I am not a caterpillar...
Sometimes, when things are getting a little overwhelming and it feels like life's REALLY. NOT. FAIR. it's nice to smile at a meme that makes light of the nasty status quo. I am not a caterpillar. Re-posted from Sean's Facebook timeline. Thanks Sean!
I've taken three more steps forward in the last week. Toward what I'm not sure, but it turns out that it doesn't really matter...
I turned 47. It occurred to me a while back that I might well be over half way through my life. I've got lots to show for it, including two beautiful human beings whom I'm proud to call my kids.
But I'm not dead yet. I want the next half to be a full and challenging existence. Through combatting fear and desolation I've developed a bunch of survival strategies and I want to use them all ! I don't want to stand still, rather keep growing, Hence I feel the need to push a little harder at some of my boundaries. There are risks of course, but when I ask myself 'why do it?' my monkey mind gleefully responds... 'why not?'
I visited my Doctor. I hadn't seen him for ages, and only a few times since starting on a low dose of testosterone over 6 months ago. I've just been bumbling along, dosing myself with daily gel according to what feels right. Scandalous, right? Should'nt I be monitoring hormone levels with regular blood tests? Or seeing a psych to work through my 'emergent masculinity'? But tbh there've been few times in my life when I've felt so little need for therapy or medical intervention. (Don't worry I made myself attend an overdue check in with the Dentist).
I asked my Doctor to sign a statement to confirm the following:
This is part of an application to change sex or gender identity form available here. When I first stumbled upon this document a few days ago, my heart sang!
Then, instantly, I worried about their definition of 'clinical treatment'. At this stage I don't want or need surgery... Later, in the Doctor's section of the (lengthy) document there is this:
I understand clinical treatment need not involve invasive medical treatment and may include or be constituted by counselling.
I'm getting an 'X' on my passport! When I started the process of updating my passport (with a better name) a couple of weeks ago, I didn't presume to tick the non-binary box. I guess I just assumed it would be too hard?
Then my photo was returned because (and I really quote) 'you are smiling'. It allowed me a bit more time to think it over and that's when I stumbled on the form above.
Here is the photo in question (left) and the one I've since had taken, hopefully without too much 'smiley-ness' (right).
In the post office, three people clucked around the computer monitor that applied an algorithm to my facial expressions. They advised me to try pouting. They took 3 sets of photos then gave up.
'Your mouth just goes up at the corners! You can't help that!'
It occurred to me that maybe the smile was showing in my eyes? With no make up, what else have I got to enlighten my visage, but humour?
I started thinking about all the ways I could have disguised myself with make up (presumably without triggering the algorithm) and sadly, the irony made me smile even more.
So these are my three baby steps forward. Not towards a new me, because all my old selves remain with me. But into the second half of my life - not male, not female, nor indeterminate/intersex/unspecified.
I'll be non-binary, with an 'X' in my passport thanks!
Qualifiers: Before I launch this update into my web, I consider my digital trace. Is this ok for anyone to read? I wish to make the following qualifiers:
I recognise my experience is
What risks? Just residual fears about harassment, disapproval... particularly travelling overseas, particularly across American borders.
This article is old... but I wonder, in an era of heightened alarm, whether surveillance policy has changed?
The TSA body scan is triggered when one's anatomy appears as 'anomaly' to one's appearance. Effectively the 'transportation security officer' reads gender based on external normative presentation, in combination with a binary gender category checked in one's passport. So female-identifying people who happen to be accompanied by a penis are unfairly targeted. It is worth noting that a trans woman with or without female certification is possibly more likely to be targeted than a straight white man just about anywhere, with or without aid of technology. They'll be alongside a long queue of overly monitored people of colour, visible ethnicity, nervous demeanour, sweaty or overweight people etc.
Previously, as a person with an 'F' in my passport, the fact that my body scans female, with notably absent penis, rolled in my favour. I wonder if my new 'X' will be cause for 'alarm' or just confusion? It can be a fine line...
I've booked flights that allow some extra time for transit between journey legs, just in case anything proves tricky.
Answering some questions...
Dear friends family and work colleagues,
It seems some of you have some questions along the lines of What's going on with "Son"? A few of you have asked directly and I hope I've given adequate response. If I've seemed vague or obtuse it's because I'm still working things out too. I've discovered that 'coming out' only really works if there's a definite transition between states of being and a permanent end point in mind. The following are (edited) excerpts from my journal:
So the biggest non-physical or at least mental/emotional change I've noticed is a certain gruff decisiveness that sometimes comes off as impatience or frustration (I'm told). I like this self because it conveys a confidence I've always yearned for. Of course it might also be attributed to a shift in the way I think about myself rather than an effect of testosterone. I've noticed not once in the last 3 months have I had what I previously experienced as an overwhelming concern for what others think of me.
Today I also realised that some more tangible physical changes have crept up on me. I bought clippers.
I looked up what I wanted online and walked straight into the shop to ask for it. The very pleasant young (bearded) man asked if there was anything in particular I'd like to learn about the device or their broader range. Where previously I might have begged for his knowledge and insight this time I simply said 'No'. I was a little uncomfortable discussing my personal grooming requirements with a kid who looked like he'd probably never thought about gender. This is partly because I intended pube trimming (embarrassing) and partly because I have no idea what I am intending for my face.
When I finally worked out how the goddamn 20 different little attachments fit together I tried the No. 3 beard trimmer on the down on my cheeks. Surprisingly it was quite long (though fine and blond) and consequently, once 'trimmed' there is visible bristle. I was suddenly hit with the fact that this 'transition' will eventually become noticeable.
How do I feel about having a beard? I'd have to offer explanation to people like my Auntie and my Dad and my sister and her kids. I don't really care what they think (and I don't think they really care) however it promises an awkward conversation that I'd rather not have.
A conversation took place between me and a friend who is also friends with one of my work colleagues. She had been asked the question. I had been observed to have 1) lost weight 2) had an extremely short haircut and 3) changed my dress sense. My friend didn't know how much she was supposed to reveal. We laughed together and I said I didn't think I needed to make an announcement.
However I feel some compassion for this third party intrigue because (mostly) they're just trying to do the right thing; to understand. But how can I offer a finite explanation when there isn't one?
All I can say is 'My new name is Son... but I will answer to Sonja' (part of me doesn't want to let her go but I feel her pulling away from me). 'I have a new asterisk tattoo and that's because 'unknown, footnote, multiplier and boolean stand-in for alternate endings' is how I feel about gender. I am a non-binary asterisk.
I don't want to be exclusively 'he' and am not offended by 'she'. However if you are willing or able to get your head around 'they' as my personal pronouns then it's worth the intellectual challenge.
And you'll get a grateful smile from me...
Auto-ethnography of an Asterisk
I’ve applied to change my name by deed poll. That meant a special appointment at ‘births, deaths and marriages’... and a degree of anxiety as I filled in the small box that requests 'justification'.
I wrote that. as a gender-neutral name, the change reflects my understanding of myself.
At the desk I explained that I wanted the symbol of an asterisk (rather than the word) as my middle name. The very polite young woman explained she’d 'have to check' and it might be a while because the office of her superior was on another floor. She said she'd been working there for 9 years and in the last 3 months staff have seen more legislative reform than in all the time previous.
I took these photos while I waited ... public servants have such power!
She eventually came back and confirmed what I had suspected - that they 'can’t do' symbols. Only apostrophes, as in ‘d’Angelo’. I chuckled internally.
Out loud I said ‘Would it break the computer-algorithms?’. She didn’t smile.
I asked if I could see the actual wording of the policy and she helpfully printed up the legal statute and regulations. Of course they only refer to the parameters of what is possible in curating your own identity.
It actually makes Facebook’s terms seem reasonable!
Asterisk is a kind of gender-identity for me.
The symbol is used in computer science as a wildcard character or to denote repetition or multiplication. In chat rooms it can be used to correct a mistake or tone down an expletive In MUDS and MOOs there is a gender called ‘splat’ represented by the asterisk. In feudal times the star indicated date of birth in a family tree.
All of these things are me. I’ve made a series of wildcard choices in my life, taken some risks. I often a experience these as footnotes – important asides to the main narrative, significant to full understanding.
This latest adventure in gender is a choice and a path that I feel I am rolling out in front of me. Some of the people I’d like to take with me on the journey are struggling a bit.
As my voice changes, so does my manner. I feel that I’m perhaps more direct but I’m told that I come off as rude, even angry. I don’t feel that I’m cross, perhaps more assertive in taking up public space. Some of that is psych-somatic confidence surely rather than something that can be clocked up to higher levels of T?
As my body changes incrementally I see the kids look at me differently from time to time, just checking.
Now I decide when to smooth the chin hairs with a razor rather than tweezers. I enjoy the feeling of my muscles stretching and growing and I feel a buzz of excitement as I glimpse other ‘unexpected’ changes in the mirror. Each new discovery is a thing… and it’s thrilling, but it comes at some cost. How far do I want to go? I’d love to 'be read' as boy but don’t know if I want to give up some traces of femininity.
I tried on a baggy shift dress that I wore a couple of Christmas’ ago, it’s always been comfortable. It was Ok, it still looked alright on me and my body felt good, naked, underneath. But the glimpse in the mirror was just slightly discordant.
I revert to shorts and t-shirt for the day.
Turns out I have...
I told my best friend last night. I practised beforehand.
I rehearsed 'I have something I want to talk to you about. It's probably no surprise to you... but I want you to take a deep breath and think before you respond...'
I'm thinking about getting a referral to an endocrinologist. I don't want to be a man necessarily. I want to be gender-queer. More me.
My body is changing incrementally anyway. I've lost weight, gotten hairier and musclier. Hardly ever have periods. Guess I'm getting old? But I want to be different... stronger. And I'm not dead yet. I have time for another adventure in front of me.
I'm getting a number 2 haircut... can't wait to have a soft prickly skull (even as daughter says that I think I'm auditioning for '11'... if only...)
I'm worried cos I wonder how this will sail with the cis-tem (my favourite piece of Berlin graffiti). I'm not dysphoric... other than I'd often like to be invisible to everybody else and don't much like mirrors or photos.
I don't hate my body... and I'm not sure I need to get rid of boobs that are virtually non-existent anyway ; ) I'm not particularly unhappy... other than I've been on anti-depressants more of my life than I haven't been... and I beat myself up a lot, just quietly.
Will that be enough to pass the tests, to get access to a small amount of hormones? What hoops await?
I figure at the very least I can get a tattoo, right? It turns out, awake with jet-lag between 3-6am is a great time to brainstorm tattoos,. I want a hand written asterisk on my left inner forearm.
An asterisk represents a star, infinity, a multitude and a wild-card. It appeals to my post-feminist queer theorist geek self. It's a footnote for a longer story and a breaker of hegemonic machinated meaning-making.
My first draft tattoo, done with a white board marker (not even permanent pen) is misspelt of course. Kind of ironic and tempting to keep. I only realised it wasn't 'asterix' when I looked it up! 'Risk' is better than 'ricks' though (even if they sound the same), because when my sleeve is rolled down you can only see 'risk'. The appending *Aster climbs into the crook of my arm.
This is a big risk.
If things go well I'd like to change my name to Son* rather than Sonja Vivienne. Do you think the machines/forms will be able to compute an asterisk symbol to stand in for my multiple selves? I guess I could comply with Son Asterisk Vivienne.
My self image...
I am Son.
I am a teacher and a learner and an activist and an artist and a parent.
I always felt like a 'son' but I don't think that is ever going to happen.
I like power tools.
And labouring in the garden.
I like the muscles I grow when I swim and practice yoga.
My pronouns are they/them and she/her.
I like being multiple but I need acceptance In my many worlds.
'You've changed, what's going on with you?'
This made me think how, as an adult, you're supposed to be consistent. I buy some 'boyfriend cargoes' and talk about the things I love about being strong, brave, outspoken... apparently masculine qualities WTF?... and suddenly my intimate others think I'm about to transition! Maybe I will... back and forth again!
I am a teacher and a learner and an activist and an artist and a parent.