Body Acceptance

Just love your body. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be disgusted by; you’re beautiful just the way you are.

I like that sentiment. It’s sweet. It’s something that’s stated as an ideal, often in pseudo-spiritual language, and is meant as a reaction to the overwhelming societal pressure to hate yourself and the body you inhabit.

Unwillingly, I might add. That’s an important aspect to this topic: none of us chose the physical form our bodies were programmed to take, or the environment that molded our bodies during childhood. But accept your body. Just the way it is.

There’s a friend who runs a feminist button store called “misandry over misogyny” – a dysphoric female with gender-critical views who blogs as transcynical – and I’m thinking now of a quote off one of the buttons I ordered:

“There is no ethical consumption under capitalism.”

Yet of course, under capitalism your consumption is coerced because no alternatives are provided, which complicates the ethics where individuals are concerned, especially the working class. This got me thinking about how our individual decisions are coerced by the systems we are socialized into, and how many kinds of body modifications are enforced adaptations to an oppressive impulse towards “normalcy.”

Not all body mods, though. Replacement appendages for amputees are an obvious one. Can’t think of anything wrong with that. Corrective surgery for the wide range of variation that we call “deformities” – from those that may impair function, to those which are entirely superficial and are done in order to facilitate a positive social perception – because society judges people, especially women, for things like superficial facial “deformities.” A physical attribute that poses no medical issue may still be modified necessarily because it poses a social issue. It impacts basic stuff like getting a job.

So does dental care, which oddly is not covered by Medicaid. Yep, I live in a society where someone with obviously missing teeth won’t get a job they otherwise would have, yet it’s not seen as a medical necessity for those whose survival likely depends on a job.

Neither are hearing aids or eyeglasses covered. Clearly, being able to see and hear is required in order to function “normally” in this society. The push towards this imagined normalcy is insistent. It takes form in our complacent refusal to adapt to diversity, including those who are disabled, refusing to make efforts to be inclusive of these individuals. Deaf children are often prevented from learning sign language because the impulse towards making them like normal, hearing children is so strong that the caregivers mistake this as helping them. Alongside this recommendation is often the suggestion of surgical intervention in the form of a cochlear implant, a practice which is controversial in the Deaf community and criticized as a form of ethnocide/cultural assimilation. For these reasons, a group of Deaf people protested a symposium of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the organization’s support of methods to “normalize” Deaf children.

Even the question “should a deaf child be made to hear” is fraught with ethical problems under this system which values normalcy above all else. But who is “normal”? White, straight, rich, able-bodied men? Products intended to bleach skin are a huge business, especially in Africa and Asia, where the consumers are frequently subjected to toxic levels of mercury (pdf of WHO report on mercury in skin lightening products). This is a massive public health risk that in particular impacts women and girls, caused by the commodification of negative body image. Where is the line between individual choice and social coercion when it comes to body modifications?

The button from above helped me here.

“There is no ethical transhumanism under white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.” Or something like that.

The act of engaging oneself or another person in transhumanism cannot be entirely separated from the system under which a person is socialized, a system they are dependent upon for survival. Or at least, their relationship with survival inevitably involves that system. But here, as above, application of this principle to an individual’s actions is more complicated than the quote implies.

How does this apply to transition? Adaptation to the overwhelming social pressure regarding one’s role in society based upon reproductive anatomy cannot be ignored as a motivation to transition. A common one. What I’ve heard from so many trans people is the idea that one’s body shouldn’t matter when it comes to you or others’ perception of who you are – and I agree in theory. One’s body shouldn’t mean anything about the person’s personality or social role other than their form and function as a material being, and how that material reality shapes their lived experience.

That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately. Not yet. Social programming is real, and it’s based upon set standards of reproductive anatomy by which we forcibly divide people into those who are expected to give birth, and those who are expected to police those who are expected to give birth. Opting-out of this socialization is not an option. Not wanting to identify with violent men who were clearly intended to be my role models didn’t spare me from the influence of men who saw me as someone meant to be a man like them. They changed me, forced me to adapt to them, based upon a body I had no choice over.

Of course I’m going to despise being male; of course I’m going to want to be female. What other choices are there? Eunuch? Even then, that doesn’t answer the question of self-expression. Body modification isn’t enough for this process to work, which is what raised a red flag for me. Needing a combination of medical transition and social transition eliminated the possibility that this was simply a medical issue – a case of “born into the wrong body” or “sexed brain” is simply insufficient to fully explain transness – namely because the notion of brain sex is controversial (here, here, here) and as an idea is inseparable from sexist notions of biological essentialism. Attention must be paid to gendered expectations of humans based upon reproductive anatomy as a motivation for transition – and as a potential cause for physical dysphoria.

This doesn’t mean I think that any amount of therapy can make someone comfortable with their body. Nor is someone obligated to try. Each person knows their limits. Each person is capable of setting their boundaries, and sometimes the only option available is to simply live with being uncomfortable in one’s body. Yet if a body modification has the potential to improve someone’s quality of life, I cannot consider denying someone access. Which is why I think transition can be helpful for some. The problem is, as long as we live in a system where gender norms exist, there is no way a person’s decision to transition can be considered completely separate from the system they are adapting to. This is not meant to diminish the personal nature of transition, but to connect it to a larger context. As long as we live under the gender hierarchy, there will be people who benefit from transition.

Threat of male violence alters you whether you want it to or not. Men know this, because we do it to each other. Fear being yourself. Don’t make yourself a target.

Women know this very well.

I was never socialized into the female sex caste, so my delusion was that “being female” might be an escape from being a man who balked at the thought of being himself in this society. Two years of transition and I realize that the assigned female role is not an improvement over the social problems inherent in being a gender non-conforming gay man with dysphoria, although the nature of the obstacles change. I’m not “normal,” I get that. So what? Neither are a lot of other people. The more privileged you are, the more normal you get to be – and as an able-bodied white man I’m definitely privileged. Many of us try to change ourselves in order to “fit” better with what society orders us to be (I know I have, and still consider), but maybe, just maybe, your individual choice is partially influenced by others.

This doesn’t mean body modification can’t help you. Transition can be a helpful option – as long as alternatives are also being approached. Oh, but there aren’t any alternatives. Just cessation. Not-ness; not-trans.

Tell me again why there aren’t resources for people seeking alternatives to transition? What am I supposed to do with my dysphoria? Psychotherapists are largely just mirrors, but I already have one of those – there’s a second me I talk my issues through with. Yes, a little odd, and yes, this started greatly increasing in frequency about a week ago. Talking to myself at length, about complex subjects. Oh, right – what I did prior to HRT.

I’m starting to dissociate from myself again, but it’s taking a different form this time. More like a rediscovery. Maybe I’m just nervous and hormonal. The conversations do help me clarify ideas, though!

I know transition numbs the dissociation from my body by numbing the body itself, but if I also know my feelings are influenced by social programming in the form of gender norms (which includes norms regarding sexuality), shouldn’t I at least seek alternatives? Really, I’m trying to find a way to be comfortable with my body. If my hypothesis is correct that the gender hierarchy and all its ancillary machinations influenced my body/gender issues, then I feel an obligation to myself to fully explore this possibility as an alternative to both medical transition and self-harm.

From experience, the alternative to transition is “deal with it.” That doesn’t work well for a lot of people. Should we find a therapist and work it out individually, so as not to trouble others with our inconvenient lived experience? Bringing up all sorts of annoying questions like “was I always female when I was a transwoman, but now I’ve always been male?” or “when detransitioners are told they were ‘never trans,’ how is this different from christians telling unbelievers they were ‘never really christian’?” or “how is it possible that medical transition mediated my dysphoria if being a detransitioner means it wasn’t ‘right’ for me?”

Being trans is more complicated than the available narratives allow, especially ones as reductionist as “right/wrong” and “true/not-true trans.” We are trying to adapt to this society, and it’s a society whose currency is the human body. The social and the material are inseparable because the social controls the material. Transness is a social and physical phenomenon, because gender is a social and physical hierarchy. Training retransitioners with individual therapy to adapt well to an abusive system (i.e. not speaking out, being gender conforming) isn’t going to address the causation, and is just the mirror image behavior of what they did before – changing oneself to accommodate the pressures of compulsory normality.

Maybe the misfits can confront the system by expressing who we are, offering our own interpretation of what it means to be owners of certain kinds of bodies. At least, those of us able and willing to do so.

Whether I decide to continue my cessation of HRT or not (funny thing, after that last post where I stated my reproductive anatomy was waiting to bloom, it suddenly did) my perception of self will be male, but I will not alter my self-expression and capitulate to the threat of male violence, nor flee this threat by disappearing into women’s safe spaces. I’m not going to stop seeing myself as a man, complete with socialization and privilege – but I don’t have to be the kind of man they want me to be.

The main thing is, I don’t accept my body, and a good portion of that isn’t my fault. But this doesn’t mean I am powerless. I declared myself non-christian at the age of 15, and it took another decade to fully separate that programming from my perception of the world. From my first years, other people saw me and treated me as male, socialized me male. How long does it take to unravel that type of programming?

If the alternative solution to transition is working through one’s gendered socialization and how that affects your relationship with society, I cannot hold it against anyone who feels that transition is necessary for them. I know first-hand the potential benefits. And who knows, there may be a physical etiology to some transness as well, possibly due to teratogens and endocrine disruptors, random genetic mutations, or some as-yet-undiscovered mechanism. However, I repeat that under this system, there is no ethical transhumanism. As long as the gender hierarchy exists, many people will benefit from transition, but their decision to do so – at least in part – is influenced by gender norms. Coerced.

(Since this is a post about body acceptance, I thought I’d throw a candid picture of myself in here, complete with bags under the eyes. Connect to the readership and all that. My publicist says I need all the positive spin I can get.)

croppedacceptance
adult human male
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The Re-Transing of Male Miriam

So I decided to stop being a transwoman. I wasn’t wanting to write about this at first, but a friend expressed his feeling that others may find my narrative helpful. At the very least, writing it is helpful to me. My reasons for this, and the goals this alludes to, are complex. A further problem is, I’m not sure exactly what “de/retransition” as a concept entails.

One step at a time, I say. First step was to stop thinking of myself as a kind of woman, including the idea of myself as a transwoman. Second step meant not going into women’s spaces. As a male, I shouldn’t be invading women’s sex-segregated spaces, and fear of reprisal by other men if I don’t is simply shifting responsibility for male problems onto women. Third step is telling people I’m a man, and don’t identify as trans. The first one was easy since I had been building up to it for a while anyhow; the second was/is difficult, but the emotions involved are comparatively simple (fear, embarrassment, anxiety) and have straightforward resolutions.

The third, telling people I’m a man, has proven tricky, because it is connected to the degree with which others perceive me as feminine. Clearly they do, since people literally argue with me about my “identity” and have a habit of just sticking me in the Woman Box for convenience. That many of these people have been LGBTQ just shows the investment in notions of biological essentialism within the queer framework of “trans.”

Feminine = female, because the alternative of being a man who displays femininity as a man is too horrible to contemplate. Like the friend who told me that going into the men’s restroom would be demeaning to me. I can already see from reactions of my customers that I’m more socially acceptable as a man who’s tryin reel hard to be a women rather than as some weirdo dude with a feminine self-expression.

I suspect affirming myself as male is something I’ll get better at doing once I become more comfortable with it – the end goal for this one is to project a lightheartedness about the absurdity of gender roles, and use my self-expression to poke at the sanctity of patriarchal norms, as described by the following quote from an article titled “Lesbian Feminism and the Gay Rights Movement:”

“There is a gentler politic which lies behind some gay men’s affectation of the feminine. It can be a kind of fun which involves mockery not of women or of straight men but of the whole institution of gender–a deliberately irreverent fooling around with one of the most sacred foolishnesses of phallocratic culture. This may be the necessarily lighthearted political action of a gender rebel rather than an exercise of masculinity. Certain kinds of lightheartedness in connection with what is, after all, the paraphernalia of women’s oppression can become a rather bad joke. But when the silliness stays put as a good joke on patriarchy it betrays a potentially revolutionary levity about the serious matter of manhood and thus may express a politics more congenial to feminism than most gay politics.”

Easier said than done, certainly – but I think keeping this concept in mind may help me navigate the relationship between self-expression and social perception/judgement. However, there is a caveat here: the quote is speaking of feminine “affectation” – clearly, all aspects of a man that are considered feminine by society are not affectations. Many or most, depending upon the man, could simply be personality traits, some of which are rooted in culture and some which may not be. There were many behaviors I censored in childhood when I learned they invoked negative reactions in others – such as wearing jewelry, and trying to be physically/sexually intimate with other boys. Wanting other men to fuck me is hardly an affectation, although it is certainly associated with the oppressive social role that women are forced into.

I like beautiful things. Jewelry made by my own hands out of natural wood and shell beads, sometimes silver metal twisted into odd spirals…although of course I don’t always wear my own. Basically every human likes jewelry in some form or fashion, whether on themselves or other people, or both. Where is the line between affectation and self-expression here? I don’t see this as an affectation of the feminine – yet, I cannot ignore that the rest of society does see it that way, and gender is coded based upon the perceptions of other people, not my self-identity. Given that I know how my behaviors are perceived by others (in general) I cannot help but feel a responsibility to question my motivations for expressing myself in a decidedly feminine manner.

However, not caring about “passing” and going into men’s spaces has led to the culling of certain behaviors that were not there for my benefit or self-expression, but rather were intended to convince others that I was female. As one example, I’ve dropped my voice to a range that is somewhat androgynous, although I have a habit of using “male” and “female” voices in a single sentence if I’m feeling expressive. Or if I’ve been drinking! Depending on how my mood influences my manner of speech, I can be gendered either male or female.

Although the difference now is when I get gendered male, it’s not because they call me “sir.” They don’t call me anything. I know because they often get uneasy, like they don’t know what I’m supposed to be. It’s an uncanny experience.

“The voice” posed an interesting question for me. In the context of “detransition” (assuming that’s even what I’m doing or trying to do, hell if I know) the traditional idea of “goin’ back to bein a dude” would involve using my natural male voice. Well, hold up a second – my “natural” voice includes pitches and resonances that are read as “female” if used persistently, as well as all those rumbly read-as-male pitches. Depending on the context and what I’m trying to express, I will use different pitch and resonance to convey the emotional content of my words. Using my full range of vocal expression is my natural male voice! I’m simply choosing not to limit myself based on notions of what a man or woman is “supposed” to sound like. If I’m trying to keep true to the intent of the quote from above, I think this qualifies as a “good joke on patriarchy,” especially because it’s simply me, being me. A more expressive me.

Limiting my self-expression based upon some obligation to represent myself as someone easily understood to be a man by others is antithetical to my goals. It would involve falling back on conservative notions of gender. Seriously, fuck that. I transitioned not only because of a desire to not be physically male, but also because I felt unable (unwilling?) to express myself as a man in this society. Two years of transition, and I realize that being a man trying to be a woman was limiting in simply a different way. I went from one box to another, because I was still operating within the framework of the gender straightjacket.

Not that I’m somehow operating outside it just by force of wishing…but I’m trying to find a more honest way of living within a gendered society, a better answer. I don’t know quite yet what that “better answer” is, but I know it doesn’t involve conforming to a gender identity of some sort – or even to the incredible claim of being a transsexual (which of course, of course, clearly isn’t an identity).

Detransition: cut my hair, stop wearing jewelry, change my name to a “male” one, only wear clothes that are either coded androgynous or male, stop taking hormone replacement therapy.

So, I stopped taking HRT about four or five days ago.

The other “requirements” for detransition seem useful in helping re-integrate a person firmly into their birth sex role (which is probably the best choice for most transwoman detransitioners to lead a healthy social life), but that isn’t my goal. I am happy being a gender non-conforming weirdo of a man. More so, I am unhappy being what society considers to be a “man.” 

About seven or eight months ago, I began to have these intense “flashbacks.” They were like memories of another life, me from a parallel dimension where I made peace at an early age with my attraction to men (maybe I didn’t grow up as religious, or severely isolated, or sexually abused) and went on to have rich years of experience sharing emotional and physical intimacy with other men, instead of dissolving myself in drug use, pornography and dissociation. These weren’t even idealistic fantasies – just a reasonable expectation of good and bad, joy and sorrow, of me really living as myself instead of the ghost I made myself become. These flashbacks made my real life’s history seem dark and bleak by comparison. They also showed me, by comparison, the many people I’ve unintentionally hurt by lying to myself about who I am.

I experienced them again starting about a month ago. It starts with a feeling, then a vision, then the painful pulling away from the daydream once it’s done. Now, though, it ends with a feeling of hope. I’m trying to find some semblance of balance in my life, and these experiences are my mind’s equivalent of shouting at me that the answer is right in front of my face. The overwhelming regret these hallucinations bring me is meant to transform into an impetus. Which it has, in a big fucking way.

A huge part of my motivation to transition stemmed from being ashamed of sex in general, and especially ashamed/disgusted with myself for being attracted to men. That I found myself most attracted to the idea of being fucked by men was horrifying to me, maybe because of its association with the sexual abuse I experienced in childhood. When I was still married (to a woman) and was basically having sex as a sort of obligation of the relationship rather than out of physical desire (yes, I was an asshole, I’m fully aware of this), I made an oh-so-masculine vow to myself that I’d kill myself if I “turned out to be gay.” I still remember a small voice saying, after the first time I voiced this idea to myself, “this is going to cause serious problems in the future.” Which it did.

It’s too early to tell how going off hormones will affect me. I feel reasonably confident that my issues surrounding being attracted to men have been largely resolved, and I also feel confident that a large portion of my physical dysphoria about my genitalia stems from this internalized homophobia (the “other” issue of past sex abuse, I am still unsure how to resolve). What I do know is that I am no longer disgusted by the idea of being a man in a relationship with another man, and find myself surprisingly, satisfyingly, excited.

The male parts haven’t woken up yet. There are slow, casual signs of increased…vigor. I’m not looking forward to a lack of control over my penis, it just…doing its own thing…regardless of anything I have to say on the subject. Just to continue this dip into TMI, the testicles come alive too…seriously, they move around on their own and it’s disturbing. Writing this paragraph reminds me I have a practical reason for taking HRT, and makes me reconsider my motivations for stopping their usage. But I still get the same scrips so if things go south I can restart hormones at any time, and attempt to re-evaluate the problem.

There have been some emotional alterations so far, subtle but important – small hints of complex mental experiences I forgot I used to have on a regular basis. It’s hard to describe them quite yet, since it has been a long while since I felt them – but one example is an anxious motivation. Another is the fear-spiral where my thoughts devolve into paranoid fantasies about dangers I am unlikely to face.

Trying to find a balance between physical dysphoria and being in a sexual relationship with another man is going to be tricky. There may be a minimum dosage of HRT that allows for both. I decided I’d start with the lowest dosage: zero. See what happens, work my way back up in dosage if necessary. Ultimately though, my view of the role of HRT in my life has shifted from that of “a necessary medicine” to more of “a temporary crutch until I can figure out what to heal and how.”

My attempt with this blog is now to simply document my current journey, whatever the hell that may entail. I can’t help but realize that other transwomen will see this is me “failing at transition.” Which is totally fine, I’m no longer invested in the trans community in the sense that I need their validation – and validation has faded as a desirable goal for myself anyhow. What’s ironic is that I see my transition as quite successful: taking off the pressure of physical dysphoria, and removing myself temporarily from the programmed mayhem that my natural biochemistry invoked has allowed me to take a few steps back and evaluate myself in a more critical manner.

Transitioning set in motion a chain of events that led to me enriching my worldview with feminist thought, encouraged me to observe, analyze, and engage my history of male socialization and privilege, and change my behavior to become a person that other people actually enjoyed being around. Transitioning in a completely public customer-service environment stilled much of my social anxiety to the point where I feel comfortable expressing myself as a gender non-conforming man – or as other people see me, a non-passing transwoman or some weird effeminate dude (or both).

I don’t see how the personal and the political can be separate when it comes to my relationship with the gender hierarchy. I must ask myself questions such as: “do my behaviors reinforce or challenge gender norms?”; “to what degree am I obligated to make my physical sex obvious to others, and in what contexts?”; “can my brazenness and indifference about public opinion of me be used somehow to weaken the gender hierarchy?”; “is my brazenness/indifference an extension of my male privilege, and if so, does that necessitate changing this behavior?”

Most of all, I am asking myself a very self-centered but essential question: “how much of my self-expression is me doing my own thing, and how much of it is me trying to fit into a social box?” The question can be worded many different ways. Regardless, it is the primary reason I am “retransitioning.”

Whatever that means! Maybe I’ll figure it out someday.

(Note: So I had someone ask about autogynephilia, and the fact that I used to identify as such. Considering that this is the same blog I used to explore those experiences, this is a topic I feel obligated to address.

I was planning on writing a post about it in a week or so when my libido increases, just to have a final piece of evidence to justify my assertions.

In short, I believe that the use of fantasy in order to imagine my physical body as female during the context of sexual intimacy was caused by dissociation surrounding my male body (itself a combination of physical dysphoria and a willingness to fit into any role but that of a dude who likes dick), as well as pornography, which aided the dissociation, made it come to life in a sense.

It’s been nearly two years since I last consumed any form of pornography, and over a year since I can remember having an experience that could be described as autogynephilic. As my libido increases, I should theoretically be experiencing these fantasies, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Again, I am waiting until my sex drive increases before making a final judgement. As far as I can tell, I once experienced autogynephilia, or an analogue of it, and now I no longer have those experiences/fantasies.

Hope that helps in lieu of the forthcoming post about AGP.)