Hi MIHH listeners,
My name’s Keagan and I wanted to write a blog post after listening to some podcasts and listener e-mails. This is because it seemed to me that there was a yearning or need for more information about gender and gender minorities, and I have a lot to share. More broadly, what I’d like to share is how I went from agreeing with all of the dogma of the GLBT “community” and the stereotypical rationalizations you hear people make for trans etc. individuals and finding an incredible amount of solace in that, to realizing that the GLBT and even trans “communities” (in my experience), as well as my professional work related to all of these topics.
I very rarely disclose my personal story when I give lectures, talks, trainings, etc. about this topic because it it’s irrelevant to the task at hand. I don’t mean that in a self-defeating way and I’m not closeted whatsoever, I mean that my personal experiences should have nothing to do with how one interprets information that is presented to them. However, I think the nature of this podcast and community allows, perhaps might demand, that I do that, and it would only be fair given how open everyone else has been.
I grew up as an adorably tomboyish little girl in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the part that nobody remembers is a part of the US), where we unintentionally epitomized the polar opposite of diversity. Naturally, then, ideas about fluidity in gender were never entertained because they were never even conceived. As my parents have told it, I was such a tomboy that my mother’s pregnancy with me felt just different (versus my older sister) and resulted in her arguing with the doctor who delivered me that I was NOT a girl, I COULDN’T be a girl, etc. Indeed, I was a girl. Maybe it was her particular fondness for Taco Bell during her pregnancy that made her feel differently—I certainly have never lost my love for tacos.
I never had any desire for the stuff my sister liked to do. Rather, I liked hanging out with my dad, watching him build and make things, watching how he took things apart and put them back together, and basically watch him embody the life of a person who persevered out of gross poverty using sheer willpower and an ability to think critically. As a young child, all of my Christmas presents and toys were things like hockey sets, skateboards, KNex, Tonka Trucks, Little Tikes faux tool-belts for toddlers, and the like. Despite my mother’s desire to impart a sense of pride in us from an early age by having us show up to the first day of school each year dressed nicely (which meant a dress), and despite her immense degree of stubbornness (to be fair, we’re a stubborn family), I threw such a fit on the first day of preschool that I broke the tradition of wearing a dress on the first day of school.
Throughout my early childhood it seemed that everyone loved my tomboyishness—I was stubborn, I didn’t put up with boys’ (or girls’) crap, and I couldn’t be more content trying to build some invariably crappy thing out of old cereal boxes, Scotch tape, and whatever scrap wood my dad had left. I liked my Adidas boys’ hiking sneakers because it made exploring in the plentiful woods to collect bugs and other gross animals much easier, and I loved to get dirty. I wore t-shirts and jeans, most of which were bought from the boys’ department. Unlike my sister, I relished finally reaching the age where my dad would let me help him mow the lawn, and I loved it so much that I saved every penny I earned (even mowing more lawns than our own) to buy the Nintendo 64 when it came out. I bought the Ice Blue version, which my sister informed me was a stupid choice, but almost 20 years later I think we can all agree Ice Blue is still way cooler.
A critical point I want you to remember moving forward: at no point did I ever think I was a boy, want to be a boy, or want to change my body.
Then one day puberty hit. We had already been given the “your body’s gonna change one of these days, so here’s a weird random packet with stock photos of moms and daughters and a free pantiliner and maxipad” talk at school, but as it was back in those days, that class literally taught me nothing. All I knew is that one day I’d start bleeding out of my crotch and I would venture into terrifying territory that suddenly helped make much more sense of why adults were so much less playful all the time—they have to worry about bleeding all the time! I remember I was home alone while my parents were out shopping at Kmart when it happened. I didn’t know what to do (thanks, sex ed!) so I sat on the toilet for 2 hours waiting for them to come home (we weren’t a magazine-stack-in-the-bathroom kind of family, either). When they did, and I first saw my mother approaching the bathroom, I burst into tears and started pleading for forgiveness and for a light punishment. She assured me I wasn’t in trouble and didn’t do anything wrong, but, in so many words, I was now sentenced to 40+ years of a whole bunch of uterus bullshit. Sure enough, FYI, I had the kind of cramps that were so bad I was doubled over in pain an unable to move, even with birth control trying to help.
Now, I grew up in an area and era where playing “Smear the Queer” at recess was common, and because I only ever played with the boys, I engaged in playing that game. We’d beat up boys who were suck-ups, too sensitive, or that we just didn’t like. I took down this one obese kid in our class that no one liked one day and have a chipped tooth to prove it. I probably should feel bad about that given that I can’t remember why I did it, but I still feel pretty proud of it.
I wasn’t an angry kid, and I didn’t hate girls, I just didn’t know how to relate to them. The vast majority of my best friends growing up were girls and I loved every moment of hanging out with them even though they were super girly. But, of course, Mean Girls style, there were plenty of girls who wanted nothing to do with me. And because, for some reason, that stung a little too much, and because the boys (in general—their like/dislike of me as the token tomboy was proportionate to that of the girls) were much easier to get along with as long as you weren’t a dick, that’s how it played out.
But puberty, as I’d find out, was supposed to change everything. I was supposed to snap out of that phase and all of a sudden want boys begging to put their P in my V, and be SO girly that my mother would have to regularly sit me down for talks on how to be a proper lady, and basically grow into a proper young woman.
It didn’t happen like that at all. Because all of my peers were going through puberty and now learning about and executing the same social norms with which you accept or make fun of people, I went from having lots of friends to having maybe 2, who still didn’t like to be seen with me all that often. I was often made fun of, with the most oft-hurled insults revolving around, “Janine wants to have a sex change, ooooooohhh!”or something of that nature. This, paired with the fact that I was smart and much better at math and science (and almost all other classes, honestly) than the boys, translated to a hell of a time. Eventually, once my peer group and I were more stable in puberty and in high school the teasing stopped, but there was still that resounding pressure to do my duty and become a young woman.
Though I don’t know that she was conscious of it at the time (and I wasn’t), my mother in particular increasingly pressured and/or punished me for continuing to dress more like a boy than a girl and the like. I used to hate her for it immensely, and it still feels kind of raw if I think about it too much, but now I can reflect and understand that she was acting out of fear for me and a desire to protect me, because she knew that the probability of me being bullied and put down to the extent that a lot of bad things would happen to me and in my life was incredibly high. Even thinking back now I can clearly remember the thesis of many arguments being “I know it’s shitty, but if you don’t do X, Y, Z, you’re going to be in a lot of undeserved pain!”
But I didn’t. Not necessarily because I didn’t want to or because I wanted to rebel, but because I literally did not know how to be a “young lady,” and every time I tried I felt like I was coated in a layer of leeches that were sucking away the life in me. The idea of being a girl in the colloquial sense has literally never made sense to me, and I don’t mean that in a subjective manner. Asking me to understand the appeal in feminine things is like asking a grasshopper to do calculus, and it still is that way.
So I spent my teenage years in so much anguish that I don’t recall much of them. As my ridiculously large boobs grew, I grew more and more hatred towards them that manifested in my desire to hurt them. So I started pinching them so hard that my fingernails would literally cut the skin off and they’d bleed. And then I’d not let the wound heal, because all of this was in hopes that they’d get infected and have to be removed. And the worse it got, the more no one understood me and I felt increasingly alone. Honestly, I think a hug here and there would have done so much for me back then, but I didn’t even have that.
I had never heard the word “transgender” until I was just about to turn 21 (thanks to where I lived). About 2 months after I learned about the word and the concept, I knew that was me.
At 21 and a half, I started hormone replacement therapy. I legally changed my name 3 months later. Even though I had a voice high enough that you would have paid good money to hear me sing a Michael Jackson “Hee-hee!,” I started asking people to use different pronouns when referring to me. Obviously, as my voice got deeper and my body started to restructure into a more masculine form, that got a lot easier for everyone else.
For the most part, life was good. I had supportive friends and coworkers, I loved the university I was at getting my degree, and I finally felt like I had made some sense of peace with the world and I understood myself much more clearly.
But there were still those huge goddamn tits.
I hid them everyday, but there was nothing on the face of this planet that could make them look like they weren’t there. I wore so many binders that I’d often have a hard time breathing. Seems stupid, but it felt better than how I felt otherwise. I actually had to pull them down enough to stretch them out to flatten them that I have permanent stretch marks up near my shoulders from the pulling.
As I became more and more settled in my identity, I experienced more and more anxiety about my chest. Every moment of every day I worried about how my chest looked—were my boobs creeping upward? Were they flat enough? What sorts of shirts could I wear to make it look even better? Were people looking at me and knowing what I was and thinking I was a sick freak? I think the worst part was knowing there was no one I could blame for the pain and anxiety I felt. And the more and more people tried to empathize with me, the angrier I got.
Eventually it got so terrible that I made a pact with myself: if by age 25 I didn’t have chest surgery, I was going to kill myself. I would rather not live at all than live the way I was living and feeling. Even now, past that point, I still believe that would have been the right choice to make because I just hurt so much all the time and had no one to talk to about it.
I had chest surgery 1 month before my 25th birthday. To back up my claims about my huge boobs, I weighed myself before and after and, even with post-surgery swelling, I had lost just shy of 10 lbs. Go put your boob on a scale and see how much it weighs if you need a comparison.
So, that’s my story. Now that I’ve finished transitioning I’ve started to realize a lot of funny things about life that have allowed me to make a lot more sense of the weird world we’ve created around us. That’s what I wanted to share with all of you—why I think we’re thinking about gender in such a fashion that it’s exemplary of a poor understanding of it, or at least an understanding that was made under patriarchal guidance.
I used to call myself transgender, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Now, I basically never do it—the only instance in which I do is when I realize that the person I’m speaking too is never going to get it otherwise and I don’t feel like engaging in that conversation because it’s too tiring.
Why not? Because, basically, I think it’s a stupid word, a stupid construct, and a really nice way of tokenizing people like myself. It’s an EXCELLENT way for people to put you in the “them” category when playing the “us vs. them” game in life. It’s also an excellent way for people to write off a lot of things about you as invalid or not worth consideration just because you’re trans.
Most of all, it implies an inherent difference in humanity. It suggests there’s something inherently different about me, as opposed to the “natural” differences amongst humans already. Yes, I am different in a particular way, but the way in which I’m different from others isn’t so far from how we’re different from one another in a whole lot of other ways. Thus, I’m not inherently different, and I don’t think any gender minority should be relegated to being treated as such by being called transgender.
Further, it implies there’s been some huge change about me. Yes, my annoyingly massive knockers are gone, and my body is that of a man’s now (just one with a vagina), but in all honesty that’s not too big of a deal. I still wear the same kind of clothes. I still have the same demeanor and temperament. I’m still the same person I was, just a lot happier.