerable population, and it's solidly irresponsible that America's Got Talent would not only broadcast this, but highlight it and sing its praises as if it's at the height of cutting edge humor.

Trans people deserve more than to serve as an unoriginal throwaway punchline.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Transgender Blog Challenge Day 11: Dysphoria

Today's question is:
How do you manage dysphoria?

(Note: This has a self-harm warning later in the blog entry)

I'm not going to sit here and tell you I don't get dysphoria.  I find it really annoying when there are trans people who talk about having no dysphoria as if that's a moral win on their part (I recall one trans man talking about a severely dysphoric trans man who can't even shower with the lights as if he needs to just get over it, yuck).  So I'll mention that, yes, I do get dysphoria.

It's very tempered, though.  The things that mitigate my dysphoria (whether by my action or just incidentally) are:
  1. Fancy hypermasculine clothes.It bugs me that fedoras are now associated with douchebag MRAs because back before testosterone wearing stuff like that really helped mitigate my dysphoria.  I still do this, just not with that particular type of clothing.  I wear a lot of argyle, for instance.
  2. Phantom limbs/lack thereof.
    My brain is convinced that I have an average sized penis and no breasts.  I mean, I can clearly see that this is not the case, but that pseudo-tactile sense I have really helps a lot.  Packing, for instance, feels like I'm covering a penis, not like I'm adding one, so I don't need to do it (unless the pants I'm wearing look weird without).
  3. Fantasy worlds.
    I used to do a lot of stuff on Second Life when it was still popular, and that helped me get out of my body for a while.
  4. Shaving.Shaving using a brush, a shave bowl, and a nice razor really helps with dysphoria.
  5. Trans male pornography.
    Seeing men who look similar to me in fulfilling-appearing sexual situations really helps me, especially if I'm feeling lonely and unloveable.
  6. Sex.
    This is sort of the same as number five, except obviously more personal.  Having sex or even just being naked around somebody who appears to be totally cool with my body as it is is really important to me and really helps mitigate my dysphoria a lot.
  7. Targeted body-hate (Content Warning: Self-harm and BDSM)
    FYI, this is not a tip, it's a fact. I don't suggest it to people.
    It's hard to describe without it looking really freaking awful.  Psychologically I tend to eroticize my darkest emotions and fears.  So for really extreme bouts of dysphoria, I'm likely to engage in stuff like breast bondage.  Most of the time I don't really put this in the "self-harm" category; this is because I'm not intentionally trying to hurt myself, I'm just going for an aesthetic and some tactile sensation that helps me.  It's not something I've done in a while.  It has on a few occasions progressed, though I try to put the kibosh on that pretty fast when it happens as I don't want to interfere with things like future surgery.