Flying – I sat next to a retired firefighter on his was to Oregon to fight a fire. Normally I do not spend a lot of time talking to people while flying, enjoying the time to think and read. But this guy was a talker, so we talked. At some point we were talking about our families and I said something about me and my sisters all being psychotherapists. He asked how my parents were with their 2 daughters and son being therapists. My immediate reaction was to correct him and tell him I am not their son but as I am looking for words I realized I didn’t know what I would tell him I am as I also don’t feel like I am their daughter. So I stopped midsentence and let it be. This was my first experience of being gendered male so clearly. As we got off the plane, he waited for a bag and I rushed to the bathroom. My gut told me I am going to run into him outside the bathroom. So indeed as I walked out of the women’s bathroom there he was, looking at me with confusion. (Men’s bathrooms tend to be disgustingly dirty so I do avoid them and this has not been a problem for me). This was one of those interesting moments where I find myself rather enjoying the jolt I give people in my ambiguity.
Family – My sister and brother-in-law were both nervous to see me, unsure what to expect. My sister communicated this to me driving home from the airport. I believe they settled in with me pretty easily as the hours passed realizing I am still the same person. I was noticing that no one asked about my surgery or commented on my flat chest. I acknowledge this may be a bigger deal for me than others as it feels so liberating and like a huge step in self actualization. But I did notice the silence around it and finally said something to my sister – she said she wasn’t ready. This specific change was creating an angst of sorts for her. In retrospect I wish I had gotten more curious but instead I backed off and honored the discomfort. The second day of my visit, my sister and niece/god-daughter and I went paddle boarding. I was very excited having just bought a new pair of OP swim trunks (oh the fantasies I have had for years about wearing these). I also bought a top since my surgery was only 2 months ago – I didn’t want my scars to get purple from the sun. But at one point, I was paddling alone and decided to take my top off to feel it. Wow, what a feeling. I have spent time, a lot of time at beaches in France, so being topless isn’t new to me. But being topless and boobless was quite the new and wonderful experience. How to describe it? Free, yes. The feel of the wind and sun on my bare skin. The ease in my body not carrying and doing this energetic thing I do when I had double d’s. I felt open, strong, at ease. I didn’t need to protect myself, I didn’t need to worry about unwanted looks. And mainly I felt natural, like I imagined I would feel if only I had the right body. I felt good, really really good!!
As my sister paddled towards me I decided to put my shirt back on. I did this both for the scars, as it had been off about 15 minutes and I didn’t put any sun screen on. And I realized, after my sister said its ok with her to keep it off, that I felt 1/2 naked in front of her. I didn’t feel like this alone. I don’t feel like this at home walking out to the mail box with my top off (to I did when my neighbors were out and averting their eyes). So it does seem with Fern (and my neighbors) I felt an awkwardness, like I am exposing myself. My sister has always known me with DD’s, and it is weird cuz we have been to nude hot springs together a lot, so being naked in front of her isn’t a big deal, but this was somehow.
Camping – We arrived at our camp site in the late afternoon. It was really hot. By the time camp was set up and everything unloaded, I was sweating profusely and it was time for a swim in the ice cold river. So I grabbed my OP trunks and my quick dry shirt and went with Fern to the bathroom to pee and change. It was so hot I decided to keep my shirt off until I got wet. So there in the bathroom my sister got her first good look at my chest post op. It was awkward – for me for the reasons stated above. For my sister, the newness, the obviousness of surgery (I had silicone tape on the scars). My mind is blank here – I do not remember the interaction around this. I remember her averting her eyes and when my niece came in she too averted her eyes. I remember the newness and awkwardness. We walked to camp to get Jim to swim. He too averted his eyes. In retrospect – while I do not recall a dialog around this – I felt bold, like the reality of my new looks need to be acknowledged. Sometimes when I get into this bold place, I have a fuck it sort of mentality that overrides my usual sensitivity and curiosity. I am imagining that must have happened here cuz I do not remember any conversations just feelings of discomfort.
We swam and again oh what a feeling. The ice cold water on my bare skin. There were other campers at the beach by the river and they didn’t give me a second look – I had removed the surgical tape at some point, so I had some small scars that were visible but not pronounced. The water was so cold one doesn’t really want to linger. So we plunged and then quickly got out. I got my shirt wet and put it on, again not wanting my scars to turn purple. I really am going to have to check with my sister for her reactions as I don’t recall anything beyond the awkwardness.
Male Bonding – Later, my brother in law asked me to go with him to get some fire wood. This gave us an opportunity to talk about my transition as we have not spoken directly since I started. He told me he is supportive and that it is an adjustment having known me for 20 years as a masculine female. As we located wood, at some point he looked at me with a grin on his face and said “this is what we men do” as we threw large trunks of wood into the back of the van. (This hit me two-fold – one I will talk about after this parenthetical blurb – I was struck by the sense again of what is gender really. Being a lesbian all my life, I have always gotten the firewood. I own a chainsaw and splitting maul and know how to use both quite well, thank you very much!! So the idea that this is what men do, was just odd from my perspective. But from his, this is his role in the family system. So really what is gender?) I was also struck by a sense of male bonding and being welcomed into some brotherhood I have not shared with Jim previously. At some point he cracked a ice cold beer to share which also just added to the whole male bonding thing. Made my heart quite happy in truth. I felt good in my skin too lifting and throwing wood. When we got back to camp and unloaded everything, it was time for another swim. Jim and I went together this time. I remember walking with him in some new way, a little cocky maybe, but like a young man being taken under the wing of an older man (tho Jim isn’t that much older than me). Touched me in an unfamiliar and good way.
Walking and Talking – My sister and I spent a couple hours each day hiking and talking. I have asked her to write something for me to post here about her experience of my transition as I do not think I will do it justice. I hope she does. I am not sure what happens but I do not remember much about what she told me of how this is for her. I remember the letting go of ideas and identifications of what is feminine and what is masculine. Her grief. Her process of letting go. And my mind goes blank… I need to explore this more for me. I get so perplexed. I am genuinely curious of the impact this has on people especially those close to me. And I feel so much like me, just more so, that it is hard for me to wrap my head around anything needing to be grieved. Because of this I apparently do not retain any information shared. Or maybe it is something else entirely that I have not yet identified. We talked for at least 4 hours in total about this in one way or another and this is all I remember. Odd. I do remember being left with a feeling of love and being loved. A sense of being seen and the challenge I present for Fern to expand her sense of gender and humanity. I felt accepted. I felt my heart expanding in our connection. And still I cannot recall the content of her process. So sad as I know how essential this is and I imagine for readers of the blog it would be valuable to get a siblings perspective. I do remember at some point talking about cultural ideas of gender and Fern wondering if there was an accepted gender that matched mine in our culture, a gender in which I felt a sense of belonging, if I would have been more accepting of my body presentation and gender identification. I remember pondering the lifelong angst around my boobs – me being the first of my peers to get them and not being happy. The leers of older men. The need to hide them. The postures of protection and don’t fuck with me. I do wonder would I feel differently if my body wasn’t so completely sexualized all my life. I do not have an answer for that but find it to be an interesting question as I consider gender and what is it really?! And the reality is I live in the gendered culture that I do and I am reveling in the reality of a guys flat chest.
Visit with an old friend – after a week with my sister and her family I went to the Seattle area to visit an old college friend. I met a lot of her friends on this journey and have no idea how I was gendered except by two guys. There is this very specific feeling I get with a man when he sees me as a man. They look at me differently, an openness, an acceptance, a welcome. Energetically they kind of reach out and embrace me. It is subtle. (As I write this, I realize in the moment I just experience the goodness of it, didn’t spend much time analyzing. So now I am analyzing it a bit. Why did I not feel this as the butch lesbian that I was? What is it that makes men and women relate to each other differently. Or rather that makes men relate to women differently than they relate to other men – because all the women I met, it felt like they treat me as most women have always treated me, regardless of how they gendered me. How much energy we put into gender roles and even sexual orientation roles – as I am sure both these things affected men’s ability to simply relate to me as another human being. Hmmm, more to ponder.) I recognize I like how men treat me when they see me as another man. I like the respect. The sense of belonging. The welcome.
As Leslie drove me to the airport and we are waiting for the ferry we were talking about smell. This is another thing I am now remembering my sister said – my scent has changed and there is a way Fern has related to me through smell. The unfamiliarness of my new smell was off putting. Leslie took this further and wondered about the pheromones that come with scent and that effect a certain response on a very subtle level. Leslie was noticing ways that she was behaving differently with me. At one point we went to an outdoor Ariel performance. We made a salad to share with some friends we were meeting there and packed a cooler. With the ice and water, the cooler was heavy. Leslie let me carry it. Historically, she would have carried it. Historically, I would have let her – she picked it up and I offered to carry it (even tho I was starting to get a head ache and I knew this would make it worse). So I behaved differently and she responded differently as well. She gave other examples that are not in my recall as well that made her feel like perhaps the change in pheromones has a sublte effect… Interesting to consider. Oh yeah, another gender thing. Leslie is bi-sexual. At some point she asked me how something she was wearing looked. I said Leslie you are always cute. She recognized that gendering me as a man this landed differently than it would have when she considered me her female lesbian friend. It felt really good to her, indicating some way she values a man’s perspective on her cuteness differently from a woman’s view. (I have also asked Leslie to write something for my blog – so hopefully if I missed anything here from my memory issues around this stuff she can clarify and correct).
Reflecting about my experiences traveling, I shared with Leslie that I do not relate to myself from a gendered perspective. Tis trip has been interesting because I experience the reality of being gendered as a man numerous times. I experienced being confusing to people around my gender – they look at my face, my chest, my face… trying to figure it out. And with others who I didn’t feel like they were relating to a gender specific person but were simply relating to my humanity. The latter is how I relate to myself and usually people I meet. Leslie asked do I feel genderless or gender neutral – which I thought was an interesting question. I struggle to get my head around what it would feel like to be genderless so I am thinking I feel gender neutral. And I get curious about that – is it because we are so oriented around gender that I cannot imagine genderlessness or am I gender neutral? Which then makes me wonder about gender fluidity. Am I fluid? I have certain qualities that have been deemed feminine (sensitivity, receptivity…) and I have a serious aversion to many other things that are deemed feminine (dresses, frill, …). There is little that I can think of in this moment on the masculine side of things that I am adverse to save the egotism and arrogance that many men can have but isn’t just a man thing really. More to ponder.
Home again, reflecting – one thing that was difficult bout this trip was not having the vocabulary for me. So meeting people, especially Ferns friends. Am I sister or brother, aunt or uncle, or he or she? I don’t feel like any of these words work for me. With Leslie she can easily keep it Sky this or that without gendering me, tho she uses he when talking about me in present tense. No matter what gender term is used I feel a little tweeked inside. Until recently, I have let people go with what is easiest, so they refer to me as male present tense and female past tense. Now I am coming to a place where I need to honor that this doesn’t feel right as it doesn’t feel like a true and accurate reflection. What an unfolding process of self understanding and expanding consciousness.
I recently read an interview about this woman from University of Arizona who is creating a transgender studies program. Inspired me to research getting my PhD in Gender studies with a focus on transgender. Found 2 programs that interest me. This one in Arizona and another at Central European University in Hungary. If anyone knows of other great Gender studies PhD programs please let me know.