Some books have a way of falling into our laps when we need them most. That’s what happened a few months ago while I was searching for blogs by other trans men and stumbled upon an FTM site called Tips For Trans Men. (I’ll write about that site another day.) Somehow I ended up crossing cyber paths and chatting with FTM Advocate Zander Keig. After inquiring about his phalloplasty experience, Keig told me about his upcoming Letters for My Brothers book and I ordered a copy shortly after. I was reading two other books at the time, but I managed to grab this one while fumbling for keys and hustling out of the house one day. Letters for My Brothers immediately became my waiting room necessity; and I became so absorbed in each story that I found myself re-reading them at home. My reactions varied from total empathy to being completely flustered; often confused and sometimes shocked at statements that seemed bordering on absurd to me.
In all honesty, Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect is a much needed resource for the FTM community. It’s more than just a compilation of letters written for trans men by trans men; it’s a serious literary platform for a trans brotherhood. The only way I have been able to express my thoughts and feelings about transitioning is through the written word. After reading and re-reading this book, I came to the realization that I had been searching for it.
One problem that has accompanied my journey into manhood is communication; not only with women, but with everyone around me. I attribute this to the alteration of my senses and perceptions that testosterone has produced. I often find myself lost in the complexities of human thought and even further baffled by what I perceive to be differences in the shape and form of thought patterns of men and women. And while men don’t interest me much, there is always a gnawing desire to connect with other trans men. To be understood by men who were born into this nightmare; who understand the horror of this transsexual existence; to hear from men who feel this way, have felt this way or have overcome this feeling altogether; this is something that comforts me on a level that I can’t explain.
I started injecting testosterone in 2007, and I consider my transition to be moving along smoothly; but there are times when I feel so defeated that I can’t seem to make sense of anything. I’m not the most outgoing man in the world, but when I’m forced to face my past and to recognize the truth of my being, I find myself searching for other trans men to talk to. I admit I need to connect with other men who understand the depths of my predicament and the frustration of being stigmatized as mentally ill by a society that has yet to understand what I am and why I am the way I am. This book didn’t change how I feel about myself or my transition, but I did reevaluate many aspects of my transition. I did analyze why I feel the way I feel about my masculinity and I took a better look at why I feel so strongly about being the man that I am. After reading the many different perspectives this book has to offer, I feel more confident about myself. I don’t have to identify as a transsexual if that makes me uncomfortable. I should be true to myself. If I feel more comfortable identifying as simply “male” then that is my prerogative.
The further I travel into my transition, the less relevant my transsexual status becomes to me. It’s terribly easy to forget your brothers after reaching a somewhat comfortable place in your transition. I know a few trans men who are content and settled in relationships or lives that don’t require them to speak about their transsexualism. I’m as guilty as any of them; but I often remind myself to touch base with the FTM’s I’m acquainted with here in Houston. Reading this book reminded me of my duty to reach out to my brothers through my writing; especially to those I have not met yet.
This book is great because it speaks to the timid as well as the brave; to the flexible and fluid self-proclaimed gender queers, to the older FTM pioneers, and to all the trans men in between- but always from one brother to another. If I had the funds I’d buy 100 copies and hand them out at STAG meetings. I’m sure many guys would appreciate it. What I liked most about Letters for My Brothers is how it exposes the diversity of FTM’s as a group. These authors speak openly about their race, ethnicity, class, and education; they let you know where they’re from and how they’re background has affected their transition. The book speaks to conformists and non-conformists alike; to corporate ladder-climbers, as well as to anarchists among us. It even speaks to high school kids. These guys talk about everything- the private fears, alienation, their first T injection- the liberation of entering a new world and confronting male privilege. Every one of them has a unique opinion about what we face as trans men- and it’s good to hear them all out. I think reading about trans men who have had successful surgeries and about others leading happy lives without any surgery can give much hope and inspiration to FTM’s out there.
On that note, I sometimes feel obligated to explain (to those trans brothers who cringe at heterosexuality) why I often feel alone, even when they offer to lend an ear. Dating women forces me to seek out other men who understand what I am experiencing with women. Unfortunately, I don’t know many heterosexual trans men. I have, however, encountered a number of trans brothers who identify as gay or bisexual. This often proves frustrating because the problems within a heterosexual relationship are usually foreign to them. As a result, some subtle irritability has formed within me. It even led me to believe that I’m being misrepresented as a trans man by some of my brothers. After reading this book, I feel like I couldn’t have asked for a better explanation of why I feel this way. I no longer think that FTM’s are being misrepresented. I do however think that heterosexual FTM’s are being underrepresented. I think there are numbers of stealth FTM’s who choose to remain quiet while their more vocal brothers speak up. This angers me. Luckily, it also inspires me. While I’ve been struggling with alienation and feeling like a scapegoat for all the negative attributes of a stereotypical “straight” man among my trans brothers, I also developed some stupid form of guilt for being a heterosexual trans man. This is complete fucking bullshit. I shouldn’t be brainwashed into believing and accepting that my masculine nature is due to our culture’s standards of manhood – and neither should the other thousands upon thousands of tragically butch trans men out there. I’m not a product of society’s gender norms and expectations. I’m simply being myself. I do not fear my masculinity, I embrace it. I embrace it just as fully as some trans men embrace their gender fluidity.
The ultimate conclusion that I came to after reading this book was that our differences as trans men are just as vast as the differences among men who were born in male bodies. Everyone’s notion of manhood and masculinity varies because we are all brought up differently and have different views of what those two words mean. I don’t know how Keig succeeded in compiling so many unique letters into one book, but I’d like to thank him personally for doing so. This is a good book- a must read for those seriously contemplating a plunge into the world of Testosterone.