Expansiveness (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I contracted myself into the smallest spaces into which I could fit, believing my happiness lay in being likeable.

When I found myself (in pieces), I realized how much room, mine alone to inhabit, I’d been conceding to others.

Now, I’m smacking the walls, splintering the frame, willing myself into the largest existence I can create.


No boxes. No binaries. No yielding my place of power.


Certain

days shrink me.

people coerce me into thinking these walls are made of granite.

experiences undermine my foothold.


But I am imminent.

My resolve will harden my shoulders and upright my posture.

Embodied and emboldened, I will demolish any resistance to the entirety who I am.

Refreshing My Wardrobe (Today's Simple Pleasure)

If you regularly take time to purge clothing and accessories you no longer wear and/or to add new items to your collection, do you first pause to consider your goals in doing so? I did in recent days and decided my first priority was comfort. After settling on this goal, I was then empowered to make decisions that fit for me.

Since starting T, I have gained a bit of weight. As a result, some of my clothes have become uncomfortable. I wear a binder when I attend public events and at work, so I need the rest of my attire to be loose-fitting. I want to be read as androgynous which fits along with my physical needs. To achieve this, I purchased pants that are a size larger than the ones I had been wearing and have the old pairs set aside for donation.

Comfort, for me, involves selecting clothing that reduce my body dysphoria and that do not trigger my eating disorder. I am in the process of adding fleece pullover shirts to my closet. I own one of them currently and it is the coziest shirt that I can wear as “work clothes” that I’ve ever owned. I ordered a variety of colors and a few styles so that it doesn’t feel like a uniform.

Appealing to other people’s tastes and making myself look nice are not my top priorities in terms of what I wear. I want to appear well-groomed and to have my clothing be in good repair, but I do not need to have expensive, on-trend clothes to feel good about myself. Removing any requirements to attract the male gaze from my clothing choices feels freeing. I also love the idea that part of what it means to be free is to acknowledge that people can dress in whatever way matches their top priorities; their choices do not need to be about comfort first if that is not what they value most. If you want to look sexy, go for it!

The longer I consider the topic, the more I realize our style of dress is a weird tangle of our personal insecurities, the lived realities of the prejudices people in marginalized groups face, and self-expression. I hope for a world in which what we chose to adorn our bodies is a matter solely of individual and collective expression and not the result of discrimination and/or internalized norms that do not fit our truest being. I’m grateful to be able to make choices for myself in this area. If you could choose, what would you set as the goal for your wardrobe? What pieces would you toss and/or add? How much does the way you dress each day reflect who you really are?

Not Backing Down

I’m back at work and the misgendering is already in full gear. I also received several lectures about how asking people to treat me the same way I treat them (by gendering me correctly) is way too much to ask. It’s invalidation after invalidation. When I’m invalidated, I’m sent the message that I don’t matter and that the other person’s comfort is more important than the recognition of my full existence. The harm is multiplied when someone then goes into why what I am asking for is such a burden and so difficult for them to manage.

In sitting with these experiences, I feel prodded to share the pain that they cause me with the people who cause them. The issue with doing this is any guilt they feel will likely lead to increased defensiveness and additional invalidation. I do think that it is worth speaking about the dysphoria misgendering causes to a wider audience, as those who are capable of empathy and compassion will be motivated to stand in solidarity with trans people and to correct others who harm us.

One of the biggest costs I am enduring is increased isolation because putting myself in environments in which I know someone will harm and no one will do anything about it is Retraumatization 101 for me. My complex PTSD/dissociation issues are creeping into my experiences as an open trans person in that I am triggered by feelings of betrayal and elements of abuse when people carry on as though I am the binary gender I was assigned at birth. These same people ignore my mental health issues on the whole as well, so the layers of invalidation are starting to stack quite high.

As I sit with this experience for a longer period of time, what I realize is that the powerful vulnerability I set as part of my mission statement for 2020 has to be targeted in its application. I do not need to open up to the people who are hurting me. I need to open up to the people who can do something about it, namely to my HR department and potential legal resources at my disposal.

I don’t have an option to run away when my employment is at stake, so I need to assemble my game plan. What disgusts me in this is the fact that trans people can be stereotyped as being litigious, when, along with other marginalized groups, I’m coming to see the reason we may be viewed that way is that our attempts at soliciting respect through interpersonal means are completely disregarded. A person can only take so much mistreatment before they have to stand up for themselves. I have little faith in the legal system, but I know any progress I might make will pave the path for anyone who comes after me.

In considering what I am dealing with in the context of the many forms of oppression and marginalization that exist in American society, the commonality that I find is a commitment to responding to the whims and proclivities of those who already have a disproportionate amount of power. In my situation, those who are cis-het are sheltered from the consequences of their exploitation of those of us who do not or can not conform to their worldview. This toxic stew is further concentrated in the power of its poison for those who face racism, xenophobia and the like.

I feel so disgusted in knowing that the people who mistreat me have vulnerable young people who trust them and look up to them, ripe for harm as their unchecked prejudices and biases play out. As this feeling of revulsion rises in me, I always come back to the same thought: I can never slip fully into us/them; I am vulnerable to the same prejudices and biases and must be vigilant in my own inner work in this area. I must do better and I must do what I can to force those whose bias harms me to do better. We can only change ourselves, but we can seek consequences for bad behavior. If you are trans and/or non-binary, where are you at on a scale from acquiescence to riot in terms of how you respond to misgendering? Where have you turned to for support? How have you taken care of yourself in these experiences?

Appreciating the Absurd (Today's Daily Remembrance)

I struggle as a person with the false belief that the events of my life are completely under my control. In my worldview, planning, due diligence and attention to detail can surely prevent all catastrophes. Although there is certainly wisdom in forethought, I acknowledge that massive efforts to wall off any possible harms comes at its own cost, and that some circumstances are truly out of our control. In addition to the unknowable, mistakes happen even when we try to avoid them. I decided to take a bit of time today to recall the humor that can come with such situations.

One of my most poorly planned driving errors (of which there are many) occurred when I was in college. It had snowed significantly the night before and the sunniness of the day belied the amount of precipitation that had accumulated. I entered a complicated intersection of two roads which offset each other. Somehow, in my brilliance, as I tried to find a parking spot, I decided to make a three-point turn. I unfortunately drove directly into a snow bank in order to do so. I have no idea why I thought I could just pop into it for a second and then retrieve myself. I immediately became hopelessly stuck and blocked multiple lanes of travel, as I was now perpendicular to the curb. A few people eventually jumped out of their cars and angrily pushed me out of the snow. It was my total confidence as I drove into the snow that has always stuck with me, a “this is fine and will work” attitude that failed to consider in any way the physical realities of my situation that makes me laugh.

Another mistake came at a thrift shop, I believe a year or two after the first story. I wore dresses and skirts at the time but was very lackadaisical about shaving my legs (a preference that makes more sense in light of my realization that I am trans and non-binary). I found a skirt that I thought was cute and attempted to try it on. It wouldn’t fit over my pants so I took them off. It still wouldn’t fit (at this point, the lesson is to give up), but I forged on by straining it, one arm at a time, over my head. I was wearing it finally, but could only move it a foot or so up and down my torso. This was before cell phones were popular so I had no way of calling anyone for cover. Were this to happen today, I would walk out and explain my dilemma. I was much more easily shamed at the time, so I felt there was no solution other than to force it from my body. After several minutes of straining, I finally got a handle on it enough to rip it a bit and pry it off of myself. Even though it caused me immense guilt to do so, I ended up leaving it in the dressing room as I was too embarrassed to admit I got stuck in it. The mental image of tangling my way through mismatched clothing makes me crack up, especially in light of the ridiculous lengths to which I went to trap myself in a piece of clothing.

I have many, many more stories of stupid actions I’ve taken. Before jolting off on a new adventure (which these days often involves an attempt at DIY repair), I often ask myself “Is this how I die?” mostly but not fully in jest. The importance of being able to make a fool of and laugh at one’s self cannot be over-estimated as both a coping skill and a check to arrogance. What is a ridiculous scrap into which you’ve gotten yourself? What about it strikes you as funny? What lesson, if any, did you learn from it?

Trans-Androgynous, Non-Binary and More

As it’s the end of the year and I’m engaging in a lot of internal processing, I decided to spend some time reflecting on my journey thus far being out as a trans and non-binary person. I will be discussing my current way of conceptualizing my gender. I will also talk about both social and physical dysphoria and how they affect me.

Self-Understanding

It has taken me some time to find language to describe my experience of gender and I still don’t feel that I’ve quite come to a perfect phrasing. I label myself as trans and non-binary. In terms of being trans, even though I am on T, I feel that trans-androgynous fits me better than trans-masculine. I want my gender and sex to be read as non-binary, not as a man or a women. Although I connect with both masculinity and femininity, my primary experience of gender is outside of that framing. I don’t yet have a complete ability to describe what I consider this to be, I just know that it exists.

Community

I have significantly more social dysphoria than I do body dysphoria. For me, this means that I am affected by being misgendered more than I am by looking the mirror. What makes cis-centric viewpoints especially painful is that most cis people in my life try explain away the pain I feel when I’m misgendered, rather than validate my perspective.

Because of my social dysphoria, I find non-binary affirming spaces to be places where I feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, the only ones I’ve been able to find thus far are online. Many people in the queer community still divide trans people into trans-femme and trans-masc perspectives only, leaving those of us who don’t fall into this fuzzier version of the binary with limited places into which we feel we fit.

Gender is a primary way humans sort themselves, so, in interactions with people who don’t understand my gender, I tend to feel a sense of invisible alienation. Most people will place me on the binary without my consent and then react with shock or surprise when I remind them I don’t belong there. I am hoping my continued advocacy and attending pride events and such will help me connect IRL with others who can relate to my experience.

Embodiment

I’m taking both low-dose T as well as combination birth control. This isn’t a recommended HRT plan, but is necessarily for me because of the medical conditions I have. I feel quite a bit of conflict internally about being on T, as I don’t particularly want hair changes. I have gotten some but they are not yet past a point where I feel totally uncomfortable.

Even though I have issues with some of the physical changes associated with T, I absolutely love how my body feels on it. My physical stamina has dramatically increased and my chronic pain has diminished. I am quite short but have always seen myself as a bulldog; T is affirming my sense of strength and allowing my natural abilities at being handy/mechanically-minded to come through more fully. Many people describe a narrowing of their emotional range on T; mine has actually grown and I’ve been able to cry in situations where I would not have before. My viewpoint on certain situations has shifted and I feel more certain of myself.

Conclusion

On the whole, I experience a bit of ambiguity about some of the physical changes I’m undergoing. I have a decidedly stronger reaction to the social issues that affect me as a trans and non-binary person. I feel excitement about continuing my journey of self-understanding and coming to a more complete understanding of myself in terms of my gender.

Shopping for Hand-made Crafts (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I traveled far outside of my comfort zone today, to a craft show in a rural area at which my friend was selling her creations. It was held in a conservative Christian church, a space I have a hard time entering after my experiences in like places growing up. Now that I know myself as a trans and nonbinary person, many spots in which a mix of anger and fear used to inexplicably rise up in me are, in a way, simpler to navigate because I know why I feel the way I do. My internal level of stress tends to be higher as well, because I am more visible than I would have been in the past.

I was delighted to find that the show was bigger than I expected for such a sleepy town, and that it presented a sensory kaleidoscope in terms of colors, textures and shapes. I purchased a beautiful hand-made sign from my friend to take to a gift exchange, and found a piece of art for myself that’s very meaningful. It is made from river rocks and depicts a person and a dog walking, with writing at the bottom noting that there is a purpose in every path. I felt that Spirit was affirming the shift in my inner sense of meaning away from “healing must come through relationships” to “healing is here in this moment.”

I was misgendered only once while purchasing some cards, and the person said “she..?…” in a quizzical-enough way that I felt validated more than harmed by it. There was a merchant selling nothing but large crosses which led to fear-rage rising up momentarily, but I felt my freedom of movement come right back and moved on (my town’s Pride this past summer had a person with a life-sized cross screaming about how we were going to hell so let’s just say that symbol isn’t working for me right now). There were also homemade cookies for sale, a purchase I undoubtedly would have made and regretted in past times as a way to cope with my discomfort. In sum, I entered a space that held potential trigger after trigger, but I was present with myself through it and now have a lovely gift to give as well as a perfect, hand-made representation of my inner work. A good day! What was the last experience you had with local and hand-made merchants? How does the space in which events are held affect you?

Winter Skincare (Today's Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence, I’m focusing on caring for my skin. Going on T often corresponds to more breakouts, so I changed my routine last summer and have found my skin is also responding (so far!) better to the cool temperatures than it has in the past as a result. Moisturizing is my main skin self-care secret!

Facial care routine

I start each day washing my face with a benzoyl peroxide face cleaner. Then, as soon in sequence as I can, I blot using a toner. I finish with a light moisturizer with SPF protection. I repeat this process after a hard workout.

In the evenings (when I shower), I use a moisturizing soap in the shower. I repeat the benzoyl peroxide cleaner, and then alternate between a charcoal face wash and one with hyaluronic acid. Finally, every other day, I include Differin gel as the final part of my facial care. All the products I use are available over the counter at places like Target, and cost ten dollars or less individually. The fact that they are budget-friendly is important to me because, although I care about my skin, it isn’t something into which I’m willing to pour tons of money.

I don’t wear any makeup now, so any blemishes and skin imperfections are a lot more noticeable than they used to be. I can feel self-conscious if a pimple makes its home on my face, but I am grateful my daily process at least keeps my face from being extremely oily. In addition, although I’ve written this before, I feel the need to restate that I cannot believe how much more able to “breathe” my skin is now that it isn’t covered in what seems close to paint in retrospect.

Body Skincare routine

The routine for the rest of my body is much simpler. As I write this, I find myself wondering why I give my face so much more attention! I use the same moisturizing soap to wash my body, and a body butter cream on my hands, feet and any other dry spots every night. I also use a standard moisturizing lotion throughout the day, primary on my hands.

I’ve dealt with both eczema and psoriasis before, and winter has been a prime time for flares. I still have problem spots on my knees and the backs of my hands at times, but staying ahead of any drying has helped to reduce my issues. What does your skincare routine look like? Does it feel like it soothes or irritates your skin? What’s your secret ingredient to feeling your best in terms of your skin?

As I Am (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw was about finding my voice as well as inwardly listening. I quickly came to a truth I’ve been ignoring, which is that I am harmed when people fail to perceive my gender. Specifically, I’ve had incident after incident in recent weeks where someone who knows I’m trans uses an incorrect pronoun for me and then acts like I didn’t say anything when I spout “they” in response. I feel invisible in those situations, and the interaction brings up strong feelings related to my childhood trauma.

I feel uncertain as to which direction to go in, mostly because being more forceful will inevitability lead to me being regarded more negatively than I already am. My primary choices, if I want to possibly be heard, are to interrupt the person and tell them “please use they pronouns for me,” to try to talk to them privately afterwards, or to start wearing my pronoun pin in all social setting. None of these options appeal to me, perhaps because I want them to perceive me as I am, rather than to have to be strong-armed into “respecting” my gender.

I think what gets under my skin so badly is the fact that being trans is really hard, and, rather than my so-called friends and supporters giving a care about that fact, they are instead putting me in a position where I have to become antagonistic in order to get my needs met. I think they should be the ones putting in the effort, not me, just as I put in effort to be sensitive and conscious of how I speak to them. In ignoring my pronouns, they are in effect acting as though I’m not trans, like we can simply carry on as before.

Given that I am not likely to get very far in resolving this or any interpersonal conflict, I turn instead to what I need to offer myself to cope with environments in which, despite showing up whole, only pieces of me are welcome. My first course of action is to limit my exposure to these environments. Next, if I have to be in them, I need a recovery period in which I allow myself all the space and time I need to come back to self again, including giving voice to bitter, misanthropic and angry parts. Finally, I have to spend time reflecting on my own shadow and the areas in which I allow my privilege to silence another’s truth. If you are trans, how do you handle being misgendered by those who know better? Which types of self-care are most helpful to you?

Autumn Endings (Daily Works of Art)

Autumn is a season of contraction in my mind; a pulling inward of impulse and energy in order to prepare for the bitterness of winter. I tend to find my emotions trending more negatively and my outlook on life a bit dimmer as the sunlight arrives earlier every evening. Autumn is casting off, letting go and a hiding of secret treasures.

I released my given name a few months ago, replacing it with a chosen name of my own. Many days since have involved calling and emailing and mailing all manner of companies, telling them who I am now. I’m excited for the eventual newness, but am more in a place of reminding and replacing each piece of my life right now.

For my daily work of art, I collected a leaf that had been dropped by a tree. It was a strange find in that it was still green and soft, whereas most leaves at this point in the season are brittle, brown and fading. It felt like my previous name in a way, not retired because I died, but ensconced into my history as a memento to who I was while some of the life was still in it.

I am still who I was, but there will likely be a richness and fullness of presence I’ve only been able to achieve by transitioning to a new name that represents myself past, present and future more robustly. It’s bittersweet, in the way I’m sad to see the trees become barren, but yet I hold a tiny flame burning in anticipation of the explosion of green the spring will bring. What is autumn to you? What are you letting go of or secreting away, knowing it is necessary for growth?

Bodily Self-Acceptance (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

The Daily Remembrance card I chose today inquires as to which area of my body that I’ve come to accept and how I accomplished this self-embrace. My eyebrows and mustache were a source of embarrassment and shame for me as a teenager as they did not fit the acceptable presentation of someone assigned to my gender. Now that I know I am trans and non-binary, my facial hair has become more of a source of pride for me.

Once I went through puberty, my body hair became thicker and darker in places it wasn’t “supposed” to. I recall a teen guy telling me I looked like a boy, which did wonders for my self-esteem at the time (today I might take it as a compliment!). To combat my body’s vigorous hirsutism, I at first plucked and then waxed parts of my facial hair. Eventually I added a thick layer of makeup to conceal any strays.

Given that I am on T and am no longer wearing makeup, my facial hair is more visible than it has been in decades. I’m still finding the right balance of how I want to style it. I’ve started shaving my beard area once a week, even though my cheek hair is still very light. This keeps me feeling tidy and trimmed.

In many ways, being a trans person has been about celebrating my body more than detesting or altering it. I don’t even remotely think that this is every trans person’s experience, but I do believe that the failure of social norms to acknowledge the variety and beauty of every body as a valid representation of the person’s gender contributes to the social dysphoria trans people often experience. If I had grown up in a world where non-binary people were accepted, I think I would have come to understand who I was much earlier. My facial hair did not make me non-binary, but knowing that I am non-binary allows me to have a different relationship with many areas of my body, including my scraggly mustache and the woolly caterpillars of my eyebrows.