Sunday, August 30, 2015

Power's Out.

Hello reader. Today I'm thinking about power.

I'm thinking about the power I've worked for-- power I've gained mostly through writing, and developing my 'voice' specifically. My voice is power. I can speak my ideas clearly. This creates more honest, accurate expression, ensuring my relationships are more authentic. When I came out as lesbian, this was power in a similar fashion, as it affirmed an organic feeling, included it in my personality, something to be proud of. I became more when I allowed myself to be more. And it was power when I changed my name to Max, without expectation, just because it felt good.

There is much power I have been awarded through privilege, born of systemic oppression, that I do not deserve, that nobody deserves. It is privilege because I am white. It used to be privilege because I appeared cisgender. My long hair was a shield in more ways than one-- it granted me access to cisgender spaces, it protected me from most microaggressions and verbal harassment, and it reinforced the idea that I was beautiful. When I was young, I tried so hard to be pretty by living up to mainstream standards of feminine beauty. Re-conceptualizing myself as a lesbian allowed me to engage with my femininity in a way that felt free. Self love came naturally.

On the brink of adulthood, I take in the world around me, and feel powerless. I sense what the world wants-- for me to pick a side, to reenter the race as a man, a woman, so I can speak freely again, so I can live without the constant questioning and doubting what I am. I know that the binary is power, but to benefit from the privilege of picking a side of the binary when it does not feel quite right would be the greatest disservice to myself.

How do I return to power, then, and simultaneously reject one of the most powerful social systems of all time? How do I engage without fully aligning, without the obsessive censoring of self in order to fit more neatly into a gendered box? How do I return power to my voice?

I cannot grow back my hair without fear of ridicule and harassment. I cannot start T without fear of ridicule and harassment. And I can't stay here, because I've lost touch with my emotions. But without a relationship to my emotions, how am I supposed to know what to do?

There was a moment last week that felt like clarity, a brief respite from the dark tangle of analysis of my future gender identity, because it was emotion. I was walking with Madeline past a construction site and I don't know what we were talking about but I kissed her quickly. We kept walking but I heard a man yell "Thanks, girls" just before we turned the corner. I have never felt more confident that I am not a girl than in that moment. I spent the rest of the day calm, comfortable in my masculinity.

Forget for a second I could be girl or boy. In the future I see myself in a faded blue suit, a man with short hair and light stubble, holding a pink flower in my hands, pink so bright it is almost angry. In the future I see myself in a body coded as woman, hair loose and long as always, soft fabrics, the faded flowers all over. In the future I am 16 again in my leather jacket and jeans and my gender is only a matter of light curiosity.

I want to belong to this world, in all its ugliness, because it is the only one I have known, but I am afraid everyday. I am paralyzed by the choices; they no longer feel like choices but concessions. Changing my name to Max was supposed to be about freedom. Now it is about indecision and fear, dysphoria and confused looks on the street.

I am grateful every day for trans people. I am grateful for Marsha P. Johnson, for Sylvia Rivera, for Leslie Feinberg, for Janet Mock, for Silas Howard, for Darkmatter, for Natalie Reed, for Morgan M Page, for Buck Angel, for Aydian Dowling, for Bailey Jay, for Tyler Ford, and for the moment Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore shook my hand and smiled and for a moment I think really saw me. Thank you for showing me all the ways to live in power in a hostile world. I can only hope I return to power with such ferocity.

Here's to Max one day shedding this skin of panic and apology, to feeling beautiful and powerful again. Have some music.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Acne Elite.

How's it hangin', reader? How does it hang on you, to be more specific? Gravity, I mean. How is the weight of the gravitational pull feel on your fragile frame? No matter how many muscles you have on me, we're all 'fragile' beneath the giant falling piano of our Earthly attachments and desires.

So you're good? Great! Now that I've inadvertently reminded you that you can easily take me in a fist fight, let's talk about my bad skin.

Today I went to the dermatologist for the first time in many years. If my blog has not quelled your interest and you still feel the need to talk to me in person, you may have noticed that I have acne on my face and neck. I've always thought my acne could be categorized as severe-- my first dermatologist thought this, too, but chalked it up to the extraordinary hormone production that occurs throughout puberty. I put some goop on my face and started dating girls who saw past my rosacea and into MY HEART and basically forgot about the whole thing. When I was a big, beautiful grown-up, my life would be better, and my complexion would be Claritin-clear.

Chapter-skip ahead to learn that the bigness and beautifulness of Max as a grown-up remains completely divorced from the solving the acne issue-- though he likes to believe the blemishes on his soul are consistently clearing up, the skin legions persist, and persist. Now safely out of puberty at age 22, I'm forced to consider I may have a dreaded case of Grown-Up Acne. It was an overwhelming discovery, considering I only recently forced myself to consider I may have a dreaded case of GROWN-UP!!! CUTE JOKE RIGHT?!?!

Anyway, I went to the dermatologist. The office was cleaner than my face could ever hope to be. A blonde female nurse asked me about past medications, and then a blonde female doctor told me my acne treatment options. She explained my best choices were either birth control or Accutane.

Now, in my recent exploration and subsequent embracing of my masculinity, probably nothing sounds less appealing to me right now than taking estrogen pills. While I admittedly lack any real knowledge about the science behind it, I can anticipate deep shame and confusion about ingesting the very hormone that I regularly feel inclined to overpower with testosterone injections. I'm sure lots of masc-of-center queers (and cis men? SCIENCE SEEMS HARD) take birth control and are completely comfortable with it, but my brain is still a mess of gender sludge, and birth control feels like a variable I'm not prepared to introduce.

That leaves Accutane, a 6 month mega-treament that stops acne production for 5-10 years. When I inquired further, the doctor explained that Accutane is reserved for patients with 'severe nodular acne.' Basically, Accutane is what you use when nothing else works. Because I qualify for Accutane, you could say I qualify as a member of the esteemed Acne Elite.

As the latest member of the Acne Elite, I had to jump through a lot of Acne Elite hoops. Accutane has been known to aggravate depression in patients with histories of mental illness (HEYYYO!), so I have to start seeing a therapist again while on the drug, to make sure I don't go crazy banana king and deliberately Slip on The Big Peel, so to speak. I also got a hefty Accutane manual to go through, titled ISOTRETINOIN EDUCATIONAL KIT FOR FEMALES WHO CAN GET PREGNANT. I am totally fucking serious. Is it just me, or does the government seems suuuuper worried about my unborn child that I definitely don't want to and will not ever give birth to?!

That was a fun part of my discussion with the doctor. She politely asked me if I identified as female, but then remarked that "but, you know, because you ARE female" (AH, YES! FEMALE, TO MY VERY CORE!) I would still need to take pregnancy tests before and during treatment. Accutane has hella side effects, one of the most pressing being potential birth defects for any babies born while Accutane is in the system. Though I tried to explain to the doctor that my current romantic situation is a strictly sperm-free zone, she assured me that all 'females' are required by law to take mad pregnancy tests as we run this gamut. Apparently you have to take TWO different forms of birth control while on Accutane, unless you declare yourself 'abstinent,' which technically, I am! At the moment I am currently abstaining from all penis-endowed individuals. As a vagina-carrier myself, I know this can be an extraordinary concept, especially for the United States government, but onwards I go, radically here, and radically queer.

So, therapy, irrelevant pregnancy tests, got it. I can't really drink on the stuff and have to wear sunscreen up the ass, okay. She tells me I definitely cannot start any kind of hormone treatment for gender biz until after Accutane, which I'm fine with-- I firmly believe that gender manifests far more subtly than anyone will talk about, and I'm interested to see how I feel about my identity once my face undergoes such a dramatic cosmetic change. Testosterone will be there, and maybe when Accutane's over, I'll actually feel ready to make this decision.

In the meantime, though! The one side effect that genuinely willies me out-- BLOOD TESTS. I now have to get one once a month, starting today. Wait, today? Yep, today! Just head on down to the third floor and hand this packet to Allan. He'll know what to do. You can schedule your next appointment at the front desk on your way out. You have a good day now, Max!

Somehow I manage to get myself from the fourteenth floor to the third and actually respond when the nurse at the lab calls my name. The nurse is wearing red, which I can't decide if I appreciate or not. She looks at me sideways as she starts preparing the death trap.

"You nervous?"
"Yes. I don't freak out or anything, I just get nervous. Yes."
"Don't worry," she says, laughs, actually, did she just laugh at me? "I've only been practicing all day."

I watch her take out a pediatric needle and take a huge sigh of relief. For once, I want to kiss my own small hands.

She can't find a vein she likes in my forearms and finds something better in my wrist. She tells me it'll be worse for me if I don't breathe, because lack of oxygen makes veins collapse and the blood won't flow as quickly. I'm forcing breath in and out of my body but somehow I'm still not breathing, I guess? I can't look anywhere in her direction but I can tell she's frustrated with my performance.

"Hey, Allan? How much blood do I need for this young lady?"

She then looks up at me suspiciously. "Young lady?" she asks me. I inexplicably feel as though I am now flirting.

"Close enough," I choke out.

The nurse furrows her brows for a second then decides not to engage. Close enough?! What kind of sociopath am I?? Close enough? Max Delsohn spends four hundred million lamps worth of verbal light trying to illuminate the masculinity in him, and a medical professional asks him a well-meaning clarifying question and his only response is CLOSE ENOUGH??

The nurse starts asking me about where I'm originally from and I'm so relieved she's dropped the gender talk that my blood starts flowing naturally. "You must be feeling better now," she says kindly, smiling as she stares at the needle in my hand.

All right reader. That's it for me today. I won't start Accutane until September, so let's hug before I get all dried up, in addition to pasty, and finally achieve my final form of uncooked noodle. And don't worry about the stuff people say about Accutane on the Internet. Apparently it's all the rage in Europe!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Regular.

How's it hanging, reader? I hope that you're enjoying your Sunday. B.J. Novak once tweeted "you are your Sunday night." Tell me, are YOU comfortable with the way your current activity adds to your identity? I'm in a chair blogging, so don't feel too bad about your answer. We can't all pull off B.J. Novak.

I prefer Sunday nights to Saturdays inherently, now that I live in Seattle, because Saturday nights are the signal for all youths and youth-minded individuals to take to the clubs and the streets, congesting the Pike/Pine corridors I so often need to walk through to get home from work. For those who don't know, the Pike/Pine corridors are potentially the busiest stretch of Seattle on a Saturday night. Once a hub for true Seattle weirdies, Pike/Pine has morphed into a bro'd out feeding ground for all who speak loudly and carry a small intellect. 

Last night I was heading towards home base, but first, I needed to eat. As I've only recently graduated college and am still learning how to do the whole 'member of the labor force' thing, I routinely forget to pack myself dinner or even a snack despite being scheduled well in advance for 5-7 hour shifts. Yesterday of course was no different, so I closed up shop, took a breath, and power-walked out into the heart of Seattle nightlife, in search of sustenance at approximately 9:45pm.

Mostly I am a vegetarian. But because my vegetarian identity hinges less on moralism and more on my impressive ability to avoid trying new foods as child, hot dogs somehow slipped through the cracks of 'Foods You Definitely Can't Eat Because You've Thought About What's In Them Too Hard.' Hot dogs should gross me out the MOST (I have a basic understanding of how hot dogs are made), but my dad must've taken me to one too many Dodger games as a kid or something, because they remain my only real source of red meat, and one of too many sources of nostalgia. When I'm really hungry, need to eat fast, and have under $200 in my checking account, hot dogs are the natural selection.

Now hot dogs are a big thing in Seattle. We have 'street meat,' which is essentially a series of roadside vendors punctuating major intersections on Capitol Hill, selling easy BBQ for about $5, give or take. They are always good, and they are always in demand. The line at any given street meat cart around 12:00pm on the Hill could include your best friend, your best friend's partner, all of your best friend's partner's horrible friends, all of your best friend's partner's friends who are actually okay, all of your best friend's partner's ex-partners, all of your mom's ex-partners, about 45 people from your university and maybe even a drunk teacher or two. When people are wasted, they want easy nutrition, and they want it on-the-go. Hordes of woo-girls and bro-tank'd melon heads gather anxiously around the cart, and you had better be on your game if you want to keep your place in line.

Rarely on my place-in-line-keeping game, I opt out of going by street meat when I'm alone, and especially when I'm sober. I can't justify the immense toll my social anxiety so quickly takes on me the moment I realize I've stopped physically moving and can no longer distract myself from the presence of my peers. For this reason, I spend most of my hot-dog chowing hours at Po Dogs, a tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment making similarly quality food for almost exactly the same price. The main difference, in the eyes of the average customer? You've got to order at the counter, you've got to sit and wait for your food, and you've got to accept you're successfully isolated from the flow of Seattle nightlife for a few minutes. In short-- total fucking paradise.

I managed to navigate the Pike/Pine corridor pretty well this time; since it was not yet 10, not many people were out, but the vibe was already expanding into something I wasn't comfortable with. Not to mention, it dawned on me during my walk that I could very well be considered a 'regular' at Po Dogs. Me! A regular! Adopting 'regular' as part of my personhood! No doubt being a regular at an establishment meant you were some version of an adult. With this in mind, I shoved my hands into my pockets and furrowed my eyebrows deeply, converting my discomfort into confidence, and striding into my 'regular' hot dog place.

I walked in to a mostly empty room, save for a few aggressively pale older dudes sitting at a booth, drinking light beer and talking about football. I straightened up a little bit, and smoothed down my collar. I knew I wasn't passing, but for some reason, I wanted those men to at least know I was trying to. Thankfully, a Po Dog employee appeared shortly, a tall blonde guy I recognized. He asked me for my order, clearly trying to place my face.

"Are you a regular here?" he then asked me, and with pride I choked out a "yeah!" too aware of the pitch of my voice to seem even remotely at home. He made eye contact with me then-- I noticed his eyes were dark, full. The emotion in them disarmed me.

"Wednesday's our last day," he said quickly, with the smile you reserve for talking about something that's genuinely fucking you up. I realized he was telling me because as a regular, he knew I would care. We had both come to love this place and now it was going away.

I immediately entered the struggle of wanting to express my shared disappointment and wanting to reinforce the undeniable dudeliness of me.

"Fuck... what?" I went with. Short, to the point. Totally like a dude.

"Yeah, we just found out yesterday," the blonde nodded as he put in my debit card information, still smiling. He said something else but I absolutely 100% did not hear him. Could I play this off as the Strong, Silent Type? I furrowed my brow in response, and hoped he'd pull the meaning he needed from this.

"Funemployment, right?" he followed up the thing I did not hear, and I laughed with a solitary 'HA!' which surely came off as masculine and friendly.

"Yeah! Yeah," I said, hoping I didn't seem too chipper that the conversation was ending. Clearly the exchange had acquired existential implications for me. How do dudes typically do feelings? Did this dude have feelings he wanted to share with me? I said thanks for the hot dog and good luck with my best Sincere Face, then retreated back to my favorite booth to wait for my food, eat, and bail. 

As per usual, bad punk music was playing over the Po Dogs speakers. A few more people had filtered in and were sitting at the bar, and a surprising sense of camaraderie pricked up inside me for a second. I had been coming to Po Dogs for four years; first with friends, and then alone. Somewhere along the line Po Dogs had become a weird little safe room of hot dogs and figuring stuff out-- somewhere I could eat and not worry about how PWAs (pretty and well adjusted's) were perceiving or judging me. In Po Dogs, I could just be a person eating a hot dog-- When I was there, all the internalized hatred and fear somehow couldn't reach me.

The last Po Dog hot dog I'll ever have was caked in extra cream cheese with scallions on top. I covered it in Sriracha with half as much restraint as usual, in order to really indulge. The hot dog was great.

When I got up to bus my table and leave the blonde guy was in the back, I guess. Was I supposed to stay, to say goodbye, to him, to all we'd endured together? Would I have even thought to stay, back when I identified as a girl? Did gender enter into this protocol, and if so, how? I ultimately decided that I'm too weird to seek out unnecessary social interaction, regardless of its gender dynamics. Besides, I like to mourn in peace. 

Man. Nothing like to death to get you writing again, eh? Bye bye, Po Dogs. I'll miss your solitude, and the massive picture of a pug on your wall. As for the rest of you lives ones, I'll catch you cats on the flip. Listen to the song this time.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Permission (Trans Pride 2015).

Hello, reader. It's been a little while since my last post. To be brief, I haven't had the words lately. I think those are the scariest times in my life, when I don't know how to talk about what I'm feeling. Usually I can't talk about what I'm feeling in the face of incomprehensible joy or paralyzing fear. Recently, my life has been characterized by both.

We won't get into the joy (who has the time? Or actually gives a shit, other than my family and friends?), but we will get into the fear, the colorful cocktail of self-loathing I've shaken-not-stirred up for myself these past few months. You see, I got into this name-changing business in pursuit of permission-- permission from myself to explore, to embrace the parts of my being I couldn't reach from the uncomfortable confines of cisgender girlhood, to see if getting out of bed got easier each morning I woke up with the knowledge that my world heard me call myself a man. But, as it turns out, gender is a dark, hairy maze (quite literally, in my Jewish/Armenian case), insidious in its structured self-policing, and somewhere along the way I lost the sense of permission I had felt when this whole damn thing started. Somehow, I even lost the sense of permission I'd worked hard for as a lesbian.

Just before I came out as transgender, and for all my life before that, I didn't really 'get' dysphoria. I did know what it was like to learn to hate your body: I remember angrily shaving my legs in fourth grade because a male classmate had maliciously pointed out how hairy they were. I remember stuffing my bra in sixth grade before my first middle school dance because the boy I liked had asked me to go with him. I remember just last year, lying in my dorm room bed alone, crying over a girl that had blown off hanging out with me, refusing to take off the dress and makeup I had painstakingly put on in order to win her approval. Of course, this is not dysphoria. I did not hate my failure to live up to my conception of ideal femininity because I felt like to be feminine in this way reflected who I was on the inside. I hated my failed attempts at performing femininity because in my mind, I was a girl, because that's what everyone told me I was, and if I wasn't good at being who I was nobody would love me. Unsurprisingly, my early life was defined by deep-seated social anxiety, missing school as often as I could due to imaginary stomach aches I begged my parents to count as real, and a sense that I was irrevocably different. It was a difference beyond language, beyond understanding, save for the understanding that this difference was bad.

I remember those first few days when I started going by Max. All sound converted to radio static. The people and places around me became two-dimensional. I received support and encouragement in my transition warmly, graciously, but I felt no real joy at hearing my name, the pronouns I thought reflected who I was. I didn't feel anything, except for the previously unfamiliar but nonetheless crushing gender dysphoria. I understood it, now. In some sense, perhaps it had always been there, lurking beneath the surface, or maybe it was learned, just like before; whatever the case, I hated all parts of me that the outside world insisted on reading as 'girl'. At one point, I'd come to love my feminine body, my high-pitched voice, my wide hip bones, my tiny hands, my legs when they were shaved. Out of nowhere, this self-love was gone, or buried, and replaced with a sense of betrayal, that my appearance was telling a lie. I had expected, after my name change, an internal celebration, some hidden key uncovered to answer for my anxiety, my general sense of discomfort, my long-time affinity for staring for hours at my bedroom wall, but nothing came. In fact, I had lost something I'd had before I'd changed my name at all. Undeniably, I had lost my sense of self.

I've come to realize that this overwhelming depression stems from the counter-intuitive pursuit of trying to become who you already are. Though I could only articulate it in jokes, in parodies of masculinity, I knew the sentiment was real: I saw myself as a straight dude. I wanted to date girls and be a boyfriend, not a lesbian. I wanted to be a husband, father, grandfather, Mr., sir, brother, son, grandson, nephew. I wanted to inhabit these roles, rather than decidedly feminine ones, because I knew they would affirm how I saw myself; but as graduation loomed and prompted me to consider myself an adult, I realized the way I was living contradicted who I understood myself to be, who I had always dreamed of growing up to be. Once I accepted that I felt that I was a dude but was living my life as a girl, the body dysphoria hit me like a truck. And thus, here we are, dear reader, blogging about my gender like the wind.

Currently, I wince when I'm misgendered as often as when I'm gendered correctly, because I haven't let myself believe that I really am a dude. I never knew it was possible for me to be one. Thanks to transgender activists everywhere, I am beginning to accept that if I say I'm a dude, I am, and each day I get a little closer to regaining that easy joy I could sometimes slip into identifying as a lesbian, where gender arose naturally: a predominantly masculine person walking around feeling masculine, knowing themself as masculine, and therefore not TRYING to be masculine. I am the same amount of masculine I have always been. Now I'm just toying with showing it off in a new way.

What I'm struggling with these days is the realities of living as trans: I had to stop wearing binders because, though they greatly eased my dysphoria, they were making the 'trying to be what you already are' debate get too loud in my brain. It sucks that my chest shows and that old creeps call me and my female friends 'ladies' on the street, but I feel more like myself, my DUDE self, when I'm not constantly worried about if I've hit the eight hour mark for binder-wearing yet and need to give the fellas a breather.

Right now my dysphoria is still pretty bad. I get angry at myself for having dysphoria; I want to logic myself out of it, because I know I don't deserve to feel this shame. Because I did not feel this concrete, specific dysphoria surrounding my sexed body parts until after I changed my name to Max, I also spent a long time panicking that I was appropriating a transgender identity, the surprisingly common fear that one is not 'trans enough,' even after experiencing hardcore dysphoria and thus fitting easily into the definition of trans. I refused to allow myself to belong to the cisgender or the transgender world, purely out of generalized fear of making a mistake in either camp. I wanted to change my name for the sake of liberation, but I lost sight of how to achieve liberation somewhere along the way.

I'm writing today, after not writing for so long, because I feel I've made a breakthrough on the liberation front. I won't lie to you and say that I've found a way to think my way out of having dysphoria, because I haven't; instead, I've accepted where I am in my process and am beginning to see more clearly what it is I need to do to live more fully. Simply put, as Emma C. Delsohn the Lesbian, I found a way to basically communicate who I was to other people. On some level, though, I always knew this method was flawed; rather, I knew there might be a better way for me to communicate who I was through my identity. And I knew I didn't like my feminine name. So, I changed it. And now, I must make a series of identity changes, changes that must operate as a cohesive unit, to convey who it is I really am, to reinforce the image of myself as a kind, worthwhile person. As I grapple with which changes to keep and which to abandon, I can only hope I ultimately arrive at a place a little less chaotic than this one, with a richer perspective on who I am and how gender otherwise functions in society. Since my transition I have already felt my patience and compassion bend and stretch in wonderful ways. No matter where I end up, I know this transition is a big part of my development into a person I can be proud of.

Only now do I realize how much I once avoided claiming agency in my own life. It's hard, and scary, especially when the way you want to live stands in direct opposition to everyone you were close to growing up, every message you see on the TV screen and every song that you hear on the radio. I became comfortable navigating the world with a sort of learned helplessness, refusing to believe I was worth more than pity, than reluctant attention. Nevermind that I didn't like my name; I was just glad someone noticed me at all. No more of that. I am alive for a short time, and a lot of shit is really fucked up. I'm going to be a force of change in many ways, including, but not limited to, through living example. And god forbid I actually enjoy myself along the way.

Today is TransPride in Seattle. As much as I want to be there to stand in solidarity with my community, I didn't think twice about heading back to my scalding hot room on the third floor of this house to stay in on a Friday night. I'm exhausted from this week, and want to be alone, and I give myself permission to hole up like a weirdo while queers everywhere celebrate their awesome presence in this generally hostile society. As an expression of my pride as a transgender person, I know my place tonight: it's here, behind this occasionally-malfunctioning keyboard, writing my goofy, indulgent blog and spewing my feelings, telling the truth about what it's like for me: your pasty neighborhood trans guy.

And that's another thing that helped me write this post-- getting the fuck over myself. As a white masculine-of-center queer, my privilege is enormous, and so much of my suffering right now is self-imposed. Trans women everywhere, especially trans women of color, are harassed and murdered every day in their honest expression of their gender. Nine transgender women have already been murdered this year. If anything I've said in this post has moved you in some way, your next clicks should be towards educating yourself on the violence being perpetuated against transgender people everywhere, especially trans women and trans-feminine people of color. For instance, take a minute to learn how you can support trans women of color right now.

All right, Internet world. That's it for Max today. Hopefully you got something out of what I said, and if you have any questions/constructive feedback, please don't hesitate to send 'em over. I'll be in my room trying to decide how I feel about these new cargo shorts.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hannah 20.0.

Hello, reader. I hope your Monday is giving off some heady Friday vibes this afternoon. Today, we have a special occasion on our hands, that is no doubt of universal interest to all readers worldwide-- it is May the Fourth, which means that today is my sister Hannah's birthday.

The last time I wrote about Hannah on this blog, it was because she had been pestering me non-stop to write about her. I'm proud to say that in the banner year of 2015, this remains to be the case. But, to be fair, I flat-out wouldn't write a blog about Hannah if I didn't think I had something interesting or meaningful to say. Hopefully, someone other than the Delsohn family finds my thoughts on Hannah interesting or meaningful.

In the aforementioned Hannah post from several years prior, I focused largely on Hannah and mine's differences: aka, the easy stuff. For those just tuning in, Hannah is a tall, feminine loudmouth with lots of friends and a painfully relevant wardrobe, while I am a tiny, masculine-ish introvert who thinks the "Man of Your Dreams" t-shirt I found at the thrift store really is a hoot. In a sense, Hannah and I still stand as polar opposites, no matter how queer either of us tend; but over the years, it would seem that our similarities have grown, as our differences keep receding into their respective closets.

Growing up, Hannah and I used to have what I can only refer to as "mean contests." In our mean contests, Hannah and I would practice insulting each other, back and forth, for up to an hour at a time. I want to blame our suburban upbringing for such unbridled nastiness, but in a way, I think that may have been our fucked up version of bonding. When you're young, sometimes cruelty can seem like honesty-- if you say something to make another person cry, you must have said something true, because how could a lie result in tears? We both still remember individual insults from those "mean contests," even though we couldn't have been more than 8 and 6. For a long time, I think we both chalked this up to the idea that "the truth hurts."

Of course, as Hannah and I have grown older, we have learned the difference between truth and cruelty. We have learned that confirming someone's worst fears about themselves reinforces a false, hateful reality that only exists as much as the victim chooses to believe in it. Nowadays, we spend more time perpetuating a reality where we're both pretty cool people trying to make the world less shitty. We speak honestly with each other when we catch up on our each others' lives or ask the other for advice; we no longer need to point out the other's insecurities to demonstrate our closeness, or our awareness, or cleverness. I trust she sees me for the smart, observant person I am, and she trusts I see her for that, too.

It's a hard thing to admit, that you were ever mean, that you ever had to desire to bring about pain in someone else. But once you recognize you're part of the problem, it can propel you into greater realms of compassion and understanding. As Hannah has grown older, she has shed her capacity for childish cruelty expertly; I am genuinely bowled over by her kindness each time we get a chance to talk about our lives. Throughout my transition, no one has been so supportive, so unbelievably steadfast in her understanding, so quick to accept my perception of reality as valid, so proud to call me her sister, her brother, or any other label I may embrace next. The point is, she lives up to the word "family," and that's a privilege I can't believe I get to call mine.

I was admittedly stoked to realize Hannah had embraced lesbianism like I had; if you notice in that old Hannah blog, I write an entire section about Hannah making fun of me for how I spoke with my then-girlfriend-now-platonic-life-partner Emily. Since that blog post was written, I've caught Hannah speaking in that same awful voice THAT I NO LONGER USE OR CONDONE, OBVIOUSLY to a significant other of similar gender. She is a raging baby lesbian, and it is hilarious. We now have much more to connect on, despite my apparent emergence from lesbian culture into trans guy culture; I treasure the authority gained from my past experiences and cling to it regardless of the identity markers I claim. No matter how many Facebook friends Hannah has, and no matter how many hours I clock in at Dude World, I was the lesbian Delsohn first, and therefore reign supreme in all things lesbian knowledge.

But, to be fair, Hannah remains the "popular" Delsohn, despite her blatant deviation from the mainstream popularity narrative. Of course, she still has better clothes than me and can boast of higher-functioning when it comes to forming words in response to other people forming words. To the surprise of no one, she's been known to dominate our school's LikeALittle page (think MissedConnections, college edition) and to inspire romantic feelings in some freakishly attractive people. She may be embracing a new community now, but she's still undeniably Hannah, a fact I greet with both celebration and silent jealousy.

Wow, somewhere in there I digressed terribly-- the point is, I'm glad Hannah lives in Seattle with me, and that she caught the queer bug, but I'm thrilled that she's grown into such a thoughtful, patient, genuinely caring individual. I'm lucky to have her in my life, and proud to call her my sister. I'm hoping for many more happy years of distinctly queer catch up sessions and fashion advice. Happy birthday, sister.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Actually Cool Guy.

Well, reader. I guess it's time for me to start posting normal blogs again, since so much of my life recently has been characterized by an unprecedented level of instability and frenzy. I sense I'm entering a trough on the Great Graph of Gender-Related Freak Outs though, so I've decided that it's a good time to start restoring some normalcy to my life. Over the past few months, I've internalized the misguided idea of various individuals that I'm a totally different person now and everything they've understood as 'Emma' has suddenly vanished for good. If anything, the biggest lesson I've learned from my transition thus far is how irrevocably 'me' I am. Any way you slice it, I'm still compulsively pushing all my hair to one side, or willing a window to appear on my bedroom wall through the power of glaring alone.

I have been buying many new clothes as of late. This is related to my transition but it is also related to preparing to enter The Real World, or what I refer to as any place I go to once I'm a college graduate. It is likely that my concrete transition was instigated now because the idea of being an adult feminine person freaked me the fuck out. My experiences with dressing and living as an adult feminine person, limited though they may be, have not been awesome. Over the last month, I've committed more to living as an adult masculine person, and I have to say, so far, this seems more aligned with my heart and soul vibes.

Something that is proving important, during my transition, is not to become what many boys and men, as they attempt to claim agency in their lives, quickly start to become: the term I find most accurate is Total Fucking Dickhead. You can recognize this phenomenon in any and all kinds of men seeking to cultivate an identity-- sometimes, they grow into pig-headed misogynists, who will leap at any chance to assert dominance over others, particularly women. While I have not considered myself misogynistic in the past, the idea that I will somehow turn into a Total Fucking Dickhead in some sneaking, insidious manner has kept me up at night. Simply put, I've met more examples of Total Fucking Dickheads than Actually Cool Guys. Therefore, with great caution and skepticism, I work each day to become what any decent person would call an Actually Cool Guy.

In alignment with the general theme of gender transition, I will sometimes try to reinforce the idea of myself as an Actually Cool Guy through concrete, physical changes. One of these changes thus far has been occasionally dressing in deliberately nicer clothing for absolutely no good reason-- when I'm wearing clothes that I feel reflect my masculinity and actually fit me (re: all the sweatshirts and oversized T-shirts I used to cling to in order to hide my body), I'm more conscious about how I'm interacting with the world around me. The other day I came to my 10am class in khakis, men's dress shoes I found at a thrift store, a belt, and a tucked in blue button down covered in white polka dots-- I do not mean to brag but I look very good in this outfit.

Anyway, I sat quietly in the corner of the room, and did not offer any of my own thoughts to the discussion, a long-held and cherished Max Delsohn tradition. Not much in my academic approach had changed, but in that moment, I had achieved one of my ideal approaches to living: finally, I was feeling convincing as the strong, silent, sensitive type (nevermind my tiny arms, or my nervous swallowing).

During the darker times I was reading a bunch of trans blogs about how to 'pass' as male, before I read actually intelligent blogs about what's really going on with the concept of 'passing'. A lot of them had seemingly arbitrary/idiotic tips and ideas about what makes a person seem more masculine, most of which I couldn't imagine performing without cracking up every few seconds, but one of these trans blogs had a point that stuck with me. Somewhere in the list, hidden between suggestions for haircuts and boob-hiding, emerged an undeniable and oddly-poignant gem:

Without much explanation, it said to "be a gentleman-- it may not help you pass immediately, but when you do, people will value you more."

Bingo. Another crack in the great big force field that is masculinity manifesting as Total Fucking Dickheadedness. I am the Katniss Everdeen of the Becoming A Man Hunger Games, and this, is gentleman practice.

Manhood, for me, means loving every ounce of femininity I've got, as well as the femininity in everybody else. It's using my gender as a tool to get more in touch with my values: growing up to be a thoughtful, patient, gentle, and steadfast human being. Above all, someone who listens, who stays accountable, who works hard to end the oppression of all people, and who acknowledges when I am complicit in these structures. I will gather my confidence and strength from honest connections, rather than domination, or an obsession with control, or god forbid, winning an argument.

According to the Internet, it is occasionally a plight of the woman-loving trans man to, upon first meetings with said-women, accidentally communicate an impression of gayness; I attribute this to the deeply stereotypical idea of gay men as more expressive when it comes to their feminine side, as well as the silly instinct to conflate various types of queerness. It is true that, despite my recent change in identity markers, I still retain my girlish charm-- I can understand how this could fail to help indicate to the average gal that I want to be her guy.

What I'm hoping/preparing for, then, is sort of like that one situation from Clueless. There's this beautiful boy at ______, who ever could he be, why haven't I seen him before? He seems so sweet, he listens when I talk, he's got great taste in clothes and he's excellent at dancing. Finally, I've found the perfect man, someone who really gets it-- and so HANDSOME, too, my god, look at that clean-shaven face. But wait... There must be a catch... Ah, fuck, HE'S GAY, OF COURSE, HE'S FUCKING GAY, LOOK AT THOSE POLKA DOTS.

After coming to this conclusion, she goes out to a club, to take her mind off things; she bitterly orders a drink for herself, angry for letting this happen. All the good ones really are gay, she can't help but say to herself. She stares at her alcohol, then chugs indignantly.

Until... what's this? He's here, at the bar, tonight, and now he's headed her way? Polka dot shirt guy is coming over here, eyes bright and stance unsure? He asks if he can sit by her, if she's having a nice time-- and if she'd be willing to dance, once the DJ puts on the Disclosure song he requested.

Aren't you gay?? she'll almost want to ask, but after a few more minutes of talking, she'll see him for who he really is. She'll realize the interest is mutual; that she in fact has won the heart of an Actually Cool Guy.

Note: I recognize that there is a large potential that I have said something troublesome in this post in my attempt at humor. I hope you will patient with my process of learning to speak more thoughtfully about gender and sexuality and basically everything. If I've said something that you find offensive, please don't hesitate to let me know. The last thing I want to do is hurt or exclude others.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Updates (For Those Who Are Otherwise Confused/Freaked Out).

Howdy, readers. So it's been almost exactly one month since my big gender reveal. I thought it could be cool/important to check in with all of you, or at least issue another statement for anyone who really gives a shit about what's been going on with me. The last thirty or so days have been a damn whirlwind; I've learned a lot about myself, and about gender, through personal experience and the magical realm of the Internet. Here's what I've got to show for it:

When I decided to change my name to Max, and come out publicly as transgender, I had basically no idea what was going on-- it's hard for me, at this point, to even clearly remember the path of how I got to where I am now. You may notice that I've cut off my luxurious curly hair, or that I've started dressing more masculine, or that most people are now using 'he' pronouns when referring to me. These are all choices I feel ambivalent about, and I refuse to pretend that I am more certain about this entire process than I am. One of the most alarming observations I've made about the general transgender community is the enormous pressure we put on ourselves (as well as receive from others) to be sure about a particular label for our gender identity. I've just finished my senior project, a 45 page account of my childhood experiences from a specifically queer lens; I came out of that process realizing I didn't like the idea of myself as just a woman, that so much of my pain and suffering as a kid came from trying to live up to the expectations of womanhood. I'm equal parts embarrassed and excited to stand up in front of a room of my smartest peers with all my hair cut off and a new name, probably looking like the epitome of 'existential crisis' in response to a critical examination of my past. Anyone who makes that observation when I speak at SUURA, you are not wrong.

I'm a little embarrassed, too, of my very public declaration of a transgender identity-- not that I don't feel it applies, in the 'umbrella' sense of the term, but that I claimed the identity when I had such a surface level understanding of what being transgender means. By no means do I now have a 'deep understanding' of what it means to be transgender, because I can only try to understand what being transgender means FOR ME. I have absolutely no insight into anyone's gender identity except my own, and the insight I have into my own is patchy and wobbly at best. I now feel the need to add to some of the ideas I put out there before, in attempt to clarify where I'm at with all of this. I sense that this post will be similarly well read as my last one, due to the influx of really dumb questions and comments I started receiving as soon as I changed my name.

Where do I start?

First, I'd like to direct anyone who has the time and drive to learn more about the complexities of gender to brilliant trans-feminist blogger Natalie Reed. She has been the most influential writer in helping me negotiate what I want from the great big world of gender. Check out "How do I know I'm trans?" or "The Null HypotheCis" first, then go from there.

Reed expertly points out in the former essay that, when it comes to being transgender, you don't know; instead, you decide to assert a gender, based on your feelings and desires. I claimed the label 'lesbian' because I have consistently been attracted to women, without ever really feeling attracted to men. I fit the bill pretty neatly. However, when it comes to gender, my experience has been wholly ambiguous; I have navigated it for most of my life with no resources about innovative ways to think about gender, and have managed to express my gender within the confines of the "you are a girl" mentality. I tend to feel more comfortable/motherfucking suave in men's clothing, but I also think I look pretty in dresses (though I am inclined toward them significantly less often). I definitely loved having long hair, though I always saw it as androgynous and even masculine at times. Now, I have short hair, which I also like, though I am not a fan of putting effort into my appearance and now need to take several minutes before I go outside to make sure I don't look like something that fell out of a cat's mouth.

I decided to come out as transgender because I knew 'cisgender woman' was not the term. But all of this focus on what gender identity I should use has completely distracted me from why I wanted to come out as transgender in the first place: to become more in touch with my body. For whatever reason, I have always had a weird relationship to my body. I feel physically awkward almost all the time, for no apparent reason. I have severe social anxiety and a general aversion to going outside. I feel intense anger when I look at my face in pictures. It occurred to me that some of these issues may have roots in a complicated relationship to my gender; I had to admit to myself I had not really thought about my own gender and, most importantly, had not tried any new approaches to my gender to see if a change in that realm could help. My weird relationship to my body is deeply rooted, so it could make sense, if that weirdness were related to feeling pressure to live as a girl.

I chose the term transgender because I somehow see myself as an adult male... but confusingly, I also like the idea of my feminine body up against another feminine body in bed. I want to be the boyfriend, the husband, the dad, but I still catch myself wondering if I'll like if my next partner only calls me 'handsome' instead of 'pretty.' I really miss my long hair, but I love the thought that my short hair communicates masculinity to others, in a way I couldn't before (the reaction to my hair so far has been overwhelmingly positive, which I'm not really sure what to make of, other than to be really, really stoked). Part of me misses wearing girls clothes, but since I started going by Max I can't even stand to try on a bra or a thong, which I used to wear regularly; even before I cut my hair, I started binding everyday and wearing boxers. Now that I've cut my hair, I have the constant and overwhelming urge to appear much more masculine, particularly in my face (could this be the root of the self-loathing picture problem? Stay tuned!), as well as the chest region... but it never bothered me that I didn't look masculine before-- did I always care about this and just refused to engage with the idea I could seek more agency in relation to my body, or am I responding weirdly to the pressure to pick one side of the binary and stay there? It's exhausting sometimes, answering people's questions and buying XL boy's clothing and putting a bunch of shit in my hair so that I don't look like a fuzzball, but I do feel fucking cool walking around the city and fully asserting that I am a dude, that I am a transgender dude if that's what I say I am. The idea of living as a trans guy makes me feel happy as often as it makes me feel tired and scared. Is that what I want? Would I be just as happy growing my hair back out, and living as Max, an androgynous or genderqueer person who will most often be read as 'girl'? How much does this matter to me? Is the fact that both options seem valid in their own ways exclude me from qualifying as transgender? If it does, what kind of label am I supposed to claim as my own?

Q: So are you a trans guy? Are you genderqueer? Are you a dude? A girl?
A: I'm Max.

For now, I want and need the freedom to experiment with my gender. In attempt to return the focus to how I relate to my body, and how I relate to all of you, please do call me Max. Just Max is good.

I wrote the previous blog post because I knew I wanted to change my name, and I wanted to tell my story so others wouldn't do it for me. I wanted the people in my life to understand why this name change was important. I hope you'll continue to be patient with my process and not freak out in response to realizing that gender is not innate, but self-determining. My gender is not fixed, and my process of determining may not be linear. So, uh. Hold onto your hats, I guess.