And Then There are the Bathrooms….

*This is a general post about the politics of using bathrooms. I am not addressing the Transgender Bathroom Laws here– that deserves its own post.*

I haven’t been comfortable in a public, multi-stall restroom since 2011, which was the last time I went to Union Hall in Brooklyn, which has gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms for everyone. Other than that, the only time I am really relaxed about using the bathroom in public is when I can use a single-person, gender neutral facility (like Starbucks).

Before transitioning, I used women’s restrooms. Because I was very male-presenting, my presence was often met with shock (like when women would enter the restroom, see me washing my hands, and would immediately leave because they thought they’d walked into the men’s room. LOL.), sometimes with outright hostility.

I had a 60+ year old woman walk up to me while I was in line in the ladies’ room at LAX and say “Excuse me, are you in the right place?” I was particularly grumpy and I replied “Lady, I would have to be the biggest idiot to be standing here in line with a bunch of women if I didn’t belong in here. Do you want to see my vagina?” THE LOOK ON HER FACE WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

As upsettinrestroom-signs-e-meng as my ladies’ room experiences were, the thought of going into the men’s room was scarier because of the prospect of physical violence. Needless to say, when I began transitioning, I was really excited when I started “passing” well enough to use the men’s room.

It turns out, men’s rooms come with their own challenges. First, there are new rules to learn.

1. Never make eye contact (you know, because of the gayness of eye contact in a place where you go to relieve yourself).
2. Do not speak to anyone else in the restroom, even if you know them. Must wait until you exit.
3. Be as disgusting as possible. (Okay, this isn’t a rule, per se, but you’d think so if you saw what I’m talking about.)

Second, there are many different configurations of men’s rooms and you have to think on your feet. Will there even be stalls? If so, will they have a door? Or will the toilets be working? How do you gracefully exit a bathroom once you walk in and realize there is nowhere for you to actually pee? I went into a single-person, designated men’s room at a grungy bar in Hollywood on Friday. It had a toilet (yay!) but the toilet was DUCT TAPED SHUT. I ended up having to squat backwards over the urinal. What would I have done if there wasn’t a door I could close and lock?

OH MY GOD MEN’S BATHROOMS THOUGH. Seriously, guys. Seriously. What is it about having a designated “man zone” that means that you can completely disregard all sense of sanitation and decency? The book The Lord of the Flies comes to mind when I consider the forces at play in a typical men’s public restroom.

The baffling thing is that I have used the bathroom in men’s homes, and they are NEVER as gross as a public men’s room.  What gives? I wonder if the state of public men’s restrooms is a greater commentary on our culture? Do men feel so put-upon by women in their lives generally that they actively rebel against all the forces that would tell them “Throw your paper towel in the trash can!” or “Don’t leave a giant puddle of pee on the floor!” by conducting themselves like animals that were poorly house-trained?

Or is it a symptom of groupthink? “I would normally pick that paper towel up, but since there is already a pile of them on the floor, I’ll just leave it….”  I may never know the answer to this question, but I will continue to ask it until someone gives me an answer that isn’t “It’s because men are just gross.” We, as humans, are better than that.

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In the Company of Men

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” — Groucho Marx

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” — The Great and Powerful Oz

My feelings about being a member of the dude club range somewhere between these two quotes. I have the privilege of “passing,” which means that the outside world reads me as male. I am also white, a native English speaker, and work in a white collar profession, which means that the outside world puts me in the highest social strata, based on my appearance. The truth, though, is that I was raised female in a middle-class family in Texas. I lived as a lesbian/queer woman for 16 years and consider myself to be a raging feminist.

This outward/inward dichotomy puts me in some interesting situations as I learn how to navigate male culture and privilege. I often feel like I’m undercover. A spy. An outsider sneaking around in disguise. I have thoughts like “Holy cow. They really don’t know, do they?”

This post is the first in what I imagine will be a series that might otherwise be titled “Sh*t Guys Say When They Think There Are No Women Around.”

So I’m in the elevator at work the other day. I work in a very big building in Downtown Los Angeles. It’s 51 stories tall, and full of mostly lawyers. Mornings are usually pretty crowded in the elevator bank, with throngs of suit-clad (or thankfully in my case, business casually clad) lawyers, paralegals, office workers, and other professionals making their way to work.

I get into the elevator with four men, all in suits, all appearing to be in their 30s and 40s. I don’t recognize any of them, and none are my coworkers. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had never seen any of them before.

I usually ride my bike or walk to work with my headphones in, and keep them on until I get to work, along with my sunglasses, so I can hang onto that “I’m not at work” feeling as long as possible before beginning my day. So I enter the elevator, swipe my key card, and move to the corner where I lean against the wall and wait to be whisked away to my office.

As the door is nearly closed, a woman makes it to the door in time to put an arm out and stop the doors from closing. She enters the elevator in a rush. She  apologizes to all of us for holding up the lift, and then pulls out her phone until her floor comes. She exits elevator.

Now, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to her as she stood there, I was busy messing with my phone and listening to Pearl Jam. I did notice two things:
1. She was wearing some very daring heels– peep toe, I believe.
2. Her skirt was shortish and tightish– the kind of skirt our career development people always said you shouldn’t wear to an interview.

As soon as she exits the elevator and the door closes, the man standing across the elevator from me says “Damn. I would not kick her out of bed. Right?” And then proceeded to look around at the rest of us for approval.

downloadWHAT!?!? My floor was next, and I barely had time to register what he’d said before I had to get off the elevator. I spent the next ten minutes processing what had happened. This man had read me as a guy, and then assumed that it would be totally okay with me to hear him talk about his sexual interest in that woman in the company of strangers.

After a few minutes, I began to feel guilty for not saying something back to him. I had missed an opportunity to educate that man, or at least make him (hopefully) think a little. I am not usually one to let things go unsaid, but I was honestly so shocked that I couldn’t respond. Upon reflection, here is what I should have said:
“That woman you just objectified, out loud, in front of a group of strangers, is a person. She’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/partner. She’s not just a skirt and heels. She’s a human. And you have stripped her of all of that in one instant by reducing her to sexual object. And what’s worse is, you assume that we all agree with you. Don’t assume you know anything about strangers. We may be victims or survivors, and your words might hurt more than you know.”

Next time, I’ll be ready.

Coming Out at Work

I have said, and will continue to say, that I am exceedingly lucky to be transitioning in this day and age. I am also lucky to have a supportive family, amazing friends, and very accepting coworkers.

When I was considering transitioning, one thing I really got hung up on was what transitioning would do to my career. I am an attorney, and just graduated law school a year ago. I was worried that beginning my career and then transitioning right after would be detrimental to my job– I didn’t want people to have to get to know me as a trans person and get to know me as an attorney all at the same time.

But, it was obvious that I couldn’t hold it in anymore. So I worked with the firm diversity coordinator and my closest friends to come up with a strategy. Ultimately, I sent my office an email. I sent it at 4 pm on a Thursday. I wanted to be able to leave the office quickly if I got too overwhelmed or if it went badly. I also didn’t want to have to be there the whole week if it was weird. So, I did it. And it’s been awesome.

Within two hours of sending it, I had about 30 emails back from various attorneys and staff expressing their support. I have had not one weird or awkward moment since. I am now on the firmwide diversity committee and am starting a new pro bono project to help with name/gender changes for trans people.

Here’s a copy of the letter I sent:

Dear Los Angeles Colleagues,

I am writing to tell you about a matter that is essentially personal but will result in some changes at work—I am transgender. This means that while I was born female, I identify with the masculine and will be undertaking the process of physically transitioning to a more male appearance. While I doubt this will come as a shock to any of you, the decision to physically transition has been the culmination of a ten year process of self-discovery. With the support of my family, friends, and wonderful colleagues here at [firm], I am ready to live as authentically as I can.

I’ve done my best over the last several months to make this transition go as smoothly as I know how. It turns out that there’s no ‘handbook’ to refer to on these matters. I regret that I have not been able to talk to each of you personally about this, but as you can imagine having ‘the conversation’ is a somewhat emotionally draining experience (usually for both parties) and so I’ve sometimes shied away from it, even when opportunities presented themselves. For this I hope you’ll forgive me.

Starting today, I ask that you call me [name] and use male pronouns (he, him, his) when referring to me. I am in the process of legally changing my name to [name] and Human Resources has been very supportive in making arrangements to change my name and gender on all my firm documentation. Our goal is for everything to be as smooth and uneventful as possible.

This change will inevitably take some getting used to, and there will be a period of adjustment. One thing I’m acutely aware of is the disruption and awkwardness that is brought in terms of ‘renegotiating’ social relationships that are to a large extent premised on one’s gender. The last thing I want is for any of you to feel nervous about ‘saying the wrong thing’, accidentally using my prior name, mixing up pronouns etc. These things happen and I am very used to it. I have developed considerable immunity to slips of the tongue etc. I am not shy about discussing any aspects of my situation that you may be curious about – indeed I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss it with any of you.

If you would like to learn a little bit more about what it means for someone to be transgender, I direct your attention to these resources, which are all quite good:
http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/transgender-faq
http://community.pflag.org/Document.Doc?id=202

One thing I want to add is that I feel I am extremely lucky to have found myself working in such a wonderful environment with such amazingly supportive, sensitive, compassionate and understanding colleagues. Many people in my situation face incredible difficulty when they attempt to transition at work, and in many cases it is the fear of the consequences of doing so that delays or even prevents them ever making the decision to live their real lives. I thank you all for your continued support and understanding and look forward to a bright future together.

Warmly,
BJK

Trans Guy Can’t Cry?

Before I begin, I just want to put a huge caveat out there that this post describes my experience in transition and is not meant to be a statement that applies to all trans guys who are taking testosterone. I’m sure there are other people who FullSizeRender (2)have experienced this same feeling, but I am not in any way implying that my problem here is universal among trans guys.

I can’t cry any more. I used to cry. I wasn’t the type of person who cried easily, but when I needed to cry, I never failed to do so. Coming from a very stoic Norwegian family, I always felt like the “sensitive one” because I would cry when I was sad about things. But I can’t cry any more.

It’s not that I don’t feel sadness– I definitely do. But where feelings of sadness used to cause tears to form, thus providing a release of sorts, they no longer come. I think that taking testosterone has actually blocked the physiological response of crying. It’s really, really strange.  I have had some very sad things happen to me since starting testosterone that normally would have made me cry: the tragic death of a foster dog, the loss of a loved one’s mother, stress at work, physical pain, the end of a relationship. But nothing. Nada. Seriously, I really wish I could cry.

This experience has given me some insight into what is perhaps one of the great stereotypical social divides between “men” and “women” in our culture. Women cry, men don’t, right?  More than that, men often perpetuate this idea that women who cry are “hysterical” or “emotional” or a slew of other not-flattering and loaded terms.  While this is definitely the patriarchy at work, my experience of late has given me some understanding as to why men might actually believe those things are true.

Before I transitioned, years ago, I lost a book on an airplane. It was Mockingjay (Hunger Games Part III) and it had just come out that day. I was about 1/2 into it when we had a layover and I left it on the plane. When I realized it was gone, I cried a little. Now, I understand (as any of you Hunger Games fans would) why I was upset– I had been so looking forward to reading it, I was really into it, and then out of carelessness, I lost it.

However, had I always been raised male, always had testosterone in my system– basically if I had the same inability to cry then that I do now– I would have looked at myself and thought “Okay, that person is crazy. Seriously? Crying over a book?”

In my mind now, I think I would probably cry if something really devastating happened. But it would have to be really, really upsetting. But for most of your everyday this-would-have-made-me-cry-a-year-ago events, it’s just not going to happen. If that had ALWAYS been my experience, and I had never felt what it was like for tears to form under less-than-tragic circumstances, I think I can see why I would look at “women” who cry and think “gosh, that’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

Is it possible that the “women are hysterical” myth exists simply because cisgender men have never lived in a body that reacted to non-catastrophes with tears? How much better would this world be if testosterone didn’t block that response? Would we be more empathetic? Less judgmental?

I guess there’s two lessons here:

1. to those who don’t cry: don’t judge those who do. They cannot control what their bodies do under stress/emotional circumstances any more than you can.

2. to whose that do cry: I know it sucks when those who don’t cry judge you for crying. But in addition to what you’re weeping for, add to the list the fact that those who don’t cry either physically can’t, or socially do not allow themselves to do so. Both of those things suck, too.

As Bill and Ted say: Be most excellent to each other.

Waking Up Spider-Man

tobey-maguire-cap-1 One question I get from people often is “How do you feel?” Meaning, “Hey, you’re going through a lot of things right now and your body is changing. What’s that like?”

The best analogy I have come up with is that it feels like waking up as Spider-Man. You know, the scene in the movies where Peter Parker, having just been bitten by the radioactive spider, wakes up and realizes he is not only strong, but that he can do things he never dreamed possible.

No, I don’t have magic wall-climbing abilities and I cannot shoot web stuff out of my wrists (I’m also still not crazy about heights), but I do have this sensation every day where I never know what will happen next.

Taking testosterone has caused a lot of things about me to change, but one thing that is the most obvious is that I have put on quite a bit of muscle since I started last August.  In fact, I have gained 23 pounds! I recently had a body scan done at the gym (which is something I never would have been excited about before transition), and I am down to 16.1% body fat, putting me in the 20th percentile for guys my age.

AMAZING!

Not only do I feel stronger almost every day, I also am unlocking new abilities weekly. I do CrossFit, which if you don’t know, involves a menu of probably hundreds of different exercises/lifts/movements that you do in your workouts. I have been crossing things off my CrossFit “bucket list” like crazy! Handstand push-ups? Done! Pistol squats? No problemo! I also have seen my 1-rep-max Olympic lifts go through the roof.

An example: In August, I could bench press 135 lbs. It was less than my body weight, but pretty respectable for a female.  In May, I did a 205 lb. bench press twice. Incredible!  My front squat went from 160 lbs. to 235 lbs. My back squat went from 180 lbs. to 255 lbs.

Where I used to feel like I was hitting a plateau in terms of my strength and ability, now I succeed almost every time I go to do something I have never done before. I’m stronger, faster, and leaner. I have more energy and generally feel pretty fantastic. I may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I am okay with that– every day it’s like I’m waking up Spider-Man.

Trans* is not One Story

People ask me frequently what it feels like now to “be in the right body.” This question always throws me off some, for a few reasons. One is that I never really felt like I was in the wrong body, per se. Another reason is that I can tell this question is a symptom of our culture’s fixation on the dominant trans* narrative, that is, the story of a Person-Who-Always-Knew-Something-Was-Wrong. I bet if you ask most people to describe what it means for someone to be trans*, they will articulate some version of this:

Person is born. At a young age, Person begins telling the world “I’m not a This, I’m a That!” Person starts acting out on their desires to be a That. Person struggles with unhappiness until at some point, Person’s Parents pursue therapy/treatment, and then Person gets to live as they wish.

While that story line may indeed describe a good number of trans* folks, it is certainly not the only way to be trans*. It took me 10 years to realize that trans* means different things to different people, and that yes, you can still be trans* even if you didn’t think you were born in the wrong body when you were 3 years old.

I am incredibly lucky to be transitioning when I am. I have this realization almost daily– every time I see a news feature or a Facebook post, I realize how much more accepted being trans* is in most parts of the US today than it was 10 years ago when I first contemplated this whole process. At the time, I was living in TX and I knew exactly 1 trans* person. His name was Eli and he had, from what I could gather, a pretty tough go of it. His experience played heavily in my decision not to pursue gender transition physically for a long time.

But also a huge part of that delay was that I bought into the myth that there is only One Trans Story. In hindsight, it is of course pretty ridiculous to think that, as a queer person who had seen lots of different types of other queer people, that I believed that being transgender was much less fluid. But I did– and not really knowing any trans* folks, how was I supposed to know any different. I was, for the most part, okay with my body from a dysphoria standpoint. I wasn’t crazy about my chest, but that’s mostly because boobs got in the way of sports and other things I enjoyed. I am happy with the original plumbing I have been given, so no real issues there. My dysphoria exists in the smaller details– the amount of muscle I could build, the way my clothes would hang, the types of dress and mannerisms I was expected to have. It took a long time of getting to know a lot of other trans* folks before I realized that my feelings about my own identity were just as worthy of the trans* label as those young kids that go on Oprah to talk about being trans*.

I am grateful every day for the exposure that I see trans* issues getting in media. But I also wonder why none of that exposure really focuses on the variety of trans* experiences. I wonder if the reinforcement of the dominant One Trans Story isn’t actually, in some way, harming all those folks out there that might feel uncomfortable with their assigned gender, but don’t fit the mold of the Person-Who-Always-Knew-Something-Was-Wrong?

I am hopeful that the conversation will become more nuanced as time passes, as more trans* folks gain their voices and can speak to their experiences. But we are still a long ways away. So if you’re reading this, consider yourself exposed to a little slice of variety under the trans* umbrella, and please speak up if you hear someone saying that there is only one way to be trans*. 🙂

It’s Getting Hot in Herrrrre

I have been talking to a lot of people about my transition lately, and more than a few times people have told me: “You need to write a blog!” I have tried this whole blogging thing (like when I moved to Brooklyn to become a public high school teacher) and I found that while I started with a bang, I clearly lost steam due to lack of interest, lack of time, lack of sleep, or what is more likely to be a combination of all these things. I recognize that all these factors still exist, in some form, in my life now. The difference, though, is that trans stuff is so in right now. And I don’t mean that to sound vain or flippant– I mean that honestly. Bruce Jenner? Aydian Dowling on Ellen and the cover of Men’s Health Magazine? Laverne Cox gets her own TV show? TLC specials about trans kids? Transgender issues are really having a moment in our popular culture right now, and perhaps this is one instance in which I actually have something to say on a topic that is also relevant. And so, with that, I begin. Here’s a post that can be filed under “weird stuff that happens to you when you start taking testosterone.”One thing I have very recently noticed is that I am REALLY HOT ALL THE TIME. Like, not hot-synonymous-with-attractiveness, I mean hot as in HOLY SHIT IT’S HOT IN HERE, TURN THE FAN ON.

I admit, I am not sure when this trend began. I have been on testosterone for a little over 9 months now. I only noticed this temperature thing in the last few weeks. It’s possible this is a new development (like the “Oh yay, back zits!” moment I had yesterday), but its also possible that I have only noticed this recently because I have just started sharing my personal space with cisgender women (born female, identify as female) again.
But now I have to back up– I was in a long-distance relationship for about 10 months (the relationship was 3+ years long, it had been long distance for 10 months), so I wasn’t having women in my house close enough to me for me to realize I was really hot. The only creatures I shared my living space with were my 4-legged children (I will surely talk about these later), and they all have fur coats on, so they wouldn’t know the difference.
But recently, I have been dating again, and thus have been physically closer to cisgender women than I have been in a long time. And I just had a friend move in for the summer and his fiance is around a lot. Anyway, all this is to say that I have no idea ​if I have only recently become hotter, or if I have only recently noticed it. I find myself turning on the fan, only to notice other people in the room shivering. The thought of wearing much more than underwear makes me start to sweat. DEAR GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME???
It was a high of only 70 today, and for most of the day it was breezy and overcast. It started off as a day that reminded me of Seattle, ​the kind of day where I used to spend my whole day drinking warm coffee and feeling chilly in my bones. So I wore slacks and a lightweight flannel dress shirt to work, and I walked instead of riding my bike because I wanted to enjoy the weather.
I only had to walk about 2 blocks before I was sweating my ass off and rolling my sleeves up. I used to always be the cold one– the one who wore jeans in the summer time and never forgot to bring a jacket to the movies. ​Now I can go see a movie at night time, wearing only a tank top on my torso and nothing else, and be totally comfortable. WTF​ testosterone? ​How am I even going to handle summer in LA?