Letters For My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect

letters

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.

True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism

true_selves 

It’s self-explanatory. This is a good book for anyone struggling to understand transsexualism- whether you’re finding it difficult to accept a family member, a friend, or just trying to come to terms with your own gender identity- this book is the gentle nudge that can (probably) help. My uncle once told me that knowing someone personally, or becoming friends with a person who identifies as gay (or transsexual) is usually enough to teach someone that it’s nothing to be feared or ashamed of. For those who have yet to cross paths with a trans-identified person, this book can easily become that friend. With a simple, straight-forward approach, clinical sexologist Mildred Brown guides the reader directly into the hearts of those who live with mind/ body incongruence. Relying heavily on her extensive experience with transsexual patients and friends, Brown reveals the harsh reality and trauma that accompanied these transsexuals through childhood and adolescence. Brown includes stories and poetry that exposes the raw emotional pain of her patients; and this is what makes the book interesting. She also provides a list of resources at the end of her book for transsexuals who need support, which is much appreciated.

Notably, Brown expresses a deep compassion for MTF’s; but this isn’t to say that this book is useless for FTM’s. We all face similar obstacles and I’m certain that FTM’s can benefit from the insight this book has to offer. It’s a bit outdated, (especially the chapter on surgeries) but True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism (1996) contains stories and situations that stand outside of time. I highly recommend this book for those stubborn parents who may be in denial about their children’s true gender, or for anyone finding it impossible to cope with their loved one’s transition, or their own transition.

This book reminded me just how important it is to reach out to those who need help. As transgendered individuals, some of us are blessed to be surrounded by intelligent, open-minded people who can easily digest and understand what we teach them about gender dysphoria; but others are not so lucky to have receptive friends and family. Some of our trans brothers and sisters face ignorance and prejudice on a daily basis. My heart goes out to those brothers living isolated lives with their secret, or those living in remote areas where trans- support groups are inaccessible or non-existent.

On that note: All of us have to deal with being misunderstood. We all deal with prejudice and rejection. At some point in our transition, we will be knocked down hard. Sometimes we may feel helpless or pitiful, but none of us should ever feel alone. For anyone who feels this way right now, just remember you are not alone. No matter what the circumstances, there is always someone out there who has felt the way you’re feeling now, feared what you are afraid of, and cried over what you are crying over. Someone out there is going through what you are going through, or has been through similar circumstances. Know that there is always someone out there who understands the depths of depression. Even if you doubt this; even in your darkest moments when you feel invisible or non-existent- know that someone out there is thinking about you. They may not know you personally, but they have experienced what you are experiencing and have been just as frustrated and confused as you are. No, they have not lived your life, but they can relate to you on some level; will empathize with you as a human being.

I’ll close this review with a quote from this book which really hit home with me; it reminded me of how I once felt in a body that was becoming more and more female. It took me back to a time when I was confused and miserable and would lie in bed brooding over what I was, and terrified of what I might become one day. I never thought I’d be able to talk so freely about this; about this monstrous aspect of me that had to be kept secret. If someone had handed this book to me then, it may have helped me accept myself and possibly transition sooner than I did.

“Frequently the general public’s perception of transsexualism comes from movies or talk shows and contains only fragments of truth. People may harbor the false notion that transsexualism is a mental illness or a sexual perversion.”

You are not sick or sexually perverted because you are trans. Being trans has nothing to do with sexual orientation, sexual preference, or mental illness. There is nothing loathsome about your body. It may feel that way sometimes, but your body is natural like any other living body on Earth. There are extremely feminine bodies and extremely masculine bodies, and bodies that embrace both the masculine and the feminine. There are intersexed people; people who aren’t sure or don’t care what gender they are, and still others who feel like they are somewhere in between. There are people like me who admittedly feel all male, but at some point in their life will try their hardest to fit into a female mold and fail miserably. If you can relate, then know I’m writing to you. You are my brother, whether you know it or not.

Fate, Illness, Faith & Healing

It’s no surprise to me that all this is happening. Many signs have been pointing me westward for the past few years. Possibly even for the past two decades. Still, it amazes me how fate has paralleled our paths this way. The thought of growing so many plants excites me; has filled my imagination with a myriad of ideas for numerous projects. The greenery of Napa Valley has entranced me; is seducing me with the flowing red wine of its vineyards.

If you have found that you are lost, allow me to fill you in. That amazing, anonymous woman that briefly disappeared from my life has re-emerged and fused with an intensity that seems to be navigating my every word and every action. In truth, she suffers from a few illnesses; one of which (lupus) fills many of her days with chronic pain. She’s built up such a tolerance to opiates and other drugs prescribed to her that she doesn’t get much relief from them these days. This is why we are moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, (or possibly Mendocino County). There is a doctor practicing there- Dr. William Courtney- whose treatment- which involves the juicing of raw marijuana leaves- is helping alleviate the pain and symptoms associated with lupus and a long list of other illnesses.

William Courtney’s successful treatment has been turning conservative heads for a few years now as it makes headway and gains its due respect within the medical community. The medicinal value of cannabis is slowly revealing itself in this country as word about its legitimacy spreads across the states. Unfortunately, marijuana has suffered such a horrible reputation over the past half century or so- thanks to decades of ridiculous anti-marijuana propaganda- that the truth of its healing power is still at the mercy of our government and the scrutiny of less informed Americans. The result of this mass blindness is a staggering number of patients suffering unnecessarily in 47 states- people who suffer from chronic pain, inflammation, and other symptoms that can be treated with marijuana- are either misinformed about its healing properties or are simply unaware of the medical value of the cannabis plant.

The private use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal in the State of California. It’s also legal to privately grow up to 40 cannabis plants for medicinal purposes in the counties of Napa and Sonoma.

Coincidentally, I was recently referred to an SRS surgeon in California via FTM pioneer and GLBT advocate Zander Keig. After visiting Dr. Curtis Crane’s website, I immediately sent him an email inquiring about his procedures and was surprised to receive a thoughtful, friendly letter directly from him the next day. Apparently he’s been working alongside some world renowned SRS surgeons for many years, and has now taken over Dr. Brownstein’s practice in San Francisco. The fact that he’s a reconstructive urologist (as well as a plastic surgeon) has given me much hope of successful urethral lengthening, which is of utmost importance to me. I’m not sure if I will still be consulting with Dr. Meltzer, but I know I will definitely be consulting with Dr. Crane this year.

The Nightmare

Hello and thanks for visiting my site. I have many ideas for Phantom Waves, but I’ve been too distracted with life to act on any of them. I have been writing furiously every day- more than I ever have- but I haven’t been posting on here because I just haven’t felt like sharing much of what I write with the rest of the world. A lot has happened in the six months or so since I started this blog. There was an enormous amount of drama in my life recently, and most of the details are either too sacred or too painful for me to talk about. I’m trying my hardest to step outside of the heartache I’ve been experiencing in order to post something on here now. I’ll start with my re-evaluation of bottom surgery. This is my latest sentiment:

Screw metoidioplasty. I’m not considering it anymore. I’m not even sure what possessed me to look into it. I considered it briefly, as a surgery I could have until I could save for a phallo-; but after more research I concluded that it’s just not the right option for me. If I’m going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on GRS, (aka SRS) and go under a fucking knife, I want the results to make me feel more comfortable with my body. I won’t be content settling for a slight improvement of what I already have. Fuck that.

Despite the fact that I no longer have the emotional support I thought I had, I’ve decided to follow through with my plans. I’m going to schedule a consultation with Dr. Meltzer in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s one of the doctors I’m considering for GRS (If you’re not an FTM, then I sincerely hope you don’t look him up.) I was hesitant to consult with him at first because I found his website to be slightly discouraging.  However, I am a member of quite a few FTM surgery groups/ forums online and of all the results I have seen and heard about- I feel his are among the very best. His work has seriously impressed me. There are two other doctors I would like to consult with, but they’re overseas, and it just isn’t practical for me to travel to Europe right now. Depending on when I can secure the fee, I’ll be scheduling a consultation with Dr. Meltzer to discuss mainly his phalloplasty procedure, but also other surgeries that I feel are absolutely necessary, (for me, personally.) I’m going to go over all my options with him so I’ll have a better understanding of exactly how much money I need to save to make this happen; and how much time I’ll need off from work. I have four weeks of paid vacation a year, so I don’t think time will be much of an issue. It’s the financial aspect of surgery that makes it seem impossible. It’s going to be difficult, but I know I can do it. If I have to get a second job and sell everything I own, I will. If I have to survive on fucking ramen, sacrifice my precious *Antidotes, and never go out drinking again, I’ll do that too. I’ll do whatever the fuck I have to do to make this happen. And NO ONE can prevent me from having GRS. (not that anyone has expressed an interest in stopping me; I just felt the need to make that clear.)

At the moment I feel like the one person in the world who really knows and understands the depth of this predicament, and just how necessary this is for me, has stopped caring about me altogether. I could be wrong, but that’s how I feel right now. If it is true, then I’ll just have to accept it. I need to focus on the issue of my sanity. This is my fucking life. This is about transforming this nightmarish existence into an acceptable reality. If I don’t fix this problem soon, I’m going to lose my fucking mind. I can’t stomach much more of this part of my body. It’s beyond ridiculous. The core of my being feels unstable. My anger is beginning to  move slower, and calmer than usual. I’m afraid it will stop completely; and if it does, I’m afraid of what will happen. It’s the calm that’s freaking me out. The anger is so intense that I don’t know what to do with it.

I’m growing increasingly sickened by what I have to endure every day. The reaction it triggers in me is like a blow to the fucking head. That’s the only way I can describe it. I can’t shower without trauma. The thought of wanting to fucking die is inescapable. This isn’t right. I have endured this torture for too long. It has damaged me. It has seriously damaged my spirit. I’m so fucking tired of dealing with this. I’m so sick of all the ridiculous things I have to do and all the things I try to ignore. It all seems so ridiculous. I can’t endure much more. I need to feel anatomically correct so I can calm down and start living like a normal person. I’m starting to wonder if anyone else even understands how I feel. Isn’t there one fucking person out there who understands my problem? I have never felt so isolated in my entire fucking life. I try to stay positive and productive, but it doesn’t last. No matter what I do or what I accomplish, I always end up facing this problem that just will not go away. Every day I wake up in this nightmare. It just will not end. I just want it to end. I want to wake up.

*for those who don’t reside in Houston, an Antidote is coffee w/ a shot of espresso (aka: a red-eye)

Revealing the Shaman

Two years ago a rare individual approached me with a heart-wrenching shyness and a peculiar degree of sincerity that matched my own. Over a span of several months, we became intimate friends and fell deeply in love.  I was certain I had found a soul mate; and she expressed to me that the feeling was mutual.

How can I explain what happened between us? Words fail to accurately describe human behavior and human emotion.  Our bond is still an enigma to me. An inexplicable combination of spirituality and romance; and deeper than anything either of us had ever experienced. To me, she is the most sensitive and compassionate woman I have ever met. I feel blessed to have been graced with her presence in this life. She said similar things of me, but now I’ve been left in the shadows and feel uncertain about everything. All I know is that we have been separated and I’m nursing a broken heart. My intuition tells me that this separation won’t last forever; but for now all I have are my memories.

The Toothache

I took this picture of myself in an elevator on the way up to my dentist’s office. I already knew that my wisdom teeth needed to be extracted, but they hadn’t been causing me any pain until a few days ago. The dentist didn’t even look inside my mouth. He looked at the x-rays and told me to schedule an appointment with the oral surgeon. When he handed me a prescription for Tylenol 3 I knew I had wasted my time.  Anyway, when I loaded this picture the next day, all I could see was emotional anguish. I started to wonder if others could see it. I started to wonder if people could see my psychological damage. I started to wonder a lot of things.

What kind of demons are running loose inside of me?

Am I possessed by some lost wandering spirit?

Is he doomed to roam inside of my psyche until the day I die?

Is he screaming and never heard?

Is he dying from neglect? lack of affection? lack of love?

I think he needs to be real. I need to become real. Am I losing touch with reality?

The only person who truly understands me is a shaman. I wonder how I share a kindred connection with a woman so spiritually evolved. Sometimes I feel like she’s the only person who is real in this world, and everyone else is just a part of some imaginary place I made up in my mind. Maybe none of us really exist. Maybe we’ve all been dead for eons and I’m only experiencing an echo of what once was. Maybe I’m just a ghost among other ghosts in a ghost world.

Am I haunting myself?

Who am I?

Lately I wake up and my head feels heavier than usual. I can’t remember my dreams as vividly as I used to. I don’t recognize myself in the bathroom mirror. It’s not that I expect to see the person I was before T.  Not that I was much different from who I am now anyway. It’s just that I feel so close to my true self that I almost expect to see the man I know I am. I remember it.

How can I possibly remember that?

What do I really know?

Is it merely intuition?

When is it my imagination?

Why are people woven into the events of my life so perfectly?

Why is my life a never-ending dance of beautiful coincidences?

Sometimes I have revelations that astound me. They numb me into submission and I can’t move. I spend hours staring at the walls. Does that have anything to do with being trans? I don’t always feel inclined to wonder and awe. Most of the time I feel like a hideous monster. A man lacking his sex.

A freak of nature.

I hate myself.

I hate my negativity.

My bitterness and resentment.

I hate my jealousy.

My envy and my childhood.

I hate that I wasn’t able to enjoy the first 27 years of my life.

I hate my ugliness. my awkwardness.

I hate feeling insecure and being so self-conscious.

I hate feeling inferior to biological men.

I hate my anger. my frustration and fury.

I hate feeling anatomically incorrect.

It’s what I lack that makes me sink into a pit of dark despair.

Will this nightmare ever end?

Will my manhood ever take physical form?

Will I ever possess the organ that makes a human male?

The mere possibility is barely enough now.

My patience is waning.

My spirit is sputtering.

I fear I’ll go out.

Transistor Radio is Dead

I regret to inform my FTM brothers that my previous zine, Transistor Radio will no longer be printed. I have decided to venture into the world of internet writing. I consider Phantom Waves to be the sequel to Transistor Radio. I’m tempted to create a hard copy of Phantom Waves in the future, but I’m not sure if this idea will ever come to fruition. If it does, it will be a mini-zine. Phantom Waves was created with the ideas behind Transistor Radio in mind. With this blog I would like to explore areas of my life that I have not yet attempted to write about. I’d also like to resurrect my Testosterone journal. Hopefully the experiences I share on this blog will help other trans guys out there who may be looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. For those who don’t know me personally, I’ll give you a little background so that you will know who I am and what to expect. I’ve been on Testosterone for about 5 years now. Since then I have been through all sorts of changes physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. I changed my name legally the first year of my transition. By a stroke of luck (or divine intervention) I was granted the exact amount of money I needed for top surgery ($6000) via student loan about 3 years ago. Taking care of that problem was a huge relief and I have not been the same since. I won’t go into details here, but I can tell you that I became much more at ease with myself and with others after that.

I am 32 years old at the moment and I’ve been researching bottom surgery for about a year now. It’s quite a task trying to find the right doctor. I’m not the world’s best planner so this research has been tedious and difficult. The biggest problem for me is trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for it all. I plan on an eventual phallo-, but I have recently started to consider having meta- first. I think it would be wise to have a meta- until I can afford a phallo- to ease my dysphoria. Also, in high hopes that technology will advance while I save money. I’m looking forward to writing about bottom surgery because that’s an area of my transition that I’ve been reluctant to write about in past zines. I also plan on writing about the alienation I sometimes feel within the trans community for identifying as a heterosexual man. Stay tuned, this blog will get better.