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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 Gatekeepers

I am afraid. So, so afraid. So afraid, in fact, that I nearly sleepwalked into making a terrible and irreversible decision.

I do not want testosterone. I am an individual like anyone else, and I deserve to have my needs and desires respected. I do not need a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to my body. My body, my rules.

And yet the gatekeepers say otherwise.

The following is from the Daventry GIC website:

“At present this service is not commissioned to provide treatment for persons not identifying as male or female, or wishing to present for treatment in intersex states. We would not decline a referral, as assessment and formulation of an individual’s gender disorder may be more complicated than it appears to the referrer or indeed the service user. We may still be able to signpost an individual to another service.”

Daventry GIC have not, in the last five years, referred anyone for top surgery without testosterone. Which is worrying, because that’s where I’ve been referred to. They have said that they would consider it, but that it would depend on the reasons why they would not take testosterone, such as an older patient who could not take it for medical reasons.

There is no known medical reason why I should not take testosterone. There is only my happiness and my bodily autonomy. Why this should matter any less, I am unsure.

The reasons testosterone are inappropriate for me are well-documented here. But I nearly got pushed into taking it by the fear of not getting top surgery. I nearly gave up my body to a foreign substance out of desperation.

The arrogant thought that “the formulation of an individual’s gender disorder may be more complicated than it appears to… the service user” is revolting. I have been in this body for 24 years now and I know it very well indeed. Do not presume to tell me how I am supposed to feel about it.

I am a fighter. Metaphorically and physically. I have faced people who have punched me in the head with everything they had. Black belts with years more experience than I have. And this is way more frightening. The stakes are so much higher.

I have come within a whisker of dislocating my jaw in a fight, and that is nothing compared to the thought of getting turned away from Daventry.

I can argue until I’m blue in the face on this one. For one, does Daventry want to define an “intersex state” for me? Because I’m sure it treats patients who want a vagina *and* a penis all the time. It’s a common enough option for patients seeking metoidoplasty.

It is my legal right not to have to be sterilised against my will. Guys on T usually have hysterectomies within two years- some of those being emergency hysterectomies. I cannot take that risk.

I don’t know why I’m still arguing here. I suppose I want to prove that I can do it, prove the fact I know my mind and my body better than anyone, prove that I deserve that top surgery referral. I have a long time to sit on the waiting list, a long time to sit here still having things on my chest that mean I can’t do karate without having to wear a compression shirt and plastic armour.

And I fear the gatekeepers. Because they hold my life in the palm of their hand and they can destroy me at a whim. I fear them so much.

P.S. My lipoma removal went well. I now have a kickass scar on my spine to lie to my children about.

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.

12 Reasons I Don’t Want Testosterone

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I hate listicles, but I thought that actually, this was the best format for putting this across. I know I don’t have to defend my position, but I think it can be frightening to say “even though I don’t take T, I’m just as trans as anyone else.”

So, here are my reasons.

1.  I don’t want to be hairy

I just don’t. I shave my legs, my pubis, my crack, my armpits and my face on a weekly basis because I cannot abide having body hair. It’s my body and that’s just the way I like it. I do not want to make life even more difficult for myself, start having to shave my bumcheeks or even worse, endure the dreaded stubbly crack. No thanks.

2. I like the way I smell

I’m autistic. Sometimes, when I’m feeling sad, I don’t shower, and wallow in my own smell. It’s safe and familiar. If I take T, I’ll lose that. The smell will change, become overpowering. It’d be upsetting for me.

3. I don’t want to sweat more

Even if I take T, I wouldn’t be able to have top surgery for at least 6 months afterwards (and I don’t want to do that either just yet). So I’d be stuck- binding and sweaty. Yum. I’m also crap at doing my laundry, so I kind of rely on the fact I can wear clothes really quite a lot without them needing a spin in the washing machine. I struggled to adjust to puberty first time around, and I’d struggle again.

4. I like to cry

Crying is my way of dealing with my emotions. I cry a lot. Then I feel better. People who take testosterone report being unable to cry, and I think I’d really struggle without that ability.

5. I don’t want “T dick”

Now, I don’t know if reports of “T dick” are typical macho posturing and exaggeration, but I do know this- I don’t want it. I’m sure there are plenty of guys who are dead chuffed with their little fella, but I’ve never had that desire. When I’ve fantasised about having a dick, it’s always been at 2am on the way home from some nightclub, my bladder threatening to burst. If I can’t piss through it, I don’t want it.

I’ve never looked up pictures because stuff like that squicks me out. My genitals are completely unobtrusive and that’s how I like them. I enjoy packing, and I’m really looking forward to using a strapon for sex. Some guys report pain during sex due to growth, and I really don’t want that.

6. Puberty is bloody traumatic

I hated it the first time, and not just because it gave me features I didn’t want. It was just generally stressful, getting used to new things all the time, and feeling generally ashamed of every last thing (like being a spotty oik) while it was going on. I’m sure it wouldn’t be that bad second time around but it’s a stressor I could do without.

7. It won’t fix me

I’m short. It’s one of the things I hate about myself. As in, crying-as-I-write-this levels of hate. And I regret beyond belief not taking testosterone at 16, back when it might have done me some good. But I will never be tall, or even average. Even among trans guys, I feel like crap because of my height- and it upsets me all the time that I missed the boat on that one. T will never make me feel any better about that.

8. I don’t know who I’m going to be on T

My dad is not someone I like. I am someone I like. It frightens me that T might push me away from being like me, and towards being like my dad.

Hormones do change a person. But I don’t want to change. I think I’m loyal and considerate and creative and all kinds of wonderful things. If I take T, I start fucking with that winning formula.

9. I have a history of disordered eating

Putting fat on my belly could be fucking lethal for me. Loads of people put on weight when they start T, and I 100% do not want to. Being overweight terrifies me. There are so many reasons on this point why going on T could be absolutely disastrous for me.

What if I go the other way? Make use of a higher metabolism to lose weight quickly? Neither outcome ends well for me.

10. I don’t want to lose my hair

A lot of trans guys go bald. My mum’s side of the family are all pretty sparse up top, and I think that would be the ultimate indignity- no dick, 5’4” and a head like the bleeding moon.

11. There is no way of taking T that suits me

I’d rather have gel than shots, because I hate interacting with other people, and that puts it at a minimum. It keeps my levels nice and even. Lovely.

Except, there are all sorts of recommendations like doing at night after a shower, which would completely blow my daily routine (not to mention my sex life) to hell in a handbasket. I don’t want to be fucking someone, and frightened that I’m going to transfer testosterone off my skin. It’s just not sexy.

12. I don’t want to medicalise my life

If I take T, I take it for the rest of my life. It becomes my routine. Blood tests, shots, rinse and repeat. It will never end. I will never get a normal life. Not ever. And I can’t help but feel that every time I try and engage with someone over this, I’m going to be reminded that there are so many amab guys who will never have to suffer this shit.

Faced with that, I’m pretty content that T is not the right decision for me for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t make me any less trans. Hell, I suffered physical dysphoria (the Gold Standard of truscum gatekeeping) just writing this post. I know who I am, and I know how difficult my life is going to be as a result of not taking T. And I’m going to hear the words “when you start transitioning” long after I’m 10 years into the process. But I’m happy that I’m doing the right thing.

King Kong’s Ding Dong

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Like many trans people, my voice is a source of massive anguish for me. I’m hoping to get vocal coaching through the Gender Identity Clinic, but in the meantime, I’ve decided to be proactive about it.

Firstly, I downloaded Voice Pitch Analyser from the Android Play Store. If you’re on iPhone (nerd), there’s an app called Eva which actually has training exercises included in it, and comes in MtF and FtM varieties.

However, Voice Pitch Analyser gave me a passage of text to read and listened to my voice, and turns out I’m kicking about at a range of 173-218 Hz, well within the “female” pitch range. Over time, I can test again and again and VPA will plot a graph of my progress (or otherwise). I love graphs.

So, how am I going to bring my pitch down? Well, it turns out, by repeating the words “king kong bing bong ding dong” three times on a daily basis.

Following this tutorial, http://www.mademan.com/mm/how-deepen-your-voice.html , and using a calendar taped to my door to remind me to practice, I hope to bring the pitch of my voice down. How much I can do this, I’m not sure. But, my plan is to post my results here so that other people know what it is reasonable for them to expect.

Of course I want a “male” sounding voice. But without T, that might not be possible. I hold out hope, however, that it is. For many afab trans people, testosterone is not the answer to their trans niggles, and it’s good to know what we can do in the meantime, or even instead.

Although some people say it’s possible to deepen your voice by exercising it every day, others disagree. Well, I’m going to do everything I can to put the theory to the test. Wish me luck.

Why Disclosure Matters

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I was having tea with my ex recently, and happened to express my biggest fear about my current relationship- that my partner will baulk at telling his parents that I’m trans.

“Does it matter?” my ex asked. “How often are you going to see them, really?”

I asked for clarification.

“Well, if you’re only going to see them once or twice a year, what does it matter how they see you?”

I was staggered. Was he really suggesting non-disclosure, that I undo everything I have fought for these past eight years for the sake of not rocking the boat?

Then I remembered why I have this terror in the first place, but that’s another story.

I could go on about this all day. In fact, I’m going to struggle to keep this post brief.

The most important reason why disclosure is important however, is because it’s the mature and honest thing to do. I am monogamous, and I’m looking for someone to spend the rest of my life with- and I’m not just talking about time.

I’m talking about growing my family. I’m not talking about ditching the previous generation and moving on with the next. My partner’s parents are going to be people we both confide in. They’re going to be free childcare, recipe-bequeathers, the unshakeable foundation of a loving (if not particularly conventional) family.

I am going to love these people- because I know that my partner loves them. And I want them to understand why my partner loves me- I need to be honest with them about who I am.

Being transgender is not shameful, and I don’t want my children growing up thinking I, or my partner, are ashamed of who I am. I want them to be proud of all that they are, just like I am.

I don’t come out to people as a political statement, to challenge their religious and moral beliefs. I come out because I feel comfortable. If a person comes out to you, it’s a sign that they respect and trust you, and you should feel very proud.

In the ideal future that I dream about, I love my family. Not my “in-laws”, my family. Every last one of them. We may differ politically or religiously, but we stick together on the things that really count. And the freedom to be and love whoever you choose is one of the things that counts.

Disclosure matters because without it, I deny my authentic self. It isn’t about my comfort versus the comfort of those around me. It’s about moving forward together towards the future we want the next generation to live in.

How do trans people… y’know?

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Without portraying myself as too much of a pervert, I am utterly fixated on the sex lives of others. I have an almost inexhaustible curiosity for what, exactly they do when nobody is around.

By the same token, I don’t have any interest in pornography. I see zero titillation ensuing from watching two complete strangers frick-frack in whatever delightful way takes their fancy. Because I’m nothing more than coldly, unsexually curious about other people’s sex lives.

So, I 100% understand that cis people’s apparent obsession with trans bodies and trans sex isn’t entirely perverse. A decent chunk of you are just curious as to what goes down when the lights are out.

Me too. See, I’ve been having sex as trans for nearly eight years now. I’d hate to think I was doing it wrong. And it was partly to this end that I attended a safe sex workshop for trans men.

Previously when I’d seen “trans safe sex” workshops advertised, they were all geared towards trans men who have sex with women, with a little bit tagged on the end about making sure to get regular smear tests.

However, this one was great fun- we opened up by trying to get a condom on a dildo we couldn’t see in the quickest time. It took me the longest- which, as two of the attendees had never put a condom on anything before, was particularly shameful. After that, we got to discussing our hopes and fears about sex.

Now, I’m not going to breach confidentiality by discussing anything that was said, but during the discussion a few things became obvious.

Firstly, that talking about sex is important and that those of us who want to have it should feel able to talk about it.

Secondly, nobody but you knows what strap-on you want.

Finally, that there is no one way for trans people to have sex, in the same way that there is no one way for anybody to have sex.

In September of last year I visited the sadly now-closed Institute of Sexology, which was an exhibition that combined history and art to provoke thought on the nature of sex. Particularly moving, I found, was a piece by Neil Bartlett called Would You Mind? This sought to anonymously ask people of all ages and genders about their sex lives, and also ask them what they wanted to know about the sex lives of others.

Nearly 20,000 people completed questionnaires which now comprise part of a collection in the Wellcome Library. I was one of the last, meaning the questionnaire I filled out was entirely comprised of questions submitted by the general public rather than Bartlett.

The snippets I read were amazing. And I couldn’t help but think, on the last day of the exhibition, that it was a shame to see it all go. Because cis or trans, there’s no right way to have sex, and I think we forget that sometimes.

Asking trans people about sex shouldn’t be an interrogation, it should be a discussion, and only if all parties want to talk about. So, the next time someone asks me how I have sex, my response is going to be, “how do you?”