Saturday, January 27, 2018


I was going to wait on this until I had heard back from Jason, but here is the piece I submitted to FTM Magazine's online publication. We were asked to describe what masculinity means to us:

"It’s three in the morning, and I just got back from the gym. Like so many men my age, I couldn’t help but snap a few selfies in the sauna after a particularly intense and productive workout. I’d been sick for two weeks prior to this evening, so I didn’t expect to feel so proud of those pictures. But then I saw them, and I became enveloped in emotions I had almost forgotten I could experience. Those pictures took me back to the day I got my first binder, when I stood looking in the mirror with tears in my eyes, as it all came together in my head: “This is how it’s supposed to be.” I saw my chest in a new light. I had finally come to see the physical progress to which I am so often blind—a phenomenon I’m told is experienced by numerous trans men. Is this what masculinity feels like? Yes…and no.

I feel lucky to live in an age where the queer community has come to embrace the notion that gender—and, by extension, masculinity—is limitless. Most of us, however, grew up with a different definition of masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity, which refers to the social construct that seeks to maintain men’s dominant position by reinforcing the idea that women and “non-masculine” men are inferior, has shaped our perceptions of manhood since our first breaths. As a young child, I rejected femininity wholeheartedly, seeking to distance myself from women and girls as much as possible. I prided myself on my traditionally masculine attributes: my strength, my appearance, my manner of speech, and my distaste for pink, among others. Transition was my gateway to freedom of gender expression. Although I did spend some of my early days in transition trying to prove my masculinity, the simple switch of pronouns was enough of a spark to allow me to embrace some of my more feminine attributes. Even before starting testosterone, I suddenly found myself attracted to the color pink, and it finally felt okay to express myself in “non-masculine” ways and media.

Today, I define my masculinity as limitless. I am masculine. Therefore, anything that comes from me is by extension masculine, whether I am flexing shirtless in the gym or dancing in a corset and four-inch heels. I’m constantly re-evaluating my gender in the context of the world around me, and I’ve even come to question this definition, which essentially states that gender labels are arbitrary and meaningless. If we lived in a social vacuum, perhaps that would be sufficient. However, some parts of me feel that this argument still seeks to reject the feminine pieces of my soul. Learning to be okay with being labeled feminine has been a huge step forward for me. It is an aspect of the gender revolution that should be the key focus of men who wish to support the movement: You cannot fight for true equality if you continue to distance yourself from women and the feminine based on arbitrary standards. Perhaps then “limitless” for me means that I am masculine, I am feminine, I am all that lies between and outside of these terms, and I am so much more than any descriptor of my gender can ever convey.

I see so many young trans men fighting for their place in this world, pursuing the ideals of hegemonic masculinity in order to prove their manhood. I want you to know that gender is not a mathematical concept whereby increases in your femininity detract from your masculinity. Femininity is not the opposite of masculinity. When I think of terms typically
associated with masculinity such as strength, courage, and confidence, I cannot envision a feminine person alive today—particularly when thinking of trans women—who do not possess these attributes in one way or another. The same is true when I think of traditionally feminine attributes or descriptors (e.g., soft, vulnerable, emotional). These parts exist in every masculine individual, and a healthy outlook on life involves acknowledging and channeling these aspects, and using them to improve upon yourself.

At some point during transition, you realize that regardless of how much work it may have taken, your true identity is the one that feels effortless—the one that prompts the least internal resistance and frees you from those feelings of fear and inadequacy. As the high of beginning your transition wears off, you will settle into yourself and realize that your identity may have evolved since the beginning. Once I transitioned, I felt less and less compelled to adhere to the standards of hegemonic masculinity. I no longer felt like I had to play catch-up by overcompensating for my femininity. My masculinity is now inseparable from my femininity, which I have embraced wholeheartedly. It is a lightness unlike any other to know that your soul is no longer divided."

Friday, January 26, 2018

Random Musings on Gender

I wanted to write, and to write something meaningful. But that’s just not happening today. The burst of creativity I felt while reading the final book by Oliver Sacks—who helped fashion me into the type of neuroscientist I am today, with my penchant for provocative language, for writing scientific material with as much flair as any novelist—suddenly seemed to vanish as soon as I placed my fingers on the keys. It’s getting more and more difficult to write by hand, as the thoughts seem to flow through my mind ever more quickly, and I am limited by the confines of the human motor system. So, let’s try this.

I’ve recently seen so many posts from trans men undergoing phalloplasty, prompting me to examine my own feelings regarding my genitals, which many people would regard as the basis of my transness. Indeed, that’s all so many people seem to focus upon. While I’m not necessarily thrilled about my overall anatomy, my genitals have always kind of been irrelevant to me. What I have works, and it’s never been particularly important for me to even have the appearance of a penis, except maybe while performing traditional masculinity on stage. I tried packing a few times early during transition, and I could never get comfortable doing so.

To me, the essence of transness is the understanding of your social otherness, which isn’t necessarily rooted in anatomy. As a child, I gravitated towards not just the masculine, but to other boys. I longed to be with those like me, even though I had a keen understanding of my difference from an early age. This gravitation had nothing to do with genitals, secondary sex characteristics, or the desire to change my body. This was a young boy simply trying to be a young boy in a world desperate to manipulate him into becoming a girl. The fragility of hegemonic masculinity may explain so much of the fear surrounding transness. When your entire identity is based around having a penis, encountering a physically and emotionally strong man with a vagina means having to confront the notion that your entire understanding of gender—and of yourself—may be flawed. Rather than facing this reality, most cisgender men never fully examine that fundamental question: What is manhood without your “manhood”?

As I’ve mentioned previously, my masculinity is something I define as limitless. My gender as limitless, encompassing both the masculine and feminine. Even in accepting the feminine components of my gender identity, I see these as irrelevant to my anatomy, firstly because it does not make sense to me to categorize parts of my body using gender terms. That is, having a vagina does not make me any more or less feminine (or masculine) than any other person. It’s simply a part of my body, like an ear or a toe. While I view my chest in the same way, I can never fully feel like it belongs to me. This part of me DOES feel foreign and grotesque most times, and there is not much I can do to change that. No amount of desensitization training will ever make these two lumps of fat feel like they are a part of me. Again, this has nothing to do with masculinity for me. I don’t feel like less of a man because they are there, unless you count feeling irritated that only trans men who have had top surgery seem to be considered valid, even within our own community. I just don’t want them there, although they have no bearing on my identity at this stage. Perhaps this is because it has been almost 9 years since I first came out as trans. My perception has shifted over nearly a decade of living as a trans man who has never been able to afford a name change, let alone surgery. The severity of my dysphoria has largely dissipated, as I have become so much more comfortable with myself, as I have reached the stage where I can simply focus on living my life. On being, rather than on transitioning. 

Make no mistake, I believe that transition never truly ends. I am constantly re-examining my gender in the context of the world around me, and for this I am grateful. Perhaps that is what has allowed me to evolve to this point of separation between body and identity. Yet there is somewhat of an internal conflict here, as my body is by extension masculine, since I am masculine. The choice of words seems arbitrary these days. I could just as easily say that I am feminine. I could look exactly as I do, behave exactly as I always have, and just as easily say that I prefer feminine pronouns. The point here is to use what feels right. It’s such a simple concept, yet we complicate it by trying to tell ourselves that our anatomy defines our gender, or the ways in which we can even express or embody transness. Once you separate identity from anatomy and biological determinism, things suddenly get less complicated.

“What if I wanted to identify as...?”

Barring any ludicrous options designed to pick a fight, the answer is always the same. Don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be. You are allowed to exist. Always.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


I'm the kind of person who gets terrified when I receive private messages because it's really difficult for me to figure out how to respond, especially if they include compliments. I agonize over it for days or weeks before I respond sometimes, no matter the content of the message. As I try to figure out how to do that social thing, my anxiety continues to increase as more time passes between the initial message and my response. It's kept me awake at times. Well, this sort of thing in addition to every other thing that induces extreme anxiety.

Anyway, I just responded to like ten messages today, and you honestly don't know how proud I feel. It may seem like nothing, but being social is not something that comes easy to me. It's not that I don't want to or don't enjoy it, but the energy cost is high, and it takes almost all of my spoons to maintain my composure/overall impression in a social setting. I'm constantly analyzing the interaction, choosing the most appropriate response based on my analysis and my understanding of the other parties in the situation. It's a process that requires an intense amount of effort, particularly with new people or when there is small talk involved. One of the things I loved about the drag scene is that I could make friends so easily just by talking about a shared special interest, rather than nonsense.

I've learned that alcohol helps in these situations because it reduces my anxiety, as well as the stimulation I receive from the environment (lights, sounds, smells), freeing up some of my reserves.

There are some people in my life where none of this seems to apply. People with whom effort isn't required. People who know that I may say the wrong thing or nothing at all. People who don't just tolerate my weirdness and over-analytical nature, but who actually love me for it and want to be around me and my weirdness. I'm so grateful for these people.

The past week, even though I've been sick as all hell for several, has been so different for me. It was just one medication change. One that I was afraid to even take due to the potential side effects. It's been a little over a week, and I haven't felt this kind of motivation or clarity in probably four or five years. I've broken down crying at how much time I wasted not being able to function, not being in control at all.

I'm doing things that I love again, some of them for the first time in years. I'm making actual plans. I'm getting up in the morning. I'm talking to more people. I'm feeling connected again. And it's not killing me. I feel energized rather than depleted. And it's all coming down to one thing: With the help of a fantastic medical team (Johns Hopkins and EastRidge Health Services) working together, I am absolutely and finally ready to live again.

Thank you so much to everyone who has been there for me in one way or another these past few years, even though I've been distant. I want you to know that it wasn't by choice. That I miss you. You probably don't realize how much I do miss you and care about you. I think about so many of you as I try to fall asleep at night. I just hope it's not too late to be part of your lives again. I love you.

And, I can finally say without guilt or shame, I love myself. Thank you all again, and I'll see you soon.