Thursday, October 27, 2016

Psychic is Not Science and Your Gut is (Probably) a Bigot

A couple months ago (this is one of those essays I'm transferring from elsewhere, FYI) I went to a local Pagan/New Age event, including a couple of workshops that left me feeling more than a little sad about the community.  One of those involved somebody completely disconnected from the Earth (I may transfer that story over too at some point), but the other is a little more insidious.  It had two main points that I take issue with.  The first--and the title subject of the workshop--is the notion that psychic power is scientific.  The second is the idea that your gut feeling is always right.

Let's talk about that psychic science thing first.  I strongly believe that magickal concepts do not have to be justified with science.  Science is important.  Science has saved thousands of lives and will continue to do so.  Science has piqued and assuaged curiosities about subjects that that a couple hundred years ago were solidly demonized.  But we as a species lived for thousands of years without knowing a lot of the things we know now.  Our magickal backgrounds, the roots of knowledge about psychic phenomena, our traditional medicines, these things developed entirely outside our current view of science, and all attempts at creating parallels between them wind up being so absurdly unscientific that it's best we just acknowledge that they will always be irrevocably different.  And that's OK.

In this presenter's case, the way she tried arguing that psychic "is science" was by explaining that the human body (and all matter, for that matter) is mostly empty space between atoms, and that at our most basic we run by electricity.  These are true, but there is also no evidence that these are connected in any way to psychic activity, and there wasn't even a real attempt to explain why these two things were actually connected.  They were merely justifications made by the presenter to try fitting a square peg into a round hole and justify fruit loopy beliefs about intuition.  The worst part is that she doesn't have to do this.  We have nothing to gain by using bad understandings of science to try converting skeptics.  First off, why are skeptics even an audience of yours?  And second, if you really want to convert skeptical minds, use that energy to convert global climate change deniers or fracking apologists or some other genuine expression of Very Bad Science that is going to get people poisoned and/or killed.  If your aim is to teach a group of people--who, being attendees at a Psychic and Pagan Fair, are already likely to be receptive to what you're saying--how to trust your gut, you can do that without pretending it's science.

This is, unfortunately, the more minor of the two problems.  And it's a shame, because there are some great concepts here, largely when it comes to the way we teach our kids.  The presenter's main argument is that by teaching kids to always avoid strangers, we are taking away their ability to trust their gut feelings about people, manufacturing an inappropriate level of distrust, and all manner of unfortunate side effects.  This is not a terrible idea, all things considered.  Most kids who are abused are not abused by strangers.

But let's talk about this whole gut feeling thing, because there's just a winding labyrinth of issues with it.  The reality is that when people trust their gut, they often don't take into account that due to their socio-cultural training their "gut" is telling them some pretty monstrous things.

There are examples of this for every aspect of oppression.  From very young ages we are subjected to a barrage of stereotypes that wind up assimilating into our perceptions of the world so firmly that they seem like natural impressions.  These are our gut feelings.  Gut feelings have meant black women get fewer painkillers, gays and lesbians are viewed as poor parents, atheists are viewed as less moral, transgender people are viewed as being threatening in restrooms, women are viewed as incompetent on the job, Middle Eastern people are viewed as terrorists, police are always justified in using force, and much much more.  These are all things that are statistically untrue, and yet people who learn the statistics still have those "gut feelings."  And even after being educated, these feelings don't just automatically just go away, having been bested by Cold Hard Logic.

A month or so after I went to the workshop I--as I often do--went to a movie in the middle of the morning.  It was Finding Dory, and although I'd hoped I was going there at slow time, I didn't factor in that it was summer, kids were out of school, and morning movies on a Tuesday are dirt cheap, so there were lots of kids there.  As seats are assigned in this theater, a family came in to find they were next to me, and their kid--he had to be like six or seven--was terrified of me and refused to sit next to me.  I have no interest in engaging with kids at all let alone in a negative manner, so the fear was unfounded, but there are a lot of reasons a kid might be terrified of a harmless adult.  I like to think I have a kind of hippie Jesusy look about me, but to a kid I could easily be mistaken for a big biker guy.  He may have read part of my gender expression that his parents didn't and was confused to the point of fear.  He might have a scary (or worse, abusive) relative who resembles me.  It may not have anything to do with my appearance at all, maybe he just has serious social anxiety and would have behaved like that around anybody.  Whatever the case, this kid did not trust me.  I set off all of his gut's red flags.

On the other side of the spectrum?  Lots of kids are harmed by people they trust, because they have no reason--and no gut feelings--that suggest to them that they should feel be safe around these people.  And the idea that they're just ignoring their natural gut feelings is absurd, gaslighting, victim blaming crap.  There's a reason that most child abuse is carried out by relatives and close family friends.

Does this mean that your gut feelings are bad?  Although I believe it depends on the particular feelings, the answer is generally "no."  You should always note your gut feelings, and if you're really in a bad place and cannot feel comfortable around somebody you shouldn't force it.  But you should also be critical of these gut feelings, especially when all evidence tells you that they're wrong, and especially when you find the people who set off the bad vibes detectors in your belly all look similar, and wouldn't-you-know-it all happen to be in the same marginalized group.  There's no guarantee these are messages from the divine.  Sometimes they're just bigotry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An Anti-Ecocidal Movement Needs Marginalized People

Today I read an essay on Patheos that just... ugh... it makes me cringe, because there's so many good things about it, and the author has a history of much better work, but the perspective just crashes and burns (mostly bridges, probably).  It's called "Who do you vote for at the (beginning of the) end of the world?"

First, I want to talk about what in this article really resonates with me, things that are really difficult to bring up because of the structure of the overall social justice movement.  Then I'll talk about some of the really gross stuff, and I'm sorry, but there's so much gross stuff.

Climate change and overall ecocide and environmental destruction are issues that I think should be more central to all social justice and political activism on the left.  This is because even if you're an entirely anthropocentric person it's important to recognize that there are key marginalized people who are disproportionately affected by this issue.  We talk about things like the deaths of polar bears and mass extinctions of other animals, but one thing we don't talk about a lot at all is that thousands upon thousands of humans--and they're largely marginalized humans--are also killed by climate change in the form of extreme overheating, drought, storms, crop failure.  Note:  This is not a future tense thing.  It is something happening right now.  Other environmental hazards also disproportionately affect marginalized people, from toxic water to noise and light pollution.  Not only is pollution more likely to be concentrated in places with more poor people, they also don't have the resources to leave.  And yes, if we don't work on environmental issues, there will be no livable world for anybody let alone marginalized people.  So I think Halstead has it right in centering ecocide.

Something that wasn't actually brought up, but which I think about often, is how ecocidal things are justified by talking about marginalized people's relationship with those things.  The biggest example was those damn Whole Foods pre-peeled oranges, which were brought up as an appalling example of waste before being shouted down by people insisting this is somehow an accessibility tool because not everybody can peel oranges.  There were two things I found entirely missed by this discussion.  The first is that it seemed to assume that encasing oranges in a non-reusable plastic package was the only possible way to facilitate accessibility in fruit.  The second was that it gave a lot of people the opportunity to be self-congratulatory about the fact that they would not buy such an absurd product who probably use things that are just as bad... the same packaging is used to encase much, much more than just oranges, and it's just as bad in those cases.  Basically, this was being complained about by people who probably aren't that deeply environmentally friendly to begin with.

The rest of this article is mostly about why Halstead is voting third party.  As I said back in February, I staunchly support people's right to vote third party without shame.  I don't always think people have great reasons, but the idea that only privileged people are "able" to do this is absurd.  The reality is much more complicated, with people both at the top of the privilege ladder and way at the bottom both feeling very little difference between the two primary candidates.  It always goes like this.  You have the privileged white dude types who don't see a difference because they're easily able to live approximately the same regardless of who is president, who get chewed out by the less-privileged people who proclaim that their voting choices are invalid because they are privileged, who are then chewed out by a group of people I don't think we talk about enough, those who are so underprivileged that their lives will be miserable under either a Democrat or a Republican and who rightfully seethe at the idea that their voting choices are based on privilege.  And regardless of people's reasons, it's a moral crime that Democrats can get away with behaving as though left-wing votes are inherently owned by them.

But then we hit this:
The best argument I have heard in favor of the “Clinton compromise” is that it is privileged to vote for a third-party candidate [link in original quote].  I can’t argue with that.  I’m white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered [sic], middle-class.  And so, a Trump presidency would be less disastrous for me personally than for women, people of color, etc.  So, yes, it is easier for me to overlook the evils of a Trump presidency.  And yet, I’m not convinced that my privileged position is a handicap in this election.
I'm pretty sure it is, but go on:
In fact, I think my privilege gives me a unique perspective: it enables me to look beyond the short term eclipse of human rights and focus the long term eclipse of human life.  That’s a terrible calculus, I know.  But on the one hand, we have Trump, who would terrorize women and people of color and who would continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.  On the other hand, we have Clinton, who would do better for women and marginally better for people of color … and will continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.
Here's where Halstead loses me, and actually to a degree makes my jaw just sit agape.  I agree so much with the analysis of the Democratic party as being ecocidal just as Republicans are, and how that will eventually lead to a collapse of the environment and by extension humanity that renders focus on human-on-human rights a moot point.  But the idea that this is a unique perspective that he's able to have because he's a white cishet middle class guy is miserably fucked up, like the height of ignorance in this statement makes my eyes bleed.

Halstead is able to say this shit because of the longstanding, bullshit belief that being a white cishet man makes you inherently impartial because you're not targeted racism, misogyny, et. al. and can pretend to be an emotionless robot about the ways these things deeply and disproportionately affect marginalized people.  This erases the work done especially by racial justice and indigenous rights groups that are informed precisely by the fact that they are not impartial to the issue.  High profile members of Black Lives Matter and similar groups--and entire chapters--have actively opposed climate change and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Indigenous groups are at the forefront of climate justice in general, fighting against the destruction of the Amazon and the institution of projects that harm fragile ecosystems, release carbon, and destroy human life.

Yes, you have your Al Gores doing mass educational work, but this is an anomaly:  The distance white middle-class-plus cishet men have from the effects of global climate change are more likely to prevent them from doing anything (due to the perception that nothing is happening) than give them some magical ability to see the forest where most just focus on the trees.

Furthermore, and I brought this up earlier, how do you expect people to focus on the overall environment when they aren't experiencing any justice?  We can't assume that climate change is going to be fixed by just sending Democrats a message led by an army of white cishet dudes who are terribly ineffective at convincing anybody they aren't just irritated that a woman beat their favorite old white guy.  We need overall environmental and climate justice that seeks out non-ecocidal methods for giving marginalized people the ability to progress beyond the activist hierarchy of needs, and you absolutely cannot sit there implying that you're an impartial observer just because you personally aren't targeted by more imminent threats to your life.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Menstruation and Reclaiming my Body

This is a follow-up to my essay where I explain the base reasons why I'm going off testosterone.  It contains a lot of stuff relating to periods and my personal preferences for natural healthcare (I'm not anti-pharmaceutical but prefer to avoid it when possible).

"I think this is the first time I've ever seen someone be so positive about having the blood."  This was a thing told to me shortly after I had a spotting incident a few days ago.  I got awkwardly excited, thinking I had my period, and rushed to get my homemade menstrual pad that I designed to fit into boxer briefs.  It went away really quickly, so I wasn't actually on my period, although it gives me some relief to see that going off hormones is probably working the way it's supposed to.

It's not actually entirely accurate to say that I'm, say, happily looking forward to menstruating.  I'm not a 9 year old girl who thinks it will "make her a woman."  I have firsthand experience in the cramps, emotional roller-coasters, and mess.  I didn't get good at managing periods until my twenties.  I could tell you a lot of really awful, embarrassing, traumatizing period stories from my youth.  The answer to why I would be looking forward to it is a little more complex than that.

It has to do with reclaiming my body from the expectations people have been putting on it, and returning to a way of managing my health that is lower maintenance.

"Periods aren't low maintenance!" I can assume people are thinking.  I agree, they're not, and the management of menstruation is a serious women's health issue worldwide.  But there's a different kind of management going on than staying on testosterone.  Testosterone involves medications that are a constant source of stress due to needles, aggravated health issues, physician scheduling issues, and cost (I wrote about that at length in the original article).  Menstruation, unless you're on something that changes it, just happens.  And if it doesn't happen, it's still useful, because it provides a metric that can be used to gauge your own health.  In my own case, starting to menstruate again would be a dead giveaway that my body is reverting back to estrogen dominance, which is exactly what I want.

This reclamation of my naturally-functioning body also makes picking both over-the-counter pharmaceutical choices and natural health choices a whole lot easier.  As a testosterone-dominant trans man anything I picked out that was gendered had to be inspected, separated into things that changed with hormones and things that didn't.  Taking a women's multivitamin, for instance, wasn't a great idea because due to the testosterone I had high blood iron levels.  But a women's probiotic might be more useful than a non-gendered one due to ingredients affecting parts I still had that were fully functional.  A drug that says "for men only" might only be referring to the fact that it has masculinizing side effects, but it also could be damaging to my uterus or breasts.  I don't need to worry about that so much, now.  I can just assume that my body mostly needs what a woman's body needs.  It's a little more complicated with herbal recipes, but most of the women's health based recipes will now apply to me, with the men's recipes mostly being a placebo at worst.  I'll need to look into what individual herbs are being used... but that's something that needs to be done anyway, and it'll still be easier.

More importantly, it'll be much easier to treat the things testosterone made worse.  I already explained at fair length the problem with my blood iron level/red blood cell counts in my last essay on this subject.  That's a very stressful thing to manage.  My blood pressure is stressful to manage because my body, as it turns out, absolutely hates the most effective blood pressure medications.  Having to get such comprehensive bloodwork is a stressful thing to manage.  I'm reclaiming the relative simplicity of dealing with my own body that I had before I had those shots.

I'm not one of those judgmental people who thinks natural automatically equals better for everyone.  But I would be lying if I tried to hide the fact that it's a personal preference of mine.  If it worked (and it doesn't) I may have even tried going to the herbal route for transition to begin with, but it turns out that even for a crunchy natural woo woo guy like me testosterone is the best option to get the full effect of physical transition, an option I don't regret and which I am greatly thankful for.  That doesn't mean that it has to be forever, though, and the idea of going on it for a while and then going back to a more natural transition maintenance routine and especially shattering that cultural expectation that trans men must universally reject our bodies' natural cycles is more and more appealing to me as I get deeper into it.

Spiritually it's hard to explain and have this be universally understandable (after all, even the stuff I've already written will not be relatable for most trans men).  As a Pagan girl and woman (I've been a Pagan much longer than I've been a man), menstruation and body cycles were a big part of my practice.  A lot of Witches use this period to generate more power, as a devotional tool in its own way, as a lunar symbol due to the similarity in timing.  The hormonal changes during menstruation also lead to perception changes that I had been actively using to spiritual ends right up until I went on testosterone... lucid dreaming, sleep paralysis with fascinating apparitions, an almost creepy level of empathy/clairsentience, deja vu, better ability to meditate and visualize, and overall more spiritual experiences altogether.  I've been desperately trying to get this stuff back, learning more lucid dreaming techniques, even trying some low-key herbals trying to regain these abilities.  There is no guarantee that I'll ever get them back, but I'm fairly certain their initial loss was the hormones, just due to the uncanny timing of it all.

The fact is, just like with the bodily function issue, there are plenty of trans men who will feel misgendered and demeaned by honoring their body in this way, but the fact that it's expected is ludicrous, and I'm greatly looking forward to getting that aspect of my spirituality back.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Blog Housekeeping Update

This blog laid here decrepit for a while not really being updated, partially since I needed to take a break from the relative limelight (while this blog isn't super popular it's popular enough to occasionally stress me out).  Maybe I'll transfer a chunk of the stuff I wrote elsewhere to this blog if I like it, backdated, and make it look like there's an unbroken stream of posts in the future.  Anyway, I wanted to talk about some of the changes I've made.  Part of the why is something that won't come out in writing for a couple of weeks (ominous music plays).  But here's the what.

I changed the color scheme and design.
OK, I didn't change the design much, but I changed it from the naturey green and average goldfinch photograph to a sweet posterized goldfinch and spraypaint font instead.

I entirely changed the tagging system.
Trying to find things through tags was really atrocious; I'd forget to tag things, accidentally make tags that I'd already worded differently elsewhere, and some of the language I used in those tags is now out of date as far as my sensibilities go.  So I took an hour, deleted all the tags, and am rebuilding them as categories.  I'm still working out the kinks there, as what constitutes "Politics" vs. "Social Justice Issues" and whether stuff I genuinely consider "Praxis" should really be called "Hobbies."  Generally speaking, though, this is what the main categories are:

  • Events - Anything related to an actual in-person event I went to.
  • Health - Health and healthcare critiques, exercise, hygiene (stuff like recipes), and hormone-related updates.
  • Hobbies - Stuff I enjoy doing.  Much of it can be considered praxis as well.  There are subcategories for particular hobbies.
  • Personal Stuff - I might get rid of this category, but for now it's where I put things that don't really fit nicely anywhere else that are based on personal experiences.
  • Politics - Generally when I put stuff in "Politics" it's related to either electoral politics, partisan politics, political philosophies, or stuff that requires a lot of communication between communities rather than within them.
  • Religion - Anything regarding religion.
  • Social Justice Issues - A highly imperfect category.  I made it before I made the "Politics" category and it just tends to include things that pop to mind when I think "Social Justice."
  • Social Media - Stuff largely related to things like Facebook and Twitter posts, and updates about the blog itself (like this!).
A lot of monetization was taken off.
I was in a lot more financial stress when I started writing Reclaiming Warlock than I am now, so the constant hope that I'll finally hit the threshold to get an ad payment or somebody will use an affiliate or buy a thing from me is not really there.  I considered trying to keep the ads for longer but I soon realized there were a lot of anti-Palestinian ads, and I don't have the time or emotional energy to moderate what ads get shown here.  I took down my tip jar for now but I may put up an alternative.

I started a big purge of material.
Well, it's not that big a purge.  I've only deleted maybe one or two posted entries, made a few spelling corrections and updates to out-of-date material, but I need to sort through around 400 drafts and figure out what I want to finish and what I need to let go.  That will probably result in a nice mix of "new" articles that are suspiciously out of date (because I wrote them when something was topical that isn't anymore but nonetheless like the post).

So that's the story for now.  Happy trails!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On Giving Up Testosterone And Forgoing Surgery (At Least For Now)

As a trans man I've been on hormones since December of 2011, or a little under five years.  Starting several months ago (and with little urges much longer before, some of which I noticed when re-reading blog posts recently) I started seriously considering stopping my testosterone injections, in favor of going back to being estrogen-dominant.  I've been going off of them for a couple of months now, starting gradually and now no longer taking any at all as of about a month ago.  So far the main effects of testosterone cessation have been:
  • I cry at weird times, but it's easy to control.
  • Hot flashes, which seem to have ceased.
  • Extreme changes in sex drive and sexual sensitivity (in a good way).
I talked a little about it on Facebook, which resulted in some of my long-time trans friends asking me why I decided to do this.  It's not an uncommon thing to do among trans men, but it's not something most of us talk about, and most of the people I've seen who go on T for a while and then stop have some sort of non-male nonbinary identity (later update: I've since started considering myself genderqueer, but still male; it's unclear to me how the hormone thing has contributed to that), stopped due to financial stress, or were forced off of it by incompetent doctors.  And although I'm happy to not have go give a few hundred bucks a year to drug companies, I could continue to afford it if I needed to, and my hormone doctor is in fact extremely competent in transgender hormone administration, being one of the most popular doctors administering it in the greater Milwaukee area.  I've had plenty of health problems aggravated by testosterone--something I'll talk about a little bit later--and not once has she suggested that I need to go off hormones because of them, dutifully treating each issue on its own terms as it comes along.

Before I talk about why I'm going off, I do want to mention a few things in support of hormones.  Testosterone therapy was one of the most profound and fantastic decisions I've made in my life.  When it comes to the changes that were important to me, I look exactly the way I hoped I would look.  This is mostly due to facial hair, of which I can grow an ample enough, and my voice.  Based on talking to other trans men who have gone off hormones for a variety of reasons, these are things that won't go away, although they might change somewhat.  But these things in the vast majority of trans folk assigned female are not possible without testosterone.  I've often gone on rants about so-called "natural transition," a program created by somebody who quite frankly just won the genetic lottery as far as pre-T trans men go and acted like it was a diet and exercise regimen that did it, because if you really want the effects of medical transition going on hormone replacement therapy is the only way to do it, as far as I know.  I'm a huge advocate of HRT for trans people.  It was fantastic.  I mention this because there's a tendency for people to think that going off of hormones is due to regret or something like that rather than the simple fact that I've gotten what I need from it and might not need it anymore.  I also will mention that this is all very experimental for me, and that there's of course a chance I will do as many other trans men and nonbinary trans folk have done and decide testosterone was for me and go back on it.

That run-on hell complete, what follows are the main reasons I decided to go off testosterone:  Needle Anxiety, Worsening Health Conditions, Pseudo-Spiritual Queer Philosophy, and Obnoxious Sexual Side Effects.

First, Needle and Injection Anxiety.

A warning that obviously this section has to do with needles, and it's extremely graphic.  If you have a problem reading about needle issues you can certainly skip to "Worsening Health Conditions."

I am actually one of the least anxious people when it comes to needles, among the pool of people who don't necessarily like needles.  I stopped being scared of them fairly early in life compared to some other kids, and my first self-administered testosterone shots went in really easy.  And going on hormones means a lot of shots, an intramuscular shot once a week for me as well as regular phlebotomies to manage secondary polycythaemia, which I'll talk about in the next section.  For the first few months, giving myself intramuscular shots was super easy, like I barely felt anything, the description "like a hot knife through butter" is actually a really good comparison.

After a year this was really changing a lot.  I started hitting hard spots in my right leg, and many of my injections faced me with the choice of pulling a needle out and starting over (my pharmacy only gave me a certain number of needles so I wound up ordering more because of these "misses") or biting my lip and just powering through the flesh when I'd hit a painful spot.  By the end of the experience I was picking the latter more and more, and with that most of my shots became "bad shots."  People who talk to me a lot probably are familiar with that... I'd have "good shots," which weren't very painful, didn't hit any calcifications, and didn't give me panic attacks.  And then I'd have "bad shots," which was everything else.

It was a combination of luck, toughening skin, muscle changes, and overuse of certain spots combined with an overactive imagination.  Again, the first shots were very easy.  I thought things like "Oh I could do this forever, no problem."  After a while I started needing to make changes... switching legs (not a bad idea anyway), pinching the skin, making sure I was sitting Just Right, playing foreign language music to psych my brain out, and having people watch me so my desire not to embarrass myself would take over.  But the bad shots still came, and were getting worse.  There were times it felt like I was cutting a steak with a dull needle, or I'd spurt blood and have a panic attack thinking I'd injected into an artery, or I'd get bruises that seemed to be permanent (I still have a mark from one of these instances that happened months ago).

I started responding to this intense fear by giving myself shots incredibly late, and then excusing myself thinking "if I do it now I won't be able to get to bed right away" and doing it the next day.  I'd find all sorts of excuses not to do it the day I was supposed to, up to and including ordering my meds the last possible minute so that I would have some time to wait until the meds got to my house.  My pharmacy and clinic didn't always like talking to each other, so sometimes this could buy me a week of lateness, not good for my body but still a relief for me psychologically.

I considered changing to subcutaneous injecting (as many trans men do now) or topical application, but the fact of the matter was that injection anxiety wasn't even the worst of my problems.

Worsening Health Conditions

I'm not super unhealthy, but there are some health conditions that I've struggled with since I was a teenager, mostly acne and high blood pressure.  Testosterone aggravated these to the point that I'm on blood pressure medication (although, to be fair, I probably should have been on it at like 19 years old) and sometimes the acne is physically painful.  The acne is more an annoyance than anything, but the blood pressure is barely controlled and just keeps getting higher.  I don't expect to get off meds any time soon, if ever, but I'm hoping going off of testosterone will help them be more effective and prevent me from having to take more of them.

But the thing I'm really worried about?  The secondary polycythaemia.  This is a common thing to happen to trans men, a condition in which our bodies start making more red blood cells and shedding fewer, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or a stroke.  This is just a pain in the ass for me to manage.  The treatment is simple and free for most people... just donate blood.  This is a serious problem for a queer man, who may wind up with a choice between:
  • Lying about his sexual history and donating blood.
  • Telling the truth and then costing the blood center money to do it for free after which the blood will be thrown away.
  • Getting a prescription and then billing insurance for it, if he has it.
  • Not getting blood taken away and hoping for the best.
  • Doing something weird as an alternative.
This decision was stressing me out so much that I shit you not I briefly considered finding a fetishistic vampire to relieve me of my extra blood cells, but most of them ironically do not take enough blood for me to stay alive, and besides, what vampire wants blood with the consistency of ketchup?

Again, are these problems particularly scary?  They're all pretty manageable, and I don't want to scare people out of taking T who need it.  But their management plus the needle anxiety just makes the continuing effects of T not worth the effort.  Basically "I have a deep voice, a beard, and a handlebar moustache, so why am I still doing this to myself?"

A connected issue is I'm starting to value my overall health in a way that reduced the importance of transition-related things.

A notice that this section talks about self harm; I start talking about the subject a little after my story of giving up binding, about when I start talking about surgery.

And that includes surgery, which I fairly recently decided I probably don't want.  And it's hard to explain from the position of somebody who is not "detransitioning."  Trans people are "supposed" to need transition-related healthcare (hormones and surgery) so much that we would sacrifice other aspects of our health, unless of course the alternative is literal death (and hell, maybe even if it is).  This was true for me early in physical transition, but due to issues I'll talk about in my last section that calculation has changed, and has been for a while.

The biggest first step that I took?  I stopped binding.  I haven't bound my chest in months, probably almost a year.  This was a rash but excellent decision.  I have an alternative work day with twelve hour shifts, and so there would be days I'd be binding over 13 hours straight, giving myself short breaks if I had a breathing-related issue.  I didn't bind tight, but I bound long, and it led to problems ranging from annoying to very detrimental to my health:
  • It was itchy.
  • It hugged my shoulders in such a way that it was aggravating shoulder problems.
  • It smelled gross, something I didn't even notice until somebody else pointed it out and I became eternally self-conscious.
  • It triggered anxiety-related breathing issues.
  • I was constantly afraid I'd get pneumonia or some other horrible illness.
One day when I was about to put it on before work, I said "fuck this," and just didn't put it on.  I put on my biggest work-appropriate shirt and just left.  After that work shift I went to replace my work clothes with similar but baggier clothes.  I changed the types of clothes I wore, and just decided outright to not give a fuck that it was possible to detect that I had breasts.  My breathing has never been better.  I can concentrate at work better.  I haven't looked back.

This inevitably leads to questions of surgery.  I noticed that, although occasionally I'll worry a bit, for the most part people either don't notice my chest or don't say anything, something easily credited to the rest of my appearance.  And the longer I go without binding, combined with generally not getting shit about it, the less I care about my chest in general.  It turns out--and again, I'll talk about this later--my dysphoria may have been more about how people perceived me than about how I perceived my own body.

I also finally started thinking about a particular surgery-related dilemma:  I am a dermatillomaniac.  I'm actually covered with fresh wounds because it's very difficult for me to not gouge and pick at any imperfection in my skin, whether a patch of dry skin, a wound, a blemish, or whatnot.  I have a beautiful tattoo that has some holes in it because of this (and allowing it to heal was an ordeal in and of itself).  Considering the fact that I am generally comfortable with my body now, is it worth the risk to get a surgery that may leave me with a giant wound to gouge out?  Will the resulting scars trigger me more than my breasts do?  Every once in a while people will ask me how on earth after so many years of transition I ever made any progress on surgery, even when I thought I really wanted it.  The reality is that this has always been a concern for me, and my current moratorium on trying to reach that goal is an extreme relief.

Next, Pseudo-Spiritual Queer Philosophy.

This part deals with two main issues.  The first is my continued diversion from what I guess is the party line of transgender discourse.  I do not, for the record, believe that anybody's narrative is incorrect for them, but the universalizing of The Transgender Narrative is frustrating and in many ways not accurate to my own experiences.  Right now the narrative du jour is that you're born the gender you identify as now and you go on hormones as fast as you can, because hormones are magical anti-depression juice and men are inherently uncomfortable and stressed out when estrogen-dominant and women are inherently uncomfortable and stressed out when testosterone-dominant, so you'll totally know right away if you aren't trans because hormones will make you depressed if you take the wrong ones.  And it's hard for me to express how absurd I think this is without insinuating I somehow think hormone therapy is optional for everyone.  It's not.  But there's more to it than just hormones affecting you psychologically, it's an individualized need based on a lot of different factors.

The more I think about it, the further I find myself from that narrative.  I was thinking, for instance, how different my life might be if I lived in a culture that had a deeply established and respected third gender category available to me.  Would I have been comfortable with that?  I can't imagine not being a man anymore, but I'm also fairly certain that in such a case I probably would have occupied that role and been quite content with it.  Or if I lived in a culture where I could be seen as a man without the hormones and the surgery?  I think maybe I could have done that, too.

I've become more comfortable with the fact that--even though I acknowledge that my appearance is fucking awesome, a miracle of modern science really--a huge percentage of my dysphoria actually sprang from cissexism rather than any intuitive sense of my body being "wrong."  When I see old pre-T pictures of myself, when I hear my old voice, I still hear a man, and was perfectly comfortable when in contexts where people acknowledged that.  Even the increased chest dysphoria I got shortly after starting hormones may not have been ingrained, but due to the fact that my changing appearance made things like that really stick out and look awkward to other people.

Again, this is an uncomfortable admission.  I'm supposed to have been inherently uncomfortable with my body and I'm supposed to feel inherently uncomfortable with my body being awash with estrogen, remember?  But I have to admit my own truth, and my own truth is that my need for hormones was probably mostly cultural.

To reiterate from before, I'm not advocating the replacement of one enforced narrative with another.  I'm saying that there are multiple ways to be a trans person, and mine is valid.

The spiritual aspects are hard for me to talk about because they're quite personal and perhaps triggering to other trans people, and they'll certainly come off as a lot of woo woo to a lot of you.

This involves the fact that I miss a lot of the spiritual aspects of having been estrogen-dominant, both as a woman and later as a pre-T man.  I miss things like mapping my cycles (it's probably odd to a lot of other trans men to picture missing menstruation, and I'm sure it'll be a pain when it comes back, but I miss it in my own way).  I miss some of the spiritual and psychological mysteries I lost when on hormones, like deja vu and lucid dreaming and an almost clairsentient level of empathy.  These were things that were for better or worse deep religious experiences for me that to some level went away after hormones.

This reminds me, there were some really weird sexual side effects, which luckily were some of the first things to come back after going off of them.  As a "no shit Sherlock" warning I'll mention that this section has to do with sex.  Weird sex.

One of the things a trans man warned me about when I first went on hormones was this:  "Your sex drive will make you feel like a bad person.  You are not."  I had a strong libido as a woman and so I assumed naively that it couldn't possibly get more extreme.  And, yeah, I was able to handle it, but... it was scary.  I went from having a lot of really weird but generally pretty standard fetishes (BDSM, soft vore, etc.) to stuff that physically and emotionally repulsed me, much of which I've only talked about to very close friends who were trying to help me through the goddamn thing.  I learned that this is common among testosterone-dominant individuals.  It's manageable.  But it blindsided me in a way that I never entirely got over.  Symbolic of this was the fact that suddenly I couldn't get off on normal written erotica anymore... and the visual stuff I was into started getting worse and worse.

But that's nothing compared to the physical stuff.  On testosterone I have a really hard time with physical intimacy with other people, even as the emotional aspects were fine.  It's hard to explain how you can want to orgasm all the time but somehow want actual sex with other people less, while also wanting other forms of connection with other people more.  Part of it was the frustration of having a hard time getting off on normal sex acts just on a mental level, this being combined with an intense lack of sexual sensitivity compared to before.  Alone it was frustrating to try having an orgasm--it took a long time and I would often go completely numb beforehand--but I also felt like I needed it to go to sleep.  With a partner it was doubly hard, often becoming painful before the end.  And vaginal penetration was something you could basically just forget.  It was painful and I'd often bleed from it.  There never seemed to be enough lube to get that job done.

This is the section currently giving me the most relief.  There was a point where my body very abruptly and without warning reverted to the way it used to feel.  I still have fucked up tastes but they're not as bad, can be assuaged with normal erotica, and it's no longer physically painful (unless I want it to be).

Anyway, lengthy though that was, it's the short story regarding why I went off hormones and what's changed about it so far.  Since it's not something I see people write about a lot, I'll try to update with how things are going, but for now this is all very new territory for me.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Republicans Aim Low, Democrats Help Them Aim Lower

Description: Two figures, one colored like a
Confederate flag and the other a rainbow flag,
the rainbow figure embracing the Confederate flag
figure. Below it it says "Forgiveness 2016."
Over it it says "This is not OK."
So yesterday I wound up getting out of bed after I just laid down because there was a total shitstorm afoot that I felt the need to get myself wrapped up in for some reason.  A Republican office in North Carolina was firebombed, messages spraypainted on it such as "Nazi Republicans leave town or else."

Once this news broke, a bunch of Democrats--in a sudden haze of damage control, I guess--raised thousands of dollars to get the office repaired and back up and running.  The best part is that this isn't going to make Democrats look better anyway, because quite frankly the Republican party's perception of them is so skewed they think that they're somehow a part of the radical left.  And really, does anybody who actually knows Democrats think that this was done by Democrats?  The Democratic party is full of cowards that are barely willing to try making serious institutional change through the ballot box or meaningful legislation, do you really think they're going to go out and firebomb a building?

A Democrat would also be aware of the possibility of retribution, something which also terrifies me to my core right now.  This took place in North Carolina, a state which is viciously transphobic and racist, possibly one of the most openly antagonistic places for a trans person to be in the United States and which is on a significant number of "Top Ten Most Racist States" lists.  And this sort of thing is championed by the Republican party in that state.  The point is, the people running that building are actively and maliciously harming people on a regular basis.  I don't give a damn about the building, but I do give a damn about the fact that marginalized people there are likely to pay the price.  Maybe I'd be less pissed about those donations if I thought that damage control had a stone's chance of working, just as a harm reduction strategy, but they won't.

After a lot of this shitstorm Transadvocate decided to chime in with one of the worst things I've ever seen, which is the above picture (minus my strategically-placed commentary).  When I saw this my heart started racing (in the bad way).  I went to unfollow them before realizing I already had at some point, an incident I only barely remember but which probably was pretty goddamn bad...but not this bad.  The motif is, if you can't see the image, of two human figures, one colored in a Confederate flag motif, the other in a rainbow flag motif, the rainbow-flagged individual embracing the other over the word "Forgiveness 2016."

And, well, fuck that shit.  When you make bullshit like this, there are a lot of things that you are willfully forgetting, personalized of course to this particular incident:

First off, it might very well not be your place to "forgive" them.  Are you a trans person, person of color, or other marginalized person living in North Carolina?  Because I don't think I've seen even one person from there who was like "oh let's forgive these poor souls they had a bad thing happen."  The very few trans people I've seen espouse this belief are white and not from the area.  Although we are all affected by what's going on in North Carolina, we are not all affected equally.

You just can't forgive somebody when you weren't the person they were harming.  And we can't assume that "I'm a trans person" is enough to be the bearer of forgiveness for something that is still fucking happening to North Carolina trans people... and will continue to happen.

Second, forgiveness itself is overrated, especially when the "forgiven" party hasn't apologized or made any sort of amends for what they've done.

The Republicans of North Carolina and elsewhere aren't going to stop oppressing marginalized people because you made a shitty decal "forgiving" them or raised a bunch of money to "rebuild."  The attack on their building didn't take place in the middle of some transformative experience among the GOP where they were starting to change their ways, it took place at a time when they have been doubling down on the harm they do others with no sign of stopping.

Trans people have responded to this by trying to put a human face on the issue, by sharing statistics showing that trans bathroom use does not harm cis people, by all sorts of nonviolent and non-antagonistic campaigns, and it did nothing.  So what in Gods' name makes you think this was a constructive thing to do?

The idea of forgiving people who didn't do anything to earn forgiveness is deep within a lot of peoples' psyche, they get the idea in their heads that it's good for them to forgive every single wrong done against them.  This kind of forgiveness is permissiveness.  If you forgive people who you know will continue to do the same thing over and over again, especially when the "forgivers" are not the ones at the highest risk, you are validating their behavior.

Finally, watch what symbolism you're using and adapting, I mean Jesus Christ.  This is a mashup of symbols from entirely different areas.  The original decal--in which the Confederate flag figure was beating the rainbow flag figure--is a symbol that had nothing to do with the burning down of a Republican building, in which a literal hate symbol (and yes, the Confederate flag is a hate symbol, there is no way getting around that) was used to show the creator's violent antagonism against queer people.

Because it utilized such a brazenly obvious hate symbol that has most historically been used to oppress, enslave, and murder black people, there is no context whatsoever in which it's appropriate to portray it being coddled by anybody, let alone a queer person.  If they really for some reason believed in this bullshit forgiveness lesson, they should not have used this particular symbol.  There was no way to adapt it to this purpose without it being a bunch of shit.

So basically not only the Democrats with their monetary donations but also the Transadvocate and everybody else pushing these insensitive "forgive and rebuild" campaigns are further marginalizing queer people and people of color for the benefit of an openly racist, homophobic, and misogynist group.  And no, that's not OK.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Have Trans Men Really Been Left Behind?

I've been having a hard time finding the motivation to write here lately (obviously) but you ever run into something that just makes you so mad that you need to vent.  Today it was Aydian Dowling's piece on NBC Out, "The Invisible Man: Why Have Transmen Been Left Behind?" in which Dowling laments the lack of household names in the transgender male community when the trans female community has oh so many.  I mean, Laverne Cox was on a magazine cover!

The article is about trans male invisibility, which for the record I think is an important issue, just not in the way trans men typically express it.  When we talk about trans male invisibility, we're really tempted to talk about it in comparison to trans women, basically lamenting that they get all the press and nobody knows that we exist.  This is, by the way, the entirely wrong way to go about it.  And I'm telling you that as somebody who began transition at a time when transgender support was almost exclusively dedicated to trans women. Support groups were all trans women and male crossdressers.  There were transgender programs that were entirely different for trans men than trans women, with trans men's therapy being more expensive.  I have very deeply ingrained trauma from that period of my life that makes it very easy for me to slip into the whole "but what about me?" mindset from time to time.  He might have had half a point ten years ago.

The only problem?  It's 2016 now.  And he's both insensitive and inaccurate, but more importantly, he's inaccurate for insensitive reasons.

The first thing that made my jaw agape for a while was this excerpt in which Dowling inexplicably seems to have only looked back as far as 2014, which is something I'd expect from a 13 year old looking forward to puberty blockers who doesn't remember shit because he wasn't around, not a grown adult man who has been in the community for years:
It seems the only household names in the transgender community are all transwomen. This is part of our mainstream media in 2016 and has been around since the famous 2014 TIME magazine cover with Laverne Cox -- one that everyone in the transgender community is proud of.
I want to remind you first of all that the reason Aydian Dowling is himself a household name is because he was in a high-profile contest to get on the cover of Men's Health, and although he didn't win, he was still on a cover and generated loads of press.  So what the hell is he even bringing up Laverne Cox for?  Would he rather Time had put a white trans dude on their cover?

But just as importantly, it's just flat out inaccurate to say that trans men aren't being represented fairly when the trans community is brought up.  Trans men and especially white trans men have spent years trying to horn our way into issues that statistically don't have too much to do with us, which not only is appropriative bullshit, it also means that when there are issues that do affect us significantly (and many of them absolutely do), it's easy to just dismiss us as trying to take needed resources from trans women yet again.  But even if we avoid thinking about that awful history, the idea that there's nothing out there relating to trans men and scores of media about trans women is just false, and has been for years.  To quote Dowling again:
"We are out there, and I believe as time goes by and more people come out and share their stories, you will hear more about us!" I always answered this question with clear affirmation and hope. I thought by sharing my story and sharing the stories of other transmen, we would surely have a few household names of transmen. But other than Chaz Bono, the general public barely knows we exist.
Yes, Chaz Bono is probably the first person cis people think about when trans men are brought up, but if you think he's the only trans man generating press, being talked about around dinner tables, or whatever, you're not paying enough attention to talk about this issue at all.

It wasn't that long ago that Thomas Beatie made headlines, and every time another high profile trans guy gets pregnant my family will show up shortly after to try shaming me into giving birth yet again.  They do this because now they know that giving birth is a thing that trans men can and sometimes will do.  Modern Family cast trans boy actor Jackson Millarker to play a trans boy in the show.  Most of the school bathroom incidents that have been plaguing our nation have involved trans boys like Cody Zitek and Ash WhittakerBuck Angel, the porn star, is as household a name as a porn star can be.  A number of children of celebrities are also trans boys and men, like Jay Kelly, Stephen Ira, and the aforementioned Chaz Bono.  I swear I saw Rocco Kayiatos as a talking head in Buzzfeed videos, and they recently just posted a video all about trans men.  And you know, when Dowling's attempt at getting on Men's Health was still going on, I heard about that shit everywhere.  Yes, I'm probably more aware of these people because I live in a social trans bubble of sorts, but Dowling lives in that same damn bubble so I don't know where he's getting the idea that the only trans man getting press is Chaz Bono.

The latest news about trans women I've heard?  Another cis man gets hired to play one, people make shitty jokes about Caitlyn Jenner, and another one was brutally murdered.  That's the amazing content of media coverage trans women get.  There are certainly some happy stories about trans women, with Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and the Wachowskis and Julia Scotti and others, and trans girls are also fighting the bathroom fight as much as boys are, but the proportion of happy stories or stories of action compared to those of horrible abuses is just not equal.  Trans men like Dowling and myself don't see a constant barrage of articles featuring people who look like ourselves being brutally murdered (and quite frankly a lot of white trans men act like Brandon Teena's murder is an everlastingly topical event).  And when we do see a trans man getting murdered, it's usually a trans man of color, the same story for all trans people.  Even where we are statistically more at risk for a thing (like suicide, for instance), trans women are still heavily affected by it.

You know how yesterday during the presidential debate Donald Trump kept pissing and moaning about how he thought the moderators gave Hillary Clinton more time to talk than him, and then people ran the numbers and found that he actually talked more than her?  Don't act like trans men don't do that shit, too.

Finally, when it comes to invisibility, it's irresponsible to talk about this like a fight for representation between trans women and trans men.  Trans women need more rather than less representation, and we cannot be trying to get more representation at their expense.  What we need is more representation among men.  Ironically, this is what Dowling is currently most famous for... getting his story and face in a publication dominated by cis men.  That's the type of trans male representation we need.  Because it's not trans women who are taking the limelight from us, it's cis people who decide what kinds of stories they find interesting enough to greenlight them to mainstream status.

Where trans men really are underrepresented in trans discourse it's absolutely not people like Dowling, who is famous for being trans while also being an attractive white man.  It's trans men of color, trans men who can't access medical care, disabled trans men, and others who are not even getting proper representation within the trans male community itself.

And where cis people do give trans women more representation?  It's usually shitty representation, not something we should somehow be envious about.  Yes, there's a history, going back, of trans men not getting support because the trans community was viewed as a block of 99% trans women and like two dudes, and like I said folks like me who lived through part of that may still have a lot of baggage relating to it, but it doesn't excuse trash like what Aydian Dowling just wrote that does nothing but blame trans women for a problem cis people made and ignore disparities that do not disadvantage us at all.