In many of my readings for my social work courses I’ve come across the term “transgendered.” I’m horribly disheartened by this particularly in a 2007 article published by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). I found a PDF of it online, and can give it to anyone interested in it. It’s called “Bending Gender, Ending Gender: Theoretical Foundations for Social Work Practice with the Transgender Community” by Barb Burdge. Clearly the NASW is not practicing diversity and cultural competency as properly as it expects its students to do. Thankfully there’s this to help them out. Thank you GLAAD for making this reference. I will definitely add this to my list of resources.
Well, it’s 4:21am, but Midnight Musings sounded better than “I should be fucking asleep o’clock in the morning.”
I’ve been thinking lately. You know, that thing I do sometimes. It’s been many, many months in the making, probably since before top surgery but not properly made aware of until afterwards. As I’ve mentioned in numerous videos on my Youtube page, and probably on here as well, I started my transition not because I identified as a man trapped in a woman’s body, or because I felt like I was FTM, or a trans man, or any of that stuff that falls on the gender binary. No, I transitioned because I was stifled, suffocating under a name and body that were far too easily labeled as one or the other — in my case, as female. I chose a “boy” name that I modified to look more neutral (and I personally think “Brannen” sounds fairly neutral, too), and my middle name was chosen purely for gender neutrality reasons. And it sounded pretty, but I digress. So I socially transitioned from Stephanie Michelle to Brannen Skyler the morning of — and many mornings after — graduating from college. Overall this was well-received by my family and friends; I only have one set of friends who I do not speak with, and my girlfriend’s family does not (for the most part) recognize our relationship or my actual identity. But so it goes.
When I moved to Illinois I was in such a rush to just start physically transitioning to something, anything other than so overtly female that I forgot myself a little. Or rather, a lot. I fell into the trap that many trans folk find themselves in: I went to the other end of the spectrum to the extreme. And granted, my extreme isn’t becoming a miniature beefcake stud-muffin manly man, but I still did it. I was on a standard dose of testosterone for maybe one and a half years, and especially in that half year I was so focused on top surgery — my true goal for physical transition — that I forgot about almost all of my identity. In short, I lost myself to my transition. Do I regret it? Minorly, but it happens. I’m only human, after all. A gender neutral, transgender person-type-thing of a human, but a human nonetheless. And shit happens.
By this point, now that I’m in Madison and in school, I’ve recaptured another part of my identity, which is being a student. I’ve missed that part of myself tremendously. And I’ve also missed my silly gender neutral part of myself. It flies under the radar, because I grew up purposefully trying to do so. It was probably subconscious on my part, knowing that my differentness would somehow not be accepted by mainstream society. But the more I sit here and mull over myself and where I want to be, the more I realize that I might not be able to fly under the radar for my own well-being and general sanity. I can’t just shove my gender neutral identity to the side and subsume a purely transgender identity, but rather they need to merge into one another.
And so comes the penultimate point of this post: pronouns. I started going by masculine (he/him/his/himself) pronouns once I started socially transitioning. I’ve been thinking, even when I was in Illinois, that I might want to go by gender neutral pronouns. Honestly, I’d rather people just use no pronouns at all and use my name (because I picked it myself and I’m oh so proud of it), but realistically I know this is asking a lot of people. So I really feel I need to go with the lesser of all potential evils and decide which pronouns I’d rather people use when they’re just not up to avoiding pronouns altogether. And I’m increasingly feeling like singular they (they/them/their/themself) would suit my identity and my comfort level the best of all possible pronouns, gender neutral or otherwise.
I just don’t know how to go about asking people to switch pronouns again. My girlfriend pointed out that this would probably be an even more difficult adjustment for people to get used to. On the other hand, they’ve already accepted a “girl” becoming a guy-like individual…although to be honest, there wasn’t all that much further for me to go in that regard. If they can wrap their heads around that concept, then wouldn’t using neutral pronouns almost help any lingering confusion? I don’t know what to do at this point in time, and it scares me. Plain and simple, I’m scared, but cautiously optimistic. You know, that thing I do sometimes.
So from the last two weeks of August to September 5th, I was off most of my medications with the exception of testosterone. I’d waited a little too long to find a doctor, and by the time I’d both seen her and picked up the meds from Walgreens (it took at least one extra day because of not having enough syringes…trans issues, le sigh) I had been off of my anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and acne medication for about three weeks. Regardless of each particular medication’s half-life, by the three week point I felt it safe to say that the effects of the drugs had almost completely worn off. This prompted me to do some introspective thinking — as I do — and revisit the idea of medication, specifically as it’s used to help treat mental health concerns.
To set the scene here, in my younger years I was much more of a naturalist — well, still am really — when it comes to medication. I rarely took Ibuprofen if I ever had a headache, and even during my first episode of major depression I didn’t once think that I should go on meds. Fast forward to now, where I take three different pills a day and shoot myself up the outer thigh with testosterone three times a month. A pretty drastic change, and even earlier this year I was thinking that it might behoove me to cut down on my small laundry list of meds. And I often did sort of daydream about the days when I would no longer be dependent upon medication to keep me in my right, fully functioning mind.
And then came the three weeks of me being med-less. It wasn’t so bad at first. But by the end of the first week or so I noticed myself becoming more irritable. I brushed it off as normal irritability, since I can sometimes be a mopey grouch (courtesy of years of pessimism and self-deprecation, no doubt). And I’m also a killjoy when I’m in these moods, and it didn’t seem too far out of the ordinary for me. By week two I was having major bouts of dysthymia, which was a little less ordinary. Sure, my dysthymia comes and goes, but more gradually and never manifests severely. This was worse than normal, bordering on depression, which is a place to which I really don’t fancy returning.
And the dysthymia/depression faded into week three, anxiety took its place in the worst way. I’ve only once in my life been so anxious that I physically was in pain from it, and that was years before I went on my anti-anxiety meds. But this anxiety was moderate to severe and lasted three full days without reprieve. It’s only been now that I’ve been back on my meds for four days that I feel that I’m returning to baseline. It’s been quite the ride.
I came to a few conclusions in my self-reflective musings, the main one being that yes, Virginia, psychotropic medications are effective and do serve a valuable purpose for people struggling with mental health issues. Additionally, there’s no shame in being medicated. I’ve heard some argue that it’s a sign of weakness to take meds, or to go to therapy, but let me set the record straight: These are highly effective tools used to combat and manage mental health disturbances. There is no shame in being able to say, “Yes, I have anxiety,” or “I have depression,” or any other diagnosis — and if people can own up to their mental health or problems therein, the easier it will be to find resources to help them manage themselves effectively.
As a side note, this was also interesting for me because I got to see what I was like just on testosterone, and I confirmed what I’ve suspected since almost two years ago to date: Testosterone has had no lasting impact on my mental health or behaviors. It hasn’t altered my psyche to something completely unrecognizable, and it accomplished what I wanted it to do, which is deepen my voice, redistribute fat, and halt my menses. While I’m still determining whether or not I want to continue on hormones indefinitely, one thing I do know for sure is that I will be sticking with my other medications. My dysthymia dictates that I at least need my escitalopram, and for now my anxiety requires medication as well. And I’m no longer frustrated that I take these meds — I’m just thankful that I have access to them.
I’ve previously written about being stealth, which in trans lingo means to pass as the gender identity you are rather than the gender identity you were given at birth. “Passing” in turn is based off of a terrible binary system of gender which means that you appear as one particular gender or sex . If you were to apply this to myself, if means passing as male or as a young man, as I was born female and therefore assigned the gender of girl/young woman.
But enough definitions, because defining these terms to people in everyday situations takes far too much time to bother with; so instead I just appear as male. Those who don’t know me might think this was the point all along, that the moment when I decided to transition from being female I also decided I had to appear as male. Let me make something clear: I did not transition from being female to something else. I will always be female, because last time I checked I still had XX chromosomes. “Sex change” is a misnomer, and to everyone who asks me if I’ve “had the sex change operation yet,” I’ll just say, “No.”*
So let’s move on to gender with a real-life example. I was playing Munchkin with four people I’d never met before as well as my girlfriend. It had been so long since I had played that I forgot the sex you choose to be influences which cards you can use. There are also cards to change the sex of the person of the card holder’s choosing, thereby disallowing a female Elf Bard to, say, use their Chastity Belt of Everlasting Armor because they’re now a male Elf Bard (and of course, males aren’t allowed to wear chastity belts).
In my head I’m frustrated that the creators of a card game cannot properly distinguish between the terms “sex” and “gender,” which I hardly need define as they should be common knowledge by this point. I’m also frustrated that I’ve just been placed in a situation where I need to publicly declare my sex to four strangers. Do I become a female Thief? A male Thief? In the end I appropriated “intersex” and did so with the new rule being that I would neither gain any benefits — nor accrue any disadvantages– based on my character’s sex.
But this lead no one to question my own sex or gender. No one turned and pointed their finger, shouting “Aha! So you’re really a female!” or “I thought you didn’t seem manly enough to really be a guy.” No, everyone called me using masculine pronouns the whole time and, when the subject of my choice came up, described it as being “left-wing liberal.” For all intents and purposes I passed as a young man and male.
And so I find myself at the complete opposite end of the binary I started out at almost two years ago, when I first started socially and medically transitioning. I think people assume I’m transitioning towards something, for instance transitioning from female to male. But I’m not, and I never have been. I’m just becoming more and more myself. And I don’t have a gender set in some sort of binary, my sex can be considered ambiguous due to a lack of secondary sex characteristics.
Am I passing for real? Not entirely. I’m trying to figure out how I can truly pass as myself, as Brannen, and the best I’ve come up with is this:
Be yourself. Show up as you and only you. Don’t compromise yourself to fit into others’ ideas of how things should be. Be happy, take time to enjoy your odd and convoluted life. Change if you want to, because that’s what life’s about. But above all else, be yourself unconditionally, unapologetically, and with compassion — especially for those who don’t understand who you really are.
*Since publishing this I’ve been informed that my thoughts mirror TERF (trans-exclusionist radical feminist) ideologies. So please check out the comments for my more in-depth explanation of this paragraph.
And now for something completely different. I welcome any and all comments, since this is a video based on my experiences and I cannot speak for everybody.
~Cheers and goodwill~