Appreciating Risk

Being on T has led to so much unexpected personal growth for me; I was unprepared for the mental effects I would experience. The best way I can describe it is having an internal slider that can shift from a fine-grained, nuanced painting to one with broad and bold strokes of color. When I need clarity and decision-making, the lines are clear and I can make a choice. When careful deliberation and a weighing of multiple competing needs is relevant, I can zoom in with great detail. I hope that the easy/simple option doesn’t start to outweigh the more nuanced one over time if I continue to use low-dose T.

A specific area of my life where this new experience of flexibility is showing up is in interpersonal relationships. I find myself speaking where before I would have suppressed my voice; my inner bravery in being honest with myself is being shared with others. Alongside my growing fondness for hearing my own voice (cringe!), I find myself feeling calmer in confronting others. The feeling of “this needs to be said” is taking precedence over “what harm might I experience if I say this.” It isn’t that my assessments of situations are necessarily changing, but my risk/reward balance is shifting. Almost bizarrely, people are starting to listen to me! I find myself being taken more seriously, although it is too soon to tell if it is in regard to a particular situation or a general shift. I do not know what will continue to change physically or cognitively, but I am here for it and am appreciative of being able to see the simple and complex at the same time. If you are on HRT as a trans and/or non-binary person, please feel free to share if anything I’ve described fits for you or if your experience has been different.

A Half-Formed Image (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I got a new phone today after cracking the screen on my old one. It took a solid hour to transfer my data from the old to the new, during which I felt an odd sensation of in-between. It was difficult to not have everything settled and set the way I like it. It made me consider other instances of neither here or there and how they affect me.

I love to travel but am happiest in the planning for rather than the doing. I like to, from the comforts of home, imagine where I could go and what I could do. I think it is a sense of all possible futures sitting before me. Once the journey begins, the possible comes a singular reality and the magic tends to fade.

As far as visual imagery is concerned, I think the moments between leaving and arriving are a half-finished drawing with the outline partially sketched. Sufficient information exists to allow me to see what it will become, but I am left without the sense of completion a final image produces.

It is actually the collapsing of the possible into the probable that feels the most constricting to me. It is helpful to consider that erasers and new sheets of paper exist. Maybe the journey has way-stops and interludes I could not anticipate and the final lines look nothing like what I’m anticipating they will. I live in both deep terror and profound craving of the unknown, the blank page, and only a fleeting sense of relief at the finalized etching, what it was. I want to grow in appreciation for what is becoming as the image comes into relief.

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

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.

Authentic Living (In the Cards)

For today’s card draw, I used the In an Open Hand deck I am developing and drew the authenticity card. This card focuses on self-expression which is perfect for this moment in my life as I recently took a big step legally in relation to being trans and changed my name. The process itself was extremely stressful and took much longer than anticipated. Because of this, I haven’t felt much cause for celebration or “newness” of self as of yet, but I anticipate an internal shift will arrive.

One of the prompts that comes with the authenticity card invites a reflection on what it means to move across the boundary of self. Someone I know was diagnosed this month with a terminal illness, which brought up a lot of internal reactions for me as to the finite nature of each of our lives. I was surprised to find myself having an intensely spiritually-centered response in that I view death as a sacred transition, just as transitioning in terms of embracing my gender has a sacred quality to it for me.

As I experience them, both changes are embodied; they cannot be separated from the physical states to which they correspond (other people may of course transition in terms of gender without making physical changes). Life experiences that are wholly embodied are, then, an opportunity for knowing that cannot be taught. There is another side to which we are moving that is undefined and which we have not known consciously but yet which we know in our bones. Having traversed new waters, we are never the same.

As I connect these concepts, I wonder if part of the reason I get so frustrated with those who misgender me again and again is the fact that their actions belie their stilted grief for who I was and their state of denial of the movement I’ve undertaken as a person. What does it mean, perhaps, for their sense of their gender if someone else can “leave” or “change” what they believed to be permanent? What if the lands we declare our own are themselves constantly shifting? What if we box ourselves in so that our true voice is hushed?

In the same line, I observed others who got news of the terminal illness diagnosis shut down and seem stalled out by it, likely because they hold tightly to an idea of how things “should” happen, whereas I found myself filling with a sense of expansiveness as to, if there is no other path but the one unfolding, what do we make of ourselves and the situation? (I fully acknowledge that I could be engaging in spiritual bypass and would never bring these reflections to the person who got diagnosed unless she went there first). I am stressed by decision-making–the pulling up of the anchor–moreso than the arrival on new shores. I want to know in my body what it is to be human; these being-in-body journeys depart at different times and to different locations for each of us, but the living-with instead of in-spite-of or in-denial-of is where I want to be. What is an embodied experience in your life? How did it shape your spiritually? What do you know of life that you didn’t know before?

Observing a Transition (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It’s pretty hard to classify a trip to the DMV as a “Simple Pleasure,” but it was a good fit for the concept of finding an edge and noticing how the transition from one side to the other worked. It took hours for me to get called up to process my information today, so there was “waiting time” and “appointment time.” I seriously felt like I’d both won the lottery and transformed into an ascended being when it was finally my turn.

Afterwards, I realized how ridiculous the entire system is. I’m pretty sure that most people were called up in the order in which they arrived, but there were various numbers assigned to make it feel like it was moving along and was “fair.” It showed me how easily I can be switched into a competitive mode where crossing over from one side to another feels like an accomplishment, even if it simply means more delay.

Historically, I have been the worst at waiting. The edge would be between me and everyone around me, so I would strain at every moment that passed. At some point, I realized I may as well make the best out of those situations, so I spend time chatting to people near me so it feels like I’m rooting for my “team” to be next in line. There is still a division, but it is among the people I find annoying and those with whom I’ve connected. A meta edge would be seeing all the workers and customers as part of the same frame, us against the outside world where the pace and structure isn’t so linear, but I’m not there yet. How are you at handling long waits? Where are your edges?

Today’s Simple Pleasure: Observing a Plant

I didn’t have to go far to find a plant in whose presence I wanted to meditate. I have a young maple tree, planted a few years ago, growing near my house. I observed it using both my vision and my tactile senses.

Its leaves are beginning to turn brown, perhaps from disease, heat stress or the coming fall. As I touched them, I realized that they still feel “alive” and waxy, rather than dry and rough as they will once they fully die. The mottled surface drew in my eye as the green fades into various shades of brown.

The tree as a whole reminds me of a lanky teenager. It seems to sprout up each passing day, growing in height much more quickly than in circumference. Its shadow is small enough that, to find shade beneath it, one would need to move around again and again. I wonder what that is, to be a few decades removed from my adolescence–do I now cast a wider shadow? Has the frame of my existence filled out? What replaces growth as season after season passes by? I’m on the cusp of beginning to crinkle and develop some age spots. The tree seems content in its inbetween-ness, can I find the same easiness of presence?

Where are you at in the growth-transition-dying cycle of life, either overall or in a specific area? What is drying up and what is staking out its place in the horizon?

Nonbinary Transition in Midlife: Reflections on Navigating Chaotic Waters

I became certain of my nonbinary identity a few months ago. Ever since, I’ve endured a state of unrelenting crisis in my personal life, mostly unrelated to my gender identity, which is forcing me into a “day by day” mentality of wondering what fresh hell each new sunrise will evoke. I am aging from young into middle adulthood and, despite my current state of affairs, I am doing all I can to break my internal equating of mid-life with obligation, unpredictability and financial strain.  As I do this, I believe that the unique challenges of middle age* bring with them an over-lapping but potentially unique set of needs as compared to transitioning at a younger or an older age.

As I continue my transition, these are the self-care practices and beliefs that I anticipate will continue to prove useful:

Setting My Own Pace

Most of the information I’ve accessed on nonbinary transition involves advice to go slowly. I think there is wisdom in this, especially for those who are teenagers who may have fewer social advantages (such as a job and a safe place to live) if they receive a negative response from their community. In addition, for many trans and/or nonbinary people of any age, the speed of transition is dictated not only by their own desires and confidence in their decision, but also by external factors they can’t control.

For me personally, I feel one privilege of middle adulthood is that I’ve lived nearly 40 years in my body and I know what makes me tick. Once I grasp something core about myself, I run with it and have had few regrets about drastic changes I’ve made in the past. When I know, I know. Therefore, I’ve socially transitioned very quickly. I am switching up some medications so that I can hopefully start HRT in a few months. I live in a state that offers job and housing protections in relation to gender identity. I don’t have to take direction from anyone else about how slowly, cautiously or hesitantly I “should” be moving with this change and I am extremely grateful for this reality.

Recognizing the Limits of Validation from Others

I’ve had very little success in getting others to use my chosen name, much less my pronouns, correctly. In their book Gender: Your Guide, Lee Airton mentions feeling drained rather than offended by misgendering. In general, this has been my experience as well. Being called “she” for hours straight with no or few “they’s” to break it up wears me out. I believe that I’m fighting not just blatant transphobia, but also the basic conceptualization of gender that most Americans still hold. My belief is that most people’s brains don’t have a slot for “nonbinary: they/them/theirs” the way they do for “man: he/him/his” and “woman: she/her/hers.” Educating people only goes so far if they don’t make a conscious effort to create a different way of understanding gender mentally. All this to say that I try to separate my experience of myself in terms of gender from what others make of me. I’ve had so much practice not being seen in other areas of my life that I finally know that, even if someone else can’t or chooses not to see me, I still exist and am valid.

Acknowledging that Being Nonbinary is Enough

As soon as I came into full awareness of my identity, I went through the paces of what I perceive to be the nonbinary initiation for those who were AFAB, including purchasing a binder and growing out my body hair. I’ve found, though, that I can only wear a binder in a limited capacity as the weather warms up because I become overheated and uncomfortable quickly. I’ve adjusted my wardrobe to help reduce my physical dysphoria even on days where I can’t wear it. (Side note, vests of all kinds are my go-to!).

I’ve enjoyed having my armpit hair long, but my lower legs in their full fur made me feel extremely self-conscious socially as well as overheated. (I run hot!). I finally shaved them and felt instantly better. I know I’m nonbinary; I do not have to sport every single possible trapping of “androgyny” or, as I read or heard somewhere, “being vaguely masculine” in order to prove my identity to myself or anyone else. As a person who experiences chronic pain, I value anything that reduces my dysphoria without adding to my bodily suffering. It feels very freeing to figure out techniques that allow me to express my gender in a physically comfortable way that also matches my internal experience of myself.

Finding My Mooring(s)

Prior to fully accepting my identity as a nonbinary person, I devoted a lot of my energy to women-centered spaces. My transition has not yet progressed physically to the point where those spaces are inaccessible to me, but my internal makeup has caused some of them to feel potentially inappropriate and/or unwelcoming (there was always an internal tension in me in these places, now I know its origin). I’ve found it helpful to be direct in asking about whether or not someone like me “fits in” with the mission and purpose of the group as well as to evaluate both the group’s stance on issues such as trans rights and their work to be inclusionary in their activities and language.

There have also been shifts in my personal relationships, although I believe most people who know me IRL still see me as a woman and default me into that category in their head, rather than experiencing the discomfort of how to interact with someone who fits into a category which they may not have previously encountered. Based on their sexual orientation, some people have rules around who they feel comfortable spending time with alone (I don’t have the fortitude to process this here) and I find myself curious about how their rules apply to people in a gender to whom they may or may not be attracted, were they to acknowledge its existence.

To the extent that neither men’s or women’s spaces feel 100% right to me, where do I belong? As an asexual panromantic person, mixed gender groups have brought their own set of problems related to boundaries as those working from cishet norms assume I’m obviously there to find a man to date. I am excited for Pride month and will be attending at least one event that has the potential to bring like-minded people into my life. I am spending as much time as I can in queer spaces online. Finally, I am considering ways I can create my own spaces, even in a simple form on this blog, to welcome others with whom I might be sharing a nonbinary journey.  

In reflecting on my experiences as an openly nonbinary person thus far, I feel the shame I felt around “why didn’t I know this about myself 20 years ago” fading and a sense of gratitude seeping in instead. I’ve had a sufficient range of life experiences, both positive and negative, to know what I need, how to express myself and how to care for myself during this time of exploration and change. Plenty of teens and young adults are equally equipped to navigate these things as well as I can now, but where I was at in my teens and 20s would have created a massive crisis, had I tried to fully grapple with my gender identity at that time. I get to things as soon as I am able and ready to do so; that confidence I have in myself is allowing me to feel gender euphoria in the here and now.

*Sadly, there is a stereotype that only teens are identifying as nonbinary as a “trend.” Ash Hardell recently created an awesome video sharing the experiences of older nonbinary people.