Pick a Label. Any Label. Please!

I’ve been thinking about labels a lot lately.  This is not something that I’ve done a lot of in the past.  I think the majority of people don’t think about labels all that much.  I find the whole label thing troublesome and constricting.  Either or, never both, black and white.  Too narrow.  I carried the label lesbian around for a long time, along with its sub-labels, dyke and butch.  I never liked it.  It felt foreign to me and separated me from other people who didn’t own a label like that.  Straight, cis-gender folks don’t need labels.  They’re simply women and men, husbands and wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, accountants, plumbers, nurses, teachers, widget makers and fire fighters.  They don’t need to qualify their sexuality along with those titles, as in, I’m a cis-gender heterosexual female civics teacher who’s brother is a cis-gender male heterosexual proctologist.  Honestly, who does that?  No one.  But we feel a need to label ourselves.  Transgender butch pansexual ballerina.  Who cares?  Really?  Unless you want to date the person, does it really matter?  Labels are tedious.

I realize that I’m speaking blasphemy here.  We’re all into our labels.  They make us unique and define who we are.  But have you ever noticed how much angst people put into finding just the right label to describe themselves?  I have.  And I’ve been doing it too.  I’ve been preparing for the day when someone asks me what I am.  Maybe it’ll be a little child in a restaurant innocently asking me if I’m a boy or a girl.  Maybe it will be a frightened woman in the restroom questioning me on whether I deserve to share the same toilet space as her.  Perhaps it will be a store clerk not sure if she should call me sir or ma’am.  And what will I say to them?  I don’t know.  What am I?  I feel like a hybrid man/woman/butch/transman.  Where do I belong?  Everywhere.  And nowhere.

Labels help us feel connected in community.  The lesbian community.  The trans community.  The LGBTQ community.  The African American community.  The Muslim community.  The deaf community.  You get the idea.  We keep separating ourselves and sequestering off into our little quadrants of the planet by label.  White, straight people don’t do that.  They don’t have to.  They have privilege and lawful rights that the rest of us are still fighting for.  Yet, by labeling ourselves, we separate ourselves from just being fellow human beings sharing a planet.  Are we really all that different?  I don’t think so.

If I refuse to label myself as a trans man does that make me not a trans man?  No.  If a deaf man refuses to label himself a deaf man, he’s still deaf.  But, what it does do is not set him apart from everyone else as “other”.  People often lead conversations with their labels.  Hi, I’m Shawn.  I’m a trans man.  Actually, I’m a transmasculine butch with a lesbian history.  I’m also Gold Star and proud of it!  Here’s my rainbow business card.  Go to my website and it will explain everything.  No, how about simply saying Hi, my name is Shawn.  It’s nice to meet you.

Then there’s pronouns and honorifics.  Sir/Ma’am, he/she/they/zir/etc.  At some point I’m going to have to pick pronouns.  And an identity.  I don’t want to.  I just want to be Shawn and have that be enough.  My neighbors don’t have to pick a label.  I don’t want to either.  Right now, I’m sure we’re known as the lesbian couple down the street. Why?  Because we’re perceived as different.  We’re not different.  We pay our bills, go to work, mow our lawns, have fights, go to the grocery, go on vacations, cook meals, play with our pets, care about our families, worry about our country, and everything else just like our neighbors do.  We’re not different.  The only difference is that we’re technically the same sex and they are the opposite.  So what?  Get over it.  I don’t want to be the lesbian couple next door.  I don’t want to be someone’s token lesbian friend.  Or trans friend either.  I’m really tired of all this othering that’s going on constantly.

The bathroom bills that are plaguing the country right now get me thinking about this even more.  If we were not seen as so different than the general population (i.e. white, cis-gender, straight people) where would all that fear come from?  People fear what they don’t understand, so we’re told.  They also fear what they’ve been taught to fear.  Fear breeds hate.  But, when it all comes down to it, we’re all just human animals that need to pee and aren’t trying to cause any trouble.  Our differences are being used to demonize us and make us seem like some thing vs. some one.  We’re people.  Bottom line.  We’re all just people.  And people need to pee.

The 80/20 Rule

I had a great session with my life coach, Jeff St. Laurent, yesterday morning.  Today is my deadline for paying in full for my top surgery and I was still feeling some resistance and nervousness about plopping down thousands of dollars for a life altering surgery, so I asked him to help me work through some of that hesitation and nervousness.  He reminded me of the 80/20 rule.  The way that works, to my understanding, is that we’re often 80% (or more) convinced that we want to do something but we focus on the 20% (or less) part of ourselves that has doubt and fear around the event (or object, like buying a house or a new car, etc.).  We get so focused on all of the negative things that can happen (the 20%) that we totally ignore and forget the reasons we want to do the thing or buy the thing (the 80%).  He was right!  I was focusing on stuff like regret, what others might think or say, how this effects my relationship, this being the final step in my transition (point of no return), dying on the table and having a major panic attack.  He asked me to write down the things that are making me nervous and think about what I can do about them if they actually did happen.  For example, one of my concerns is that I’ll regret having my breasts removed.  After some thought, I’m pretty sure I won’t regret this decision, but if I did, I could probably get implants or wear a prosthetic bra.  It’s not entirely irreversible.  I could stop T and take E and they’d probably start growing back on their own.  Will I do any of that?  I seriously doubt it.

Then he told me to focus on why I am doing this and list those reasons.  And, finally, list the things that I’m looking forward to after the surgery is over and I’m healed up.  Even just talking to him about the things I’m looking forward to made my mood lighter and I felt happier and our conversation moved onto other topics that I felt stronger about.  I’ll share here a few of the things I’m looking forward to after this is over.

  • Destroying my bras and giving away my binders.  I fantasize about actually burning my bras in a bonfire or getting a stick of dynamite and blowing them up.  Maybe I’ll buy a rocket kit and send them off with the rocket into the atmosphere in a blaze of glory.
  • Putting on a t shirt for the first time with out worrying about strapping my boobs down.
  • Swimming without boobs.
  • Not having the seat belt in my car ride up around my neck because of them…so annoying!
  • And most importantly, seeing my chest for the first time as it always should have been.  I tear up just thinking about that.

Just by focusing on the things I want and what I’m looking forward to I feel so much freer and at peace with my decision because I KNOW that this is the right thing for me to do.  I’m looking forward to it and want to celebrate being free of these unwelcome appendages that I’ve carried around for 40+ years.

A lot of us are wrestling with hard, seemingly life changing decisions.  I want to challenge you to write down your fears and think about if they are really as un-fixable or irreversible as you think if you do the thing you’re contemplating and you’re not happy with your decision.  I want to challenge you to focus on the reasons you want to do the thing and what you would be looking forward to if you went for it.  I found that writing out my concerns/fears and then going back and thinking about what I could do to reverse the action later on if I really did make a big mistake made me feel safer and freer to take the risk.  Almost nothing is irreversible if you really want to go back to how you once were.  If I wanted to, right this minute, I could begin the process of becoming the dyke lesbian I used to be.  I don’t want to go back there though and I seriously doubt I will ever regret having my top surgery.

Testosterone: Panacea or Pandora?

Just in the last couple of days three bloggers I follow posted about how hormone therapy was causing them problems mentally.  First there was butchcountry67’s post here, then Sam’s thoughtful post here and then Eli’s post here.  Their experiences really made me think hard about how I’ve been feeling lately.  I know a few of you are thinking about starting T and no one really talks a lot about the mental aspect of transitioning or what the hormones do to our brains. I’ve even written a little bit about how I wonder if T is making my mind do interesting and sometimes alarming somersaults.  There was this post that I wrote recently as well as this one where I talk about my mental acrobatics of late.  My anxiety has been off the charts since November/December of 2015.  Like I’m often apt to do, I have tried to figure out what is causing this sudden and unexpected surge of anxiety in my life.  I’ve blamed it on the holidays, on surgeries, menopause, aging, stress, work, transitioning, hormones, diabetes, my weight, my diet, my lifestyle, lack of sleep, society, early dementia, you name it, I’ve thought of it.  Maybe all of that plays into our mental state.  Maybe one thing alone doesn’t make that much difference but all added up it creates a nice mind noodle soup that sends us into another realm.  I don’t know.

I try to remember when I started T exactly but I’m just not that sure.  I think it was around 2011, so about 4-5 years.  I started on a super low dose of Androgel.  My first prescription was a baggie with 4 or 5 little packets in it.  I put 1/4 packet on my upper arms every morning.  I did this for a while and then went to 1/2 a packet.  Eventually I was given a bottle of the stuff and applied two pumps per day.  I was on the gel for a couple of years I think.  Physically, I did see some minor changes.  My body odor changed pretty immediately.  There was some minor growth downstairs and a marked increase in libido.  My facial hair got much more fuzzy and pronounced and I started getting hair in new places like my butt and upper thighs and my voice dropped a little bit.  Mentally, I felt really good.  My moods leveled out and I felt unusually optimistic during a pretty rocky time in my life.

But I didn’t like having to put the gel on every day.  It’s messy and can rub off on pets and partners (so they say, though I’m not so sure about that once it’s dried).  The little changes I had experienced made me hungry for more so I asked my doctor about switching to injections.  I had intended to stay at the same dose or slightly higher than what I had been on with the gel.  But he wrote my script for a full dose (which I didn’t know at the time).  I did some research to try and figure out what a full dose typically is and realized he had plopped me up to full dose in one fell swoop.  I called and talked to him about it and he told me to take a little less if I wasn’t comfortable with it.  He made it sound like I was already to a full dose on the gel.  Maybe I was.  I don’t know about that since no one really talks about what a full dose of Androgel is.  I think I was up to 3 or 4 pumps per day a the end.  Not being either a doctor or a math whiz I’m not sure what the equivalents are.  So I injected .4cc or 80mg per week of T for about a year.  I saw a dramatic drop in my voice right away and some real facial hair sprouting as well as some chest and arm hairs and a serious increase in libido that was beyond overwhelming at times.  I didn’t dislike the changes.  He had given me carte blanche to toy with my dosage if I wanted to so I upped it to .5cc (100mg) per week for a while (maybe close to a year).  I had a hysterectomy and a vein surgery in the mean time.  People started increasingly seeing me as male out in public.  Using the women’s toilets started to become a problem.  Not being out as trans to friends started to become a problem.  People started wondering what the heck was going on with me.  Some people still do since I haven’t told everyone yet.  Still, mentally, I felt pretty good.

Looking back, however, I can tell you that a new pattern with my anxiety disorder was emerging.  I would go quite a while and everything would be ok but then suddenly, out of nowhere, there would be a huge surge of anxiety/panic attacks over some particular thing that would be debilitating for a while.  First it was bridges, then it was bathrooms, now it’s my mind/memory.  Is this the work of the T or is it just how my disorder is progressing?  I don’t know.  I had the two Transient Global Amnesia attacks.  The first one was before starting T, the second one was after being on it for a couple of years.  So, I can’t say that the T caused those.

What I can say, however, is that, while who I am has not changed, the way my brain thinks and processes information most definitely has.  I have disturbing thoughts throughout the day that scare me and make me wonder who I am becoming.  Sometimes these thoughts get a grip on me and don’t want to let go.  It upsets me greatly and freaks me out.  These thoughts are usually sexual or violent in nature.  I remember getting my eyes examined by a new doctor one time.  She was an attractive young woman (in my opinion anyway) and she had really muscular, well defined arms and was wearing a sleeveless dress that day.  I got fixated on her arms and wanted to comment on how beautiful they were.  I literally almost came unglued because this desire was so strong in my head and I knew it was inappropriate to mention something like that to her.  I had to will myself to stay quiet.  Then the other day I was driving along a back road and I saw an attractive lady (again, my opinion) wearing a very flattering outfit jogging on the opposite side as me.  I had a sudden urge to slow down, lower my window and tell her how nice she looked and how that outfit really showed off her figure.  What?  Who does that?  NO!!  Only perverted idiot men do that kind of shit!  I thought, oh my God, I’m turning into a sexist asshole pig.  Of course I didn’t scare the crap out of that woman thank God but I had the urge thought and that freaked me out.  This is NOT who I am.  These are two examples.  I have random thoughts like these throughout the day.  Every day.  Sometimes I get sudden bursts of anger that are hard to control, usually while driving.  Even the slightest little infraction from a fellow driver will send me into a fit of anger.  Again, this is not me.

Perhaps I’ve found that point where I’m beyond enough into the too much territory.  I reduced my dose back to .4cc for the past couple of weeks and my brain has settled down some.  I considering going even lower to maybe .3cc and see how I feel.  But after reading butchcountry67’s post I feel like I should ask my doctor before doing that.  Knowing him he’ll tell me to do whatever I want.  He doesn’t seem at all concerned about it when I talk to him at my bi-annual visits.  Maybe that should alarm me.  He’s more concerned with my diabetes.  He is an endocrinologist after all.  That’s what he specializes in.  The hormones are just a side gig for him.  But for me, they are a big deal and they impact my life just as much as being diabetic does.  To be totally honest, I’ve even been considering stopping my T altogether lately.  I doubt I will do that, but it is floating around my mind noodle at the moment.

I’m talking about this because it’s important for folks to hear the truth about hormones.  They are powerful and can mess you up if you’re not careful…and sometimes even if you are.  Throw in some mental disorders like depression, anxiety, bi-polar, etc. and you can have some really unpredictable outcomes.  I’m not saying don’t try HRT for yourself.  Not at all.  Just be aware  that they are serious and you need to closely monitor yourself mentally as well as physically while on them.  I don’t know if T is to blame for all of my recent issues.  My guess is that it isn’t.  But since lowering my dose just a little (20mg) has made a difference in how I feel, I’m pretty sure that some of it is from the T.  Doctors want to just throw a standard dose at everyone like we’re all the same and not think about it too much.  They suffer from the same issues the rest of us suffer with, namely, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  They don’t want to take the time to be thorough because they have a waiting room full of impatient people waiting to be seen.  It’s up to us, the patient, to advocate for ourselves and ask the questions and demand the answers.  Sometimes, the doctors truly don’t know the answers because there just isn’t enough information out there through research and studies.  This needs to change.

A Rocky Start

I haven’t written much this year yet.  The year got off to a rough start at work and I still don’t feel like I’ve found my footing in this new year that is now almost 1/4 of the way done.  I find that somewhat depressing.  I’m finally getting my work stuff straightened out and by the end of this week I should be feeling fresh and clean there and ready for a new start.  Nothing like finishing last years projects almost four months into the next year to charge you up!  Sarcasm, if you didn’t know, is one of my favorite forms of expression.  Anyway, besides feeling increasingly like the big bad wolf is about to blow my work house down I’ve been going through some emotional things that have increased my anxiety levels to new heights.

It’s hard for me to talk about what I’m going through because I’m not sure I understand it.  I don’t know what’s causing it and I don’t even know what it is.  I think it’s related to transitioning and possibly using hormones.  For a while I thought maybe my dose was too high (standard dose of .5cc per week) and it was making me feel crazy in my head.  So I dropped it down one cc/10 mg to .4cc or 40 mg and that might have helped but I’m not absolutely sure.  I’ve talked to a couple of folks about it and they think it’s purely anxiety.  What’s happening is that sometimes I feel mentally fragmented like there’s a part of my brain that I can’t access.  Sometimes I get this weird feeling like I don’t know who I am anymore.  I go through my mental quiz with myself to make sure I’m not having another episode where my short term memory is messed up.  My therapist suggested I start taking B vitamins since they’re good for memory and I do think they’ve helped a little bit.  They also help with anxiety which is good too.  Then I was reading about the affects on the brain from living with narcissists and how it affects your memory as well.  There’s a thing call Complex PTSD which is similar to regular PTSD like soldiers experience after being in war but is caused by prolonged exposure to mental and/or physical trauma.  I definitely show signs of C-PTSD and it probably has a lot to do with my anxiety and phobia issues.  Along with being sensitive to a lot of stimulus and not dealing well with stress it is probably a perfect storm brewing inside my head, along with all the fun stuff that transitioning does for a person.  How could I not be feeling in a heightened state of anxiety?

On top of all this I scheduled my top surgery for April 7th.  I find myself wondering if my timing is bad on this.  I wanted to get it done now because the rest of the year is going to be pretty busy with work and trips we have planned and if I don’t do it now I’ll have to wait until late in the year or even next year to do it.  And there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to do it then either since we never know what the future holds.  Now is definitely the time to have my surgery but my head is spinning out of control some days and I’m relying more and more on my anxiety meds to keep my stuff together.  Another thing that’s been bothering me even though I’ve been told by two nurses that they think it is anxiety as well is that my heart often feels like it’s going to pound out of my chest and I can feel my pulse throbbing up into my ears.  My blood pressure and pulse are all normal and I don’t have heart issues but it still scares me.  Last night when I went to bed I felt like my whole body was buzzing/vibrating and thought that at any moment I might start shaking all over.  I didn’t.

Now, dear reader, you may be thinking, “Wow, poor Lesboi is a hypochondriac and has some serious mental issues he needs to take care of ASAP!”  I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that.  Honestly, I wouldn’t.  I think it too most days.  Except I’m not a hypochondriac and usually, other than some depression and anxiety, I’m pretty mentally stable.  I don’t know what my problem is to be honest.  I feel like I’m losing my shit and I’m not even sure what shit I’m losing.  I’ve even considered quitting my T altogether in case it’s the root cause of my malaise.  I’ve been on T for about 4 years and at this dose for close to two so it’s not like I’ve been messing around with the dosage or trying new things.  My guess is that it isn’t the T.  But what is it?  Stress probably.  I felt great at the end of 2015 with all that I had accomplished in my transition and looking forward to finishing it all up in ’16 but work-wise I didn’t wrap things up like I had wanted and the holidays put me in a real downward spiral emotionally.  I’ve been a mess ever since then and it’s getting worse, not better.  I’m hoping getting work fixed up will take some of the stress off me.  But I also have the stress of the upcoming surgery which I am really looking forward to, yet have some anxiety about as well.  This is my big transition surgery and it has a lot of meaning to me.  It symbolizes the end of my life as a female bodied person.  The last outwardly visible cue of my female gender will be removed that day.  Don’t get me wrong, I want them gone.  I’ve never wanted breasts.  But, just as I felt a pang of sadness when I erased my old identity at my college a few weeks ago I think having my breasts removed could possibly trigger some deep emotional response as well.  I’m a little afraid of how it will make me feel to have them gone.  I know that body parts don’t equal gender and that lots of men have boobs.  I get that.  But, for me, they were the most outward and obvious sign that, yes, I definitely am a woman even if I don’t like it.  When they came in I had to reconcile that within myself and my psyche.  I have boobs.  I am a woman.  I’m never going to be a boy or grow up to be a man.  And I put all of those thoughts out of my head for a very long time.  As I’ve said before, I have a lot of internal shame around my desire to be a boy and really struggle to feel worthy of claiming male as my gender.  Even so, my plan is to change my gender marker to Male once I’ve had surgery.  It’s a big deal to me.  Whether Candace knows it or not, it’s a big deal to her too.  How will it affect my relationship?  What will people think?  I won’t be able to hide anymore.  I will be visibly trans or at least visibly not female.  This is my thinking anyway.  Reality will probably teach me that I’m wrong the first time someone calls me ma’am after surgery.  And I’ll get mad about it, I’m sure.  I’ll have to come out to my employees too and I’m really dreading that, yet I’m pretty sure it’ll go fine.  Today, a customer called me sir in front of one of them and I didn’t “correct” him.  I was sure that my employee would say something but he didn’t and I was thankful for it.  Maybe he didn’t hear or wasn’t sure what he heard.  Either way, the time has come to clear all this up for the people I work with.

On top of all this, I’m planning to open a second location for my business in the middle of the summer, so I’m worried about that too.  I worry that it’s more than I can handle and that I’ll be overwhelmed.  Maybe I’m biting off more than I can chew.  I want to do it though.  I can’t explain it other than I just feel in my bones like it’s the right thing to do.  The stars have aligned perfectly for this to happen and I want to do it.  But it is daunting and scary.  Another reason to get surgery done now instead of later.  I know that the end of this year is going to be insanely busy with work and I won’t have time to take weeks off to recuperate and take it easy.

So as you can see, life is a bit wonky right now for me.  I’m managing ok most of the time but I often feel on the edge of losing my grip on reality.  I think.  If I can get myself in a new routine of meditating in the mornings and doing some exercises at night I think I’ll feel a lot better.  After writing all of this out I can clearly see that I’m dealing with a lot of heavy stuff and I need to learn to relax more.  I’m hoping that once I get work caught up I can take a few days by myself and do a mental retreat to work out some things and chill out away from home and work.  I wanted to do this in January, but like I said, work just didn’t allow it.  Now I just need to figure out where I want to go.