Periareolar or Keyhole Top Surgery Sensation Survey

This survey is only for people who got the periareolar or keyhole top surgery procedures.  See the separate poll below for those who got the double-mastectomy procedure. Folks who got top surgery years ago are especially encouraged to respond. If you got surgery a week ago, you are encouraged to wait and respond later. Please answer all poll questions.

If you had been able to know your post-op results pre-op, would you have done anything differently? (Answer by leaving a comment below).

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Double-Mastectomy Top Surgery Sensation Survey

This survey is only for people who got the double-mastectomy top surgery procedure.  See the separate poll above for those who got the keyhole or periareolar procedure. Folks who got top surgery years ago are especially encouraged to respond. If you got surgery a week ago, you are encouraged to wait and respond later. Please answer all poll questions.

If you had been able to know your post-op results pre-op, would you have done anything differently? (Answer by leaving a comment below).

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Top Surgery Sensation Worries

And just after bidding you all adieu, I’m back to share some of my thoughts and apprehensions about why I want top surgery, despite having a small chest, and why I am now having second thoughts, due to worries about sensation.

First of all, I don’t “hate” my chest and it isn’t a major bother to me. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s extremely small. In my teenage years, when I was trying to be a girl, try as I might, I could never fill up a AA cup. And since I’ve been on T, they’ve hardened, shrunk, and become proportionately insignificant as my chest muscles have broadened and grown more defined. They almost look like fatty pecs. But not really. Especially since I’m pretty skinny and not the type who would have fatty pecs. But they’re not a bother. It’s very easy and not uncomfortable for me to bind. But, on the other hand, it isn’t comfortable either, especially during the summer, when I’d much rather feel the breeze under my shirt.

Despite my small chest, I rarely allow myself to be seen unbound. I know some guys with small chests just wear a loose shirt and don’t mind that others may notice a not-entirely-flat male chest. But I really really would not want that to happen. I make an exception to swim, wearing only a tank top with nothing underneath. I feel self-conscious, especially when it’s wet, but if it’s only my friends around, I can shrug it off and enjoy the beach. As soon as I get to the privacy of my home, however, I take off my binder and enjoy lounging without it. It feels so comfortable to have nothing between your body and a t-shirt. This is when I think that I would love to feel this sensation all the time – just walk straight out of the apartment feeling it – but at the same time have the flat chest that matches how I want to be seen. That would be really really great.

Because, after all, I would prefer to have a flat chest and never bind again. This seems obvious to me. And since I’m a good candidate for the periareolar procedure, I have a good chance of regaining sensation and having almost invisible scarring. So, I planned to get top surgery once I could save enough for it – which would definitely take more than a year. Knowing that I had time plenty of time to do my research, process, and come to terms with the idea allowed me to confidently assume I would have top surgery without worrying too much about the details.

None of the gay men I’ve had sex with have minded my chest (they knew I was trans, of course, so other gay men who would not have agreed to sex with a trans men may well have minded). In fact, all of them have wanted to play with my nipples, which was great by me, as that feels good. While having sex, I don’t feel like a breasted person with them, just one with very sensitive nipples. But as soon as it’s over, I feel self conscious again and hasten to cover my chest.

I love my torso after being on T for 2.5 years. When I look at it in the mirror (practicing a certain overlooking), I see a svelte male torso. When I cover my extra chest tissue with my hands, or pull it down a bit, though, I think I can see the true, beautiful shape of my chest. I admire it, and think of how I would love to be able to show it to the world instead of hiding it in embarrassment and discomfort. I’d love to just go out during the summer wearing a form-fitting A-shirt, or a low-V neck shirt, or a loose, airy tank top with large arm holes. I can’t wear any of these things now, because they would expose my binder, which I keep carefully hidden.

I avoid locker rooms, saunas, and public pools. I also don’t get acupuncture, and it can be nerve-wracking to try to get a massage without having my chest be noticed. But I would love to join a gym, get acupuncture, and go to a sauna in the winter. I have nightmares sometimes that I have to change in front of someone, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it without showing them my chest.

None of this is unbearable. But I’ve made it insignificant by thinking of it as temporary. Once I have top surgery, I would think, I will do everything without worrying, and I will enjoy the comfort of never binding again.

I can easily imagine continuing this for a while, for a year, for years even. But if I think about binding, worrying about situations in which others might notice my chest, and avoiding certain healthy and pleasurable activities for my entire life, I think “no way.” That would be, if not intolerable, then at least a total drag.

So I’ve assumed I would get top surgery. Then, someone told me that my new health insurance might cover top surgery if I saw a therapist for three months. I was pleased, but it took a while to find a free therapist and book my first appointment. I went just recently, which meant that it would be impractical, with my travel plans, to get top surgery by the time the three month surgery period elapsed. So I hoped to do it in January of next year.

During my first appointment, my therapist suggested that I speak to my insurance directly to find out the requirements regarding therapy as a qualification for top surgery. When I finally gathered the required information and spoke to a representative, I was astonished to hear that there was no three-month period required, all I needed was letters from a therapist and a doctor, and there should be no problem with insurance coverage. At this point, I was thrilled! What a windfall!! How lucky was I to have one of the very few health insurance plans that would cover top surgery! And they were barely making me jump through any hoops at all! This meant that I could gather the necessary letters and potentially have surgery as soon as May! For a full two weeks, I was flying high indeed.

But, as the potential surgery date draws near and plans become more concrete, I’ve started reading everything I can find about the procedure and healing process as well as looking at pictures of results. And there are a few things I’m beginning to feel ambivalent about.

With peri, I have a good chance of getting most of the sensation back in my chest post-surgery, if not erotic sensation in the nipples. I would definitely miss having erotic sensation in the nipples, but overall, I think it would be worth it for the other lifestyle changes it would make possible. This is something I’ve known I would likely have to give up. I’m starting to think about the fact that there’s going to be a period of time during which my chest is entirely numb. I imagine this would be weird as hell, and kind of alienating for someone who was not alienated from his chest in the first place. From talking to other trans guys, I’ve learned that, as sensation comes back, there may be tingling, nerve pain, burning, or hyper-sensitivity in certain areas. This might happen on and off for years. So it seems that what I imagined as the “comfort” of not binding is actually going to feel more like a mixture of numbness and shooting, burning, tingling sensations for quite a while, perhaps years. This is not what I had imagined. And even if, at the end of several years, I am fortunate enough to have “full” sensation, rather than patches of it along with patches of numbness, I’ve heard from a couple of guys who had my procedure, that there’s actually often a distinction between being able to fell pressure – like a hard touch or pushing – and being able to feel surface sensation – like the brush of a hand or a light touch. So the soft T-shirt brushing against my chest in the breeze is actually something I may never feel. Oh, and my surgical results could be less than aesthetically pleasing.

And of course, there are the worst-case scenarios – that I would have patchy sensation in my chest, no sensation in my nipples, or lose my nipple stalks. I would be very disappointed if any of these things happened.

However, I’m feeling lucky. I’m healthy, have good skin, a nicely shaped torso, not large nipples, and little extra tissue. Chances are good that none of the worst case scenarios would happen to me (though I probably really need to spend some time coming to term with how I would feel if they did happen). Nevertheless, if I couldn’t feel light touch or a breeze on my skin, which seems like a more likely outcome, I would also be disappointed. As I would in the interim period of maybe years while normal sensation gradually returned. I want surgery to help me feel more whole, not more fragmented. I want to enjoy the feelings of an unbound flat male chest even more than I want to enjoy its appearance.

But appearance is what’s stressed by both surgeons and most trans men in internet information and discussions about surgical results. It’s true that many and perhaps even most people who get top surgery want to be rid of their breasts so badly, that they’d rather have a totally numb chest than breasts. But I’m sure that this doesn’t describe everybody. And I’m sure that for most people, regaining sensation and, therefore, a felt sense of the wholeness and the new contours of their chest, is a significant part of the healing process. So why do so few people who post about top surgery mention sensation. Even most trans bloggers report in detail about surgery and the post-op recovery process while failing to mention the degree of the return of sensation, especially in terms of year and 2-year updates. In addition, there is a total lack of substantive statistics on sensation post-op. No statistics on what percentage lose their nipples after surgery, on what percentage loses erotic sensation, on what percentage loses all sensation, on what percentage has chronic nerve pain. One is left to hope that it is minimal and that one on the majority lucky side.

I wish there was a more open dialogue about this online and that surgeons recognized this as a legitimate and important issue for clients. I’m going to post a set of questions folks can answer on sensation post-top surgery in a moment.

What I immediately need to do, though, is revise my post-surgery vision and decide if it still is something worth doing.

To break it down, here is why I want top surgery, in order of importance:

1. The comfort of not having to bind.

2. The beautiful chest that I imagine would be mine! Being able to show it off shirtless or in summery tanks.

3. Having access to certain activities, treatments, and locations I currently avoid.

If the “comfort” of not binding is, in reality, a mix of tingling and numbness, do my reasons for getting surgery still outweigh this?

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This Blog Becomes an Archive

I’ve arrived at a place in my life where my transness is no longer a problem. In that sense, I consider my transition complete, though my body is still slowly changing, I still have to tell my brother, and I am planning top surgery for this summer. Unlike when I began this blog, I do not spend a lot of mental energy thinking about being trans. When I began this blog, writing was a form of therapy, a way to find community, and the only way I knew to figure out who I was or how I should proceed. Now I no longer feel the need to write, though I continue to experience subtle shifts and movements in how I experience my body, my gender, and my sexuality. This is, no doubt, a good thing, and should fill you, my trans readers, with hope. Transitioning has not cost me family, and, in fact, I think that being truthful about who I am will allow me to be more intimate with both sides of my extended family. I am still not allowed in my mother’s house (due to her husband), but I welcome the way in which this prohibition renders concrete the subjective distance between them and I. My Pops and I are closer than ever, and, for the first time, I am beginning to understand some of her objections to trans politics. She is helping me think the emergence of contemporary North American trans and genderqueer politics within a broader historical and political frame – a project which I think is critical and necessary.

I live in a new city now, where I have many trans and genderqueer friends. Surprisingly, I still experience recognition and solidarity from certain older academic butches. I’ve been enjoying my regular gay cis male casual sex partners, and I have a long-distance trans fag lover as well. At my new faculty position, my transness is an open secret. Some are in the know, others aren’t, and others may suspect, and these levels of understanding calibrate my rapport with different colleagues and students. This is exactly as I like it.

When I think about the fact that I once looked different than I do now, that people once thought me to be female, that once I was a “boi” in my imagination only, and that this affected my entire relationship with my social world, it is hard to believe. I wonder who I would have been if I had somehow decided to remain a boi called “she.” Or if I had somehow managed to convey that I preferred to be called “he” but that all pronouns were fine and really meant it. I don’t think these alternative futures would have been impossible. But something would have had to be different – my commitment to feminism, or to inhabiting a genderqueer space, or to being beautifully androgynous. Undoubtedly, I took what, for me, was the easiest path. Sometimes, when I stop to think about it, I feel the loss of those other paths. But on an everyday basis, what I experience is the satisfaction of an appropriate embodiment, of a form that conveys the particular mix of independence, aggressiveness, and determination, on the one hand, and sweetness, faggy receptivity, and fabulousness, on the other, that make up who I am. Certainly, before, I embodied iconoclasm and a sense of alternatively gendered possibility, and I miss that, but I wouldn’t want to give up the seriousness and authority that my current form lends me. If it were possible to inhabit a genuine third-gender space – one which was not a version of female – I would take it up in a heartbeat. For, now that I am a man, I no longer idealize men, even gay men, or masculinity. Maleness and masculinity have done a lot of damage in the world, and I feel almost as alienated from them as I did before from femaleness and femininity. I find binary gender to be a sick and soul-destroying construction. It is inconceivable that I should be a woman, but it is disappointing that instead, I must be a man. And yet, I don’t want to go off T, don’t want to go unbound, don’t want to wear women’s clothes or do the other things that genderqueer folks do to mark their distance from men. We all have limits to what we can and cannot express with our bodies, not always out of fear, but out of our dispositions and corporeal schemas. At any rate, I feel sexy and stylish and at ease with how I move through the world.

Certain men – trans and non-trans – give me hope. They make me hope that I can give an entirely different meaning to what it is to inhabit a male body, of what this might mean in terms of my relation to others, my relation to women, my relation to my body, and my relation to knowledge. They make me remember that, in my youth, it was not only butches that gave me hope and made me feel that liberation was possible, it was also a certain type of gay man – feminist, compassionate, and passionately engaging. I still feel like I could be something beautiful.

Certainly, I do like my body – lean and elegant, with a hint of virile sinews and veins and just the right shape. I feel that this is a hot body to offer to my lovers and an attractive body to display at the gay bar. Of course, it doesn’t please those who prefer whiteness and gym-bodied or straight-acting masculinity (surely the majority), but I have no problem disagreeing with their tastes.

At this point, this blog becomes an archive. I will no longer post about my transition, and I am closing the comment sections on my posts. But, for now at least, I am leaving this blog up for folks just going through their transitions to find and to read. I hope readers see my silence as proof that, for some at least, a kind of gendered peace can be found, despite continuing transformations and a persistent sense of being in-between genders. Simply put, the pressing and interesting questions in my life no longer have to do with my gender…

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Rebecoming Androgynous

As those of you who have been following this blog know, I have been feeling ambivalent in recent months about looking, almost two years into my physical transition, more dudely than androgynous, and about not becoming the effeminate fag I expected to be. Several times, I have felt a sort of gender alienation upon looking in the mirror or looking at recent photos of myself – not because I looked female, but because I looked so unambiguously male. While this was far milder than the gender dysphoria I experienced before transition, I have to admit that it was in the same category of experience: I did not feel that my appearance accurately reflected my gender. Even stranger, several times, upon looking at the pre-physical transition pictures that, before, made me feel depressed and gender dysphoric I not only did not feel gender dysphoric; I actually felt nostalgic and a bit mournful. That beautiful, slender boy no longer looks female to me, he just looks like a perfect me. Perfect, that is, but for the fact that others fail to consider him male. In moments of honest introspection, I have wondered if what I really ought to do, in order to be true to my gender and to the embodiment and appearance, is just to go off T entirely before I change any further. If I could stop now, I thought, with my masculinized facial structure and baritone voice, and allow my body to return to its non-testosterone form, I might reach the perfect and ideal me – androgynous, slight, pretty, yet unquestionably male.

And yet, every time I considered this, I also concluded that, realistically, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I am not willing to sacrifice my functionality, emotional well-being, and sanity to severe PMS for one week out of each month.

As you know, I have been playing with my dosage for a while now, trying to keep it as low as possible, to find that magical balance point at which I would hold steady without transitioning any further. For me, this balance point does not exist. Even when I lower my dose to where my PMS becomes pretty bad, I have moderate menstrual bleeding, and my upper-body muscle mass and neck thickness go down noticeably, my facial shape, skin, voice, and body hair continue to masculinize. I’ve discovered that different gendered physical features are differently sensitive to T. At a middle-low dose, some continue to transition, and some go backward, but none remain the same. There is thus no dose that will keep my periods and PMS mild while stopping my physical transition.

Just as I was feeling caught in this dilemma, I came across another inspiration for my particular transition path – Jang Geun Suk – the Korean celebrity and “flower boy”. I won’t go into the details of my obsession or of his gender here, but let’s just say that he incarnates a new ideal of East Asian rebellious young male beauty as girlish prettiness in a culture in which this sort of prettiness – which, in his case, includes long, flowing, curling tresses, transparent scarves, ladies-inspired jewelry and tailoring, “cute” behavior, and a languid, graceful body language – is not automatically equated with homosexuality. He is, in fact, far prettier and girlier than I would ever want to be myself. But he offers me a fresh sense of what a man could be, of how I could embody androgyny, even with a body that reads unquestionably as male not by manipulating my hormones, but by expanding my gendered style, experimenting with accessories, and growing out my hair. The point is not to remain forever in an early stage of physical transition in order to appear physically between male and female but to embody male androgyny through style. What’s sexy about Geun Suk is precisely how his male physical characteristics – his Adam’s apple, veined hands, and manly bass voice – contrast with his pretty-as-a-girl appearance and clothing. And, though he can act girlishly cute, he certainly doesn’t prance around like a fairy. But whether he’s wearing his high-glam femininity over cute androgyny or cocky manliness, he still presents an alluring, and interestingly queer, gender. I find him to be, frankly, the most beautiful male I’ve ever seen in my life. I could look at pictures of him all day long, day after day. I also find him incredibly hot and can imagine perfectly the grateful and slightly pained expression he would cast over his shoulder at me as I entered him from behind…

This is all very reassuring to me. I have been disconcerted to discover that I am not the prancing fairy I thought that I would be as a man and have had trouble coming to terms with the fact that my gender expression hovers between manly and gently faggy. I am manly, I’ve discovered, when I’m grumpy, tired, determined, or simply serious, which is often enough. This was made worse by the fact that, during my transition, like most other trans guys, I did my best to look male by getting a super short haircut and wearing chunky glasses and typical male attire. I knew that butching it up was not me, but I’ve had a bit of trouble fully letting go of the butch act, even now that I pass. This is in part because I’ve been afraid of anything that might somehow bring out some remaining “female” line in my face or body. While this is an understandable fear in a trans man, I’ve finally realized that it’s quite irrational. Short of wearing women’s clothes and women’s style make-up, there is nothing I can do (unbinding is out of the question) to make people think that I might be a woman. The other reason is more mundane and almost embarrassing. Like most males, I am afraid of looking like a fool or drawing too much attention to myself by looking too feminine. How could I be so typical? For so long, my visible gender transgressions have been a source of pride and uniqueness for me. But now that I appear male, I have been ridiculously fearful and somewhat ashamed of anything that could read as “feminine”. But if I think back on it, it was terrifying at first to express masculinity as someone who was supposed to be female. I felt ashamed and afraid of getting in trouble the first time I bought men’s underwear or shopped in the men’s section of a department store, and flustered when I was unintentionally sirred. It took me making a concerted effort to see my masculinity as cool and rebellious and to decide that I didn’t care what small-minded people thought to gradually embrace and feel at home with my masculinity and maleness. I no longer have to fear being read as a woman. And it isn’t as if I’m a femme-phobe who thinks that feminine men look silly and ridiculous – I think Geun Suk is the male ideal. So with the inspiration of Geun Suk, it is time that I challenge myself to be a gender-transgressive man; a man who is willing to go out on a limb with his feminine fashion, who is willing to be noticed and even to draw stares, and who is even willing to risk looking in-between genders, because that is exactly who he is.

Since I decided this two months ago, I’ve been growing my hair out in an avant-guard asymmetrical do: falling long and curly over my forehead, shaved on one side, and gradually growing out on the other instead of pomaded back away from my face like before; I’ve shaved my downy mustache; I’ve taken out my plugs and collected a variety of dangling silver earrings; I’ve started wearing silver bracelets, chain necklaces, and, when possible, transparent scarves. If I hadn’t spent hours admiring Geun Suk’s appearance, I would have felt silly and ashamed of how girlish I sometimes look, but he has shown me that girlish, on a guy, can be extraordinary. At the very least, he has made it clear to me that my fears of looking too girlish are silly, based on a lack of courage in breaking away from how society says a man must look and act. But the fact is, a man who is pretty enough to be mistaken for a woman is truly extraordinary, beautiful, and courageous, and that is something to be admired. And right now, it is impossible for anyone to really mistake me for a woman. If ever the thought should cross their mind – “Is this a pretty boy or a cute dyke?” – my deep voice immediately decides them. It is most likely, though, that the thought never crosses their mind in the first place. Just before I began taking T, people almost always greeted me as male, and only revised this reading once they heard my voice. I have male passing privilege, so now it’s time to be truly fearless and to use it.

These days when I look in the mirror and see someone who looks androgynous and even slightly girlish, someone who could be a girl or a boy, I smile and feel beautiful. No matter how androgynous I think I look, I now know from experience that no one is going to actually think I’m a girl. A beautiful boy, perhaps, or a flaming fag, however lacking in effeminate mannerisms, but not a butch or a girl. And this is just perfect for me.

So now, I get to rediscover men’s fashion. Not as a trans guy who has been prevented from wearing men’s clothes and who fetishizes them and how male they make his body look, but as a queer man who isn’t afraid of not looking like other men, who dares to toe the line between genders, who accessorizes in the women’s department, and who knows that ultimately, nobody will think he’s a woman – they will think he’s a fag or just a fabulous and unconventional man, both of which are exactly the truth.

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Transition Stock-Taking

After reading and commenting on SCB’s recent post, I thought it was time for an update. I haven’t been writing that much, because I’m pretty satisfied with things, and decisions about whether to stay on T and if so at what dose or whether to get chest surgery or not are therefore leisurely and not urgent. But reading SCB reminded me of how important it is to have the voices of non-binary identified trans folk who have transitioned to some degree and are happy with their choice out there, when the dominant transsexual narrative continues to block people whose narratives don’t exactly conform from feeling like they have the right to transition. FYI, I believe that there are many people who do fit the dominant transsexual narrative, and that their comfort, safety, and access to medical care and appropriate legal documents should absolutely be a priority. However, I am becoming increasingly aware of the inadvertent harm it does to have their narrative be the only publicly legitimate, and often the only accessible narrative out there.

So on to my update. I have not gone off T, as I thought I might, mainly because I really like my body and sex drive on T, I don’t want to get full on PMS and periods, and I don’t really want to stop passing as male, even sometimes. I wouldn’t mind a more androgynous face, but I also am getting increasingly used to and comfortable with the face I have. So I’ve gone on what for me is about a half dose – an amount which I believe will allow me to stabilize at where I am while slowing or (ideally) stopping further changes. Sometimes, I think the changes just happen so rapidly that it’s good to pause and just get used to how one looks and functions in the world.

During my last post, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with being read as a cis man in most spaces. I am not out to my students as trans this semester, and at times (when talking about trans issues, for instance, or about female masculinity) this felt dishonest or strange. But now, I have grown more comfortable with it, and I feel that my personal life is none of my students’ business. This is partly just me getting used to teaching – I no longer even find it necessary to let my students know that I am gay or queer identified, though I think they’d have to be pretty stupid to not pick it up from the way I look or how I discuss things is class. If they choose to see me as a straight cis man, though, that’s their decision.

Sometimes, of course, in super cisgender and heteronormative spaces, I feel uncomfortable being read as cis, but then again, I would be uncomfortable regardless of my presentation in such spaces. It is strange to be witness to transphobia and to sexism (because I’m assumed to be a cis man) in a way that was less likely to happen when I appeared to be a gender nonconforming female. I get righteously pissed off on these occasions just as I would before, but feel as if I’m not permitted to speak from a place of personal injury. This is difficult sometimes, but there’s a way in which intervening on transphobia or sexism as someone presumed to be a cis male can, sadly, be more effective than it would be for someone who is either female or is known to be trans. I am aware now, that when I call out or explain transphobia or sexism to someone, I am not seen as just “an angry feminist (woman)” or “a man-hating lesbian” or “an angry transsexual,” but as a judicious, clear-headed, remarkably empathetic (cis) man. On the one hand, this has positive effects, as I can make my critiques heard more easily than I could before, and I can get people who might have otherwise dismissed me to swallow what I am saying. On the other hand, I am benefiting from the belief that (cis) men are disinterested, objective, and logical when they express feminist positions, whereas feminist women are irrational, hateful, and resentful when I do this. It is uncomfortable, but in every case, I have felt that it would be MORE uncomfortable were they to know that I was trans, since generally, I see such people as the enemy and would not want to make myself vulnerable to them.

At these moments, it is very clear to me that, though I do identify as male, I identify as trans male, not cis male, and I do not feel like I am “just one of” the (cis) guys. Sometimes, this worries me and makes me wonder if I really had the “right” to transition in the first place. But in any case, I don’t feel any more comfortable with or a part of groups of cis women. I really am, I suppose, a third gender, and I feel most at ease with genderqueers, butches, and other trans people.

Increasingly, though, I am comfortable with my position as someone who appears to be a gay cis male but who identifies as trans (with friends) and (somewhat secretly) as third gender. For me, I suppose, every social position would be a compromise position, there is no way to to appear 100% of the time as what I identify as, and even if there were one, it would often feel uncomfortable and dangerous to occupy this position (which, again, is why I find trans men who never go on T to be brave and alluring). Nor am I even one of those trans men who regularly outs himself with groups of sympathetic cis people. Even with cis friends who know that I’m trans, I prefer for my transness to subtend things without ever really being brought to the surface. Of course, with my inner circle, I speak openly about being trans.

One thing that amazes me when I think about it is how much T changes people’s perceptions of you and thus, your perceptions of yourself. I suppose that I’m one of the lucky ones in that I began passing consistently very soon after starting T, in spite of the fact that I was androgynous rather than butch beforehand. I know people far more masculine than I who still don’t pass consistently as male 2 years or more after starting T. Which goes to show that passing is not a matter of how masculine you are but simply of body and facial shape. Interestingly, my body did not really change that much. I just “filled out” a bit in the torso to look the way I feel I was “supposed” to look. It was more a natural maturation than anything else. My face changed subtly as well, but in the face, subtle changes make a huge difference. It is the facial changes that took me from androgynous to male in the eyes of others and of myself. Lastly, it is a great relief now to hear a resonant, warm bass when I speak. It sounds authoritative and mature (gender stereotyping again), and increasingly, I feel authoritative and mature. The best part is that I no longer feel disconnected from the sounds I make during sex, as they are the sounds of an aroused man rather than a woman. Interestingly, I think that my vocal changes have healed my relationship to sex as much or even more than my bodily changes.

The result of these changes is that people see, without the slightest degree of doubt, a man when they look at me, and I see a man as well. Whereas before, I constantly worried about whether this or that faggy gesture, way of sitting or standing, or vocal intonation came across as female (and sometimes a gesture or vocal intonation would make my feel dysphorically female), leading me to police my gestures, now I comfortably engage in the faggiest of gestures whenever I feel so inclined. It makes me feel hot, not female, and moreover feels like the appropriate way for me to interact with women – showing them that they can have certain interactions with me that they couldn’t with a straight man – with men – showing them that I am a potential sexual object for them – and with butches – flirting with them and letting them know that I bow before their greater masculinity. Whereas these gestures and vocal intonations used to be a subtle bane on my existence, now they fit me like a fine linen suit. This, more than anything, is how I know that transitioning was the right decision for me.

The other odd effect is that being on T makes me feel like I am maturing and growing up, since the masculinity my body portrays now looks and sounds older than the one it portrayed before. Again, it seems oppressive that certain physical characteristics should read as more mature, or that one can feel more mature due to being on T, but that is my experience. It’s true that part of why I transitioned is because, as a professor in my 30s, I was beginning to feel really age-dissonant (more so even than gender-dissonant). I love that the space of non-transitioning trans-boihood exists, and I enjoyed that space and found it enabling for a while, but now, this body better fits where I’m at in my life. On the other hand, I’m afraid of aging too rapidly. I’m not ready to (and may never be ready to) look like a 32-year old cis man. Appearing much younger than my age has become a way of expressing my identification as third gender, not cis, of being visible as trans to queer people in the know, and of expressing my disidentification with cis men. I think that what it also shows is my goal was never to have a cis male body. Like SCB, I wanted to transition in order to look like a trans man, not a cis man. I have gone on a lower dose of T to preserve the youthful transness that I have now.

The final effect of being on T and passing as cis is that I feel perfectly happy with my body as it is. Whereas before, I would have looked at this body and wanted to get chest surgery and to eliminate the still visible (when naked) curve of my hips, now I look at it and feel perfectly happy. Clothed and lightly bound, it looks like a cis body. Naked, it looks like a trans body, a bit surprising, but still hot, and I like that. I really have zero body dysphoria now (though I think it would be great to have a cis penis for sex). I don’t even want to get chest surgery anymore, because my chest expresses my trans maleness (though I would never go unbound, as some trans men do to out themselves as trans). It’s funny, I glanced at the image at the top of my blog today and noticed how much I really do look like it now. I have arrived.

You know, it’s odd. Sometimes I wonder if I could have continued without going on T and think that this would have been possible. The problem was not that I had such intense gender dysphoria. It was that living as a male pronouned person in the body I had before was really uncomfortable to me. Being mis-pronouned, having to “prove” my maleness, and wondering whether others found my maleness believable was not my cup of tea. And living as a female, even a butch female, really did not fit the way I felt anymore, since the butches I know accept being Ma’amed and interpellated as women and even “ladies.” I think it’s cool that certain butches (like my Pops) really do occupy this in-between space and really are sometimes Ma’am and sometimes Sir, sometimes mom and sometimes pops, sometimes she and sometimes he, but I knew that I wanted to be only one of those.

So that’s that. I transitioned for atypical reasons, perhaps, but I now live in the world with a far greater comfort and ease. I have a debonair, pretty, and cultured masculinity. I like fine whiskeys and exquisite colognes, and am looking for an ascot. I am an angry feminist, an angry trans person, and an angry queer. I don’t identify as cis or feel totally at ease with cis people, male and female. I am a traitor to the male sex. I have sex with gay cis men (mostly) and don’t feel that they should have a problem with my body. I am more comfortable being assumed to be cis than not in public. Yet I do not come across as a typical man. I call my butch lesbian mentor Pops and sir and he, and I recognize and get both her masculinity and her comfort functioning in the world as a woman. T has allowed me to experience and to claim my right to be a man and to explore exactly the type of non-normative man that I want to be. Sometimes, just sitting around or lying down or standing up, I take a moment to feel to immense sense of comfort and confidence I have in my body. I don’t have to worry about whether it’s male or female, whether it is coming across as male or female in that moment, whether I need to do something different to make it look or feel more male. It just is. And it is a man’s body.

Posted in Feminism, Third Gender, top surgery, transgender | 17 Comments

I Might Go Off T

Something strange is happening. I’ve been so happy with my transition, my body, my appearance, how I move through the social world. In fact, I have not really been thinking much about my transition much at all lately. And then, bam, it hits me. I might want to go off testosterone or greatly lessen my dose.

Looking back, I can see that this may have been building for a while now. Really, it’s a matter of learning more about my identification as I have transitioned. And in fact, it’s something like a return to my original plan: transition until my voice drops and my face becomes more masculine, then go off T or reduce my dose. I never felt like I needed a typically male body, and I was never certain that I wanted to look like a cis man my age; I went on T because it was intolerable to be seen as female.

I know that I wrote recently about feeling unequivocally male, but now that I’ve had some time to get accustomed to being seen as a cis man, I’m wondering if I really feel simply “male.” What I’m realizing is that while it’s very comfortable for me to pass and to interact with people as a man, I feel that being seen as a cis man only allows people to know part of the story. Increasingly this part of the story feels false. I don’t have any regrets, because it would be more false to be seen as a female, but I’m starting to wonder once again whether there might be a third option for me.

I mentioned that a couple things have been leading to this realization. One is that I am increasingly disenchanted with gay male culture. I am disappointed with how apolitical, consumerist, classist, misogynistic, and racist mainstream gay male culture is. I identified strongly with gay male effeminacy, abjection, and faggotry, but these forms of queer maleness are precisely what one does not see much of in mainstream gay male culture, which idolizes hard muscles, hard penises, and masculinity. I am behind the times, yearning for the fairies of the 1920s. Contemporary gay male culture is not my cup of tea. Mainstream lesbian culture, of course, is not exactly my cup of tea either. But I think most lesbian coming-out stories at least involve some element of critiquing or rejecting female gender roles and rebelling against sexism, particularly as it plays itself out in heterosexual culture or in lesbophobia. It is difficult to be a lesbian without developing some basic critique of sexism and some rudimentary feminist consciousness; and often, this is tied, in lesbian culture, to a an orientation toward social justice, accessible events and spaces, celebrating diverse bodies and critiquing the culture of youth and beauty, and attempting to live in a more environmentally sound manner. Of course, such tendencies can produce an annoying and in its own way, apolitical “granola” culture, but at least they manifest some rudimentary form of social consciousness.

Being away from lesbianism and lesbian culture for a time has allowed me to appreciate certain things about it, and to realize that, to a certain extent, it has shaped who I am now. This must be why I have never, in my adult life, felt truly intimate with a cis male. The ones who have become my closest friends, the ones I’ve fallen deeply in love with have been female-assigned or female. Now I’m not saying that there’s no escaping gender socialization. Certain trans men I would never feel close to either, perhaps because they really are more cis identified and have taken little or nothing from lesbian culture. Certain trans women, I am sure, I could also feel close to. But experience intense intimacy with a cis man – I’m not sure that I ever will.

I went on an Ok Cupid date last weekend with a gay cis man. We were sitting over dinner having getting-to-know you conversation, and he ended up recounting to me his late-blooming “gay adolescence,” which consisted of him going to clubs and bathouses, getting really drunk, and spending lots of money trying to get male strippers to take off their g-strings. After this brief blow-out, he settled into an absolutely normal gay adulthood. This didn’t resemble my coming out in the slightest, and it isn’t just because I was trans and he wasn’t. There I was, someone who he presumed was a cis male as well and who he probably expected to have had a very similar period of gay adolescence. I really had nothing to tell him. This was the moment when it really clicked for me, that I was not really that similar to gay cis men – but it took me being accepted as one of them before I could have this revelation.

Now that I know more about gay male culture, I am starting to feel that my outer appearance really doesn’t tell an important part of my story. By knowing I am a gay man, people really don’t know all that much about me (I thought that would actually let them know a lot about me). As part of my disillusionment with gay male culture, I am starting to feel less satisfied with appearing to be simply a gay male.

I have a crush on a butch academic right now and have been having long political and personal conversations with my butch Pops as well. The concurrence of these two intimacies is making me think more about my connection to butch as something that I would like to render visible. Really, I feel extremely close to certain butches. They are my people, although we obviously have important and significant differences of gender expression, identification, and sexuality. For me, in spite of these significant differences, the experience of female-assigned gender strangeness, and the kind of feminist critique and fighting spirit that engenders, is enough to make us comrades.

Before I transitioned, I was plagued by the desire to prove the ways in which I was different from lesbians and from butches; now I want to emphasize our similarities. I’m not being wishy-washy here. I think I’m just moving farther along the path of attempting to communicate who I am – what my gender is and what my affiliations are – through my body. Before, when I looked like a butch, it was important to disidentify with butches and to emphasize the ways in which I was really a gay man. Now that I look like a gay man, it is becoming important to me once again to affiliate with female-assigned queers, ideally via my body.

And the fact is, I don’t think that I particularly need the biological markers of maleness – rougher skin, hair on my stomach, veiny arms, a thicker neck, an aggressive sex drive. I don’t need to look and feel as dudely as I do, and in fact, I might feel more like me if I didn’t. What I do need is to look in away that broadly evokes non-femaleness. All I really ever wanted was to be read as a trans man, not a cis man, and not a lesbian. And I think that if I went off T now, that’s what would happen. My body would become slimmer and smoother and my features more delicate, but my new male jawline and deep voice would remain, and I would clearly be a trans man. This, I think, is the most accurate and most truthful option for me. A visible third gender – clearly not female, but not conventionally male either. Someone who you would refer to as “he,” but that is nevertheless different from cis men. An elvin genderqueer boy perhaps.

Of course, the actual process of going off T is scary. How will I feel as my muscles melt away, as my face changes, as my body loses its hair, as my hips grow more pronounced? Will my gender dysphoria return? How will I manage getting periods again and suffering from PMS? Will I begin to feel more emotionally like a woman? Will I sometimes not pass? Will people look at me strangely? Will I confuse people once again?

These are all scary thoughts. I may not, in fact, succeed at going off T. I think that I might start with simply lowering my dose for a several months and then decide where to go from there. But I hope that being on T and passing as cis has given me a certain insight that will prove permanent, and that, in the future, I will not need the crutch of testosterone in order to feel male. Now, after all, I know that, in certain ways, I am not male. Perhaps, in the future, I will be able to embrace confusing people, not being treated as a cis male, and being visibly gender strange because actually, that’s exactly who I am.

I hope that, after I detransition, I will be transformed enough to not look female, to not look like a butch, and to not look like a lesbian. But I want butches and lesbian to be able to see that I am trans and not cis. I just want a slight separation from butches, so that our similarities across difference will be visible without me appearing to be a butch. Likewise, I still want to look like a beautiful gay boy. Just not the same type of gay boy as cis men. A recognizably different and unique version of gay masculinity, with a different gender history. This, I think, would be perfect for me. To be visibly neither one nor the other, sharing similarities with both and able to relate to both across a tiny, but significant visible gap of difference.

Posted in butch, Third Gender, Transfaggotry, transgender | 13 Comments