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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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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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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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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I’m Coming Out

Right now, I’m playing the hit Diana Ross sang in the 1980’s (written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers) “I’m Coming Out.” It has been such an anthem in my life, as in the lives of many queer people. I can’t even count how many gay bars, marches, or events I’ve heard this song played at, or have danced to.

There’s a new me coming out
And I just had to live
And I wanna give
I’m completely positive
I think this time around
I am gonna do it
Like you never knew it
Ooh, I’ll make it through

Seems appropriate for this announcement. This has been brewing for about a year.

The image connected to this blog post is a hint, but I’ll lay it out. After living as an adult woman for 40 years, I’m transitioning to live as a man for the rest of it. The reasons for this decision are complex – I don’t have the standard narrative that “I’m a man born in the wrong body.” I actually identify as bi-gender – that is, I feel that both genders exist within me. That said, I’ve lived with gender dysphoria since puberty. I’ve spent many, many years working to love my body as it is. From therapy, to meditation practice, to embodied modalities such as Authentic Movement, all of which I deeply value and have made my life so much better. But they didn’t actually allow me the sense of being fully embodied and fully accepting of my body as it is.

What I came to was a full acceptance of the dysphoria, which is what led me to realize that the right avenue for me was to actually change my body and how I live my life. And, amazingly to me, once I made that decision, the embodiment I had sought for so long came to fruition. (To read in more detail about this process, and to keep up specifically on my transition process, you can read more at my other blog here.)

I’m legally changing my name to Maxwell next year. I’m having top surgery in early February.

In any big change, there are losses and gains, and I’m working to accept all of them with equanimity. One loss is one of community: I have been a part of the lesbian community for more than 30 years, and it feels weird to say “I’m not a lesbian anymore.” But it’s true – as I’m basically identifying as a man, I don’t get to be a lesbian anymore. I’ll miss that community, although I also have gotten to become a part of an amazing, loving, supportive community of trans-masculine folks, some of whom live right here in Sonoma County.

Life is quite the journey, and although there were many, many signs from very early on, I didn’t quite see this coming, so if you’re surprised, I get it. There’s more news, as well, and you can watch this video Ruth and I made for the Conscious Girlfriend Community.

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Ch. Ch. Ch. Changes

I’ve been on T (Testosterone) now for just over 4 weeks, next week will be a month. Some people have asked me if I’ve noticed changes, and there are only a few, at the moment.

One thing I’ve learned from reading and talking to people is that the changes you experience have a lot of individual variation. Some changes happen more quickly for some people than others.

I’ve definitely gotten smellier, and I can already detect changes in my personal scent. I expected that, but I didn’t expect it to seem weird – like I can’t quite recognize myself. (I hear I’ll get used to it.)

My libido is radically increased. Also expected, but surprising in its intensity. I didn’t have a super-high libido before T, so another expected but kinda weird change.

My voice hasn’t changed a lot, but it feels different. It feels more gravely, and I definitely can’t really sing right now (not that I want or need to, but I’m noticing that.) You can judge for yourself. Here’s September 5th

And here’s this week:

I do have some fatigue, but it comes and goes. My appetite hasn’t seemed to change much, which is a little surprising, as it is supposed to.

I do feel very subtly more emotionally stable, and kinda more monochromatic , but given that it’s only been a month, I’m not super sure it’s the T – it could be the effects of having made the choice to transition, a choice which feels so solidly right.

A big effect which I’m betting has more to do with the choice than T, but I can’t be sure, is that my mind is a lot quieter than it used to be. It’s hard to explain, except if you’ve been in a room with a refrigerator, and it goes off, you notice the lack of sound. You  might not be able to describe what the sound was like before, but you know it’s quieter. It’s like that. And I think it’s something I’m noticing really because of my years of Buddhist practice – I’m not sure I’d notice it otherwise.

Anyway, I’ll periodically update you on how things change over time.

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Always Queer

Some transmen love other men, and some love women. Having been attracted to, and loved women my whole life, I can’t quite imagine testosterone changing that, although I guess it’s vaguely possible.

Anyway, what that means is that  the external world will see me, when I’m out with a woman, as a straight man. And in fact, many transmen consider themselves straight.

But I can’t do it. I can’t for the life of me call myself straight. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve lived my life in queer spaces and places for too long to do that. I don’t want to take anything away from transmen who feel that way – if they feel straight, more power to them. I just can’t embrace it.

And, that said, I also know that I will inherit heterosexual privilege at the same time as I’m gaining male privilege. But, as I eventually intend to be as out about being trans as I am now about being queer, those privileges are pretty tenuous. (And male privilege for black men is tenuous  in it’s own way.)

One of the things I’m very aware of is a loss of community with queer women. But thankfully, I’m gaining a new community in the process, which is making me happy.

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