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“Biologically…”

“Do you want to see my f**king dick, mate?” I replied, grabbing my crotch.

This was quite out of character for me, so let me explain myself.

I like Pokemon. Bloody love it, in fact. I was playing in a card tournament near my home when I overheard my opponent call me “she”.

I was confused. I tend not to move in circles in which I get misgendered these days.

“He,” I corrected. “I’m a guy.”

My opponent frowned.

“But… are you… biologically male?”

After a pause to process what I just heard with my own ears, I saw red.

“Do you want to see my f**king dick, mate?” I replied, grabbing my crotch.

After another second, I gathered myself. “Yes,” I corrected. “I know, but just because I’m 24 and can’t grow a beard…”

He apologised. I think he realised just how awkward he’d made that for me.

But you know what sticks in my craw? He wouldn’t have understood my hurt if he’d thought I was trans.

Because he wasn’t asking about my biology. Not really. He’s not my gynaecologist, my lover, my sexual health nurse. What he was asking was this:

“But are you really a man?”

Biologically, I am A negative, with Morton’s toe. Biologically, I have hypermobile joints. Biologically, I am a huge catalogue of things that are just as irrelevant as whatever criteria you’re judging my “true” sex to be.

My brain is part of my body. My brain is male. That’s what anyone else should care about.

The cis fixation on trans bodies is revolting. I just want a normal life. I’m not asking for special treatment. I want to feel comfortable. I want to play cards in a shop without it getting weird.

If you’re cis, and you don’t know why this is offensive, please comment. In an utterly non-confrontational way, I would love to know why this is an apparently acceptable question to ask.

It frightened me. I went for a piss afterwards, and I was afraid he would look under the stall door, see I was sitting, or hear that I wasn’t using a cock to pee through. Questions like that are terrifying, because of how personal they go.

I know it wasn’t meant. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awful.

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Pretty Ugly

When I first arrived in Norway, I didn’t know what was wrong. I was going to stay for a week with some old friends of my mum’s, along with my mum and my brother. A nice family holiday, somewhere I’d never been before and always wanted to go.

Kjetel met us at the airport. He wanted to take us around a few caves before we got to the flat. While there, he asked me why I’d changed my name.

I frowned.

“Because it was a female name.”

I had thought it would be obvious.

Later, we got to the flat, and it became clearer.

“The girls can sleep in there,” Marianne said.

For a start a) my mother is a grown woman and not a girl and b) I am a grown man and absolutely definitely not a girl.

My mum hadn’t told them. It wasn’t so much a punch to the gut as a hand closing tight about my neck. She was ashamed of me. And now I was stuck, thousands of miles from home, with people who possibly wouldn’t want people like me living under their roof and eating their food.

My mum cannot possibly understand. She can’t see what it is like to be hated. Because there are people out there who were my friends up until the moment I told them, and then turned on me faster than a bottle of milk on a sunny day.

So I lived the next few days how I have made it my life’s mission to never have to life- in silent shame. Being politely dismissive about comments I should grow my hair. Sitting through the showing of old photographs with a tight smile on my face. Swallowing every poisonous “she”, “her”, and “sister”.

Things reached a head once I was, with very little explanation, bundled into a car and taken to a cabin without internet for an entire weekend.

I’m not lamenting the loss of Youtube, or Tumblr, or any of the other “trivial” millennial shit Kjetel had made it his purpose to demean and deride all the time I was there (Pokemon Go being his favourite target). What I missed was someone I could speak to who understood the absolute hell I was going through.

I was alone. Completely alone.

My brother is fifteen, a selfish creature who has too much of his own nonsense going on with puberty and his dickhead father to care about anyone else. My mum spent all her time talking to him or Marianne and Kjetel, and had no time for me.

By the second day, I wasn’t eating. I tried to sleep all day because that was the only way I could stop crying.

My mum found me staring out of the window and shaking. I asked if she was ashamed of me. She said no, that she’d told them the day we arrived. Which meant they’d been willfully misgendering me for days, and she hadn’t corrected them- and I had just sat there and taken it.

This is incredibly painful for me to write about. If it has not already become clear.

That night I made a point of correcting people. I am here and I refuse to lie down and play dead. Which of course gave Kjetel recourse to attack me.

“You’re not gay.”

“Er, yes I am. I would know. I spent a long time thinking I should like women, but I just don’t. I like men. I’m gay.”

“But your boyfriend, is he gay?”

“He doesn’t identify as gay. But he loves me for who I am. When he was at school, his friends always said he would be gay. I think it’s kind of funny.

“I think he is straight,” Kjetel nodded knowledgeably.

That wasn’t the only bit of wonderfulness.

He tried to tell me I was “really” a woman- but I cut him off. I gave him the most impassioned speech on women and the respect I have for them and the ultimate knowledge that only I can have that I am not and have never been one. He laughed. My mother said nothing.

He also condescended to tell me I would be pregnant within the year.

I can feel the bile rising in my throat as I write all this. To me, the last bit was the worst. Because it’s toxic in so many ways. Firstly, that my getting pregnant has anything to do with my gender identity. It doesn’t. Shall I tell you why most men don’t get pregnant? It’s because they physically can’t.

I’m going to be a dad, and no narrow-minded fuckhead is going to stand in my way.

Secondly, the thought that I would be so fucking stupid as to get pregnant deliberately. My mum’s Catholic. It would devastate her to have grandkids out of wedlock. I’m poor. If I can, I want to do better for my children than a basement flat, casual income and an unstable home.

Just because I have ovaries, doesn’t mean I’m a fucking moron.

Thirdly, that my getting pregnant would in some way quash my notions of being trans.

Let me tell you, if pregnancy is so impacting on a person as to make them forget who they actually are, I want no part of it. Being trans is an essential component of the powerful, headstrong person I am today. Nothing short of evil would take that away from me.

I wonder what his childless wife, Marianne, would make of his equating womanhood to pregnancy. At a guess, not an awful lot, but I suppose a lot of what I saw in Norway disappointed me.

If you go, stick to the cities. Stick to the cruise boats. Don’t eat the food and don’t talk to the locals. What I found was a beautiful country inhabited by ugly attitudes- about immigration, the environment, the EU, women. It is a country in decline.

As for Kjetel, I will never see him again for as long as I live. Nobody gets to make me feel as awful as he made me feel. Since returning from Norway, my dysphoria has gotten significantly worse. I bind and pack a lot more than I did before I went out. I shake and cry a lot more too.

I have shivered naked and ashamed in Sunshine’s arms, crying, “I never wanted to be like this.”

How low does a person have to be to do that to someone? I wish I could show this to my mum, to Marianne, to Sunshine and to ignorant, bigoted Kjetel. But I’m not that cruel.

I am trans, and it has made me stronger.

The Sign of the Cross

I don’t know if Sunshine knew that I saw him cross himself. I wonder if he was trying to hide it from me.

We don’t talk about faith. Not ever. We might talk about our Catholic upbringing, or about religious texts in a purely theoretical way, but we never admit to believing in anything.

For me, that’s because I’m queer. Depending on who you ask, it could be the way God made me or the way the devil made me. It could be my cross to bear, a temptation I am supposed to resist, or it could be a great blessing.

Queerness and religion are fraught with conflict. Frequently, I am assumed to be an atheist. However, I strongly believe that the universe was created by something that presides over it. It’s just what I believe. And I don’t know why I believe it, I just do. I studied Physics at university and there’s just something about the way it all fits together that makes the universe seem like a work of art.

Even now I’m resisting defending myself. People are scornful, think I must be an idiot to feel this way. I’ve had my fill of probing questions asking what I think of heaven or hell or angels or determinism and I really don’t think that has anything to do with anything. Belief is what you believe. End of.

I don’t like talking about it. Like Scripps in the History Boys, it’s private.

Sometimes I go to church. I like the ridiculous Catholicism of it all, the hymns, the gold, the wine. Its theatre. It’s quiet and it makes you feel calm. But I never go on a day when somebody might notice I’m missing.

Sunshine and I were out playing Pokemon GO! and there was a Pokestop by the war memorial in St Peter’s Square. We walked to it, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sunshine cross himself.

I think I knew he wasn’t an atheist. Or maybe I wanted him to not be an atheist. Still, atheists usually tell you. For example, I’ve only met his sister three times and yet I know she’s an atheist. She said so. It’s like veganism- because their beliefs are opposite to a lot of people’s, it has to get mentioned.

But atheists don’t cross themselves at war memorials, do they? So he definitely isn’t. He was compelled- strongly- to cross himself in front of the memorial, something that I, for all my upbringing, was never taught to do. I never genuflect or cross myself with holy water.

Part of me wanted to ask him about it. It’s one of those things you’re supposed to ask, when you get into a long term relationship with someone.

But I couldn’t. I’m so wounded from having to keep my own shapeless faith to myself that I don’t know how to talk about this shit any more. So it’ll stay as just that. The sign of the cross by a war memorial.

Gender as performance

I’m starting to question my gender identity. After six years of identifying as nonbinary, I think I might actually be male.

See, here’s how it is. If you’re trans (or fat, or disabled…), you’re expected to perform gender to a higher standard than someone who isn’t. Trans women get chastised by gender specialists for not wearing lipstick. And yet if they criticised a cis woman for the same thing, they’d likely be asked what fucking century they thought this was.

So, because I’m trans, I’m expected to strut around all day, every day with flat shoes and trousers and a great big bushy beard, as well as great big bushy everything else? I don’t bloody well think so.

I absolutely love shaving my legs in a hot shower, letting myself air dry and rubbing my shiny smooth legs together. It’s one of the greatest small pleasures on this earth. If I hadn’t been socially conditioned to adhere to feminine gender roles, I might never have discovered it. And yet discover it I have, and I wouldn’t trade that sensation for the soft-side-of-the-velcro thing most guys have going on. Nope.

What the hell does having scratchy fuzz on your legs have to do with being a man? I bloody love shaving on a Saturday morning so I can do my karate training with freshly smooth legs. It’s so satisfying.

I also love matching my nail polish to my suit or tie. Chest bound, tie tied, nails coordinated. Dapper is the word you’re looking for.

If I had been assigned male at birth, this would have been an eccentricity, or just attributed to my sexuality. As it is, it has been used to question my gender identity by people who were supposed to have cared about me.

I think perhaps I assumed, if my masculinity wasn’t traditional, I couldn’t be male.

I think I need to stop looking at myself as “a trans person” and just think of myself as “a person” for a bit. Perhaps I’m male, perhaps I’m NB, but I have to consider myself, and not my body. Its shape is irrelevant. I have to stop thinking of gender as something I perform- but rather something I am.

The Telephone Call

I was on my way to work when my ‘phone rang- withheld number. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t answer, but I know that my GP often withholds, and I’d been trying to sort out the omnishambles that has been changing my name.

Sure enough, it was my GP. She’d just found out that she could prescribe me testosterone, and did I want it?

Do I want it?

I said no. It was literally the day after I wrote that post saying how much I don’t want testosterone. And I don’t. I know I don’t.

But I envy people who do. I get all excited for them when they start. I think about how much better their lives could become. And I’m not going to lie, I want that.

And I think about all the people who desperately need the prescription I turned down. Whose dysphoria does a lot more than trap them in the shower crying. Who could be in severe danger of being hurt before they get to the top of the GIC waiting list.

I felt so guilty saying “no”.

And since, I’ve had dreams. Beautiful dreams, where T doesn’t have the side effects I fear, and so I tell Sunshine and he’s happy for me and I go on and it’s wonderful. My voice gets lower. I never get misgendered. I don’t lose my job.

But I know it’s not like that. That T would mean irreversible changes that fill me with dread.

And then. There’s the part of me that says the only reason you don’t want T, the only reason that really matters, is that you’re afraid Sunshine will leave you. All the rest are just excuses.

Today, the sermon was dissecting Luke 9:51-62. If you’re not religious, bear with me. In it, Jesus meets three people on the road and asks them to follow him, but two have other things they want to do first. One says he wants to bury his father. Another says he needs to go home and say goodbye to his family.

Now, I’d always seen these as pretty legitimate excuses, and thought Jesus was being a bit impatient by refusing them. But the priest explained- Jesus knew that they were only excuses. That rather than say “I don’t want to”, they said something else instead.

So what if I’m saying these twelve things, when really I mean something else?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’m afraid of going to Daventry and them refusing to give me top surgery because I won’t take T. And I feel like I’ve got to deal with all this baggage now because I can’t let them know how confused I am. And Sunshine’s in Canada and I’m just in so much pain because I have a lipoma on my spine (getting removed tomorrow, thank the NHS).

There’s no happy concluding paragraph on this one, the one where I figure it all out. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way, I guess. Oh well.

Family

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In a state of worry, I baked three pounds of shortbread for eight people.

It was the day of my partner’s brother’s housewarming, the day I met my sunshine’s parents. We arrived early, greeted by his brother and brother’s partner. We toured the new house, and sat in the living room.

They were full of excitement; told us how a friend of theirs had painted the word “GAY” onto the wall with their paint samples, and how they had hurriedly painted over the “Y” when they realised family were coming over.

It was still obvious that it had read “GAY”. I didn’t think it would help if I told them, so I kept it to myself.

My sunshine’s parents and two of his other siblings (Catholics, remember?) arrived not long after. I would later discover that they had not been told that I was coming, that his admission a week earlier that he was seeing me had been the only warning they got.

We shook hands, made vague “nice to meet you” noises. I’m crap at all that. Food and wine made for a welcome distraction.

I made a joke and my sunshine’s dad laughed for a good thirty seconds. Maybe it was going to be okay.

I didn’t talk much apart from that (I don’t talk much in large groups at all). Dad drank too much wine. Mum doesn’t drink at all these days, apparently. I was introduced to them by name, but I struggle with names. The labels don’t seem to fit them yet. I don’t really see them as people yet.

The happy homeowners announced their engagement; a magnum of champagne was uncorked. At least three of us didn’t drink any, so I can only wonder at where it all went.

“GA” apparently is the name of the paint colour: Green Apple. That was a better cover up than the blob of Kiwi Crush used to mask the “Y”, at least. I wouldn’t have bought it, but I generally spot “gay” when nobody else does. It’s a gift.

I learnt very little about them really, and gave no reason for them to like or dislike me. My sunshine has inherited his mother’s ears, but otherwise looks very little like them. I think that’s because he is full of youth, and they are both quite incredibly old.

The worst case scenario would have been my packer slipping from its perch and bouncing, gracelessly, onto the living-room rug. That didn’t happen.

His dad misgendered me with only his last word to me, and then slipped out the door as Sun corrected him. I’ll blame the wine. His mum said that we should come and visit them. I’ll take that.

Family isn’t always easy. I wrung my hands so hard I had to rub ibuprofen gel into my wrists to get to sleep. But I can see the value in it.

The Reassurance of Placebos

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A while back, I posted about how homeopathic remedies are pure distilled water, and a waste of money. However, one reader pointed out that their surgeon had recommended it.

Now, far be it from me to be cynical and point out a possible conflict of interest (companies touting homeopathic remedies pay medically qualified professionals to put in a good word), because it’s possible that there’s something else at play here- the wonderful world of the placebo effect.

Everyone and their aunt knows about the placebo effect. Take an inert substance such as sugar pills or a saline injection, and somehow, you feel better. It will affect the strength of every remedy you take- you get better faster when you know you’ve had your medicine.

Big pills work better than small pills. Coloured pills work better than white ones. Injections work better than pills, and sham surgery is even better. Taking placebos decreases heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and releases chemicals in the brain.

Two separate studies, one on sufferers of migraines and another on IBS, showed that patients self-reported an improvement in symptoms even when fully aware that the pills they were taking were functionless placebos. It should be noted, however, that these self-reported improvements may not actually reflect physiological differences.

On the other side of the coin, we have the nocebo effect- a pill or injection causes harm to a patient, simply because they believe it will. So, if you’re of a pessimistic nature, reading the list of possible side-effects might actually cause you to experience them.

Either way, the capacity of the human brain is absolutely staggering.

In the UK, the prescribing of placebos is seen as irresponsible, as it relies on deception. However, food supplements and complementary therapies rely on this deception to shift stock.

Remember what I said about colours? How many of you have seen food supplements in colour-coded bottles? Red for men’s health, yellow for women’s- it’s all calculated to have the maximum psychological impact. These colour associations also differ from culture to culture.

I know how much we crave that panacea, that one pill that will make us healthy, happy and great in the sack, but the sad truth is it probably isn’t out there. Coconut oil will not fix everything. Acai will not fix everything. Aloe vera will not fix everything.

Maybe, just maybe, we had it within us all along. Maybe we can harness the power of the placebo to do whatever we dream of. Maybe not invisibility or flight, but maybe the strength of mind to forgive someone? The willpower to save a little money for the end of the month? The energy to make lunch the night before work?

It’s worth a try for the little things, I think. Downing a multivitamin pill every morning with a glass of water and a wish- today will be just that little bit better than yesterday.

Weather permitting, of course.