2 1/2 Years on T

Hello out there! Anyone still out there? I know it’s been a long time since I updated this blog with any regularity. Again, I am going to strive to get that back going more frequently. For now, I want to give a quick update, with another post following later tonight.

First off, here’s my 2.5 year voice clip: I hit 2.5 years on July 23rd. It sounds a little higher to me than the last one actually. I’m wondering if I had a cold when I took one in January or if I was just unconsciously speaking in a lower register. Who knows. It was a long time ago.

So, I’ve had some trouble keeping the blog up. I’ve had a tough few years, and I eventually gave way to a pretty steep depression. As much as I have had in my head that I wanted to get out here, it has been a struggle to get the energy up to write. But I know that it helps me a lot to do so, and I have a tendency to bottle things up, so here’s to take…100.

My transition is actually going quite well. I haven’t had any surgeries yet. I’m working on losing some weight before I take that step (and the weight loss is actually starting to go pretty well now too). My main struggle has been ulcerative colitis, a chronic illness I developed when I was 16. After the initial onset of the disease, I went a long time without symptoms. In 2010, a flare-up began which has continued until very recently.

My flare-up started shortly before I came out as trans, and dealing with the two together, especially at the beginning of my transition, was quite rough. I made it through about the first year running on fumes, but after that I started missing more classes, suffering more side effects, and just struggling. I took a few medical leaves, tried all sorts of medications, most of which made me sicker, and just ran out of steam.

It’s been tough to blog because I haven’t felt like I had anything to say about my life. The colitis had me spinning my wheels, stuck in one place for a long time. I’m finally at a point where I can start to move forward again.

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Posted in Growing Up As Gareth | 5 Comments

2 Years on T

The first gaming console I ever had was my clunky Nintendo Game Boy.  I was around nine, and I loved Pokemon with the fiery passion of a gamer.  I don’t have the best memory when it comes to events or the little details of my life, but I remember vividly the screen in Pokemon where you enter your name when starting a new game.  In the first Pokemon game, you could only play a boy, but that didn’t bother me.  Though, in the second, when you had an option, I still played as a boy.  But beginning with the first Pokemon game I had (Pokemon Blue), I always used the same name in my games – Isaac.  I played male characters in all of my video games, but Pokemon was the only one where I used a non-fantasy/medieval-ish name.  I have played Pokemon on and off over the years, through different iterations of the game, and I always used Isaac as my in-game name.

Recently, I found my old game boy (not the original, sadly), and picked up Pokemon for the first time since beginning my transition, and legally changing my name.  Yet again, I came upon the familiarity of Professor Oak asking me for my name, and the screen in which to enter it.  It felt so wonderful to enter “Isaac” with my keypad and know that it was my name not just in a video game, but in the real world as well.  And I must say, I am thoroughly enjoying all the pixelated Pokemon world inhabitants calling me by my real name.

Today is my 2 years on T anniversary.  Even as I write this, it’s hard to believe today has already arrived.  Even now, I can still remember reading the books and blogs and livejournal posts about testosterone and its effects, dreaming of the day I would receive my first shot.  I can still remember impatiently rubbing my chin as the first few facial hairs sprung up, and demanding my housemates look to see how much had grown.  I remember the day one of my sister’s told me I should say my name in voicemails because she didn’t recognize my voice.

I still have a ways to go on my transition, but I am thrilled with how far I have come in the last couple of years.  I don’t have the beard that I hoped I would by now, but I still have quite a beard!  I can’t think of the last time a stranger misread my gender, and the slips by those who have known me for a long time are few and far between.  I have even had the opportunity to share my experiences with trans* people just starting on their journeys, as others did with me when I began my transition.

I’ve always appreciated that my T anniversary is so close to my actual birthday (Jan. 31).  Starting T on January 26, 2011 was the best birthday present I could ever give myself.  And the love and support I have received from my friends and family throughout this process are the greatest gifts I could ever ask for.  And thanks to anyone out there reading – the encouragement I have received from the online trans* community has been truly inspiring.

Here’s my latest voice clip:

2 years: 130126 Short Clip

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T Update: 102 Weeks

I know it’s been forever since I’ve done one of these, but I want to get back to it.  My two years on T anniversary is coming up very soon (two weeks away).   I always enjoyed that my birthday and my T birthday were so close together.

I have had a few gaps in my treatment, because of my health issues and some changes in how I administer the T, but as of today I’ve been on T for 102 weeks.  Nearly two years.  I really can’t believe it.

Here’s my voice clip: 130111 102 Weeks

To my ear, it doesn’t sound different than my last clip, which was at 43 weeks, but I’d be interested to hear what you all think.  Maybe that’s because of some of the gaps in my treatment, or maybe my voice is as low as it’s going to get.  I obviously will love it if it drops more, but I’m still very happy with where it is.  Last night, a close family member, one of my dad’s cousins, called while I was hanging out with my parents, and I picked up the phone.  He asked who he was speaking to, and when he heard it was me, told me how much I sounded like my father.  It was a real treat to hear that, especially after years of being mistaken for my mother on the phone.

I switched from T injections to the subdermal pellets.  I only did one round of the pellets, as, according to my endo, there is currently a national shortage of them.  So, I think I’m going to be trying out the gel at least until the pellets are back in stock.  I’ll let you all know how that goes.

The process of getting the pellets was much more painful than I expected, but I still prefer it to the injections.  I handled the injections just fine for a long time, and then I just lost my nerve or something.  I couldn’t do them any more.  The pellets are more painful at the time, but just once every four or five months, instead of every week or every two weeks.  They also have a steadier release, without the weekly ups and downs.

I also feel like I noticed more changes on the pellets, but it may have been my imagination.

The big obstacle for me right now is losing weight so I can get my top surgery.  Obviously, plenty of people get the surgery even while overweight, but I would like to wait until I have lost some.  Unfortunately, the dysphoria does present a lot of challenges when it comes to working out.  There’s really no way I can go to a gym the way I am now without the dysphoria overwhelming me.  I sometimes think I should just get the surgery, lose the weight, and get revisions for the surgery, but I really would like to minimize the likelihood that I might need revisions.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Going to go back and listen to my voice clips again now.  Have a good day, everyone!

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I’m Not Dead Yet!

I wanted to take a moment to explain my less-than-regular blog updates as of late:  

Okay, so it hasn’t been quite that bad, but I had a string of several very rough months.  I believe that I have referenced having some serious health issues, and they pretty much rose up and sucker-punched me pretty hard.  I have a chronic illness which onset while I was a junior in high school.  It was in remission until May, 2010, and I have been terribly ill ever since.  The last couple of years have truly tested my will more than ever before.  I am really only starting to recover, and there’s still a long road ahead.  I’d rather not bore you all with the gory details of my health issues, but if you have questions, please feel free to ask me privately.

I unfortunately basically had to put my life on hold to get my health under control.  I took my first year off during the 2009-2010 school year, mostly as a result of my unresolved gender identity issues, though I was not willing to admit that at the time. I had the opportunity to work for a fantastic employment discrimination law firm, and I learned a lot about myself during that year.  Toward the end of my time at the firm, my health issues became active again.   Ever since, I have not had more than a month of peace from my illness.  Things got considerably worse throughout 2012, and though I had a little relief toward the end of the summer, this past fall my health tanked again.  After five semesters of either barely scraping by, or having to take medical leave because of my illness, I was finally forced to accept that I could not push through the pain and the sickness and still succeed.  I needed to stop what I was doing, and focus my energy on my health.

I’m not someone who likes to stand still, and I am so looking forward to the next stage of my life – law school and beyond – so it was hard to accept that I had to press “pause” on moving forward.  But it was also discouraging to see the person that I had to become in order to survive this illness.  I have never felt more flaky or selfish as I did during the worst parts of my flare-up.  Though I understand that I did what I had to do, and that many of my troubles were not under my control, I still couldn’t stand it. That’s never been a part of who I am, and I hated having to live my life that way.

The last week or so have been a huge improvement, without much explanation, though I started to feel sick again yesterday.  I am seeing my doctor on Thursday, and hopefully making a change in my medication.  There’s no guarantee that the next tier of biologic medications will help me, but I’m feeling hopeful.

I am finally getting to a point where I feel like myself again, and I am excited to get back into blogging.  Any of you who are out there still reading my blog, I wanted to let you know that I am still here as well.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be posting pretty regularly from here on out.  Happy New Year, everyone!

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Shameless Plug

Hey everyone!  I know it’s been a while.  Hopefully will have a new post up in the next few days, if not tonight.  For now, a good friend of mine just started a blog, and I wanted to share it with you all.  It’s not directly related to trans* issues, but he’s writing a lot of interesting stuff about politics, philosophy, sociology.  Obviously, these are topics that impact everyone to a certain extent.  But now, as trans* people are more often in the public eye and as we fight battles both legal and social for our own rights and acceptance in society, I think we have a lot of reasons to care about such topics.

So check out his blog when you have a chance: http://freeradioborealis.wordpress.com/.  I look forward to reentering the blogosphere now that my life has calmed down a tad.  A belated L’shana tova (Happy New Year) to you all!

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A Thank You

I would like to take a moment to talk about my family.  I don’t know that I’ve gone into a lot of specifics about my family on this blog.  But family truly is a huge part of my life – to know me, you really have to know my family.  Today, though, is not about letting you know about my family, but about making sure my family knows how important they are.  I don’t do a great job of taking the time to say that, and to thank them.

My friends, my college buddies, my housemates, I see them so often that the “thank you’s” inevitably slip out.  Somewhere between the ranting and the whining and the crying, I end up thanking my friends for listening, and for not attempting to duct-tape my mouth shut to stop the ranting and the whining and the crying.  And, because my friends are good people, they say, “Isaac, don’t be silly, we almost never want to duct-tape your mouth shut.  You’ll know when we do.”  But I just continue to apologize for talking so much, and thank them for listening.

Plus, I know it’s trite, but friends and family really are different ball games.  You can choose your friends, walk up to someone and say, “Hey, you’re cool, here’s my number, let’s hang out.”  Or, now, just friend them on Facebook and like all their posts til they get the picture.  And if a friend stops being cool and starts being a jerk, you can just…stop being friends with them.

Family, for the most part, doesn’t work that way.  You don’t get to choose your family, and not everyone lucks out in that department.  Let me tell you, though, a couple of things went horribly, terribly wrong for me at birth, but I am still the luckiest guy in the world.  You know why?  I bet you can guess.  *pause*  Yep!  Because of my family.

Aesop tells the story of all the animals arguing among themselves who “deserves the most credit for producing the greatest number of whelps at birth” (http://aesop.pangyre.org/fable/the-lioness.html).  So the animals all rush to the Lioness – because in Aesop’s world, she wouldn’t eat them all on sight – and ask her “how many sons have you at birth?”  The Lioness, unphased, replies, “I have only one; but that one is altogether a thoroughbred Lion.”  And so Aesop leaves us with what is probably one of the most common idioms still, “The value is in the worth, not in the number.” 

But here’s the thing: my family is huge.  Probably not the biggest family in the entire world, but, I mean, seriously, huge.  And, on top of that, they’re all incredible.  My obvious bias aside, every one of them is wonderful.  I’m not going to go into detail, because I don’t want to assume they want me to broadcast the details of their lives to the internet along with mine.  But down to a person, they’re immensely intelligent, truly compassionate people.  Actually, they’re all pretty damn intimidatingly impressive, but I choose to be inspired rather than intimidated.  I have looked up to all of them for as long as I can remember.

I look forward to Thanksgiving and Passover every year, because I cannot wait to see everyone.  Where some people dread the holidays, I actually find them relaxing.  I think of Judaism as a religion of openness, charity and kindness because the people around whom I grew up just exuded those traits.  We can bring friends and in-laws and roommates and significant others to our gatherings because we know that the rest of the family will welcome them with open arms.  We laugh, and we share stories, and we comfort each other in times of trial.

It took me a while to find my place in my family, admittedly.  I’m a lot younger than my sisters and my brothers-in-law and my cousins.  We’ll always be at different stages in life.  When I was an angsty middle schooler, that freaked me out.  Though, let’s be honest, when I was an angsty middle schooler, pretty much everything freaked me out.  But I have found my place, and I figured out that it didn’t matter that I was getting my driver’s license while my cousins were getting married, graduating from high school while my sisters had kids and started businesses and got PhDs.  They’ve all been where I am now.  When I was young(er), I kind of had an army of moms from whom I could ask advice, but now I just have a lot of wonderful, worldly-wise friends.

As I mentioned before, I say thank you to my friends a lot, but not nearly enough to my family.  Partly because I don’t actually like to draw attention to myself.  That’s probably hard to believe, considering that I’m saying it in a blog that’s going to go to my Facebook, my Twitter and the internet at large.  But writing behind a screen is much different than saying it out loud.  And, as a kid, I was very easily embarrassed.  I didn’t like to make announcements or proclamations, nor did I relish shoehorning thank you’s into a conversation where they would disrupt the flow.  So, too often, they went unsaid.

When I thought I was gay, and it came time to come out, I never once feared that my family would react poorly.  My big concern was, “How in the hell do I bring this up at Passover?”  I didn’t want to make an announcement, or make the holiday about me.  I had just had an important realization, and I wanted to share it.  The solution I came up with was to video tape parts of Passover and explain that I was making the tape for my girlfriend, so she could see my family (it was a long distance relationship).

The technique had mixed success.  My cousins got the picture, but later revealed to me that some of my aunts and uncles had thought I meant girlfriend in the “Hey, girl, let’s go to the mall” sense, not in the “she’s my girlfriend” sense.  But my cousins were savvy and clarified everything.  And, as I expected, my being gay (so I thought) was not a big deal.

When I realized I was trans, I very quickly wanted to start telling my family.  Again, I honestly had no fear that they would accept me.  Sure, I wondered how people would react, or how much they would already know about trans issues.  And I’m not going to sit here and tell you that, for example, every single conversation my parents and I have had about their youngest kid’s gender transition was 100% rational, reasonable and happy-go-lucky.  This isn’t “My Little Pony.”  I live in the real world.  We all have our moments.

But I did know that, whatever rough patches there might be, however many questions people might have about trans issues, no matter how long it took for pronoun switches to occur, my family would always love me.  And I know how rare and wonderful that knowledge is.  Again, my only concern was where to begin.  So I told my parents, I told my sisters, I told some of my cousins and allowed them all to disseminate the information.  They kindly helped me spread the word, so I would not have to do it all myself (it can be exhausting).

The reactions ran the gamut from, “So, what does that mean?” to “Oh, I know a great clinic you should check out.”  Some made jokes, some cried, some congratulated me, some just moved on to the next conversation topic.  But the love and the support emanated from everyone.  Thanksgiving rolled around not even two months after I began my transition, and I heard “Isaac” much more than I heard “Hannah.”

So, to my parents, my sisters and my brothers-in-law, my cousins (1st, 2nd, removed, via marriage, etc. etc.), my aunts and my uncles, my nieces and nephew, my de facto aunts and sisters and mothers and brothers, thank you.  Thank you to the younger generation, who may not yet realize how much their open-mindedness means.  Thank you to the in-laws and the distant relatives, who in most families, probably wouldn’t even talk to me (I mean, seriously, my parents’ ex-spouses switched pronouns lightning quick).  Thank you for letting me grow up without fear of judgment from any of you.  Thank you for the fact that I always knew I could rely on you.  Thank you for making me feel safe where so many trans people do not.  Thank you for allowing me to be myself before I even realized what that meant.  Thank you for providing me with a veritable army of role models.

Thank you for bearing with me when I don’t know whether to hug or handshake.  For putting up with the fact that, between AIM and middle school and college and my gender transition, I’ve switched my email account on you all like seven times.  Thank you for the jokes about who has the best beard.  Thank you in advance for putting up with this sappy blog post.

Thank you, all of you, for giving me a moral compass and teaching me not to give up on my goals.  Thank you for showing me what it is to be a man, without even knowing that I was watching, and what it is to be a good person in this crazy world.  Your love and support mean the world to me.

I don’t normally dedicate posts, but this one is dedicated to my whole family, for all the times I have wanted to say thank you, and for everything you have done to support me.  So, again, thank you.  I love you all so much!

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The Boy and the Nettles

Taking a break from my studies because I cannot get this blog post out of my head, try as I might (“out, out, damn spot!”), and I don’t think my geology professor will accept an essay on gender transition in lieu of my case study.

In any case, one of Aesop’s many tales is that of the Boy and the Nettles.  I have this fantastic copy of Aesop’s Fables which I read over and over as a kid, with illustrations and a beautiful cover, but I left it at my parents house.  So, I am left googling Aesop’s tales, which, for some reason, makes me kind of sad.  But, every version I’ve found uses pretty much the same wording, so I will not presume to change it:

“”A Boy was stung by a Nettle. He ran home and told his Mother, saying, “Although it hurts me very much, I only touched it gently.” “That was just why it stung you,” said his Mother. “The next time you touch a Nettle, grasp it boldly, and it will be soft as silk to your hand, and not in the least hurt you.”

Whatever you do, do with all your might.”

For me, personally, this moral has worked well to guide my transition.  I spent twenty-odd years living with that sick feeling in my stomach telling me something was not right.  I then spent about two years knowing what was wrong and refusing to accept it. At twenty years old, I cautiously grazed the nettle, and it stung me quite hard.  I could not bear the thought of feeling that sting again, so I went out of my way to avoid the…er…nettles of life.  Or, more accurately, the two years I spent in denial, the most painful and uncomfortable years of my life, were one long attempt to gently poke the nettle.  And let me tell you, it did not go well.

I would sit in my room and ask myself, “Am I trans? Am I trans?”  I had never, as a three year old, refused to use the girls’ restroom or declared I wanted to be a boy when I grew up, so I would quietly answer, “I can’t be.”

I think I made the mistake of believing that all transitions looked the same, that all trans people had to have the same experiences.  So, despite the fact that most of what I read in books on transition elated me, I would find one detail that didn’t feel right and say, “Oh, well, I guess I’m not trans.”  Then, I started to say, “Trans men know they’re men; I just really, really want to be a man, so I’m not trans.”  I think I said that to someone literally a week before I came out.  I was also terribly afraid — of transition not being enough, of what people would say, of being alone or jobless, of never having a family.

But, eventually, I reached out and I grabbed that nettle by the horn — oh wait, wrong metaphor.  The point is, I went for it.

Oberlin students have this website called Obietalk (created by a student, not connected to the College itself), where people can post whatever they want and comment on other posts anonymously.  There’s lots of drama about Obietalk which I can discuss some other time.  But, for the first month-ish of my junior year of college, I constantly found myself logging onto Obietalk and typing things like, “How do I know if I am transgender?” or “I think I am transgender” into the comment field, then deleting them, whether out of fear that someone would answer my questions or embarrassment for where I sought my answers.

Finally, one day, I realized, “If I am looking to Obietalk for answers to my life, there is something wrong here and I need to deal with it, whatever the result.”  I could no longer avoid the questions in my mind, I could no longer pretend that nothing was going on behind my forced smiles.  I told my housemates that I was going to go pick up my laundry, and subsequently wandered around Tappan Square for over two hours.  I kept asking myself, over and over, “If you had the perfect job, the perfect relationship, the perfect life, would you be happy? If you had X or Y or Z, would the jealousy you feel for every man you see fade away?”  I sat down on the cold stone of the Memorial Arch and I began to cry, because I knew the answer was no.

I felt all the fear that I had run from two years prior, but a new emotion creeped in behind the fear: hope.  Hope for happiness, for contentment, for a moment when I wouldn’t care about perfection.  I stayed out in the cold, and I cried, and I said to myself, “I’m transgender; I’m transgender,” trying to see if it sounded right.  In that moment, sitting out in the dark under the Arch and the trees, I knew, without a doubt. I had found my answer.  I spent some time pretending I wasn’t sure, telling my friends again that I thought I might be transgender, telling my new therapist that I was confused.  But I knew.

So, I went for it.  Undoubtedly, my transition has probably seemed fast to some who know me.  But I wasted twenty-two years of my life ignoring the biggest problem in my life, and I felt I had no more time to waste.  I wouldn’t recommend that every trans person treat transition as a nettle waiting to be grasped, but it was the right call for me.

Part of the issue, I believe, is decision-making processes.  Everyone has his or her own decision-making process.  And just as we tend to comfort others as we ourselves like to be comforted, I think most people tend to, at least subconsciously, assume that his or her own individual decision-making process is the right one.  If someone’s beating you over the head with a legal pad, telling you to make a pros and cons list about some big fork in the road of your life, chances are that person likes to make pros and cons lists.

Me, personally, I need to say something out loud, as if I’ve already made a decision, to see if it’s the right call.  Then, I begin to move in that direction, as if I’m sure, and see how I feel.  I don’t do anything crazy.  If I say I want to move to Alaska, my next move is not going to be to buy the plane ticket.  But I might start looking at flight times.  My sophomore year, when I first realized I was trans, I had to say it out loud, but I didn’t commit enough to really feel the effects.  I felt anxious, which is usually a sign I’m going in the wrong direction, but the anxiety stemmed from my ambivalence.

When I finally rounded up the courage to admit, rather than ask, that I was trans, I felt free for the first time in my life.  Once in a while, someone thinks that I’m a flake, because of my decision-making process.  I try to stay aware of my flaws, and I do an okay job, but I know I’m not a flake.  I understand why they think that, though.  “A week ago you said you wanted to go to Alaska.  Now you’re saying you want to kayak across the Atlantic Ocean.  What gives?”  Well, Alaska wasn’t right.  I looked at the flight times, and all of a sudden I was anxious about the long trip and what I would pack and where I would stay and I realized I didn’t want to go.

It’s unfortunate, I know that some members of my family panicked at the speed of my transition.  They thought I acted on impulse.  And I can see why they thought that.  But I had been thinking about that decision every single day for two years.  I had weighed the ramifications, I had asked the questions – “Will people think I’m a freak?  Will I find love?  Will I be able to get a job?  Is it dangerous?” – and had tried so hard to drown out the answer that whispered in the back of my mind: “It doesn’t matter.  Better they think you a freak, than you live a ‘normal’ life and never lose this weight on your shoulders.”  What, to many, appeared to be the beginning of my decision-making process, was actually the end result.

As I said before, the pace and flavor of my transition would not be right for everyone.  It’s a very individual thing.  And people should of course transition when they are ready, whatever that means.  For some, the fear persists throughout, for others not so much.  But, for me, taking at least seemingly-confident strides down that path, grasping that nettle as hard as I could, allowed me the clarity and calm to figure out what I wanted out of life.

I’m curious what others think about this.  What’s your decision-making process?  Do you prefer to grab the nettle and go, or test the waters more carefully?  If you’re trans, do you feel like things are going slowly or quickly?

***

“The Boy and the Nettles” translation from http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_aesop_boy_nettles.htm, by George Fyler Townsend.

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“The Boy and the Nettles” by https://growingupgareth.wordpress.com/ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Posted in Childhood, Coming Out, Mythology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments