“Why can’t transmen just be butch?”

QueerIcon-NewsletterThe day to day negotiations of being a transgender person come in spaces where categorization of behavior and physical look presupposes a particular sex (genitalia) difference. This is then sustained and policed in various ways via white patriarchy (and by extension racism and misogyny), consumerism (ie: clothing and toys divided by gendered “interests”, cosmetics that presuppose body types, etc), all of which is reinforced by the various institutions employed by capitalism. These particular public arrangements of gender, by design, leave little space to challenge the rigidity of gender expression without the challenge itself be seen as crossing over to the “other” gender, even when those understandings of one’s self and desires aligns with the “other” gender.

South African FTM Leo recounts a time in his youth in which he felt this pressure from the public sphere so strongly that he deliberately performed bad at sports once achieving a high rank to avoid the traveling that would be required to compete at such a high level:

“Going to unknown and meeting unfamiliar people was too traumatic for me. All I wanted to do was stay home where I felt comfortable and safe 1.”

He continues to describe his experience at school:

“Everyone perceived me as a girl and because of my physical body I knew I wasn’t a boy. That distressed me because in my mind it was a big mistake, and I was too afraid to tell anyone these feelings. I used to see myself as boy in my dreams and imagination. I wished that I could be born again or that I would just wake up one day realizing that I had turned into a boy…Every time I was invited to a social event or party I felt the pressure to dress as was expected of me. I felt very awkward and ugly and was convinced that everybody could see this as well. It was a nightmare for me to go to the school’s farewell or to any school events 1.”

The concept of transgressing socially constructed gender boundaries is completely disconnected from the actual lived, day-to-day experiences of trans people. The material, discursive, and institutional locations of trans* people is severely unaccounted for in queer and feminist literature. There is an inherent sense of self that well precedes the process and actions of “transitioning” gender. José Esteban Muñoz uses the term disidentification to describe the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship 2. I would like to think of gender transitioning – in its physical, social, and person processes – as disidentification. This particularly applies to trans men who opt for hormones, surgeries, and other “stereotypical” male aesthetics. While these processes are argued to be self-destructive, colonial, and even counterproductive, they are simultaneously survival methods from both the violent, phobic public sphere and the deep, debilitating dysphoria experienced by the transitioning person.

Despite the acronym “FTM” (female-to-male) used to refer to transgender men, there  is not a sense of “turning into a man”. There is already an internalized sense of manhood, both in its physical imaginary and interpersonal relationships/interactions, as well as the position of that individual to the idea of that man combined with the inner sense of “not woman”. This, however, does not necessarily translate into “hyper masculine” ideas and desires of manhood when met with a sense of “not feeling like a woman”. Butch women can be “masculine” in every sense possible yet still have an intrinsic sense of, pride, and comfort in being a woman and seen as a woman. “Not a woman” does not mean masculine, and equating the two would dangerously erase all the genderqueers, the patos, the bois, and other gender-variant bodies who simultaneously are FTM. This is crucial in understanding FTMs, and I suggest is a possible distinction between FTMs and butch women.

This can be even further interrogated by asking “what does it mean to feel like a woman/man?” or “what is a woman/man?”. These are questions gender, feminist, and queer already focus on, and finding where trans people stand in regard to those questions has been repeatedly attempted. While these questions are both ones I am trying to contribute answers to and are helpful in theoretically dissecting and identifying the areas of life gender occupies, they are the wrong questions to ask when it comes to trans people. They have little application and benefit to the lives of trans people, and at the end of the day tend to water down and reduce trans identities to nothing but erotic desires of privilege and body-hating instead of validating their experiences under the premise that gender is not biological. This troubling contradiction exhibits that there is a much more intricate and complex account of conflicting, multiple hierarchies of access, exclusion, and authority in place that both constructs and distinguishes transgender, queer, butch, and other gendered ways of being.

Works cited:
1. Morgan, Ruth, Charl Marais, and Joy Rosemary. Wellbeloved. Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa. Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media, 2009. Print.
2. Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999. Print.

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How I Started Hormones as an Unemployed, Poor, FTM of Color

QueerIcon-Newsletter1x1The northeastern region of the United States is home to literally millions of Latina/os and many of them are Boricua. According to a Pew statistic, 52% of Latina/os in the Eastern part of the U.S. are Puerto Rican. Now there aren’t any statistics on how many of them are also trans*, but I am one of them.

Now I’m not about to give you some sappy article about my transitioning “story” and all the highs and lows of this experience so far. That is not really important compared to the severe lack of access to trans* related medical care, especially within communities of color. For that reason, I want to give you the mechanical part of my journey that starts from before I even knew how to get hormones to today, August 5 – when I am almost 6 months on testosterone (and broke, unemployed, and brown) – in an effort to give those out there some hope, information, stories of experience, and hopefully guidance.

In early 2013, I “came out” (blah) but I was not sure what I meant by wanting to transition other than knowing I wanted to live as a man.

I communicated these feelings to my partner at the time and began living as a man. My partner’s sorority sister had an ex-boyfriend who is “Female-to-Male” (FTM), and she told me about a place in Philly. But at the time I didn’t know what it was called: later she informed that it was the Mazzoni Center (located at 809 Locust Street).

She told me that she was not exactly sure how it worked but that her partner was able to get testosterone at a low cost WITHOUT seeing a psychologist or anything like that by using something called informed consent – a thorough acknowledgement that the patient understands what they are about to begin (learn more about informed consent and the Mazzoni Center (MC) at their website.)

Several months went by until I finally made an appointment for early 2014. I was able to do this (as well as fill out all health forms) online using the MC’s Patient Portal, where patients can communicate with their doctors – and the center as whole – for free, as well as view and print health records.

FIRST LET ME SAY THIS PLACE IS WONDERFUL WITH THE SMALLEST OF THINGS. They have forms where you put your preferred name and call you as such. When you call them on the phone they ask for your last name and birthday instead of first name. And they are pretty much on point in every possible way in terms of rhetoric.

For trans care, you have to do both a new patient visit AND an intake appointment – THESE CAN BE DONE ON THE SAME DAY! And you should, because sometimes getting appointments can take several weeks. So get it done the same day!! But call to do this because I made the mistake and scheduled it online without knowing really how to use the website and I had to make them separate days.

So, pretty much all of these things equal a normal physical: blood work, dialogue and questions/ answers between your doctor; and also speaking with a social worker that just wants to make sure you’re relaxed and ready, as well as answer any questions you have about your plans to transition (including answers on best/ local surgeons, etc).

Theoretically, the above can be done in one day. NEXT IS THE FOLLOW-UP VISIT!

In the follow-up visit my doctor was pretty much like “Okay! You are a healthy person and your head is in the right place. Lets do this thing!”

In terms of getting access to prescriptions, the MC has some sort of magical contract with Walgreens and there is actually one LITERALLY attached to the MC. There is a doorway in the waiting room and it leads right into the entrance of the pharmacy. My doctor wrote my script for my needles and testosterone and I took it next door.

My testosterone cost me about $50 for a 3 month supply, compared to the typical $200ish+. THIS DISCOUNT IS ONLY AVAILABLE AT THE MAZZONI CENTER! It is possible that I may have even been able to get this for free if my mom’s job did not have insurance. I reiterate that the MC is strongly dedicated to providing free and low cost medical care to its patients and that includes all of its trans* patients.

I waited a little while for my prescriptions to be filled. Total cost was $60 for a supply of draw needles, injection needles, and testosterone. Not bad.

After you get your scripts filled, you head back through the door to the MC waiting room. The final step of this day is your first injection. A nurse will call your name and you will be taken back to a room where they will explain exactly how to draw up the testosterone, disinfect, where and how to inject, etc.

I freaked out from anxiety and couldn’t do it myself the first time, so she compromised and injected me, but I plunged the needle down. I freaked out. And I also freaked out the whole way out the door and then cried down the road (this is the most emotional this post will get). But it’s okay. Freaking out is okay because everything is okay.

The doctor said he wanted to see me in 3 months for more blood work. I saw him just last June, and now I don’t have to go back until 6 months (unless something is wrong).

And that is it!

Starting my ‘T’ took about 2 days out of my year, and then at most I will have 2-3 doctor visits a year back to the MC. Walgreens will setup a mail-order prescription plan with you, that way you don’t have to travel to get your hormones AND you can continue to get them for the same discounted price.

I wanted to write this because I don’t think many people in Philly and surrounding areas dont know that the MC exists. At least not the ones that need it the most. If you are a gender variant person searching for trans or queer-friendly medical care who is under financial constraints, the Mazzoni Center is definitely a place to begin looking into. I know that the location is not the closest for some – especially not Boricuas living on the island – but if you can manage to make it up to Philly just a few days out of the year, this place really may be for you.

Cuidate, gente.

Note: I want to assert that I am in no way a representative of the Mazzoni Center and am solely a patient who is writing on behalf of his experience.

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