That Transsexual Guy
An archive of blog posts by Oliver Leon tackling the issues and everyday life of transition and trans* rights.
Imagine that you’ve landed on another planet where the inhabitants are human beings who have no gender, except for once a month when they have sex.
That’s the premise of Ursula K. LeGuin’s 1969 science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness.
In LeGuin’s 1976 introduction to the book, she writes, “Yes, indeed the people in it are androgynous, but that doesn’t mean that I’m predicting that in a millenium or so we will all be androgynous or announcing that I think we damned well ought to be androgynous.”
This is an interesting point to make, for within the depths of the Internet (and by that, I mean, Tumblr), I have found that some people really think that the world will become this way.
They claim that it will be better for gender-variant people that way. But I’ve thought about it and I don’t think I would stop being a transsexual living in an androgynous society. I’d still want hormones and top surgery. I’ve read science fiction by straight non-trans male authors who think that this could happen, also around the same time when humanity would populate other planets.
Frankly, I don’t understand how an androgynous society would work. Would everyone look the same? What is androgyny–thin, white, able, narrow-hipped people in vaguely male clothing? Why would we need an androgynous society? Is there a problem with gender? Sure, I think we could safely say yes but what in particular bothers us? The segregation? The bizarre assumptions that men are better than women? The different toy options at McDonalds?
What are the benefits to an androgynous society? On the planet of Winter, in this non-gendered society of LeGuin’s, there are no notions of performing masculinity or femininity. The main character, Genly Ai, flounders in social interactions because he is used to gendered conversational cues. In Winter, the citizens all treat one another as human beings.
I really enjoy the wonderful variety of people you can meet on the street, don’t you? If we all dressed the same and tried to conform to an androgynous standard, life would be uninteresting. My copy of _The Left Hand of Darkness _ wouldn’t be secondhand and scrawled in—it would be pristine and look exactly like every other copy of the book out there.
On the cover of it, there is an ice sculpture. One half is a stereotypically feminine face and the other half is a stereotypically masculine face. Two halves of a whole. I think that sums up human nature nicely: we need the attributes of the “masculine” toughness and assertion and the “feminine” qualities of compassion and care to survive in this world, regardless of what planet we live on.
Did you like that tumultuous time when you didn’t understand what was going on with your body, your emotions or your hormones? I’m expecting that you’ll say no, more because you were likely in high school at the time, cooped up with hundreds of other hormonal, angry teenagers. The majority of people I know hated high school. Personally, a lot of my nightmares take place there.
Fortunately, I’ve got a second chance. No, I can’t travel through time—I’m on Hormone Replacement Therapy. Why, you ask? The reason I’ve been jabbing a needle into my thigh once a week for the past ten months is because I am a transsexual.
That’s right. When I was born, my doctor took a look at my premature little self and decided, “Okay, this baby is a girl.”Eighteen years later, I realized that I disagreed with that. I was depressed for a good long while but once my transition started to roll along—finding a psychologist, getting people to call me Oliver and respect my gender—I started to feel better.
On Oct. 26, 2011, I started testosterone. I’m 10 months on T now and lined up to talk to a local surgeon about getting top surgery—what breast cancer survivors might know as a double mastectomy.
Testosterone has affected me in many ways. The first time it was injected in me, I felt an immense relief. I no longer had to worry about acquiring it—the hormones were in me. Now the only things I had to worry about were my fear of needles and the expense of going through my transition.
I continued to pay for my psychologist, who eventually wrote me a letter recommending that I get top surgery. Trans men are required to go through this procedure. I’ve been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder and there are rules to follow in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Just so y’all know, if you’re gender-variant or transsexual or genderqueer or anything, you’re not sick. You’re not ill. You’re not crazy or wrong. You’re alright.
My psychologist then recommended me to a colleague who, after paying $200 for two sessions, decided that I definitely was ready for surgery. She wrote my second letter and mailed it to me.
It used to be that in Quebec the second letter had to be written by a psychiatrist, but there are so few in Montreal qualified to have clients who are transgender or transsexual that the surgeon changed the rules.
I got my Letter of Good Health from Concordia Health Services, since my own general physician retired four years ago. My endocrinologist (hormone doctor) wrote a letter confirming that I was on testosterone. I emailed all that to my doctors. Surgeries for trans folks are covered by Medicare here in Quebec (we’re lucky). The secretary called me up a couple of months ago to confirm that my surgery consultation date is on Oct. 9.
I’ve heard rumours that you can get your top surgery date pretty quickly after meeting your surgeon. I’m hoping to get this done as an early Christmas gift to myself, but in all likelihood I’ll get an early 21st birthday present (Apr. 4). My mom isn’t thrilled with any more body modifications but she respects my choices in life. She doesn’t nag me about “regretting it.” It’s probably because I’m too headstrong to listen but I appreciate that she’s giving me the space to do what I need.
My dad asks me questions sometimes and it’s fun to watch him fight internalized gender stereotypes. My little brother—who just turned 14—is great. He’s a bit lost since he’s still a young’un, but he’s always been supportive of his older brother’s radical decisions and opinions.
In fact, he guessed that I was a transsexual. At the time, my parents weren’t keen on me telling him what was going on. He knew that I was seeing a psychologist. So he would ask why.
“Are you adopted?”
“Are you pregnant?”
“Do you want to be a boy?”
Uh, yes, Matt, I do. I explained the process to him. The only question he really asked was, “Are you going to get big muscles?” I told him that I needed to go to the gym for that. I do have biceps now, even though I don’t exercise, but it’s not like I’m a buff, macho dude. I have gotten hairier everywhere. My friends enjoy keeping track—“Oliver, I saw you on Friday. Now it’s Monday. I think your voice dropped an octave or two over the weekend!”
Like most teenage boys, I’m hungrier and more energetic. I have difficulty sitting still during lectures. I’m more comfortable and confident with myself now that I am feeling like the way I always should have been. There was, however, a rough patch for a bit when I couldn’t figure out my emotions. I had to re-learn how to know what I was feeling. It was like there was a brick wall that I had to walk around in order to find my feelings.
It’s fine. I’ve found that asking myself questions helps. “Why are you grumpy right now when you’ve had a nice day? Oh, you’re hungry. Okay.” It keeps life interesting. I (mostly) have gotten over my fear of needles, eight months in. I no longer need someone with me, nor do I need to cajole myself for an hour before injecting. I still feel shaky afterward. My leg feels tingly all day and feeling my phone vibrate against my leg is very unpleasant.
This second puberty thing is going well. I’m not the lonely androgynous queer kid in high school anymore, where almost everyone is cruel or boring. I’m at university, a place where curiosity and kindness are encouraged (except when strikers and anti-strikers interact). I have lots of friends this time around—people who love me for the nerdy, dandy queer boy that I am.
I’m not going to say “it gets better” because I think that trivializes a lot of important issues and ignores immediate distress. I do feel that I am a lot happier because I have worked hard to get where I am today. I’ve had to deal with some shitty times since high school, but I’ve made it through okay and intact.
I’m That Transsexual Guy—Oliver Leon—who sits next to you in English class and who rants about gender in The Link once a month. I’m online the rest of the time. I enjoy tea, books and volunteering. Hi. Nice to meet you. I hope you enjoy your stay.
I was at the supermarket a few years ago and I saw this tabloid headline: “World’s First Pregnant Man.”
On the cover was a man with his hands on his round belly. I purposely avoided looking too interested for fear that someone would automatically assume that I was a transexual. Now, of course, I purposely read transexual literature on the metro so people start to question gender.
But what I want to talk about is parenthood. Currently, the law requires all transexuals in the province of Quebec to be sterilized. This means that my reproductive organs will be removed. My endocrinologist (hormone doctor) said that this was because of an increased risk of cancer. Why? I’m not sure.
But trans men must have a hysterectomy and trans women must have a vaginoplasty. These surgeries are both considered a part of Sex Reassignment Surgery. We have this surgery so that the Quebec government will change our sex designation. If we do not have SRS, we are left with our sex assigned at birth on all of our official records.
Frankly, my pet theory is that the government does not want trans people reproducing. Obviously part of our ‘Big Transexual Agenda’ is to create more transexuals so we can spread gender-variance throughout the world, right? Oh yeah, totally. It’s what I dream about at night!
Alternatively, I could keep my uterus and, eventually, have a child. I would need to stop testosterone in order to do this, and my period would come back. My voice would stay its masculine self. So I, too, could be a pregnant daddy—if I so desired.
I’m not sure I want to, though. I like kids, but… I’m only 19! I should have the rest of my life to decide these things.
Instead, I have my endocrinologist telling me that, in the next three years, I should decide whether or not I am having a hysterectomy.
Trans parents do exist. They blog online, they’re in trans magazines, they’re in the tabloids, they’re on talk shows. But they probably have paid a lot of money to become the person they are today.
Why doesn’t the government change our sex designation when we tell our therapists that we’re trans? Why is our name change thrown in for free only if we have SRS? Why do name changes cost upwards of $500 anyway? Do they think we’re made of money or something?
Therapy is expensive. There’s a limited pool of mental health professionals who agree to have trans clients in the first place—do we really have to put a price on everything?
Oh I forgot, obviously it’s because gender identity and gender expression aren’t protected against unlawful discrimination or hate crimes under the Canada Human Rights Act.
Our bodies are policed. People judge our genders for us. But hey, no big deal. Let’s just charge the transexuals loads of money if they want therapy, a name change, or surgery!
And people wonder why I scribble madly in my Big Transexual Agenda all the time…
I want to share my transition. I want to write to you about public bathrooms, navigating my name change and taking hormones.
Before me stood the boy that I secretly wanted to be in high school. I’m not sure if I’m exasperated that it took him this long to show up, or pleased that he finally did.
He has—that is, I have—a mere dusting of a flimsy mustache and the faintest of facial hairs breeding on my cheeks. My face looks firmer and a tad more angular.
I have slightly noticeable bicep muscles (as opposed to, y’know, no visible biceps at all, aka privileged university white boy flab). I haven’t actually been doing any exercise beyond occasionally juggling.
I explained to my psychologist that pre-testosterone, my emotional landscape was like standing on a hill overlooking the city in a fog. On testosterone, the fog has lifted.
I don’t actually have a roadmap to this city though, and have to check signposts a lot. I get lost in these city streets sometimes, but I’m finding my way. A lot of back alleys that didn’t make sense to me now lead me back to Main Street, so to speak. My world just makes more sense.
Hurrah for those injections of testosterone, eh?
I have a fear of needles. You can imagine how much that complicates my morning.
Never mind how bloody difficult it is for a grumpy bear like me to get up, but I also have to deal with stabbing a sharp object into my thigh every Wednesday. I reward myself with a lollipop after each injection, just like I’m getting a shot from the doctor.
Okay, maybe not every injection. Sometimes I don’t inject at home and do it with a friend, for moral support, and I usually forget to bring the lollipops.
Speaking of rewarding oneself with lollipops, I think I should have eaten at least five after Christmas this year. Does anyone else find Christmas boring and superficial? I feel like there was a secret social contract that I forgot to sign somewhere. What exactly am I celebrating with a bunch of blood relatives whom I only see three or four times a year?
As I do with injecting, I used a lot of mantras to get through the holidays. Besides the usual ‘You are a good person’ and ‘It’s okay, you can do this,’ I wrote down a list of things to remind myself.
It was a handy thing to look at whenever I went to the bathroom, which was often enough because I drank at most of the obligatory family get-togethers. I figure that even if I weren’t trans, this would still be pretty crappy. I hardly know these people. Why am I here?
I spent most of the time daydreaming about what my winter holiday celebrations will one day look like instead. They will involve reading old Doris zines, watching cheesy ‘90s movies, scarfing down nachos and drinking spectacularly inventive drinks like screwdrivers.
All of my chosen family and dear friends would be invited, if they could/wanted to get away from their families. Or I could spend it by myself with one or two other people, maybe my hypothetical future partner, too. Or I will be all by myself… and like it!
It is okay to be alone over the holidays. It is okay to not want to go to church, synagogue, etc., to drink in your room reading poetry while ignoring all of your dad’s girlfriend’s friends.
I encourage you to get away from the festivities and other familial social interactions by walking your dad’s girlfriend’s brother’s dog to get some fresh air if you need it. Or stalk Facebook, or zone out by playing Skyrim on your PS3—assuming you can get away with this, of course. If you can’t, I wish you the absolute best of luck.
Birth families are weird and complicated. It’s been an enlightening experience for me, realizing that the mythical happy family does not exist. The media perpetuates this idea that American/Canadian/European families are beautiful, happy and loving.
They are not. They are often ugly, complicated and hurtful. Or they are somewhere in the middle, not in a black/white dichotomy, but are rather unpleasant to listen to.
Fortunately, I have my own cell phone so when I was finally able to hide and check my phone on Christmas day, I found four text messages from friends and chosen family sending me love and support. One particular message thoughtfully reminded me of my chosen name—a very grounding sentiment after hearing my birth name for days.
But on New Year’s Eve, as the world rolled into 2012, my dad whispered, “Happy New Year’s, Oliver,” into my ear. Maybe there is some hope for family after all.