Transduction

It feels a bit disingenuous to bring this up today, in a way (it being TDoR), but I’m increasingly bothered by pressure from within the trans community for anyone non-binary to label themselves as trans. Over and over, I see this Statement Of Certainty that “all non-binary people are trans/come under the trans umbrella”.

Why are people so obsessed with this idea?

For a start, it seems to stem from the assumption that there’s an Absolute Definition of the trans label in the first place. This is not the case. As with pretty much any identity label, it means different things to different people. For some it’s more about incongruity with the gender and/or sex they were presumed to be at birth; for some it’s tied up more with transition (a term which itself means very different things to different people); for some it’s tied up more with dysphoria, and so on.

And because of this diversity of meaning and significance, whichever way you use the term, you’re likely to exclude some people, or in this case include some against their will. My working definition of trans is therefore “anyone who identifies as trans – ask them what they they mean by it if you want to know more, because opinions and experiences differ.”

Personally, I identify as trans because to me it suggests transition – but I don’t mean transition in the assumed sense of clearly defined start and end points, and I don’t mean it in relation to gender at all (since I’m genderless, mine has never been a “gender transition”), but merely a sense of being on some kind of journey in relation to what most of society seems to think of as gender/sex. I’ve been through a physical transition which involved both surgery and hormones, and my body is still adapting to that. But my psyche is also still adapting, and my sense of self is fluid and constantly changing/changed in response to the changes that have already taken place. So I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like no longer calling myself trans. For me it’s also a statement of positive visibility, to help others feel less alone.

But I know many non-binary people who do not identify as trans at all, and I strongly support their right not to have others police their identity or use/non-use of labels, including trans. It’s simply exhausting fielding other people’s insistence that we’re all trans – folk need to accept that their personal definitions are not universal.

I reserve particular impatience for being told “trans means your gender doesn’t match what you were assigned at birth” by people who know they’re deliberately including people in that “definition” who do not have a gender. Just stop it. I’m happy if gender makes sense of your own experience, but it’s just a model. Leave us out of it. I’m also fed up with people insisting that trans means “not cis”. There are many people – genderqueer, genderless, gender-nonconforming, intersex – who are not cis but who are not trans either, and don’t wish to be labelled as such against their wills.

</rant>

Landfall

love-spiralAll of my life, I have never had the experience of being in love with only one person.

There have always been at least two people in my romantic desire field, and sometimes as many as six. But everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with before now (all of my previous relationships have been very monogamous) has been staunchly anti-polymory, and treated my feelings about it very unkindly. Being now, at last, in two relationships with people who are themselves poly, something just became obvious.

It has literally only just occurred to me that this “stay hidden or be chidden” experience of being polyamorous was just as much a contributor to my PTSS as transphobia and homophobia (and the abuse and bullying stuff) have been.

This is the first time in my life that I’m able to be fully “out” as being in love with more than one person, and to act on it, and to have them respond back wholeheartedly the same way, and it be accepted and rejoiced in by all of us – and I can tell I’m still wary and flinching, expecting anger and punishment for something that’s entirely normal and has always been a part of my experience. Again.

I name this tormentor: polyphobia. I have had partners in the past literally declare me mentally unwell for just having feelings for other people as well as them (even though I never acted on those feelings, having agreed/resigned to monogamy). The relief at being with people who just empathise with and affirm this experience brings up both joy and sorrow.

What a thing.

It’s reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago, which I think I already posted here at some point – but I’m going to do so again. This is for all of us who have been made to fear our true selves. We may look, and love, at last.

Mirror, Mirror

So there’s the great ocean there
And one day, you glance out
Out beyond the land
And you know something bad is coming

Gulls start from the waters, yarring
Bubbles and things rise, float
Stillish seas no longer still
Disturbed sun shatters in sparkles

Something huge
Something terrible
Long ago foretold, long feared
Rising from the very roots

Finally you glimpse it
Dark vast shape surging
Inescapable through the depths
The ocean dances and bows to it

And it breaks through the surface
Looming, menacing
Dripping, encrusted
And it looks at you

And looking into its eyes
You see your scared reflection
And then with fine cloth, and your warm breath
You gently begin to polish it

Asterisk Not Obelisk

2001 obelisk at sunrise
I’d like to share an interesting example of trans social histories and the subjective nature of “stories” that I participated in a few days ago, after posting something on Facebook.

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story).

There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “TrueTrans™” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual, whatever, none) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up (this, and this, and by way of balance this), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use I still can’t decide whether I’m going to stop using the asterisk, since though it means something really positive to me and a load of people, there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

The discussion in that fb thread continues, and it’s clear that there are as many people who value the asterisk as there are those who cringe at it. Perhaps it’s time for trans[*] – or for a new word.

Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

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Endless

[Trigger Warning: there will be some surgical talk here!]

Well, three weeks ago, after a wait of around 30 years, I had my Genital Repurposing Surgery, as I’ve come to call it… I should explain (since this has already been misunderstood by one person) that by this I don’t mean “I intend to employ my genitalia for different sexual purposes now” — since this has never had anything to do with sex. What I mean is that no, my pre-existing genitalia were (mostly) not “cut off”, but simply repurposed — or, as I’m also enjoying saying: upcycled :D. Or in fact, to employ a fun meme, basically my penis got divided by zero…

I’ve been back home for two weeks now, and am slowly finding myself able to move around more — though walking feels like I’m waiting to give birth to a pangolin, it’s definitely doable in short bursts now. I’ve been a little unlucky with some popped sutures, which are going to make healing a slightly more lengthy and involved process, but on the whole I’ve come out if this very well so far. This is the part I’d been waiting for, really; as a non-gendered trans* female, dysphoria has always been about the anatomy for me, more than anything else.

There are a few things I’d like to say, at this point. Some gratitude stuff, for a start. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country where it’s legal to be trans*, where we have explicit rights, where our medical needs (if we have them, and within certain still rather gender-binary blinkers) are understood and met. My transition was paid for by the NHS, mostly, and that made it possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This surgery took only 2 hours. Extraordinary — this makes it more ordinary, somehow, in a good way. So I’m very grateful to the surgeon and his crack team (heh) for keeping the whole thing as minimum-impact as possible, and to the nursing team who looked after me for the week afterwards, including through a tricky moment when things went a bit wrong.

What the hell, details: after one’s neovagina has been constructed, it is packed for a few days to let it “set” in its new shape, before being unpacked and then regularly dilated instead. For reasons nobody could understand (this had never happened before), my packing came out — so they had to repack it. If you want to know what that was like (I was conscious but on laughing gas for this), imagine trying to stuff a futon into a wine bottle. That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now, no more medical detail. I’d just like to finish up the gratitude part by mentioning my fab girlfriend, who was with me when I had the surgery; my lovely visitors; my friend who drove me home after and stayed the night, and went shopping for me the next day. And myself: I spent two months before the surgery getting what exercise I could, and that’s been making a huge difference to how my recovery is going now, especially in terms if my core muscles.

So that’s all that. What I wanted to also write about, is what this does and doesn’t mean. In the minds of many people (including many trans* people), this must mean I’ve reached my goal, and it’s all over now. But I don’t consider my surgery to be the “end” of my transition. Actually, I have no idea when that will be, or even whether it will be. For a start, pragmatically I have major surgery to recover from, before my upcycled anatomy feels like simply a familiar part if me, rather than a medicalised and painful and puzzling new piece of kit. But seriously, I suspect I will spend the rest of my life still transitioning, discovering what difference this really makes to my experience of myself, and to other people’s experience of me too.

And there’s still way too much emphasis in trans* culture and in the media (and, I have to say, in the healthcare system too) on surgery being the City of Oz of transition. Listen: only some people who identify as trans* go through any obvious transition (and that need not cross any conventionally recognised sex/gender borders anyway), and only some people who transition want surgery to be part of that. I’m sick of the “hierarchy” of non-op < pre-op < post-op that you find on so many trans* forums, for example.

Oh, and I'm so tired of people (and once again, many of the culprits are in the healthcare posse) assuming that once I've recovered from surgery, I'll basically "get well sexually" and stop identifying as more or less asexual. Stop pathologising asexuality, it's so patronising! It's as bad as being a non-theist stuck among smug Christians.

So there it is: as part of my ongoing transition, I've had this surgery, and on it all still goes. Mainly, I look forward to being able to dance again, and releasing this pangolin into the wild.

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Iatrogenocide

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while (excuse the absence of apt and pretty pictures, I’m still flat on my back in hospital, writing this on a wee tablet thingy).

I had a very difficult three months earlier this year, and the fault lies largely at the feet of medication. I spent over a year on Tramadol (an opiate) for pain, whilst waiting for surgery to fix my dodgy urethra, and then spent two months at the start of this year coming off the Tramadol, post-surgery. That all went fine, until I actually stopped taking it altogether – at which point I spent a month having my body flail about uncontrollably every night, like a puppet with St Vitus’ Dance.

And then I was in the run-up to my genital upcycling surgery, and was anxious about getting anxious, since the Tramadol had actually helped with my PTSS symptoms, so I was persuaded to go onto Sertraline (aka Zoloft, Lustral). This is when the hell began. Two months of terror and anxiety and barely being able to go outside the flat. I assumed that this had been caused by a transphobic incident in the town where I live, so it took me two months to listen to my intuition and stop taking the Sertaline – at which point I got better practically overnight.

No more SSRIs for me.

*****

While I’m here, I’ll mention that I’m now halfway through the EMDR therapy (for my PTSS) that I spent 3 years trying to get access to – and it is so worth it. It’s been a very shamanic journey experience for me, and I’ve had some very powerful encounters – especially with the six-year-old girl me, who is ballsy as hell, and who publicly goes by the name Celestine (no kidding – but she has a secret name too).

*****

Anyway, here I am, flat on my back in hospital, and somewhere under all that swaddling is a set of female genitalia that I have yet to see. But my brain still thinks I have the Previous Occupant down there, so it’s going to be a fascinating opportunity to observe how the physical senses are mind-made (or mind-interpreted, anyway). I’ve had arousing thoughts a couple of times, just to see what that felt like, and my brain thinks I have a hard-on. Watch and learn, brain!

Retrofit FTW!

I’m currently flat on my back in hospital, having finally had my genital repurposing surgery yesterday!

It seems extraordinary to me that after 28 years of consciously waiting for this to happen, the op only took 2 hours.

I’m in very good hands down here in Brighton, and feeling very grateful to all the people in my life who have supported this happening, one way or another. I’ll write more when I’m less off my head on pain relief :D.

I will just add that my shorthand for my Genital Repurposing Surgery is “upcycling”…