More Thought Exercises

Today I’m focusing on bringing myself back into my body, and if I’m being honest, it’s going to be more than a one day process. I hesitate to call what I’m dealing with “dysphoria,” although I know it’s the term that a lot of folks might use. For me, though, dysphoria is a descriptor more for disconnect explicitly with my sex, and what I’m dealing with now has nothing to do with my genitals. This weekend I fell back into a really difficult time with my body. I’m allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that come with this- jealousy, fear, inadequacy, anxiety.

For my current situation, I can trace a lot of these feelings back to the freedom male bodies experience vs female bodies. I used to understand this as a fundamental difference between male and female experience, that women wanted to cover up and men just didn’t give a shit.

But I am not a man, and I, also, in a world without men, do not give one shit about covering my body and what woman would see it. Add men into the equation, however, and the whole thing gets turned upside down. This is patriarchy, and it’s real fucked up.
So I’ve got all these thoughts rolling around in my head about the jealousy I still combat surrounding male bodies and musculature, male privilege and freedom of expression. In the past I’ve tried meditating through these things, but a sitting meditation just has never really worked for me. I meditate better while pushing weights around, I have to get my body engaged before I can let my mind clear or wander. I’ve spent as much time as I can since I’ve gotten home half naked and bare chested, the same way I’ve always felt I should be able to be, and it helps. Seeing my body bare this way regularly, doing regular things, helps in not feeling so cut off and disconnected and disgusted. I do yoga and the dishes and bench press and drink my coffee and snuggle with my dogs, and I yearn for the freedom of the one morning I got to run down the dirt roads shirtless and free in michigan. I allow myself to think about what would be different if I were to go back on testosterone, because it’s a thought that still peeks it’s way into my brain uninvited, and I have to acknowledge and deal with it. Then I think rationally about the fact that my body truly doesn’t look much different than while on testosterone, and the urge begins to dissipate. I think about the relative unimportance of my muscle size in the scheme of life, I think about taking years off my life, I think about the health risks and the fact that a beard and chest hair would no more make me a man or deserving of body freedom than the next woman – we are all deserving. I remind myself that I have found more peace and calm and connection in existing naked by myself than I ever have in the validation I get from others when they think I’m an acceptable form of “man-lite.”

One thing I keep coming back to is the fact that I no longer “feel like a man” at all, and yet the urge to modify my body through exogenous hormones remains as something to be chased away every so often. I often wish I had never been exposed to the possibility of changing my body in this way, I wish I could have remained blissfully unaware and with strong Amazon role models to illustrate a life and bodies I could see myself in instead from a young age. I remind myself that I need to be that Amazon for anyone else out there struggling, as much as I am able. This gives me strength, resolve. I will pull through. I will hustle and push and I will succeed in building my home in this body, the only body I will ever have.

Integrated

I’ve been feeling really integrated lately. There’s something amazing and good and whole about devoting all of my social energy to lesbians, which creates spaces where I see more and more glimmers of myself reflected. I’ve been able to let my guard down a bit.

It’s been very interesting really getting to know older lesbians for the first time, at this point in my life. They see me as unquestionably female, which is a huge relief but at the same time makes it a little difficult to convey some of my day to day experiences, and even harder to relate my experiences during transition.

While my social life has gotten more comfortable and lesbian-centered, I continue to pass as male for the most part when I am out and about. Cashiers at the gas station call me sir, guys at the gym call me bro. I try to talk to my older dyke friends about these experiences, and they just reassure me that I “read entirely as a woman.” It’s very nice, and I really appreciate it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I do not “read entirely as a woman” to many folks. It’s been baffling to me that I continue to be read as male despite never wearing compression of any sort (I really need to write a post about this – the past six months or so of not even wearing sports bras has been a huge positive shift in my life), having a uniform of jeans and tshirts in a casual town where everyone wears jeans and tshirts, and consciously trying to keep myself from shifting my voice down when I get anxious (read: always). I feel like I am giving off every natural “female signal” I have to give, at least without explicitly marking myself in some more easily socially recognizable way.

I never want to compromise or capitulate in order to make myself “appear” female. I am female, and that is enough. I am seen when I am with Lesbians, and that is enough.

Sometimes, even when I am relating my experiences while I was transitioning, it is difficult for my new friends to imagine me as a man. They want to see pictures, so I pull out my phone and flip through the few remaining on my Facebook. I get to hear about how my face was still so obviously female, how I still looked like a lesbian, how I don’t really look any different now, and it’s meant to be positive and affirming but I just feel like my past is being erased. These comments come alongside stories of people they know who “just seem so natural as men” after transition. I remind myself that they didn’t know me back then, all they know is this much better version of myself that sits in front of them today. They don’t know what an unanalyzed misogynist piece of shit I was, despite my best efforts to be “the good guy,” and I how I fit in just fine. I remind myself that they probably don’t realize that it’s not at all that other men didn’t think I fit in or was natural as a man – I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was fit in with these men and continue to capitulate to patriarchy and misogyny. For all my talk of how I didn’t change when I detransitioned, it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me just how much I’ve changed. I’ve changed purposefully. I decided to be a better, more authentic version of myself. I learned how to embrace myself fully. It was my choice, and I’d choose it over and over again.

Dysphoria – Or Not

I’ve been thinking a lot about dysphoria lately. I’ve written before about how my dysphoria has not disappeared with introduction of radical/material thought, but that it had become more manageable. Now, I feel like my relationship to “my dysphoria” is again shifting as I come even more fully into accepting myself as a woman and as a Lesbian.

Fair warning here, I’m going to get a bit into how I relate intimately to my body.

Generally I have thought of my dysphoria as feeling mismatched and disconnected from my body. I’ve worked through enough of my body issues to fairly well remove the idea that my body/physique/musculature ideals are at all male, but issues of relating intimately to my body have been much more stubborn. Specifically, the way that I relate to my genitals and the way I want my body interacted with intimately is something that I have experienced as being the “active” or “insertive” partner and have therefore drawn the easy connections to male sexuality in the past. The more I dig into my relationship with my body and tie connections to the way other Lesbians before me have experienced their bodies, the more I come to find that experiencing my body this way is not at all related to male sexuality.

Pulling apart these threads has taken me to a point of reconciliation where I’m not sure I want to use the word dysphoria to describe how I relate to my body any more. The more I realize that experiencing my Clit as an active participant and driving force behind intimacy is a healthy female experience, the less disconnect I feel from it. The more I internalize the idea that I am far from the first Lesbian in the world to desire and derive my primary pleasure from interacting with my genitals in the way that I do, the less I want to describe these feelings as “dysphoria” because it has stopped feeling like a “non-female” or disconnected way of expressing myself. If I can wrap my head around the idea of the Clit as an active player in both giving AND receiving pleasure, then I can more easily come to accept the way I relate to my Clit as a healthy way to relate intimately with my female body.

I still struggle with the fact that my genitals are different now than they were prior to HRT, and that I know the difference in her function accounts for a lot of the healthy way I have been able to come around to understanding and accepting my genitals and sexual expression. I never tried to relate to my genitals in the way I do now before testosterone, but I wonder if I could have been able to come to a healthy sexuality on my own without medical intervention if I had some of these tools and knowledge  beforehand. If I had *ever* heard of truly Clit centered sexuality before transition, I wonder if I would have been able to see myself in it and latch onto some new understandings of my body rather than being convinced that the way I experience my sexuality is more akin to males than females.
I threw out the idea that I was “stone” early in my social transition when I realized I wanted to be touched and to be intimate, but “not in the way that one touches or is intimate with women.” I started learning to verbally communicate the way I wanted to be interacted with, although honestly I remained pretty “stone” in practice even for years after I stopped taking testosterone. I’m now to a place where I am lucky enough to have a partner who understands me and interacts with my body in the way I want to be interacted with, and it’s made such a wild difference in my bodily comfort to be treated this way without the idea that I’m being treated as “male” or “masculine.” Between us it is natural and easy, which further helps me internalize the idea that the way I relate to my body is not “outside of female.” This intimacy has the power to affirm my desires and my female reality in one swift, deeply healing movement and I’ve never felt anything like this freedom and acceptance before in my life.

I used to believe that I would never be rid of my dysphoria, but now I’m realizing that if I can accept the way I relate to my body without trying to change it or relating it to male expression, that I might just be able to settle down into living without feeling so disconnected.
Honestly, I’ve been feeling a lot more whole and integrated lately. It feels like it’s been a very long time in coming.

Impulse Control

Through my childhood I developed an extremely strong impulse control as a way to mediate my then un-named anxiety. I could recognize that there were a lot of things that would make me feel “guilty,” which is the way I understood my anxiety as a young person. I set out to avoid these things at pretty much all costs and on the way gained impulse control that I now fear may possibly border on *too* strong.

I had a long list in my head of the things that made me feel “guilty,” and I avoided them well. A lot of the time these were normal pleasurable things (going to the movies, buying food just for myself, finding places of solitude, etc), but because I was overcome with guilt every time I let myself do these things I just learned to tell myself no. These sorts of things were so commonplace that I developed a very strong capability to talk myself out of the things that I desired by looking to the future and how my actions would affect that future. Mainly, I chose the option that would lead to me not feeling that horrible sinking “guilt” feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t think this was the best possible coping mechanism, but it’s one that I been able to use to my advantage throughout my life.

As an adult, I’ve probably let my impulse control overdevelop. I am now extremely good at saying no to myself, and denying myself all sorts of things that I may desire. This has served me well in a lot of arenas. I am good at avoiding an impulse buy, and choose instead to go home and research before purchasing new things. I practically never buy any clothes new, and if I do they have to be deeply discounted before I will let myself even consider spending the money. This also helps because clothing very rarely fits me the way I want it to, so if I can talk myself out of even going to look at clothes I am saving myself a lot of anxiety. I am good at avoiding eating when in public because there is an overwhelming chance that anywhere I go in public will not have food for me, so remove the anxiety of not knowing what is in my food and choose to eat at home the vast majority of the time instead. These practices of impulse control save my limited funds for more useful endeavors and save my anxiety-management resources for the moments (or days, or weeks, or months) when I will actually need them.

My powers of impulse control have also served me well in my detransition, and in dealing with the jealousy that I still sometimes feel towards those individuals who do physically transition. Impulse control, in my experience, is directly tied to being able to project into, understand and plan for the future. I may have the impulse to join the tide, and let myself get carried away in quick physical growth gained via intramuscular syringe. In complete transparency, this impulse has not yet left me although it is now easier to battle against. Transition, for me, was a much smoother way to exist in the world, if not easier to exist in my own brain for the long run. Taking testosterone would be the path of least resistance, and yet I use my impulse control to avoid traveling this path and instead choose to look towards building a future that includes living in a body that I have come to own through nothing but hard work and introspection. I am able to deny the quick-fix band-aid and look to what I feel is my true path of long-term sustainable healing and integration.

Fresh Shaved

I got my haircut yesterday, which means this holiday will be the first holiday that I go home with a fresh fade. Usually I purposely let myself get shaggy for a few months before I see my folks. I’m making efforts to not change or cover up who I am to my family. I need to trust in their love and acceptance of me.

Going home is always a pretty fair mix of good and awkward. There’s a lot of love to go around in my family, but there’s also a lot that they just don’t “get.” Just a few days ago I got a text from my dad that’s had me kind of spinning out since. He wrote me a quick message about a news article he had read, and how he thought I would find it interesting. I clicked the link against my better judgement and found myself on a pop science article discussing the idea that trans* individuals do not have male or female brains, but distinct “trans” brains.
My dad has a habit of sending me articles that he wants to talk about in person before we see each other. Usually this is relatively benign, maybe politics at the worst. A couple years ago we had a substantial argument over Mother’s Day when he tried to convince me that there was no good reason for gay people to get married (essentially telling me that marriage is solely for the protection and support of children…). I have not broached any sexuality-related topics with him since then and I don’t feel like I will want to this coming week, either. I especially don’t want to talk to him about brain sex when he was the one who introduced me to Dr. Fine and her work. I’m confused and feel betrayed, and I really don’t want to talk about it. I don’t know where all of this “oh trans people have special brains!” support is coming from when his lack of support (from the standpoint of science and reality) was such a strong indicator to me that I was doing the wrong thing while I was transitioning.

Honestly, sometimes I get really, really tired of carving out space to hold my experiences within “female.” I get tired of coming out constantly about being a woman. I am exhausted from watching my peers transition and from squelching my immediate pangs of jealousy. I’m tired of being the “female exception,” tired of feeling like the whole world is insinuating that I am not like the other girls when I am busting my ass to find connection and common ground with other women. I want to just live and exist in a world where my place within female reality is just a given, where I do not stand out so intensely. I truly and honestly do not think that I am such an anomaly.
I just want to go back into the woods, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to exist out here.

Learned Behaviors

I drop my voice into a lower register when I want to be taken seriously.

Sometimes this is conscious decision, such as when I am in the company of males who are attempting to speak over me and I decide to assert myself, or with folks who I know will not take me as seriously if my voice is pitched higher, regardless of the words that come out of my mouth.
Sometimes it’s completely unconscious, which happens when I am the only woman in a group of men. This still happens unconsciously because it’s a learned behavior that is ingrained very, very deeply within myself as part of my experience with passing as male. When I am anxious, I have even less recognition of it happening, but I know it still happens. I realize it afterwards and feel angry for having this uncontrolled reaction.
These days, when I notice this behavior in the company of women I try to catch myself and speak in what is truly a more physically comfortable voice, more in my mid-range. I remind myself gently that I will not be misunderstood in this context, that my words will not carry less weight because of the pitch of my voice. It is still sometimes hard to hear this mid-range voice when I know that I am consciously affecting it, because if I am consciously thinking of my voice I think of it in the lower register, and this causes dissonance no matter how physically comfortable that mid-range voice is. More social conditioning, I suppose, left over from transition.
When this happens in the company of men, then I do not waver. In the company of men, my defenses stay up, and my defense mechanisms on hair triggers. Lowering my voice is one of my stronger tactics against males assuming I’m inferior, and trust me, it works. I am received much differently with men depending on what my voice sounds like. I know which tools I have in my personal arsenal for dealing with the patriarchy very well.

I think a lot about this. I still feel a lot of comfort in letting my voice rumble low in my chest, even though this rumble is a result of my stint on testosterone. It’s one of those permanent changes that helps me remain feeling at home in this body. I know that this comfort is deeply socially conditioned, because I now have what feels like a lifetime behind me of my words holding more weight when they’re spoken in a lower voice. Everywhere we turn, society conditions us to take deeper voices more seriously. There is no logical, biological, or functional reason for me to find comfort in a lowered voice outside of patriarchy. I gain social currency in the patriarchy when I utilize this privilege of a lower voice that I afforded to myself through exogenous hormones – by no virtue of anything innate to my person.
Dropping my voice is one of those performative masculinity traits that I have an incredibly hard time removing myself from. At this point, I think I can say that I have distanced myself from using this patriarchal tactic when I am in the company of other women, or at the very least when I am in the company of other Lesbians. I think it’s a learned behavior that should certainly be critiqued, and every day I’m looking for ways to move my life towards a place where I’ll never again have the social impetus to utilize this behavior. In the meantime, I have to get along in the patriarchy, like we all do. I utilize those tools I have, and between the constant internal battles about the way I utilize them I attempt to be gentle and remind myself that we all do things worthy of critique, but that help us get by. None of us are radical without flaw, but when I think about who I am and the way I carry myself when I am among Lesbians who do not judge, I know that that is both the most radical and most natural version of myself that I am personally capable of and I strive to move closer to that mode of expression of true self comfort full-time every single day.

Our Own Reflections

I dipped my toes into self-promotional social media for the first time a couple years ago with my Instagram account. My purpose at the outset was two-fold. 1) I wanted to be part of the “vegan strength revolution” and be a living example of strength without animal products. I no longer am very invested in furthering this ideal even though I still eat plant-based, don’t buy leather, live a “vegan lifestyle” etc because I find the framing to generally be really problematic, and yeah, elitist. 2) I was trying to fill the void of female representation that felt like “me.” I didn’t look around and see other lesbians talking about relating to their bodies in the way that I related to my body. I didn’t see other women that had bodies like mine that weren’t adorned and decorated in typical body-building, “performatively feminine” style.
Instagram helped me both find reflections of the representation that I so desperately needed to see as well as helped me begin to find a community of women who need and value this same type of representation. I had always had hunches that although I wasn’t seeing representation of my body feelings, that those women were out there and that the more of us that put ourselves out there, the easier it would be to connect. I felt like I could not sit on my hands and wait to see this representation – I had to take it upon myself to begin to build this if this is what I needed.

And I really, really desperately needed it. I was barely holding my head above water in the tide of queer culture insisting that any body that looked like the body that felt right to me had some aspect of “maleness.” I needed to find other squared off, muscular, tough dykes. If they were bodybuilders, I needed to see them outside of their posing suits, I needed to see them in ripped up t-shirts and shorts sweating under a 225lb squat and more concerned with performance with aesthetics as a sidenote – not the “prettied up” version.
I needed it so badly that I started building it brick by brick every single day. I posted when I didn’t want to. I posted when I didn’t feel good. I posted when typing the words “female” or “woman” still felt like a strain and made me second guess every association other folks would have with me… But I needed to associate myself, and my body, and my experience with being female. I set aside what other folks might think as much as I could, and pushed through telling myself that the women who needed this representation would come. We would find each other. I would keep putting myself out there til I found connection.

I did find a lot of connection through Instagram. After I had been talking about finding comfort in your body in a vague sense for awhile, I opened up about being detransitioned. I started talking about how I still deal with dysphoria and about how I struggle with seeing reflections of the way I relate to my body from the perspective of maintaining female reality. The response I got from other women telling me how deeply my thoughts resonated with them blew me away. It made me realize that my gut feelings of there being more of us than I could see was absolutely true. There were lots of women who could relate to what I was feeling, but none or exceedingly few of us were speaking up. I decided to find a platform to start speaking up more, a platform more conducive to text and sharing and spreading discussion.
I embarked on my second social media endeavor and re-created a tumblr account, something I had sworn to myself up and down that I would never do again.

When I started blogging on tumblr, my goals had moved away from spreading awareness of the possibilities of building muscle with plants (although I still talk about it very infrequently) and more exclusively towards finding connection with other women who experienced life and their bodies similarly to me. By this point I had realized that I also needed community of women who experienced attraction similarly to the way that I do, now. I needed to connect with women invested in non-performance who were attracted to women also invested in not performing. I had started reading Lesbian Feminism and realized there was long herstory for this attraction, a strong community of Dyke lovin Dykes, all committed to non-performance of gender.
Now, I do take some space from these 70’s ideals, in that I think that there is room for a materialist definition of butch and femme and that this definition can be used as a way to further explain specific nuances of different dyke experiences. In very stripped down terms, we can think of butch as a lesbian who will be assumed lesbian no matter what she does when solo, and femme as a lesbian who will be assumed heterosexual no matter what she does when solo. It is not always easy to discern what it is about a woman that makes her automatically read as a lesbian no matter what or automatically read as a straight woman no matter what, but it is impossible to deny that this experience does exist out in the world. There are also, of course, many dykes who read differently in different situations. I think it is possible to have a completely dyke experience of focusing on utility and practicality while also having this material experience of being femme or butch. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive, and I know this is a departure from the 70’s lesbian feminist framework that I am coming from. My goal stretched to finding these dykes who were committed to utility and practicality and connecting with them regardless of whether our experiences could be modified with butch, or femme, or neither.

We certainly found each other. I met dykes and made friends and connections in ways I never have before in my life. We bonded over shared respect for material reality and really critical analysis, while still being gentle and understanding with each other. Holding each other. It felt really unreal until a bunch of us met up in those Michigan woods.
What I’ve been seeing now is a pattern of women beginning to drop some aspects of performative femininity after seeing this modeled at Fest, and these women are speaking up about how this has been healing for them personally. I want to hold these women and their stories so close, because I understand this healing very well. I came to my own version of this healing largely through letting myself drop my self-enforced “attractions” to “performative femininity,” rather than dropping the performance myself (although I have certainly dropped perfomatively masculine modes of expression from my life, I have never really engaged in much of anything in the performative femininity realm), but I think the aspects of feeling healed are very closely entwined.
I want to take a moment to recognize that when I say “performative femininity” this means literally only those things which are  not innate, but which are “performed” (this all applies to “performative masculinity” as well, but I will not dip far into that in this post – another, soon, I promise). I do not mean being nurturing, gentle, or caring. I do not mean having long hair because it is practical for an individual woman to do so. I do not mean wearing whatever clothing is truly the most useful and practical for an individual woman to wear. For me, I find myself being attracted to a woman who embraces the same practical, utility-based lifestyle and expression that feels comfortable for myself. Letting myself recognize this has been instrumental in my personal healing and feeling like I am as true of a woman as any other woman.

Connecting with these women who reflect each other in these different ways has been the one thing that keeps me sharing my experiences on the internet, especially because now I have IRL support from true 70’s lesbian feminists to help guide and hold me and listen to my writing. It’s only through the internet that I’ve been able to find women who are navigating these things at the same time that I am, however. I think there is something very special and important about us finding each other and sharing our personal experiences and healing. At this point I don’t plan on ever stopping talking about it. I have opened up and I can’t close it back down again; these connections are too strong, too powerful and life-giving for me to turn away from them.