Straight Male Privilege is a Trip

So just first, to get this out of the way: I do not identify as straight. I identify currently as pansexual (that’s a story for another blog entry,) and I am queer, and will always be queer, even if at any one moment (like this one) my romantic attachments are only with people who identify as women. Many trans men do identify as straight – and that’s totally fine – just not my story.

I am now pretty much cis-passing to strangers (and I imagine I don’t set off anyone’s gaydar.) Which means I have had some very interesting experiences. One is that when I am with one woman, even a friend, everyone assumes we’re a straight couple. I was traveling with an old friend recently (we’ve traveled together in the past) and people totally assumed we were a couple. From the AirBnB host, to the restaurant waitperson who gave me the check. Maybe, in the past, people had made that assumption, but I didn’t *feel* it the way I did this time. I also noticed that internally, once I realized people were making that assumption, a sort of invisible wariness that I didn’t realize I was walking around with went away. It’s kind of like a noise you don’t hear until it stops.

That’s how I would describe all of what’s happened to me now that I am walking around in the world, and people assume I’m a straight guy. There is a wariness I didn’t quite realize I was carrying around with me. A weight on my shoulders as it were, that has now just gone away.

And, in the past, unlike most women because I was gender non-conforming, I wasn’t much of an object for male attention or harassment. But I still walked around with a kind of wariness around men. I had an experience last week that was eye opening. I was hanging out in Oakland at Lake Merritt for a little bit before I was meeting someone, and a homeless guy was sitting under a tree, and began to talk to me. I noticed a kind of wariness and caution, then I realized that he totally saw me as a guy. And then the caution just dissolved, and I walked toward him and had a great conversation with him.

But there is much more. I notice that people listen to me when I talk to them. They pay attention a lot more. When I’m on the phone with tech support, they assume I know what I’m talking about (the frustration level with tech support has gone down amazingly.) I get so much more respect from strangers, even as a black man.

But it also does feel weird to be in queer spaces, sometimes. Like if I’m being physically affectionate with a woman in a queer space, I’m really aware of the optics. So I am buying a bunch of trans t-shirts.

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A New Kind of Pride

It’s Pride month. That annual festival of queer celebration.

My first Pride march was in 1985. I went down to Columbus, OH (Cleveland, where I lived at the time, didn’t have a Pride march yet.) I was 25 years old, freshly minted lesbian, marching with like 200 other people, with about that many counter protesters with hateful signs and more hateful looks on their faces.

When I lived in Western Massachusetts, Pride came early  – because of the students, the Pride march was in May. I rarely went. In 2000, I was traveling to San Francisco with my partner at the time, for a conference she was attending, and we went to the Dyke March, and the pride parade the next day, and it felt really special.

Since I moved to the queer equivalent of Mecca, Pride has seemed both a bigger deal, and a smaller one. There’s lots going on for Pride month here, concerts, film festivals, all sorts of events. And I’ve dipped in and out (much less since I’ve lived up in Sonoma County.) I’ve been to the Dyke March and the Pride Parade a few times, but not lately. It seemed like pride was kinda “old hat.” (Besides the fact that it has become increasingly commercial.)

This year, I’m going to Santa Rosa Pride (today!), and also traveling down to SF for the Trans March later in the month. It feels like a new moment in my life. I was always proud to be queer. And I’m still proud to be queer. And now I’m also proud to be trans.

Happy Pride!

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Paying Attention

I’m beginning to feel more back to my normal self, after almost 6 weeks of recovery from surgery. It’s nice to feel like not 100% of my energy is required for the basics: working, healing, and required life things. I have some spare energy now, to think about the future, and enjoy life.

I wasn’t really sure I would totally pass as male after surgery, but it appears that I do. I’ve met several people who had no idea I was trans (until they were told.) I get ‘sir’ exclusively now, and on the phone, when I still have to use my legal name, people are confused. I get no weird looks going into the men’s restroom (I used to sometimes get weird looks in the women’s restroom before surgery, so I guess that was an indication of what was to come.)

And so now, as visibly male to pretty much everyone, things are changing.  They were already changing a bit online, on Twitter, in particular.

I tweeted this in response to a friend:

 


Then I tweeted this:

 


I realized that if someone didn’t know I’d been a lesbian, it might be interpreted differently than I’d intended.

That’s what I mean about paying attention. I spent 39 years walking around the world as a female-bodied female identified adult. Gender non-conforming, yes, but the ways in which I related to other humans was as a woman. Relating to other humans as a man is different. And I’m also aware that testosterone has had an effect on my emotional responses – I don’t react or act exactly the same way as I used to.

So I’m working on paying attention. It’s a good thing that has been an important practice for me for the last 30 years!

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Being Part of an Avalanche of Love

I have a confession to make: I don’t think this country is going to survive the next several years intact.

But I have decided to put that feeling on hold – to pretend I don’t believe it. I’m going to pretend that a difference can be made – that we can manage to emerge from this dark time a country that puts people, not money and power, first. A country that actually takes care of each other, and the planet. And perhaps, I am mistaken, and that can happen.

In the (now many fewer, I’ve tired of it) online arguments with right-wing people that I’ve had, I actually enjoy being called a snowflake. Because of course, individual snowflakes easily melt. But when snowflakes come together, they are quite powerful.

I’m spending 2018 focused on democracy. I feel like this moment calls me to that particular path. I know it calls others to other paths, and I as I’ve said before, I think we need to do all of the things, and not have arguments about what the right strategy is – just do anything we each are called to do.

I’m going to adopt a few candidates, a couple in CA, and a couple elsewhere, who are challenging GOP candidates in districts that are (at least vaguely) winnable. I’ll find out ways I can support those candidates (financially and otherwise.)  I’m going to also do what I can around getting the vote out, and combating voter suppression. I created a Facebook Group to gather other folks interested in that effort.

It’s true, avalanches are destructive.  But we need that right now. We need to destroy a culture that ignores children killed while they attend school. We need to destroy a culture that ignores unarmed men and women killed by police. We need to destroy a culture that privileges billionaires over people who have little. We need to destroy a culture that is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. These things need destroying.

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Healing

One week ago today, I stood in front of my plastic surgeon as she drew on my chest. I felt like she was performing her art on me, which, I guess, she was. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, groggy and out of it, looking out of the window on the unfamiliar hills of Richmond, CA, where my surgery was performed.

Ultimately, our transitions are about our bodies, whether or not we actively do anything to change them (although most trans people do something.) Our bodies in some way don’t fit us. This manifests in many different ways for different people. For me, one thing I felt strongly (since they appeared in my life in my late teens) was that my breasts didn’t really belong to me. And now, finally, I’ve let them go.

For most people, that might seem unimaginable – that a part of your body doesn’t feel like it’s yours. But it’s the reality of most trans people. Why that happens and where that comes from is still a bit of a scientific mystery, although it’s being slowly explained over time. But it has been the lived reality of my life for a very long time.

During the groggy drive home with the dear friend who stayed with me for a week, and for the last seven days of pain, discomfort, and, frankly, suffering, in the Buddhist sense, I’ve been in a healing process – but not just from the surgery itself. This whole transition process for me has been part of a much bigger, much broader arc of healing.

It was a part of the package I didn’t expect – the surprise, really, that deeply embedded in this process of transition was a surprising healing of my own inner and outer life – a mending of wounds and sloughing off of scar tissue.

What remains is still tender, like the scars on my chest will be for months. But I’m beginning to see the larger picture, and it looks more whole than I expected.

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Becoming a Man in the #MeToo Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a man. I mean of course I have, but more deeply than just this transition process.

In my adult life, I have been spared from sexual harassment. I think that’s largely because I have been gender non-conforming, and thus not an object of male attention. But I do fully know and understand the effect it has on women’s lives and livelihoods.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of man I want to become. Not just what kind of man I will be, but what kind of man I want to be. I think that it’s probably always been important to be conscious about male privilege, and how walking around in the world as a man is different. But now, it seems mandatory.

I already have witnessed a few trans men take on some of the more unpleasant aspects of male behavior (luckily, it seems rare.) I think it’s that for many of us, we see what society demands of men, and given that we want to fit in as men, we take on some of the same behavior as men.

I have said many times in the weeks and months after starting testosterone, that if you’d asked me what percentage of male behavior and psychology is conditioned by family and society, I would have said 95%. Now, after having experienced first-hand what testosterone does, I’d drop it down to 45%.

But I think what’s important about that is not to say “boys will be boys.”  I think that human beings have all sorts of inclinations and impulses no matter what our gender is, and we are taught how not to act out of them. Boys and men could be taught how not to act out of those testosterone-fueled impulses that I have now experienced first-hand. (In fact, plenty of men know quite well how not to act out of them, so it’s not that hard.)

One of the things I am acutely aware of is that for many women who don’t know me, there is a way that I will no longer feel safe. (Of course, as a black woman, there are ways I wasn’t considered safe, but let’s put that aside for a moment.) In fact, I’ve already experienced (on Twitter, primarily) how I am treated differently by women who don’t know who I am because I have a male name. Even though (I think) I’m saying pretty much what I would have said before. And so now, that makes me think twice, or three times, about what I say.

 

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What’s Coming in 2018

I was pondering what to write for a New Year’s post. I don’t generally do a post for New Year’s, but somehow it seemed a good idea for this year. For one, it’s a big year for me. Two, I think it’s a big year for all of us – at least potentially.

I think I have one major intention I have for the year – and that is simply (simple, but not easy) to be present and open for the wide variety of things I know are going to happen this year. A lot of things are settling and changing in my life, and I’m meeting a lot of new people, and making new friends. The littler intentions are:

  • Get more involved in local community activism.
  • Write more (fiction, essays.)
  • Learn lots of stuff (I’m currently focused on data science and machine learning.)
  • Take care of my body and heart.

I also think that this is, for this country, a make or break year. This is the year we either break the grip of this authoritarian-capitalist cabal, or the country enters into a death-spiral.

Frankly, I’m not so worried about California, New York, and the 1/2 dozen other progressive coastal states with vibrant economies that don’t actually need the rest of the country. I’m sure that the local pressure for things like single-payer health care, educational investment, renewable energy, livable wage, affordable housing, etc. will continue and in fact increase in those states in the face of a country going in the other direction. If things get way much worse, we can always just leave. (Yes, that’s complicated, but it’s not impossible.)

But I am worried about the millions of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQIIA folks, disabled, and poor and working-class people in the states that don’t have such vibrant economies, and are held in a headlock by the right. (And those DO correlate.)

Next year, like every year, I’m going to vote. But my vote is going to have zero effect – I live in a super-deep blue county in a super-deep blue state. I already have a representative I can really respect, and one Senator I really like (the other one I often have trouble with, but not since last year.) My state reps are, on the whole, great people. So I’m going to give time and $ to whoever is challenging the two geographically closest GOP congressional representatives whose districts either are mixed or lean Democratic: Jeff Denham (10th district) and David Valadeo (21st district.)

And I’m going to keep doing what makes sense to me to do, which is what I think we all need to do. No judgement on who is doing it “right.” No holier than thou. No purity tests. No “my strategy is better than your strategy.” Let’s just do all of the things, and keep bending the arc of history toward justice.

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New Year, New Voice, New Name, New Life

So it’s 2018. It’s a big year for me. It’s the year I will emerge visually as a man. I’m having top surgery on February 6th. I’ve been on Testosterone now for 4 months, and my voice, as well as other things, have really changed:

I’ve pretty much completed the coming out and name change process. It’s interesting getting used to people calling me “Max.” I like it – and it’s also a little strange.

My legal name change process will soon be underway – I’m submitting the paperwork to the county next week, and 45 days later, I’ll have a court order with my new name and gender marker. I’ll also be submitting a change to the NY state for a modification of my birth certificate. Then starts the fascinating cascade of administrivia. Social Security, banks, credit cards, driver’s license, passport, etc. etc.

So there’s a lot of practical things to think about and do. And I’m still wanting to hold this time as sacred – to hold this big change in my life and body, and this big change in the way I will live in the world.

I’m wanting to be conscious about how I am living into this person called “Max.” Who is this man I am becoming, and what is he like? It’s so interesting to get to do this consciously – of course, I did it once before, but it was without experience, without self-knowledge, or really knowledge of the world.  But I still have so much to learn.

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Spiritual and Emotional Work

Ever since I was in my mid-20s, I have been committed to growth and consciousness/awareness. Perhaps it’s been life-long, but it’s at least been conscious since that time. Part of it is just what I’m made of, and part of it is that I could see, in the small bits I had begun to do at that time, that my life was materially better and happier for it.

And, in many ways, my transition is a direct outgrowth of this commitment.

There are some things that have surprised me about this process, and one of them is that the nature of emotional, spiritual and psychological work I will do is shifting.

One example: people say a lot that testosterone increases one’s access to anger and aggressiveness. In my life, I have had very, very little access to anger – mostly because expressing anger wasn’t OK growing up. In fact, a lot of my emotional work over the past few years was increasing my willingness to experience and express anger.

But after several small incidents, and one incredibly frustrating experience with a customer service representative last week, where I literally yelled at her (if you know me, you realize how unusual that is) I realize that this is not going to be my issue anymore. My issue is going to be how to control the expression of my anger.

Another example – I generally used to be able to depend on my ability to read other people’s emotions, but it seems that ability is changing. I seem to be less able to do that. There is actually scientific evidence for this. So my work moves into working to be more conscious, and asking when I don’t know.

It’s all good, but it’s really interesting to me to watch how this is changing for me.

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Max and Michelle

Seven years ago, I wrote this short piece in a writing workshop. (Originally, the name in the piece was “Michael” but I’ve changed it to “Max” as that is my chosen name.)

“Maxwell stays like a wish”

Max is always there, my best buddy in the world, friend to the end of the earth. He’s a part of me. The tall, strong man, gentle and kind. I can almost imagine us sitting in a booth at the diner, he chooses Depeche Mode, or maybe The Clash to listen to on the juke box (if they have it. Otherwise, the Rolling Stones.) He’ll order steak, or maybe just a burger, since it’s a diner, after all. I’ll just have the salad, not because I want it, but because it seems the right thing to do. He’ll be happy with the burger slopped with lots of cheese, and grilled onions, of course. We talk about life, about my parents, about women. We talk a lot about women.

I can almost imagine calling him up, talking about that woman I just met. He’ll always have something stable and wise to say, in the place where I’m all a fluttery and nervous about the whole thing. He knows me, deeply. As deeply as I can know myself.

He’s the one who buys the iPhone games, of course. Especially the ones with the orcs or catapults or cars to race around. He takes over while we’re in the BART, steering the car while my ears pop from the tunnel. He was the one that bought the big-ass TV, and I was the one who sold it a year later. But he didn’t mind. He’s the programmer, the one who can sit for hours on end looking deeply at code, seeing patterns emerge and putting them to work. I’m the one who is always putting up with clients, that is, until I get so annoyed I let him take over.

He’s always there, he stays like a wish.

I have been talking to a new friend about this conversation and relationship (between Michelle and Max) and he asked me how this conversation/relationship would look like now. So I thought I’d spend a little bit of time exploring it here. The narrator above, and below, is Michelle.

Max has taken over the role of our public face, which feels good to me. It never really fit me, that public face, that embodied living in the world. I’m all etheric and air, heart and spirit. Max is solid body – grounded in space and time, problem-solver, thing-mover, work-doer. He’s more than that, of course, and I’m more than ether, but that comparison seems to fit right now.

Sometimes I’ll peek out, see the world a bit through his eyes, the way he’s been doing that through mine for years. It looks differently, of course. Things that seemed obvious to me are a little more mysterious, and things that were mysterious (especially men and their ways) are much more obvious.  Sometimes I’m the one who has to feed him the emotional words he needs, and then he’ll remind me that he has some of those words, too, but it just takes him longer.

He’s so happy living in code these days, and I’m happy sitting “inside,” contemplating life and what it means to be human.

We make a good pair – complementary qualities and skills – together we get to be a heart-full, embodied, conscious person-becoming-man, but it took our rearrangement to make that happen fully. We’re both happy now, when we used to both be unsettled and at times unhappy with our old arrangement. Of course, Max wishes we’d been born with a male body, but then I have the sense that if we had been, this deep integration between us might never have happened, given the way our society is.

He still wants steak, I still want salad. We have both.

 

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