Body Image

It’s The Little Things…

Among the challenges of genital reassignment surgery is re-learning how to go to the toilet. At home I installed a Western-style bidet* (based on advice I’d gotten), but here at the hotel, there’s a simple spray nozzle. The trick is to wash away the fecal matter without spraying everywhere else. 😬

Then there’s the issue of wiping oneself. After a lifetime of wiping back to front, I need to re-learn to wipe front to back — so that I don’t get… ahem… foreign matter…. into the new parts. Definitely a bit harder in that direction.

*Definitely worth it, and I’m told it works even better without the dangly bits getting in the way.

On The Edge of Seventeen

They tell you that going on hormones is like a second puberty, and it is. But lately I’ve also been feeling like I’m going that teenage gawkiness where my mind hasn’t yet caught up to changes in my body.

Admittedly, my body has been through a lot of changes during the last 16 months, with some another major change coming in two months.

There’s definitely a bit of cognitive dissonance every time Facebook surfaces old photos of me. A big part of it is seeing my face pre-facial feminization surgery. I mean, I know it’s my face, but at the same time, I don’t quite recognize the person in the photo. Especially as some of the facial changes have been accentuated by losing a lot of weight (which I’ll get to in a second).

The other big body mod obviously is my breast augmentation back in January. Even though it’s only been a few months, it’s getting hard to imagine a time when I didn’t have them. That image of my body has gone down the memory. (And we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.)

OTOH, I’m now about a cup size smaller than when I wore breast forms — and while my breasts look really natural, I also think they’re a little small for my frame. No one’s fault, all the surgeons I consulted agreed on the recommended size of the implants, and my surgeon even went a size larger while I was on the table because he could tell my chest muscles were acting like a giant sports bra to schmush things down. But disappointing. Obviously, I’m not the first woman to be dissatisfied with the size of her breasts, but it’s especially disappointing given I paid a lot of money for them (not covered by insurances), and there’s no easy fix,* and because I was used to being a size larger when I was wearing breast forms.

But probably most of the feeling of being out of sorts with my body has been due to the weight loss — 35 pounds so far, and I need to lose another 15 in the next two months for bottom surgery.

It’s meant that I’ve dropped from a size 20/22 down to a size 14/16. Which has meant constantly not having clothes that fit right — either too baggy, or a bit tight, since I’m trying to avoid buying too many “interim clothes.” It’s suddenly having rings become too loose, and knowing that I’ll need to get the heirloom rings resized, but not until I know what my new weight will stabilize at. On the plus side, now that I can fit into misses-sizes clothes, and that opens up a far wider range of clothes than when I was plus-sized. But it’s still a bit odd to realize that stores I hadn’t even bothered to look at previously now have clothes that might actually fit me. (And yes, I’m well aware of the thin privilege that I’ve now gained.)

But the biggest challenge is coming to terms with being “big bodied” but not necessarily fat. I’m not squishy like most women my size. Admittedly, I’ve always been built that way, and it was hard to love my curves when I didn’t have any. Well except the one curve from my belly that makes me look male, and is fraught with gender-related body dysphoria issues.

Which is where a lot of the language of the body positivity movement has fallen flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe one should be able to embrace one’s curves. That you should love your body, no matter the shape or size. But you don’t necessarily need to love it “exactly the way it is.” As Sam Dylan Finch points out, that sort of language is definitely off-putting for trans people. Because, as Finch says, “no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

More to the point, it’s damn hard to find — even within the body positivity movement — positive images of women with bodies like me. I’m glamazon-sized. With wide child-bearing shoulders, no hips and not much of ass (which makes it really tough to find jeans that fit). Big hands, big arms, big feet.

Laverne Cox may have reached a point where: “I am not beautiful despite my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my height, my deep voice and all the things that make me beautifully and noticeably trans. I am beautiful because of those things” but reaching that level of self-love is a helluva lot easier when you look like, well, Laverne Cox.** Personally, I’m still struggling.

Especially because as I’m settling into my identity as a woman living as a woman, the stakes are changing. For years, my sense of being attractive came with an asterisk — pretty good for a crossdresser, pretty good for a drag queen, pretty good for someone who was gender queer. The asterisk was always there because I just assumed I was “visibly trans.” I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily always the case. So the goal posts have moved significantly…. Now it’s, how attractive am I as a woman? Especially one of a certain age, an age when many women become invisible.

And yes, I realize I’m falling into the “beauty myth” trap, and so I’ve got that layer of self-criticism going on too (i.e. why can’t I shrug it off). But it’s hard to avoid, as a women living in our culture, and especially as a woman in burlesque, where I’m putting my body on display. And where, although there’s lot of talk about body positivity and beauty at all sizes, there’s also still a strong undercurrent of preference for a certain body type, and certain plus-size body type (hour-glass), that I don’t have, that I’ll never have. Testosterone wreaked changes on my body that can’t be undone.

As I said, it’s complicated. I’m still doing a lot of processing.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remind myself there are women built like me. Going to Kansas City last year, I saw a number of large, stocky women, ones who shared a heritage of being the daughters of German peasants, with bodies suited to working the farm. I’ve looked for role models. Olympic hammer thrower Amanda Bingson, who was featured in the famous 2015 Sports Illustrated “Body” issue, with its photos of naked athletes of various shapes and sizes. I’ve seen myself in crew members of collegiate rowing teams. I’ve seen myself in Xena (even if I’d much rather have the body of Gabrielle).

One day, I hope to be able love all the things that make me “big bodied” (and probably “visibly trans” as well). To internalize it. To truly believe it. But for now, it’s one day at a time.

*The FDA currently only has approved silicone breast implants up to 800cc in size, which is a size larger than what I have now, and at most would maybe add a half-cup in size. To go larger, I’d have to switch to saline implants, which I’d prefer not to do. But it’s all moot at this point anyway, since any potential redo will need to wait until 2019.

**No disrespect to Ms. Cox, who I adore, and who’s made it clear it took her years to reach that level of self-acceptance. But fact of the matter is that she’s also beautiful in ways that fit the cis-het norms.

T Minus 60

So in 60 days, I’ll be waking up in Thailand after having my parts rearranged — and yeah, I’ve been having a moment about that.
To say the least, my feelings right now are… complicated.
Part of me is definitely looking forward to shedding the last of my pupal form.
Which is a little surprising because I’ve never been one of those trans people who’ve felt that my genitals were something alien — something that made it a harder decision to get genital reassignment surgery. In fact, when I socially transitioned, I didn’t think I’d get it done, because I didn’t feel the need.
But gender dysphoria, can be like an onion — as I resolved the visible issues, it unexpectedly surfaced deeper ones.
And the reality is this, I don’t hate my genitals as they are now, but I hate, as Sam Dylan Finch aptly said:
“It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.
And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”
Consequently, sometimes changing one’s body can be be the greatest act of self-love.
And yet…
Some of it are the “normal” jitters — it is major surgery after all, and if I weren’t having some anxiety, I be worried. Although it’s less about the surgery itself, and more about the recovery, and lengthy, and involves some rather painful aftercare. (Or why you probably won’t see too much of me during the last half of 2018.)
There’s also anxiety about needing to lose another 15 pounds in order to meet the surgeon’s weight limit. Worse case scenario if I don’t make the goal is that they refuse to operate — and there’s currently a two-year waiting list if I needed to reschedule. (Plus I’d probably forfeit some/all of the surgical fee.) It’s a stretch but it’s doable — but I’m also running out of time. And being stressed makes me want to eat…
Another part of me just wants to get it over with. I’m tired of feeling in limbo, like I’m just in a holding pattern until July, or more realistically 2019, when I’ll be healed enough to really get out and about again, to be intimate again.
And for yet another part of me, what’s currently in my panties is feeding into some major body image issues going on — between the weight loss (35 pounds so far) and the breast augmentation, I feel like a gawky teenager, who’s not quite grown into her current body. But that’s topic for another post altogether.
Meanwhile, the waiting is the hardest part…

One Small Step, One Big Step

Got my official “referral for sexual reassignment surgery” letter from my physican today. It was a much more emotional moment than I would thought be.
Let me explain… This letter is simply to try to get insurance to cover the surgery.*
The letter that actually matters is the “gatekeeping” letter** I’ll be getting from my therapist shortly, saying that SRS is appropriate treatment for my gender dysphoria, that I’m not mentally ill or mentally impaired, and that I’m able to give informed consent. I can’t get surgery without it.
But still, even if it’s just “insurance paperwork,” this is a definite milestone. Shit’s getting real, real fast.
*Technically, California law requires insurers to cover SRS. But I’ll be having mine done in Thailand, which means paying upfront and then trying to get reimbursed your insurance company. Who usually do their best to avoid paying if you go overseas (which is ironic because the surgeons there are often better, and usually are less expensive).
I’m not that optimistic, but I’ve heard that the odds improve slightly if you get an referral from an in-network doctor, and seek pre-authorization. We’ll see…
**Surgeons typically require two therapists/psychologists to sign off your SRS, however, my surgeon has his own psychologist do the second evaluation, so I only need to get one letter myself.
I understand why surgeon’s want that sort of CYA, given that it’s an irreversible surgery. And certainly you’d be foolish to do without having done The Work about why you want it. (Which is true of any other plastic surgery). But yeah, it definitely poses issues around patients’ having autonomy over their bodies.

Size Is Only a Label

The irony in discovering that the Macy’s at Westfield has a huge plus size department is that the reason I came here was to confirm that I’ve lost enough weight — almost 30 pounds* — that I can fit into straight (i.e. “misses”) sizes.

It turns out I do, depending on the brand. Having lots of feelings around body image at the moment. Will post more about them later when I get a chance to process them.

*While I’m a firm believer that people can be healthy at any size, my eating habits previously weren’t healthy and were starting to cause serious problems for my diabetes. I also need to meet a weight limit for the upcoming genital assignment surgery in July.

So I needed to make some serious changes in diet and lifestyle. Fortunately, for me, switching to a minimal carb diet (not keto, but close) has been quite effective over the past 9 months.

The most important changes have been in my blood tests, regardless of my weight. If you feel the need to congratulate me, congratulate for that. Because I’m not a better person these days, just a healthier one (who also happens to be thinner).

Claiming What Was Denied Me

So tomorrow at 6 a.m. I go to surgery to claim the breasts that testosterone denied me.

No, anatomy isn’t destiny, and being able to do breast augmentation doesn’t make me more “real” than other trans women who can’t afford to, or chose not to do so.

But it is addressing something that’s been a major source of my gender-related body dysphoria.

It’s hard to love your curves when you don’t have any. (Well, except for the beer belly that makes me look male.) Much of the language body of language falls flat for me because I’m not the “right” kind of big-bodied. I don’t have hips, period, let alone ones that would balance with my wide child-bearing shoulders. Hormones added a bit of junk in trunk, but I still don’t all that much back there. I can’t change them; I can only learn to love them. (Right now we’re still in the detente phase.)

But breasts… breasts are something I can change. They’re something that unequivocally signals “woman,” even in the absence of other signals from the rest of my body.

It’s not that I hate my body, rather it’s that — as Sam Dylan Finch put it in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too” — I hate “the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not. And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

So I’m changing it. Because “sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.”

See you on the other side.

It’s Been A Year…

On the anniversary of transitioning to living as a woman full-time, rather than celebration, I’ve mostly been feeling the “is that all there is?” blues.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret transitioning, not for a second. And I did it being well aware that transitioning (hopefully) resolves your gender issues, but you’re still you, and you’ll still be left with your other issues.

Partly it’s the season. I probably have a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the short days and long nights just make me want to hibernate.

Plus it’s the holiday season with all the pressure that puts on people to feel joyous, even when they’re feeling far from it. Especially for those of us for whom family reunions are more stressful than celebratory. To be honest, for various reasons each year, I haven’t had a joyous holiday season in at least a decade, and this one I’ve been both stressed out and sick once again.

Partly it’s looking back and realizing that 2017 has really sucked due to some pretty severe nerve pain problems. Both the problems in themselves, but also how they’ve kept me isolated.

But a big part of it is now that my #1 challenge has been resolved, it’s allowed other issues to surface.

In some ways I’m now less comfortable in my body than before. The contrast between who I am, and what my body is, have become sharper. As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender And I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body per se. Much as it can be frustrating to live in at time thanks to some chronic health issues, it’s otherwise served me well. Rather, as Finch says, “It’s about hating what my body has come to symbolize… the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.”

I’m exceedingly thankful for the my new face, courtesy of my my surgery in Argentina last January. I can look in the mirror now and see a woman’s face. It’s at the point where my face in pre-surgery photos is the one that looks a bit alien and “not me.”

But the rest of my body…. There’s some parts that I’ve mostly made peace with. Mostly. I will never have hips that balance out with my wide child-bearing shoulders. My hands and feet will always be big, making it difficult to find jewelry and shoes that fit. I continue to need to do facial electrolysis twice a week, with no end in sight.

And now that breast augmentation is at the “so close, but yet so far” stage — hopefully I’ll be having it done early next year — my body dysphoria about that has gone through the roof. I still feel more caterpillar than butterfly. I’ll get there, but there’s that surgery and another next July, the latter with a tough recovery that’s going to sideline me again for the latter half of 2018.

I’m also really starting to feel the financial pinch of doing the things I need to do to make my body congruent with who I am. When all is said and done, it’ll cost me more than $100,000, with a good chunk of that coming up next year. It will be money well spent, and trust me I know how privileged I am to have the financial resources to make it happen. But still…. It’s wiping out a lot of savings, when I’m at an age where one starts thinking about having enough money for retirement down the road.

But probably one of the biggest issues is dealing with the loneliness in my life. Much of it my own doing — for decades I distanced myself from others because if I didn’t let anyone in, they couldn’t hurt me. I’m working on letting the armor down, but it’s harder to make friends in your 50s, especially out in the suburbs. Harder still when the people I am friends with are 30+ miles away up in SF and Oakland. Also, despite all the talk of sisterhood, burly friendships can be a mile wide, and an inch deep. (I’m grateful to the folks who did reach out when I was sidelined.) And yes, I know I need to force myself to get out more. That’s in the plans, and hopefully health problems won’t sabotage that again.

There’s also recent work with my therapist, that’s made me realize there’s things about my own ways of interacting with other people that need to change. Tired of being the long-suffering friend, the long-suffering co-worker, of always ending up having to be the responsible adult. The person who’s always there for others, but not necessarily there for herself. Growth is good, but sometimes it’s also a bit painful.

All that said, while I may be having All The Feels at the moment, things will get better. Changing some of the problematic parts of my life may be challenging, but at least I know that they need changing. I’ve been through worst. I’m high functioning and I’ll power through things. I’ll just keep dancing. If that’s all there is.

But yeah, I’ll be happy to see 2017 go, and not a moment too soon.

Achin’ To Be

So I’ve started interviewing surgeons to do breast augmentation. It’s honestly the part of my body I feel most dysphoric about, more than my face was, more than my nether regions.*

Not having them** bothers more than I’d even realized. One of the surgeons had an opening in late December, and I wanted sign up for it right then and there. Hell, I was ready to go under the knife the following day.*** Aching was the best way to described.

I realize there’s other women who are unhappy with their breasts, but in my case Teh Tranz adds an extra level of discomfort.

As Sam Dylan Finch said in his excellent essay, “I’m Transgender and I Need Body Positivity Too,” it’s not that I hate my body, rather:

“It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.

And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

This is where the language of body positivity — e.g. “you’re perfect just the way you are,” “you should ignore society’s messages,” etc. — falls flat with me, and with other trans people.

Because, as Finch says, sometimes modifying our bodies can be our greatest act of self-love.

I’m not looking forward to the next two rounds of surgery in the coming year — nor the months of after-care after the second one — but I am looking forward to the changes they’ll bring, to them helping what’s on the outside feel congruent with what’s on the inside.

There are prices to be paid physically, emotionally, and especially financially — since probably none of the renovations will be covered by insurance. But peace of mind is priceless.****


*Standard caveat about how if you’ve met once trans person… you’ve met one trans person, and every trans person feels differently about their body

**Thanks to hormones, I’ve actually developed what’s probably are probably A+/B- sized breasts. But given my frame, they look tiny by comparison.

***I didn’t, much as I wanted to, because he’s a celebrity surgeon and his price was far steeper than I’d expected.

****I’m fully aware that I’ll still probably face the same sort of body image issues that most women in our society face — in fact I’m already dealing with them. But it won’t be with the extra dose of gender dysphoria.

Super Sounds of Transition

TFW when the woman at the next table, who you’ve been chatting with, compliments you on your voice and asks if you do radio work.

She was right in a way… as a man I had a deep and resonate voice — think of the DJ from “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies” in “Reservoir Dogs.” Consequently, I’ve spent the last two years working with a speech therapist to change it.

My voice is still one the things I’m most self-conscious about, and it’s still one of the things that causes me to be misgendered — it’s a given that I’ll get referred to as “sir” when I’m on the phone with someone who doesn’t know me.

Unfortunately, with everything else that’s been going on this year, I just haven’t had enough time to practice to really get my voice where I want it to be. I’ve more or less gotten the change from chest resonance to head resonance; on a good day my pitch is an octave higher where I want it; and I’m able to do the 180-degree change in inflection between men’s speech and women’s speech. But it still takes conscious effort and all too often, the latter two slip a bit.

So it’s nice, really nice, to know that sometimes it all comes together.

I’m Not the Type Of Girl For You

An interesting interpretation of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Your Type,” where it reads the song as being about a trans woman who’s in love with her best friend but she will never say anything because she knows that her friend isn’t into trans girls.
“I’m not the type of girl for you
and I’m not going to pretend
I’m the type of girl you want more than a friend”
is the kind of line that speaks directly to the fear every trans girl has while attempting dating, especially if she’s stealth — that disclosure will lead to an immediate lack of interest, that no one could be into us for our true selves, that the only people who will ever “love” us are chasers or clients….
Many trans girls have felt the pain of “I’m not the type of girl for you” when attempting to date, whatever the other person’s gender. Conversations abound, especially in queer community, about whether it’s problematic to “not be attracted to” trans girls. It seems like we all have stories about being rejected upon disclosure, or never even being considered if we don’t “pass.””
I think the vast majority of trans people who transition decide the sacrifices (or potential sacrifices) involved. A friend of mine decided she was willing to sacrifice being an up and coming actor, if she could live her life successfully as a woman.*
In my case, it was accepting that I might never date again.
Partly it’s simply statistics. While men are fun to play with, and I wouldn’t rule out a possible relationship with one, I’m emotionally attracted to women. So that automatically narrows the dating pool to about 5 percent of the population. Then looking at the subset of lesbian/bi women willing — let alone interested — in dating a trans woman and the pool gets very narrow indeed. (It’s one reason it’s not uncommon for trans women to be in relationships with other trans women.)
Partly it’s a similar problem that LGB folks face when they see someone of the same sex that they’re attracted to (outside of queer spaces) — because odds are that they’re heterosexual and you don’t know how they’ll react. As the author says:
“All trans girls have rules when it comes to dating. Some of us never disclose until we absolutely have to, some of us are super “out.” I almost never hit on anyone or express romantic interest because I’m tired of being disappointed, and am afraid of a negative reaction. We always have to be careful and follow the rules, because you never know what will happen when you don’t — the reaction could be harsh, even violent.”
Partly it’s being a femme, and facing the problem many femmes face in lesbian spaces, where we’re ignored because people assume we’re straight women crashing the party.
Partly it’s me having to get over the feeling like I’m seen as “damaged goods.” Being the trans woman that chasers want to fuck — but not be seen with outside the motel room. Being trans, being a trans woman who don’t always “pass,”** being fat, being a women of a certain age. It’s hard not to internalize at least some of the negativity society expresses toward each. As a wise friend said, it’s hard to swim in a sea of poison and not swallow some.
Partly it’s been not having the time or spoons to be in a relationship, to deal with rejection — whether it’s because I’m trans, or for other reasons.
Despite all that, I still yearn for that feeling of being loved, of being desired. I’d like to feel that there’s *someone* (or someones) out there for me. It may be a long journey to find them, but it’s time to take that first step come what may.

* I’m happy to report that years later she’s started acting again and recently earned accolades for her co-starring role in her first big screen debut, in a movie that won a best in category award at the LA Film Festival.
** “Passing” is a term I hate — I much prefer blending — but I’m using it here because it’s used in the article, and because “passing privilege” has a long and history important history as a sociological concept.