Trans 102

(K+M) Back in July, we teamed up to write a blog defining terms and concepts in the LGBT+ community. We focused on terms related to being “trans,” as that’s the main focus of our blog. We’ve decided to do that once again, to provide some more educational material.

(K) Back in the spring of my senior year of high school, I boarded a bus at 4am with other members of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), and we drove to Albany where we spent the day learning about the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and attended other various conversations about sexual orientation and gender expression throughout Albany’s convention center.

GENDA is sort of a follow-up bill to SONDA (Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act), which passed in 2002. SONDA prohibits discrimination on the basis of one’s perceived sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit, and the exercise of civil rights. GENDA is essentially saying the same thing, but its protections are for transgender/non-binary/gender nonconforming, since SONDA did not explicitly create a protected category for these aforementioned individuals.

Fast forward to now, and GENDA has been passed in the State Assembly for eleven straight years, but the State Senate has never brought GENDA to the floor for a vote. This means that the transgender community in New York State is without explicit protections for over fifteen years!

If GENDA is passed, it could not be overturned by a future governor. It also stands up against transphobia, and sets a good example for other states to protect their transgender residents as well.

(M) Recently my husband and I attended a Gender forum. We, as parents of a child within that community, took in an incredible amount of information that never would have occurred to us with just our own experience.

We were greeted by a transgender woman who really knew her stuff. For example, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association define being transgender as a disconnect between the sex assigned at birth and the gender the brain identifies with (being transgender IS NOT a lifestyle or a choice). A noted statistic (according to a 2016 Williams Institute Report) approximately .6% of the population identifies as transgender. This equates to approximately 1.4 million Americans and over 100,000 New Yorkers. She provided us with a great power point presentation.

The slide that resonated most with me is that every one can be described by four basic factors: biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.  Gender is more than the biological tissue you are born with. Not everyone’s gender identity matches their reproductive organs. Sexual orientation is not based on biological sex or gender identity. Not everyone fits the gender binary (the binary demonstrates that there is only male and female, nothing else can exist). These are things I would have never thought of on my own. It’s like saying, “you don’t know what it’s like to be someone else unless you’ve walked a day in their shoes.” Well, let me tell you the panel that was there to share their stories and answer questions CLEARLY were very different from one another. I learned that every single person in the community has walked very different paths and has their own journey to celebrate because all they want is to be accepted as who they are and what they contribute to society.

There were six people on this panel and of all ages 25-60+. Sadly, the only thing that was the same for them was that at one point in their life they were not accepted and felt unloved. Feelings are very hard to deal with sometimes. You want to suppress them, ignore them, or fill up your time keeping busy so that ‘feeling’ doesn’t take up your every breath. I have seen the anxiety and depression first hand and it’s not easy to watch. It is reported that 40% of transgender individuals have tried to commit suicide. 40%! At one time our child was part of that statistic.  That being said, the love and support he receives keeps him safe and happy. Many people don’t want to tell anyone due to lack of support, love and acceptance.  That leaves one to think “no one wants me and I’m better off dead.”  I just don’t understand what gives a person the power to make someone else feel so helpless and ashamed.

(K+M) Here are some of the highlights from the presentation, and these are the things we feel are important to share and educate people on.

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We found this chart to be informative and easily digestible for people who may not know the proper terminology behind these topics, or for those who may not understand the several different aspects of gender expression/identity/biological sex/sexual orientation.

Terminology

Transphobia: a dislike or prejudice towards the transgender community. Transphobia can also be internalized, when a trans person experiences hatred or shame towards themselves.

Gender Identity: Our deeply held, persistent, internal sense of self as a man, a woman, somewhere in between, or not at all. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “By age four, most children have a stable sense of their gender identity.”

Heteronormativity: The way our culture views heterosexual men and heterosexual women as “normal” and “natural.” All other genders are viewed as abnormal or inferior.

 

Some things to remember when interacting with a gender-expansive person:

You don’t have to understand a person’s gender identity to respect them and their identity. Be sure to use the person’s pronouns of their choice. Do not be afraid to ask someone which pronouns they use. Respect their name, regardless if it has been legally changed or not. And remember, be mindful of the questions you ask them (do not ask about their birth name, genitals, or sexual relationships).

Thank you for reading our second educational blog post! Stay tuned for more. 🙂

Now, go VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!

 

 

Miracle on Ice

I started playing hockey when I was eight years old. I played for various house leagues and a few different travel teams as well. I wasn’t particularly good, seeing as I never made any of the teams I tried out for. But I played because I loved it. I loved the feeling of the cold air on my face and the feeling of gliding quickly across the ice.
The only significant achievement I accomplished with ice hockey is that I was on the inaugural girls varsity hockey team at my high school. I had to take a few years off after getting a couple of concussions, but when I was ready I joined my college’s girls club team for a semester. I loved being able to play competitive hockey again, but at the end of the semester I had to essentially choose between playing hockey and starting my medical/physical transition. I chose to transition because I had reached a low part in my depression and I knew I couldn’t put that off any longer.
After beginning my transition, a friend of mine introduced me to this program where you pay $12 and play a pickup hockey game. It’s all adults, and it’s pretty low-stress. It’s great when I need the exercise (which is often), and it’s a great way for me to do something I’ve always loved doing since I was a young child.
I haven’t played hockey since before I had top surgery, until last night. I hadn’t even considered this as a big milestone for myself until I was sitting in the locker room shirtless. Growing up, I never knew the words to describe what I was feeling and what I meant by, “I want to look different.” During practices, I’d stare at my reflection in the plexiglass boards and wished I didn’t have hair draping down out of my helmet. I wished my shoulders were wider. I wanted to look like a boy–because that’s what I was.
Playing hockey post-top surgery was such an incredible feeling. The shoulder pads sat flatly on my chest, and I could feel the cold air flowing beneath my jersey. Playing hockey now connects me with my younger self, who dedicated so much of his time to the sport. I feel like I’ve come full circle in this aspect of my journey, and that was only affirmed when I saw a picture of myself after the game.
In the picture, I see the person I always wanted to see looking back at me in the plexiglass. I see the guy I’ve always envisioned and dreamed I’d look like one day. I made it. Every time I see this picture I feel incredibly emotional. I made it.

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School Pictures

Ahh picture day. Some people love it, others avoid it like the plague. Personally, I never minded picture day. I was usually allowed to wear whatever t shirt I wanted, and I was never forced to wear my hair a certain way. People always told me I had a nice smile, so I enjoyed the compliments when that time came.

I never thought much of picture day, until after I had begun transitioning and realized that my high school senior portraits were obsolete–the girl in those photos didn’t exist anymore. Although I still enjoy the things I posed with in the pictures, like my snowboard, tennis racquet, and dog Lily–I no longer saw myself in those photos.

As I continued on in my transition and my physical appearance grew farther from that of various photos of me around the house, I begun to feel a strange sort of disconnect between myself and those older photos of myself. Baby and toddler pictures of me have never bothered me, since I was too young to understand gender anyways. I only start to dissociate from myself when I see pictures of myself from school. It’s me in those school pictures, but at the same time, it’s not me. It’s a version of me that no longer has a purpose. I imagine my transition similarly to that of an update on my phone or computer. I am Kam, (birth name) 2.0! I am ever evolving and ever growing.

Fast forward to now. I currently work in a school, and we had picture day a few weeks ago. Even though there is no yearbook, they still take pictures so the parents can have them, and they take photos of the staff as well, which I really enjoyed. When it was my turn, I sat down and smiled. I was allowed to see the picture right away, and I was immediately emotional. There I was, short hair, beard and all, with the standard light blue backdrop of a school-age photo. This was a sight I had never before seen. The only school photo I have of myself since I started transitioning is the picture that was taken of me right before I walked the stage at my undergraduate graduation. I was sick that day too, so it’s not my best picture if I do say so myself.

When I received the six copies of my picture a couple weeks later, I was once again overwhelmed with emotion. I finally got to see myself in this light, something I never even considered when I started transitioning. This experience is one of the many positive experiences I have encountered lately, and I am excited to continue sharing these positive things with you all!IMG_20181002_183142_841.jpg

Trans 101

(M)Not all people like change.  Have you ever thought about change?  Do you like it? Do you encourage it? Most of all, do you learn from it?

(M)My life has changed two times during my 48 years on this earth, once with my brain tumors and now with my son.  It’s hard not to say “daughter” or “she”. In fact I misspoke just the other day and used an incorrect pronoun while talking about my son.  It doesn’t happen very often. It used to happen ALL the time. Sometimes what we learn from change is that it takes a long time and takes practice.

In this blog Kam and I have come together to share some educational information that we feel is important.  If you see an (M) next to a sentence or paragraph that’s from mom and (K) is from Kameron.

Let’s start with some basic acronyms.

LGBTQIA: stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual. These are terms that encompass a large range of the identities of non-heterosexual people.  (M)Just face it, it’s not boy or girl anymore.

(K)FtM: Female to Male.

(K)MtF: Male to Female.

(K)Afab: Assigned Female at Birth.

(K)Amab: Assigned Male at Birth.

(K)(Ftm, MtF, Afab, and Amab should only be used by the people who are transgender/gender noncomforming, and NOT by others describing a trans person.)  (M)I just found this out as we are sitting here discussing this.

Terminology

(K)Queer: an umbrella term some people use to define themselves. It often just means “not straight.” Queer is also a slur that is being reclaimed by those who identify as such. Rule of thumb: if you don’t identify as queer, don’t use the word! (M) And don’t use the word to describe something that may be “stupid”.

Nonbinary: a term people use to describe themselves when they don’t identify as “binary,” or strictly male or female. (M)In this day and age there are many people who do not want to identify as M or F. Perhaps they are leaving their options open.

(K)Transgender: a term people use to label themselves if their gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

(K)Transsexual: an outdated term (that, to some, is considered offensive now so it’s probably best to not use it) that was used to describe people who had undergone medical steps—hormones, surgeries—in their transition. (M) I know for sure that I do not like discussing my body parts.

(K)Transvestite: someone who feels sexual pleasure from dressing up as a different gender. People who cross-dress are usually comfortable with their gender.

(K)Intersex: an individual who has elements of both males and females when they are born. For example, a man could be born with one ovary and one testicle. A woman could be born with a testicle that never fully drops. Someone who is intersex can decide how they want to identify in terms of gender.  (M) This type of birth actually happened while we were all seeing our therapist. He dealt with this type of birth.

(K)Cisgender: when a person is cisgendered, it means their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

(K)Pansexual: this is a sexual orientation in which people are attracted to people regardless of gender.

(K)NEVER ASK A TRANS PERSON IF THEY ARE PLANNING TO HAVE SURGERY, OR IF THEY HAVE ALREADY HAD IT!!!!! This is a highly personal question that most trans people feel uncomfortable answering. Imagine if someone asked you what was in your pants? How would you react if someone asked you if you were planning on undergoing an invasive surgery to alter your body? (M) We are all curious about this whole community because it is different than the “norm”.  But actually, what IS normal in life? Many times we are faced with having to find new normal and continue growing and learning.

(K)Newsflash: trans people are more than their genitalia! It’s not “normal” to go up to people and ask about what’s in their pants, so why ask someone about it when you find out they’re trans?

(M) I am fascinated every day with what I learn about LGBTQ-AI.  In fact I just learned that A and I were added to the acronym. It is difficult to absorb a new culture or language.  I have been traveling to Haiti for 5 years and I am finally becoming comfortable with the language and culture. It is still a shock for the first few days I am there.  If you think about it, this community that needs more understanding and acceptance is well within our reach of making that happen. I am sure most if not all of you use google or take part in some sort of research if you want to learn about a topic or famous person.  Do the same for this community. Pass on your knowledge. There is no reason not to love or care for anyone in the entire spectrum of LGBTQ-AI.

Thanks for reading.  We hoped you learned a little something from us!

Living Stealth

I’m not a huge gamer, but there are some really awesome games I like to play: The Last of Us, the Uncharted series, and Far Cry. There are others that I enjoy playing, but I’m going to keep it to these three games for the analogy I’m about to make.

In these games, there are many missions where you can either enter guns blazing, or you can approach the enemies one-by-one, quietly picking them off and turning off alarms to prevent the enemies from calling reinforcements. Both ways work, but I always try to start stealthily. Since my gaming skills are subpar, I usually end up getting caught, trying several more times, dying each time, until I finally pass the mission.

Doing things in stealth is difficult for me in video games, and for some reason I’m bad at it in real life, too. Being “stealth” as a trans person means not disclosing their previous identity, or the fact that they are trans at all. Many trans people live this way for several different reasons, whether it be for personal safety or because they just want to put their old selves behind them–it’s all valid.

There have been times where I go into a new environment (like a new job or meeting a new group of people) where I ask myself, how long can I go without mentioning my gender identity?

When I started my current job about five months ago, I told myself I wouldn’t out myself. It was a fresh start for me–where only one person there knew who I used to be because we went to high school together. I’m still not sure if she has told anyone that I was born a girl–I suppose it doesn’t matter so long as nobody treats me any differently because of it.

I told the teacher in my room that I was trans maybe 2-3 months into me being there because I was explaining why I needed to leave early (I needed to pick up my new passport with my name change and gender marker change. She didn’t really have a reaction, and she never asked me any questions. I’m not sure if she knows what being trans means, but she was still nice and respectful to me, so I don’t think her knowing that I’m trans impacted her view of me.

The reason I try to stay stealth as long as possible is because I don’t want people asking me invasive questions about my genitals or surgery plans. It’s really nobody’s business but my own, and yet not many people understand that.

The reason I end up coming out all the time to new people is because I feel like more cisgendered people need more exposure to trans people in real life–not just on TV and in movies (mostly because a lot of the representation in those outlets isn’t entirely accurate). When someone hears about trans issues in the news or wherever, they can say, “Oh I know someone who is trans!” This allows more people to be sympathetic towards trans people (hopefully).

Being stealth is nice sometimes, but I usually choose to be out and proud because I know I am surrounded by safe people in the environments I spend my time in. I am out because not every trans person can be out, and I’m out to improve the world’s perception of trans people.

Coming Out

Anybody in the LGBTQ community is well aware that you never really fully stop coming out. Yes, you’ll come out for the first time to a close friend or family member, and then you’ll slowly expand your circle of people who know, until everyone knows (at least–this is how I handled it). As a trans man who passes incredibly well now, people who don’t know me don’t know that I was born a girl. Sometimes I’ll mention it in passing to a coworker and leave it at that–I feel I don’t owe them an explanation. If they want to learn more about when someone says, “oh yeah I was born a girl,” they can use Google. It may seem harsh, but it’s exhausting enough, after going through my transition, to have to explain to everyone what that process entailed.

I digress–that is a sensitive topic for me.

Anyways, I vividly remember when I told my mother that I believed I had gender dysphoria. We were sitting in my psychiatrist’s office for one of my annual check-ups–to make sure my antidepressants were working. After I had given her the rundown of what had been happening in my life for the past six months, I said, “Oh, and I’m pretty sure I have gender dysphoria.” She made a note of it on her little yellow notepad and that was the end of my session.

I asked my mom to come to that appointment with me because I wanted her to know that I was dysphoric and I wanted to tell her in a safe space so that we couldn’t get into a huge argument about it, which is what happened when I identified as a woman and I came out to her as gay.

I remember driving home together, my mother firing her usual rapid questions at me. “What does dysphoria mean? What is it? Why do you think you have it?” etc. I understood (and still do understand) why she had so many questions. I mean, most parents don’t even have “my kid might be trans” on their radar!

I didn’t know how to answer my mom’s questions, I didn’t know the answers myself. When dealing with something like gender dysphoria, it takes time for you to figure out where you fall on the gender spectrum. At least–it did for me.

I didn’t know where I fell on that spectrum. I didn’t identify with typically “feminine” things, and while that alone doesn’t mean that I am trans, to me it meant that I wanted to distance myself from being a woman, and try to be more gender-neutral or androgynous.

That worked for a while, but my thoughts started drifting back to testosterone, a chemical that I knew would alter my body in a desirable way. I would read trans men’s stories online and look at comparison photos of guys before T and while they are on T. The more I researched, the more I realized that was what I wanted, and the rest was history.

Top Surgery: Six Months Later

I don’t think about my chest as much anymore. Pre-op, my chest was all I thought about. It was uncomfortable–wearing a binder 10-12 hours every day. I knew I was wearing it too much, I knew I relied on it and that it probably was not good for my back and/or ribs–based on what I had read from other peoples’ experiences of binding for long periods time.

“Just don’t wear the binder!”

That would have been a sensible solution, but I felt a worse kind of discomfort without a binder. I couldn’t even lounge around my house without my binder. I got used to it, and my binder easily became a part of my person.

In the summertime, I would wear my binder under tank tops. It would be visible since the straps were wider than the tank tops’ straps, and that was something I was always conscious of. I hated that I couldn’t just have a flat chest without having to wear a tight half tank top under anything I wore. When it came time to go swimming, I wore something called a “swimee” which was like a binder, but it was made of swimsuit material. I wore that with swim trunks.

My chest had always caused me discomfort. I distinctly remember when I was a preteen and I started developing breasts, I didn’t even want to acknowledge them. My mom told me it was time to start wearing a bra, and I fought tooth and nail against that. I didn’t want anything to do with the ladies’ underwear section, or any kind of specialty lingerie store. I hated training bras, sports bras, bras with wires, bras without wires… any and all bras were my enemy.

I felt like I had no other options. I don’t remember when I learned about top surgery, but I remember that I knew that was what I wanted as soon as I found out I could have my breasts removed. Regardless of my gender identity, they didn’t feel right on my body.

Fast forward a few years, I finally got to talk to my gender counselor about top surgery. I had been on T for a few months at that point and I knew top surgery was my next step in transforming my body to how I felt it always should have been. I had some slight hiccups in finding a surgeon that would accept insurance and that was within a reasonable distance. I mentioned this to my endocrinologist and he gave me the name of a surgeon in Buffalo, where I currently live. He said she was a Buffalo native as well, and that she had just opened her own plastic surgery center.

I went with my mom to meet Dr. Dawli for a consultation less than a week later. My mom wanted to be a part of this huge step in my life, which I understood, which is why we made it more of a family thing.

I scheduled my surgery for December 12th, and I set up my countdown app on my phone. It was only a few months away at this point.

As it grew closer, I got more and more nervous. I had never had a major surgery, and there was a lot at stake here. I knew I would feel better, freer, relieved afterwards–but I was worried about scarring and my long-term results.

The day of my surgery, my mom sat with me the whole time. I was on the brink of a panic attack nearly the whole time, and having her there was a huge help. When she had to leave the pre-op room they were keeping me in, I started to feel scared again. But before it could escalate into them needing to give me a nebulizer treatment again, I started to fall asleep from the anesthesia they gave me through the IV. The last thing I remember is being wheeled into the operation room.

I woke up a few hours later in the post-op room to a nurse asking me what my name was. I groggily responded before drifting back to sleep.

I woke up again in a different room to Dr. Dawli removing a big foam block that was strapped to my chest–presumably to provide pressure to the newly operated part of my body. My parents and girlfriend came in shortly after, and they were all extremely relieved to see me, even though I had thrown up in my bed pan. I guess anesthesia makes me nauseous.

I recovered at my parents’ house. For two weeks I slept on a reclining section of the couch, mostly playing video games and taking my dog for walks. 

Looking back, it all feels like it was forever ago. But it has only been six months. It feels like my body has always been like this, but I had to fight for it to be like this. Now, I sleep shirtless, I swim shirtless, I go outside shirtless, I walk around the house shirtless. I no longer feel weighed down by breasts that didn’t belong to me. I feel free, and I feel like I’m substantially closer to having the body I was meant to have.IMG_6028