Tag Archives: MTF

Into the darkness

Published / by rmaddy / 6 Comments on Into the darkness

The first storm of winter is upon us.  The early indications predict that we will escape the heavy snow this time, but we have already been treated to gusting winds, steeply dropping temperatures and some sort of snow/sleet/hail thingie that didn’t do any damage, but produced an absolutely deafening roar on my windshield as I headed into work this morning.  Twas the witch of November come stealin’, as the prophet Gordon1 once intoned.

As much as I hate winter, I love a good storm.  Any storm.  I love “sheltering in place,” as they say, looking across the hills and fields out the back (southwest) windows of my home.  I don’t cower in the basement.  I grab a camera.  I step out of the front door to welcome the arrival of the new wind, to take in its measure and flavor.  In my formative years, I loved to go for a run during the height of a downpour, especially when the streetlights were knocked out.2  Like Lieutenant Dan, I climb to the top of the proverbial mast and taunt the sky:  “Is that all you’ve got?”

But not all storms are weather.

There are other kinds of storms which terrify me.  They paralyze–stunning me with a dizzying barrage of emotional lightening and pounding me with the thunder of confusion.  The very foundations of my life erode and I cascade downstream into Mare Crisium–the Sea of Crisis.3  It is there that, for the last several weeks, I have been treading water, at times with some success, but occasionally sinking beneath the waves of doubt.

Enough with the metaphor?  I suppose, but then again, you have never known me to be a particularly linear writer, and, as I have found myself saying more than once recently, I am not at my best.

I prefer to narrate the storm from the relative safety of its aftermath.  “Hey, things got bad, but look at all the nifty rainbows now!”4  I seem to be okay with vulnerability, but usual only with a certain degree of retrospect. I am not immune to shame.

I struggle to find a pathway into describing my whereabouts, but I think the storm is the best place to start.  I am prone to disruptions.  They strike without much warning and make a tangled mess of my thoughts and self-confidence.  If there are warning signs in advance, I am blind to them.  They are infrequent enough lull me into the delusion that they are done and gone.

Almost exactly three weeks ago, I was beset by crippling doubts about my identity.  True, there has always been a “female gravity” bending the trajectory of my life in the direction with which you have become familiar, but this crisis began with an overwhelming sense that, wherever I seem to be headed or feel I need to be, where I am isn’t identifiably feminine to most people, nor, during these dark hours, to me.

The disruption seems to be centered on two perceptions which still loom large in my present state of mind.  First, it is far more than the physical which separates me from other women.  I have been denied (or spared) the particular rhythms and discomforts of feminine physiology, but perhaps even more significantly, I have missed out on so many formative experiences:  I did not grow up in a world which devalued my gender.  I have not been groped or ogled by predatory men.  My size has conferred upon me a degree of protection from conflict.  I have been rewarded, not chastised, for “speaking out”.  I have made one dollar on the dollar.  I have not been asked on a date, nor spent any time worrying that this would never happen.  I have not spent a lifetime being conditioned to fret about my beauty.5  Not only did I get math (many women do, of course); I learned early that I must get math.  Though I have always made friends with women far more naturally than with men, have I ever truly convinced either them or myself that I am one of them?

I am unsurprised that this hit me so hard during the run up and run off of the election, whether or not this was actually the trigger.  Misogyny offends the hell out of me, but have I ever actually felt it?  As much as I desired the election of HRC, would it have produced any sense whatsoever of existential validation for me?  I was born into nearly every privilege imaginable.  What right do I have to see myself as a citizen of Pantsuit Nation?

The second perception was that my identity seems to be largely aspirational.  Am I female or do I simply experience intense conviction hat I ought to be?  I was trained to believe the unbelievable–is this simply the latest version?  Yes, masculinity took effort for me, but does femininity take less?  Without imaging that other women sail from moment to moment free of self-doubt, I observe that they never have to spend a moment convincing anyone else, let alone themselves, of their gender.  I do not think that this is merely to say that I don’t pass in society.  The question is whether I even pass to myself.  I fit the typical profile of a late transitioning transsexual–white, XY socialized male, melancholic, above average intelligence6.  Is there any sense in which transphobic critics, who see my identity as a sustained delusion, have a point?

Suffice it to say, the last several weeks have sucked mightily.  For the first 4-5 days, I was back to being a squirrel in the road, unsure which direction to run and consequently immobilized in front of the approaching headlights.

“Forward?  I can’t go forward!  Back?  I can’t go back!  Oh God, I definitely can’t stay here…”

My brain flip-flopped rapidly, wanting desperately to decide or better, to do something, and yet I knew there was nothing to do.  I just wanted to go back to bed so I could shut it out for a bit.

Fast forwarding a couple of weeks, the intensity has dialed down a little, but I’m still “dazed and confused”, and worse, worried that I won’t ever be able to un-think some of the thoughts of the last couple weeks.  And there is no resolution, no personal victory to report.  I still feel the wind and hear the thunder.

More ominously, this is the first time I have gone through this post-hormonal therapy.  There is certainly a lot more to the sense of calm and general well-being I have tried to convey beyond freedom from crisis, but until now, I really did have freedom from crisis.  For 18 months.  Even more, it had the feeling of resolution.  Peace was the benefit of therapy that justified the various downsides.  What now?

I don’t really know, and I don’t know when I will find out.  Sorry, there is no moral to this story.  Sometimes there isn’t.

 

 

Notes:

Puberty–The Sequel

Published / by rmaddy / 1 Comment on Puberty–The Sequel

Time flies when one is sitting on one’s ass, soaking up the scents and sounds of summer and not writing a blog post before its time.  Tempus fugit…it’s time.  I spin for you today a medical odyssey, about why I decided to revisit the biochemical shitstorm of adolescence, what I gained and lost along the way and my best guesses about what lies ahead.

I speak, of course, about cross gender hormone therapy, which I will hereafter abbreviate as HRT.7  You have likely gathered that I am not especially reluctant to make personal disclosures8 about my gender identity.  In fact, in this case, I find it preferable.  After the experience of being closeted, I dislike secrets in general, and speaking about my medical choices openly not only spares me the nuisance of potentially having other people speculate about them privately, but also provides some comfort those who might otherwise might misinterpret some of the physical changes discussed below as illness.

I made the decision to start HRT in hopes of feeling better.  Specifically, despite good I made the decision to start HRT in hopes of feeling bettersocial support, regular counseling and antidepressants I continued to experience fairly crippling gender dysphoria.9  Over the years I did my best to put a brave face on, but those closer to me tended to notice that I was anxious as hell and at best “getting by”.  Short of hormonal therapy, I felt that I had done everything else I could to address my daily distress.  Unfortunately, they didn’t solve my actual problem–the unrelenting sense that I was living the wrong life.  Case in point:

I recall roughly 18 months ago, sitting in Dairy Queen with my son and his girlfriend.  I was so strung out on antidepressants that I was falling asleep in my french fries.  He grabbed my hand in almost a parental way and said, “Dad, why are you taking medicine when it only makes you feel worse?”  I was just alert enough to realize that this was a damn good question.  Not every day was such an exercise in misery, but I certainly got the sense, over the long haul, that I was painting over the cobwebs, caught in a downward spiral and unable to break my fall.10

Improved mental health was therefore my primary goal..  Still it is undeniable that I recognized that I would potentially be given a tantalizing opportunity to see life through different eyes.  Regular readers might be thinking, “Wait! You have tended to dismiss most accounts of male/female brain differences as not only greatly overstated, but also carrying significant potential for justifying sexism.”  Quite so.  Still, the distinction I make is that while both men and women have versatile brains with amazing and essentially equal capabilities, it still might feel better for a brain which continues to recycle thoughts of being the opposite gender might feel better with the hormones associated with that gender.11  Well, along comes a chance to discover whether this opinion would hold up under the weight of personal experience.

Therefore I decided to keep, for my own edification and that of any other 50-ish transwoman12 who might be considering the same course, a symptom diary chronicling any changes I encountered as they happened.

Soon I learned that this was madness.  The timescale of hormonally-influenced change does not lend itself well to real-time reporting.  Within a couple of days, I realized that what I was doing was akin to watching the moon track from one horizon to the other.  Sure, you can stare at it from east to west, but most of the time it looks like it’s just hanging there, and you might be better off taking a nap and coming back to check its progress later.  It has now been a year–nap time is over.  Here is what I noticed, roughly in order:

My nipples hurt.  As in really hurt…starting within a week.  For several days I assumed this was my imagination.  Until, that is, I ended up clumsily juggling a box as I was carrying a load of junk into the garage.  It bumped against my chest and produced an instantaneous stream of tears which clarified the situation.  Something was already happening in my breasts.

My first thought was, “WTF.”  Then, “One week?  WTF?”  Recall that my primary goal for HRT was improved mental health.  Of course I knew that physical changes were just as likely, but my research had led me to believe that as a Way-Post-Adolescent patient, not much was going to happen in the mammary department.  That much is probably still true, but I had more or less expected that I would be able to figure out whether estrogen was good for my brain long before it had much effect on my body.  This, indeed, was my brilliant plan.

With that delusion safely in the wastebasket, I immediately had to reconsider under what conditions I would remain on HRT.  I had not made a lasting and permanent decision to take estrogen.  Now that I knew that physical changes were definitely going to proceed mental, I deftly reframed the “experiment” of therapy. I would give HRT a “reasonable amount of time” to work on my psyche, then decide whether or not to continue.  “Reasonable amount of time”, in this context, now meant “Damned if I know”.  Farewell, Caution, my dear friend.

Fortunately, I suppose, nipple-itis was the only thing that happened for quite some time.  It also settled down to a dull roar after about 3 month.  Although HRT produced more of a “flip of a switch” change in my hormonal balance than adolescent females likely experience, I assume that they experience something similar.  Let’s just say that I overlooked this morsel of information the first time around and never got around to reading the memo.  At any rate, I had re-entered puberty with reckless abandon.  What could possibly be more quintessentially adolescent than awkward body changes followed by a big, fat juicy helping of nothing in particular?  “Here you go, my child.  I grant you proof that your body is changing and equally compelling evidence that it is not.  Enjoy.”

During the next few months my discoveries were few.  I alluded to one of them in the preamble.  I discovered that I was overthinking the issue.  It was neither useful nor healthy to pick my brain for signs of new ways of thinking than it was to measure my chest regularly.  This did not, of course, stop me from doing either, but I put the “symptom journal” away, thereby saving me a colossal waste of time13

The second came in a eureka moment while exercising.  I did not smell like festering, putrid death.  My spouse reports that she sometimes gets grossed out by her body odor after a workout, but in terms of acrid, buzzard-gagging funk, she has never been my equal.  Rather abruptly, my sweat chemistry seemed to have changed.  I do not sweat any less–at least I think I don’t14–but I clearly sweat differently.  It was subtle, but undeniable.  I now had two clear changes to report, and the second, like the first, was physical.  Mostly physical, anyway.  I took pleasure in the change in my scent.  It felt distinctly positive.

I suppose by this time I was about 2 to 2 1/2 months into therapy.  Everything else was business as usual.  I continued seeing my counselor, thus affording an opportunities to reflect on the latest answer to the question, “What’s new?”  I tried to exercise regularly, although I didn’t really keep up.  I kept blogging.  I wondered if HRT would ever be something I would want to disclose.  I watched the leaves of summer turn to gold.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Perhaps waiting is too strong of a word.  It would be closer to the truth to say that I forgot, at least to the extent that it is possible to forget something that involved giving oneself a weekly injection in the leg and taking a pill every morning and night15 which more or less guaranteed that the nights would involve quality time in the bathroom.  Enter emotional observation #2.  After several weeks of learning to get over the crazy-overblown fear of needles, I started to look forward to Wednesday mornings.  As much as I hated the shot (it’s not bad–estrogen is a bit syrupy, but doesn’t sting), it felt worthwhile to do it.  I’m not exactly sure why.  Perhaps it was ritualism.16  I speculated at the time that perhaps I was patting myself on the back for the small potatoes bravery of doing something mildly uncomfortable for purposes of feeling better, even though I didn’t feel better yet.

Until I did.  When it comes right down to it, I can’t put my finger on when precisely I noticed.  My best guess is November, roughly four months in.  Partially, this is because I had developed a recent ritual of going bat-shit crazy in November and this year I didn’t.  Instead, I asked my psychiatrist if he had any objection to me tapering off my anti-depressants.  When he asked my why, I said that I didn’t feel like I needed them any more.

I would beg the reader not to see this as a euphoric salvation story.  I still struggle with my mental health rather fiercely.  I am at least as prone to anxiety as before, for example.  I’m just feel better overall.

Mission accomplished, as far as I am concerned.  Barring some major development that forces me to reconsider, I intend to stay on HRT indefinitely.  Physical changes ended up being fairly minimal, at least so far.  They may or may not continue, but these were never the objective.  The way I saw it, changing my body would be of no value whatsoever if it did not change my brain.  In ways that are too vague to describe and too striking to ignore, my brain is changing–barely…I think.  I described it to my friend thusly:  “It’s still my same old brain, but now it’s marinating in the right sauce.”

That’s it, for the most part.  I keep waiting for some biochemical shoe to drop.  Supposedly, my body fat will redistribute.  Ironically, I’ve lost a shit-ton of weight recently, and I just look a bit more gaunt.17  There is nothing to redistribute.  This brings me back to boobs.  Very little followed the initial discomfort.  I transiently gained, but subsequently lost, about an inch on my “first measurement”.  If it looks like my bust line has changed, it’s mostly that I have figured out how to dress.

I would be remiss if I did not add that for every action, there is indeed an equal and opposite reaction.  Taking estrogen does’t make one’s penis fall off exactly, but let’s just say it’s not growth serum either.  Needing to draw a curtain of privacy somewhere, I’ll not say more other than that decreased male sexual expression neither caught me by surprise nor bothered me much.  Why would it?  I’m transgender.

I remain curious.  Will my second adolescence leave me feeling more at home in my skin than the first?  Will I wake up some day having forgotten male privilege?  Alas…these remain works in progress.  Meanwhile, I wait.  I reflect.  I measure.  But I should not look so often.  The moon makes its way, ever so slowly toward the western horizon.