Dec 012011
 

Self-reflection Today marks 18 months of blogging since my first post on June 1st, 2010. This is also my 300th post!

When I first agreed to blog my sex life, I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into, I just did it, without thinking about how it would impact my life. It took me a while to find my voice. I still like to experiment with different formats and approaches. While sex has always been a big part of my life, it’s been interesting to frame my life in terms of sex. It’s made me broaden my definition of sex.

I find I’m sometimes tempted to do something sexually just because it would make a good blog post, but that doesn’t make a huge difference because I’m also just adventurous. Many times my sex dates include testing out products for review. My partners know that anything is fair game for the blog. But my life is by no means all sex. I am the mother of 5 children, and you wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would) how many posts I write with Blues Clues or Barney in the background.

It’s been a great trip – and I plan to keep going! I want to share with you some of my favorite experiences so far…

I am most proud of my gender series. I learned so much interviewing Colleen, David, Jim, Kyle, and Aleksa. I’m still learning about gender all of the time, especially my own. I wrote about my experience packing a cock in My Inner Boy. I’ve worked harder on this series than anything else I’ve done for the blog and it’s been totally worth it in terms of what I got out of it – especially the friends I made.

Hedgehog bondage in "More Love"Making erotic videos is something that I’d like to get better at. (I have plans!) Of the ones we’ve already made, a few stand out for me. The Rainy Afternoon video is precious to me because of the energy between Harold and me. We had a lot of technical difficulties, so the result is very “art house,” but I was pleased with it; a genuine connection is harder to capture than anything. I also have to mention the More Love video that we made for all the poly people on Valentine’s Day (and for a fan who wanted to see some plushy sex). Harold and I should both be embarrassed by our acting, but it was sooooo fun to make. I like being so totally silly. I was disappointed that it didn’t provoke more of a reaction.

We got a huge reaction over our Figging Lab Experiment and the Figging Lab Results. Our labs are written rather tongue-in-cheek, but people took them pretty seriously. I am disappointed that I made up such a beautiful data sheet, but that no one to date has returned a completed experiment to me. That’s too bad! Another post discusses the mathematics of Viagra. Did you know that Viagra leads to math?

Some of my posts have been deeply emotional and reveal much of my inner workings. You can see my journey over time working through sex abuse issues and wanting to be topped in The Opposite of Love, Sex in the ShadowOkay on the OutsideWalking through the Darkness, Fear and Arousal, Magic Words, and Deep Dark Fantasies.

Flower in HawaiiMy trip to Hawaii was big for me. I got to spend time with my girlfriend, Erika, and I met a bunch of really fabulous people. All of the foliage in Hawaii looks erotic.

Another pivotal moment for me was the first close up picture of my cunt I’d ever seen. I wrote about it in Ready for my Close Up, talking about all of my conflicting feelings.

It’s interesting to read Is Thin the Only Sexy? written almost a year ago. I talk about my body image after seeing nude pictures of myself and realizing that I was fat. I decided that fat is still sexy. It totally is. But I also realize that I’ve lost 35 pounds since then. I feel much more comfortable in my body now, but I still look at pictures of myself and feel unhappy.

Some of my favorite posts have to do with being part of a family. My children drew pictures for Secret Life of a Mommy. In Love Song for my Metamour I got to express all of the wonderful things I feel about sharing my life with Melanie. A Poly Jolly Christmas talks about how blessed I feel to have my large poly family together over the holidays.

Finally, I do a lot of reviews, but a few things have really changed my life. One of them is the book, I’ll Show You Mine, which features gorgeous photographs of vulvas. Another is Buck Angel’s Sexing the Transman, a documentary/porn flick that taught me a ton about transmen. Also, working with the photographer, David Steinberg, over two photo sessions was deeply moving.

Photo by David Steinberg, 2011

Photo by David Steinberg, 2011

As you can see, blogging has had a huge impact on my life. These posts represent my highs and lows, ins and outs of the last 18 months. I want to thank all of our readers for your thoughtful comments and constant support. Your participation means so much to me!

Jul 312011
 

Evoë as JoeyAfter interviewing so many fabulous people about gender, I’m wanted to see for myself what it felt like to put on another gender. For me, that meant letting my inner boy out to play. My interviewees gave me lots of ideas about how I might go about as a male and the internet filled in more gaps, but I was still obviously a newbie boy.

I went to Value Village to shop for clothes. After much searching, I found a pair of men’s shoes that I could live with, some black and white Vans. Shirts were problematic. I wanted a button-down shirt to help disguise my rather large breasts, but shirts fell into 4 categories: western, stuffy, hawaiian, or lounge. I went with lounge, hoping that I could pull off a hipster look. On a whim, I grabbed a baseball cap on the way out. Harold shook his head and told me I was trying too hard for a boy. Joel scolded me for buying a shirt that wasn’t all natural fibers. He asked me to think about what kind of man I really wanted to be. I felt silly being scolded, but he kind of had a point about putting together a persona deliberately.

Evoë as JoeyWhat does it mean to be a man? I’m not sure. I’m not sure that I’ve gotten past the part where I have a cock, but then again, I know a few guys who’ve never gotten past that part either. Maybe that’s just the kind of guy I am because Harold and I spent a lot of time working with socks, condoms, nylons, rice, and such to make me a reasonably realistic packer. I gotta have a cock.

It got to be time to get ready. I showered, slicked back my hair with men’s gel, and took off all of my girlie jewelry. The hardest thing for me to do was to cut off my fingernails. It’s body modification. I like my long tapered nails. But I squared them all off for this experiment. I put on black Calvin Klein boxer-briefs. I wound a wide ace bandage tightly around my chest, trying to flatten my tits. I put a snug athletic top over that, then a plain black tank top. My outer layer consisted of button-down shirt, Harold’s black jeans, Vans, and baseball cap. Ultimately, after all of our scheming, I didn’t pack at first. It was uncomfortable and not noticeable.

Evoë as JoeyHarold took a bunch of pictures – probably the most fun I had. I really hammed it up and played around with the gender stereotypes. Fantastically fun! Then we went to dinner. On the way in the car, Harold and I role-played. It was silly stuff, guy talk. He started calling me Joey. Once we were at the restaurant, I got nervous. What would people think?

I’m not sure if people perceived me as a male, but it was definitely different. Until now, I have been unaware at how deferential people are to me as an attractive female. I didn’t get any of that as a man. Gender biases seem to be very subtle. No one was rude or anything, they just weren’t as…nice. We were just two guys out for some grub. I do believe, however, that the waiter’s demeanor changed ever-so-slightly when Harold ordered something for me. I don’t know if he thought we were gay or looked again and saw that I was female, or if I’m just imagining the reaction.

Evoë as JoeyAfter that, we went to the Center for Sex Positive Culture. I figured it was a safe place to play with gender. Once there, I took off my shoes, pants, and shirt. And I hard packed, meaning that I put my two-way in, with the testicles that Harold had created just for that purpose. I looked like I had an impressive hard on, however, it was hard to walk like a guy and impossible to bend over. At the Center, people either assumed that I was male, or really didn’t care. It was awesome. I got to scene with Harold as a gay male couple. It kind of blows my mind.

Overall I liked experimenting with gender, but I feel like I don’t have enough boy to go on. Sometimes I feel a lot of boy. I wanted to do this gender experimentation to let myself out of the box, but I ended up feeling like I was in a smaller box – from all of me to just boy. I don’t want to be smaller. I can’t see myself going out as a boy very often, maybe occasionally. I’ve been shopping for a packer. Ooooh, and I want side burns!

Jul 302011
 

Gender signAs I come to the end of our week-long series on gender presentation, I realize I’m humming something. On my lips are the immortal words of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who said, “Don’t dream it. Be it,” and I realize… that’s what gender is all about. The message that I got from each of the amazing people I interviewed was to simply be who you believe yourself to be.

If you were born one gender and want to be another, just do it. If you were born with mixed gender, go with your feelings toward expressing gender in a way that is right for you. Feel free to define multiple and complex genders for yourself, or do away with gender boundaries altogether. For much of my life, I have assumed that gender was boy OR girl and was defined by your sexual organs at birth. Then I became aware of a vast span of gender, spreading like a rainbow. Now I see that gender is even more varied, because each person has their own gender.

My gender is mine to define or not define. I can choose to align myself with a gender group that has well established gender roles. At any point in my life, I can change my mind and become some other gender. It can stay constant or it can change as often as I change my clothes. And all of it is awesome as long as it’s true to me. I am my own gender. My gender is Evoë. Your gender is unique to you. It’s yours.

Why are we discussing gender on a website about sex? The word sex itself can mean gender, as in, “What sex is the child?” The sexual organs are the body parts that one typically looks to in defining gender. Maybe if we start to define sex as less genital-centered then gender would not be a sexual topic. But I think it’s deeper than that. Gender is a deep part of identity. Gender is how we see ourselves, how other people perceive us, and how we interact with others. Many of those things are sexual, at least in part. Humans are sexual beings.

I find it interesting that everyone I interviewed identifies primarily as gay. Are gender and orientation linked? I don’t think so. I think who you are attracted to is also highly personal and complex. Nearly everyone I interviewed had sexual experience with at least two genders, regardless of where they ended up. And as was pointed out, they are still evolving. We are all still evolving.

I feel like I’ve opened things up instead of resolving them. I don’t have any nice clean answers to give you about gender. But I’ve learned so much and met some truly amazing people. Here are some of the things they told me: “Be proud of your true self.” “Really go for it.” ” I’m just me.” “Throw out the binary.” and “Think it, feel it, be it.” I am in awe of their courage and wisdom. I am so grateful that they opened up their lives to me and were willing to tell their stories. Thank you so much to Colleen, David, Jim, Kyle, and Aleksa!

So look deep into yourself and decide. Who are you? How will you express your gender?

Jul 292011
 
Aleksa by Michael Doucett

Photo by Michael Doucett

It wasn’t until I interviewed Aleksa that I realized how stuck I still am in the idea of binary gender. Despite my best intentions at boundless gender, I kept asking Aleksa questions that revealed my biases. Thankfully, she is as gracious as she is beautiful and set me straight time after time. Gender tries to confuse me, but Aleksa makes it seem so simple, “The freedom we have as human beings is that we are able to come out and identify however we wish.”

If Aleksa has to pick terms for her gender identity, she might use “gender variant,” “transgenderist,” or “gender queer” but she also admits that her answers may change on a different day or under different circumstances. I picked Aleksa for this series because she’s my favorite drag queen. In fact, I mention her in the very first blog post I made here. She’s alway glamorous, poised, earthy, humorous, compassionate, professional, and REAL. In short, I’m impressed.

We meet in a coffee shop. I start off by asking her about her gender. She says, “My personal gender is evolving and continues to evolve. To say that I am a gay man is SUCH an understatement. It really goes beyond that. My sexual orientation, my gender expression, the way I present, the way I socialize, the way I interact with other people – it’s so varied.  It changes.” I feel so moved by this. Of course we are all growing and changing all of the time. It’s comforting to grab a piece of gender real estate and have some labels to hold onto. But what if we didn’t have to define ourselves?

Aleksa has some of the same problems with falling into the binary gender trap. She confesses, “Even though the binary is sort of a mainstream concept it overflows to the LGBTQ community. I find myself being a victim to the concept of the binary system – that I’m either this OR that. That I am his OR her, he OR she, never in between.”

Aleksa was raised Catholic, in the Philippines, heavily influenced by her single mother. “Growing up I knew I was different but I never had the word for it. I didn’t know what gay meant. I just felt I was different. Then I moved here when I was 19 or so, and that’s when I realized, oh, okay, I’m gay.  That’s what it is. Does that mean I want to be the opposite sex? That’s when I started dressing up. I didn’t have a term for it. I didn’t know what drag meant.”

Doing drag gave Aleksa an opportunity to learn about herself. She says, “That’s when I realized that I just needed to be comfortable accepting that I am a feminine, male-bodied person. I started empowering myself around my feminine expression. The more I embraced my femininity, the more I realized I did not need to go all the way. I’m just feminine.”

While not overtly feminine at her day job, Aleksa is simply a feminine person. She says, “It doesn’t matter if I’m public or private, it’s just the same.” She likes to dress up, and female oriented clothing provides so many more options. A tux is always going to be a tux. I try to ask about being masculine, “Me being masculine is really like trying to be a butch lesbian. When I think I look butch, I get called ma’am. I use the term butch because there’s fluidity to it. I can use butch across all genders, where masculine is just male.” We talk some about the differences between expression and perception in gender. How people perceive you can be very different from how you feel.

Aleksa may have started out doing drag performances, but she now uses the term drag queen loosely when describing herself because her identity now goes beyond the stage. She now has performance clothes and everyday clothes. I’m not sure how to explain, but it doesn’t read as cross-dressing. This is not a boy in girl’s clothes. This is Aleksa and how she chooses to express herself.

Although Aleksa is very positive, it’s obvious that sometimes other people’s perceptions can hurt. She tells me about some things she’s run into, “Often I hear I gay men say, ‘I’m not going to be with a drag queen. If I wanted to be with a drag queen, I might as well be straight!’  That’s pretty stigmatizing.” While Aleksa has an appreciation for the female form, she’s is definitely attracted to male energy.

She’s gotten good at loving herself and rejecting hurtful comments, “So what if people think I’m a queen or I’m a sissy boy. Okay, I am. So what.”  She goes on to say, “You have to be internally comfortable with it. That’s all that really matters because you’re going to please some, displease some, but you’re not going to please everybody. I doubt that you’ll displease everyone. It has to start from within. It has to be that internal comfort. That internal safety that you feel about who you are.”

Being on the stage has helped Aleksa develop skills for carrying that internal comfort through to life situations like this, “People try to figure me out, ‘Is that a boy or a girl?’  Yes. But the way I look at it, I bounce it back. If people are snickering I find that more comical. I turn it around, and I’m watching them, watching me.”

Aleksa by Michael Doucett

Photo by Michael Doucett

Does Aleksa have advice for anyone aspiring to be a drag queen? Yes, and none of it has to do with the external, “Once you hit the stage: think it, feel it, be it once you feel the warmth of that spotlight, whatever that ‘it’ is. If you feel like a diva, if you think you’re a diva, feel it, be a diva. If you think you’re a princess, feel it, be that princess. Really, it’s about loving yourself. Love the audience.”

It wasn’t until we were leaving the coffee shop that Aleksa tossed off a comment that I feel really sums up the message I want to send to the mainstream, “Get over it people! It’s just gender.”

Jul 282011
 

KyleI met Kyle after hearing him read one of his erotic short stories. I was taken in by his slow drawl, cowboy hat, sparkling eyes, and sweet charm. And yes, I got that his gender was not clear-cut. Later, I looked at his website and realized that he is smart and articulate. And complicated. Kyle is female bodied and dual gendered. Or as he explains to me, his gender is gender queer, his orientation is queer, and his presentation is butch. It’s a lot of labels, for a complex set if ideas, but the reality is simple: Kyle is Kyle. And Kyle can be whatever he (or she) wants.

I ask Kyle to explain how things work. He says, “I’m still trying to figure out how to explain it to myself. The way that I visualize the internal gender identities in me is that there’s a male identity that’s Kyle and it’s distinct from the female identity of Casey – both are masculine. So even in my female identity I’m butch or masculine. I’m not unfeminine. But in general, I’m sort of wholly masculine.”  So we’ll use masculine pronouns unless speaking directly of Casey and Kyle to refer to the whole person.

It fascinates me. Kyle’s core sense of self is male and two personalities grow out of that center. One is male and the other is female, but very butch. Kyle tells me that he thinks maybe the two will merge back together at some point. Kyle and Casey have different personalities, preferences, sexual preferences, and histories. Kyle is younger because he hasn’t had as much time to develop. Casey spent their childhood covering and protecting who they really were. Kyle explains, “In a way it’s like fraternal twins that didn’t separate. Sometimes I sense that we are collaborating to a point that we are a single unit.“ How does it work? I ask Kyle how they share one body. He says, “It’s not like I’m thinking to myself, Oh, I’m gong to be Kyle now, it’s a very fluid interaction. It’s when the mood strikes us, one or the other or both. It’s hard to describe how that all works. But it does.”

When he was a child, it was a shock that he had to be a girl because he felt distinctly masculine. It didn’t sit right. It was hard to try to be what he wasn’t. His mom always pushed the girly stuff. He goes on, “When I was younger, the gender differences weren’t about anatomy, They were about what you were permitted to do, what the roles were. I wanted to be a boy, live like a boy, because boys got to do the cool stuff. I was a boy. Boys got to run around, and wrestle, and climb trees, and didn’t have to worry about getting dirty, right? Girls had to wear dresses and be ladylike and worry about scuffing their shoes and whatnot. To me, that was a horrible restriction. It didn’t feel right at all to me.”

KyleI ask Kyle how it he feels about gender now, and he smiles, “I’m still reveling in the idea that I can have both. I can have gender, I can express gender positively, and I’m not constrained about what gender I express. To me, that’s the big freedom – being able to express gender. Which goes counter to some people who are like, ‘we should just get away from gender.’ Well, you know, I’m not there!” Talking about gender is powerful and Kyle’s gestures are getting more pronounced. “It’s powerful. It is! There’s a lot of power around it. For me the power is in getting to acknowledge it and getting to express it because it’s been suppressed for so long.”

And both Kyle and Casey express themselves. Kyle tends to be more of a playboy and has a “fag side” – he is attracted to boys. Casey generally holds the job and has the family – she’s married to a woman and they have 2 daughters. Their first act of gender expression was rejecting women’s panties and wearing men’s underwear. They merge in other ways, like having short hair, growing out chin hair, and packing (a cock and balls). But they don’t always get everything they want, “We kind of have this divide. It’s weird on the inside sometimes because we’ll get into these conversations. There’s some things we still have to work on in terms of both getting our needs met.“

I ask about being a gender queer parent. Casey got pregnant through artificial insemination and gave birth to one of her daughters. She didn’t feel that it was in any way incongruent. The worst part was the selection of maternity clothes – they weren’t designed for butches. As her daughter gets older, they have had lots of good conversations about trans issues, gender expression, and sexuality. Casey does get called Mommy, which was fine in the beginning, but she now wishes for something more neutral. Kyle says, “I don’t know what genderless feels like,” but goes on to say that parenting is just parenting and it’s the closest to genderless he gets. For teacher conferences and outings, he assumes a father-type role.

We talk about the differences between putting on a gender and expressing what’s inside. Kyle talks about how performance can be useful to start expressing gender, “There is gender as a performance, which, I think, most people could put on if they thought about it and tried. We are very well versed in the stereotypes and norms. Almost anybody could put on something that is a gender performance. That overlaps with expression, but I don’t think they’re the same exact thing. I don’t consciously express, I just do. It’s not really a conscious act anymore. But at first it was.”

KyleWe spend a lot of time discussing trans concerns. Kyle considers himself transgender, but isn’t interesting in taking any more steps toward the masculine at this time. “I’m not interested in transitioning because that would leave my other half homeless. There’s not a real good solution except for what I’m doing.” He does think about it sometimes, “I look at that process, I’m like, well, I’d lose my boobs, and I’d gain what, again? The loses are too big for the gains for me because I don’t identify strongly enough. I am that middle. I like having both.”

It seems that wanting to have your cake and eat it too tends to make some people upset. There’s always that need for people to defend their territory, so if you have sex with guys, you can’t be a dyke, and if you don’t give up your female side, you can’t be a trans man. Kyle refuses to give up anything that he is, even when faced with negativity, “There are times when I feel that I’m not really trans. I feel in the middle. I have trans friends and they don’t ever make me feel like I’m an other, but there’s this popular notion… I read web sites, I’ve gotten some pretty harsh comments for using those terms.”

But Kyle feels a lot in common with the trans experience, “As far as trying to be a gender, there’s an overcompensation thing. It’s like, you’ve gone to all this effort and you’ve stuck your flag in the ground and you’ve said, ‘this is who I am,’ and then instead of just being yourself, there’s like this, ‘Recognize me, recognize me, see me, see me, see me.’ I can say that without being extremely critical because I know I’ve done it.”

KyleKyle goes on to talk about breaking all the gender boxes – the one that say that boys are good at some things and girls are good at other things – and just having everything be one big box that contains all possibilities. He says, “I don’t want to have my life be about what I’m telling myself NOT to be. This more about letting myself DO. Accepting both genders is about wanting to do all this stuff. I want to be all the things that I am.”

This is particularly inspiring for me, because I’m not interested in giving up being a girl, but I want to explore the kind of male I am and would be. I don’t want to give anything up. Kyle has mentioned working with teenagers at the high school that he attended, so I want to know – what does he want young people to know about gender?  “Don’t be afraid of gender. Don’t see it as a trap or a solution. Be open to diversity. Throw out the binary. Throw out the ‘or.’ Just look at gender as a very wide range of interesting choices and ideas. And feel free to change your mind.” He thinks for a while and adds, “Check all that applies.”

Jul 272011
 

When I first met Jim, it was in a social setting and I didn’t think twice about his gender. Why would I? I noticed his loud quick laughter, dark hair, dramatic flair, caring nature, and a certain sense of elegance. In the middle of interviewing him about being intersexed I start to really see both genders in him. His personality stays the same, but as he talks, first the feminine surfaces and then the masculine. I find it incredibly cool and a little weird. Jim says, “I’m always going to look a little bit in between. I still confuse people. I know people who will look at me and, despite the ruff, they still can’t decide what I am. I don’t give a rat’s ass.” So… this is what it means to be intersexed.

I ask Jim to explain and he tells me, “Intersexed is a catch-all category used to describe the children that used to be called hermaphroditic, children who at birth display either both gender characteristics together, imperfect of either, or neither. We are essentially, the third gender that no one knows what to do with.”

Even though the intersexed condition is not uncommon, many people don’t even know that they suffer from it. For years, all obviously intersexed babies were assigned a female gender because, “it’s easier to dig a hole, than build a pole.” It was assumed that with nurturing and hormones, these children would be happy girls.

Jim was raised a girl and didn’t find out that he was intersexed until he was an adult. He was working with a urologist on some health problems and she noticed that his urethra lacked an outer sphincter. Jim continued, “Then she looked further and we discovered a few more things. I have an ovary but it’s way down low, not where it should be, a testicle, and ovo-testicular gonad. My uterus is one-sided, it’s literally like half of one. It’s badly misshapen. It’s very small. I have a prostate and seminal vesicles on the left side. I also have some scar tissue on the left side that looks like something was removed – because it was.”

Jim’s own birth story is horrifying and stereotypical for intersexed babies. He was born dangerously premature to very young parents. They were told that their son would die and they didn’t even see him for 3 days. Jim relates that after 3 days, “the doctor panicked and didn’t know what to do with me.” Although Jim didn’t know any of this until he was an adult, the small hospital where he was born in rural east Texas in 1975, “had done a clumsy, half-assed attempt at sex re-assignment surgery. So what they did was this: I apparently did have a penis, although a very small one. You know the fat pad where the penis sits, they took it, they slit underneath the penis, cut up and sort of around it, took the ligament, cut it and moved everything down to create an outer labia. I don’t have inner labia. All I’ve got is an entrance, which is more or less normal sized. It’s cone shaped and my cervix is the size of a dime.”

Jim’s childhood was difficult. His mom believed (and maybe still believes) that he was switched with another baby at birth – an impossibility in a small hospital with a birth every 3 months. When he was only a few months old, she left him home alone with a 20 pound cat trapped in the crib with him . His grandmother found him and took him to live with her. He bounced back and forth for a while. His parents had another baby when he was almost 4.

Several months after that, while Jim watched his mother change the baby’s diaper, he noticed his brother’s penis. “I informed my mom that I was a boy like my brother, only my penis wasn’t very big. I was sitting on the end of our couch and my mother backhanded me so hard I fell off the couch. Then she picked me up and spanked me. I spent the next 3 days in bed and that’s all I really remember. I never brought the subject up in front of them after that. I was not stupid.” It was the only time his mom ever hit him.

As a child, Jim never felt like a boy or a girl. In imaginative play he was always a pony or a dragon, something where gender wasn’t an issue. Around 10 or 11, Jim ran into troubles with his parents again. “Sex was not a topic in our house. At all. Gender was not a topic. It was just expected.  They were a little concerned that I expressed desires like wanting to grow up and be a priest in the Catholic Church. And they told me, ‘Well you can be a nun.’ I didn’t want to be a nun, I wanted to be a priest. The nuns just sit over there with their rulers and their rosaries and I wanted to be a priest. They kind of blew it off.”

By age 12, Jim started rebelling – wearing boy’s clothes, rejecting his birth name (which he hated) and going by Tig, short for Tigger, a childhood nickname. He was struggling to fit in at school. He says, “I was having authority issues. I had gotten into some fights with some of the kids that called me a lesbian and I didn’t know what that was, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t complimentary. I bit a kid’s ear half off one day when I couldn’t take being teased anymore.”

His parents found him a boarding school for gifted kids which Jim describes as, “400 hyper active, hyper intelligent largely unsupervised teenagers in a dorm, left to our own devices except we were expected to go to college classes. Mayhem ensued.” It was in this environment that Jim started really living as a boy. Or perhaps a goth icon, according to his story. Although he knew what transgendered was at this point, he didn’t feel particularly transgendered – he was just more comfortable living with a male persona. He dated both boys and girls, including a man she would eventually marry.

Jim tells me that the real gender questioning happened after graduation, after getting bullied into marriage. ”I had been dating this boy through the end of high school and beginning of college. He was a gorgeous guy. My parents bullied me into getting married. Just flat out bullied me into it cuz weddings are like crack in Texas. I was 19.”

Jim’s marriage was short-lived. I’m going to save time and just say that the guy was a dick. But during their marriage, Jim did have a non-viable pregnancy. He also spent time, “really into the Domme thing. I played the dominatrix to the hilt. I was walking around with this corset on, I tight-laced for years. I was really into the kink scene, he was too, a lot of strap-on play, a lot of naughty play, you know.” I try to imagine this conservative-looking man in front of me, in his white button-down shirt, and burgundy pull-over sweater in bitch boots, leather coset, and whip. I find that it’s not hard at all.

Jim’s husband screwed him over and Jim ended up in Seattle. He moved in with the man who would become his partner, David. While it took them a little while to get together, they have now been partnered for 13 years. It was to David that Jim first expressed interest in transitioning to a male persona. Jim tells me, “I finally realized I was just happier in a male persona than a female persona and I looked at Dave in the middle of a crying jag one day and said, ‘I just want to transition.’ “ Even though Jim’s degree in psychology is in abnormal sexuality, he hadn’t known until that moment that he wanted to transition.

“I didn’t have a lot of the trauma that I hear other people talk about because I guess on the very inside I always felt I was somewhere in between male and female anyway.  It wasn’t that big of a deal to pick one or the other. I knew which one I was happier as, but I would not have been broken up if I had to have been female for the rest of my life, I just felt like there was a screaming gay guy wanting to get out.” Jim explains. He goes on to say, “I really don’t feel any more masculine than I am feminine. I’m just me.”

I’m still concerned about intersexed babies. What happens today when a child is born with an unclear gender? Jim tells me that it’s still a bit up in the air. Best practice is that no surgery will be performed on the child’s genitals unless it is necessary to save the baby’s life. Give the child a gender neutral name. Wait until they are 3 or 4 and let them tell you which gender they are. But I wonder if there is a better answer.

I ask Jim if it helps to have a gender identity. “Yes, it absolutely does. I feel more comfortable living my public, outside life in a male persona.” But would he be comfortable living as a 3rd gender if our culture adopted such a gender? “I probably would. If it were socially okay, I probably would.” Jim has stressed to me over and over, in many ways that he feels between genders, not neither, bot both, between. Isn’t there some way to honor that?

 

Jul 262011
 

DavidI’m interviewing David. He has extremely long wavy hair pulled back into a ponytail, suspenders, a wild beard, and a wicked gleam as he tells me with some glee about a recent hospital stay. He has some serious health problems that have resulted in a number of surgeries, but that’s not what makes him happy. His eyes light up and his gestures get more grandiose as he says, “My ego gets bigger every day because here I am in nothing but a gown and there are nurses who don’t know.”  He grins and repeats what the nurses said, “Oh my God! I thought you were a guy. I see a guy.” David was born into a female body, but even after years of being a man, the thrill of medical staff not knowing feels good – like he’s arrived at the destination he longed for his whole life.

David was born into a family with 3 much older siblings, an alcoholic and abusive dad, and a fairly supportive mom. At 3 years old, his mom caught him in a pissing contest with a neighbor boy and tried to explain why little girls can’t do that. David got stubborn and shouted, “I’m going to grow up to be a boy! I just don’t have everything yet.” Growing up to be a boy became a certainty, but the road there was bumpy.

At a very young age, David was traumatized by witnessing death and destruction. He still deals with PTSD from the event. At around 4 years old, he had a relationship with a respected man in the community who treated him like the boy he knew he was, but also molested him. At 6, his school called in a psychiatrist because he insisted that he was a boy. They diagnosed him with gender dysphoria. At age 6. He said, “All I want is to be male.” The school psychiatrist told him that he could have a sex change when he was older and he was suddenly armed with that knowledge. He spent as much time as possible living as a boy.

DavidI’m not surprised to find out that David is very gifted. At 13 he was ranked the top IQ for his age in California and 4th in the nation. He was invited to attend a special program at UCLA for gifted students. He started taking some classes at 13, and then went full-time at 15. He had been having problems fitting in at a school in a rural area. He comments, “Obviously, telling everyone I was going to have a sex change was not helping.” The students attending the gifted program at college were no problem though. David says, “Many of them thought I was a boy or knew I was going to become one and being gifted, they just didn’t frickin’ care. They were socially inept – we were all socially inept anyway. What was weird about that?”

In college, David met the woman who would become his wife. He tells me, “I felt that I was gay, that men were my thing, but I really loved her and that was very genuine. I really liked being the husband to the wife. That was very attractive to me.” They were together for 12 years, during which time David wrote for a living and was a foster father, but his wife suffered from mental health disorders and eventually became abusive.

David is very clearly monogamous by nature. He’s been with his current partner, Jim, for 13 years now. They’re very good together, finishing each other’s stories and fondly scolding each other. Jim spends a fair amount of time grooming David. But I’ll tell Jim’s story later. For now, David explains to me that he is gay, not because he doesn’t like women, but because he likes strong women who can kick his ass, and the PTSD makes it hard to have a relationship with such a woman.

Going back to his transition, at 16 he decided that making changes was better than committing suicide. He moved to Washington state as soon as possible and started with a clever plan to change his name and gender. Basically, he slipped through the cracks, something that would not work now. He also started going through the steps to transition. The process was different before 2000 than it is now, but similar. David jokes that the first year on testosterone all you do is eat, sleep, and have sex. T changes your voice, body hair, and things like hips and belly, but not aggression like some people think. For David, it was the first time in his life that he felt like himself. His body is healthier with testosterone.

DavidI ask about body modifications. He says that he would have a mastectomy “in a heartbeat” if he had the ways and means, but FtM genital surgery is, “literally, just not an option for me. I don’t want them messing with my anatomy.” What little research I’ve done on the internet makes me agree with him. It’s difficult to construct a penis. Harder to make sure that urination is possible. Harder yet to make sure that sex is still pleasurable. Metoidioplasty seems like the best of the surgical options from my limited browsing because it leaves the urethra and clitoris in place, but it’s no towering manhood – just 4-10 cm long. Still, it beats what David told me about shoving metal rods into your penis to make it hard. (I’m going to stop making jokes about duct tape and popsicle sticks to bolster a flagging erection.) And as David says, his sex life is healthy with toys and strap-ons, and no one has ever called him out for sitting to pee in a men’s room.

David doesn’t pack (wear a fake cock and balls) any more and no one has seemed to notice. He gets all excited again when he tells me this. Then he goes on to explain to me the traditional way to make your own packer: fill the tips of two condoms with rice, fill a sock with some rice, cut off the sock and roll it, wrap some of the extra sock around, put a nylon over the whole thing for the right feel, safety pin into your underwear. David says that it passes the “feely test.” I’m now fascinated by packing.

Still, I’m horrified by some of the abuse and discrimination David talks about almost casually. Like being hospitalized after a motorcycle accident when he was 23 and having the staff refer to him as “it” because they didn’t know what to do. David now talks with the staff when he is in the ER or going in for surgery. He feels that helping to educate the nurses will make them more compassionate with the next transgender patient they care for. But he also told me about being beaten and raped in a bar for being trans and/or gay and no one doing anything. He seems like he’s come to peace with it, but it makes me angry that no one in the bar did anything to stop it. Even our own government sees transgendered people as a potential threat to security. David tells me that it is not currently possible to get a US passport if you are transgendered.

DavidFor all of David’s hardships, he is buoyant. He’s clearly very much in love and enjoys working with animals. He is so happy to be male. Most people don’t find that kind of joy in their gender. David has just always known and has gone after what he needed. He told me at the beginning of the interview that he decided at age three that he would grow up to be a boy. Does he feel totally that he is there? He says, “You know, I do now, and that only really in the past 5 years. Mostly showing my bits to people and having them go, Aaaaaaaugh! They didn’t know I was transgendered. I just got a huge ego hit.”

What would David say to young people who want to transition? “Look around first. Experiment, make sure that’s what you want, not what other people say. That’s bullshit. Don’t listen to that. Try it for one year, really go for it. Seek the right help. Get it done. It’s not going to hurt you. If you find out in a year, ‘Oh, I don’t like this at all,’ you know, what’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you grow some hair or you lose some hair, or you get softer or harder, but even hormone therapy isn’t irreversible. It’s just an alteration like a tattoo or a piercing. Do it.”

Jul 252011
 

ColleenColleen sits across from me in a vinyl booth in a funky burrito restaurant. She is a self proclaimed hippy chick, with red hair and a multitude of freckles. She confesses that she put on makeup special for today and I’m amused because I did too. We’re also both vegetarians, both tattooed, both love sex, and both deeply spiritual. More than that, we each have 5 children. What’s different? Well, Colleen is currently a college student and I am not. Oh, and Colleen was born into a male body.

When I asked her about her gender, Colleen said, “I’m just a girl… I’m female.” While she says that binary gender (boy OR girl) is “bullshit,” she also tells me that she knew at 3 years old that she was a girl. Unfortunately, Colleen “come(s) from a place where they will beat you and hang you on the fence to die if you’re different.” So Colleen set out to do all of the really masculine things to disguise herself. She got married right out of high school, rode bulls, had guns, went big game hunting, fishing, had children, and was in the Army for 20 years.

Then a few years ago, after struggles with alcoholism and some gender experimentation and cross-dressing, Colleen realized that she couldn’t pretend to be a boy anymore. Her girlfriend at that time decided she couldn’t deal with losing her boyfriend like that, so they split. Colleen points out, “gender and sexuality are so not the same thing.” Because Colleen was attracted to women before her transition, she still is (although there’s that one boy). She’s a lesbian into natural hippy chicks. I flashed her my armpits.

But what does a gender transition look like, I want to know. Colleen introduced me to the “Standards of Care” – the directives that most of the medical community follow for transition from one gender to the other. Here is how Colleen explained it to me:

  1. A diagnosis of “Gender Dysphoria,” meaning that the birth gender doesn’t fit the person’s feeling of gender
  2. Intensive therapy with someone who specializes in gender issues
  3. Spend at least 1 year living as the gender you are becoming (RLE, or real life experience)
  4. Get a letter from your therapist recommending medical treatment
  5. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  6. Gender reassignment surgery

ColleenColleen has progressed through the first 5 steps. Surgery is problematic for a few reasons, but mostly it’s extremely expensive and not widely available. This does mean that Colleen still has a penis and as she says, “I use my cock cuz I have one.” I was kind of surprised to discover that most trans folk still have original plumbing because I would not have guessed from outward appearances. Gender really is about what’s inside and how you present to the world.

For Colleen, taking hormone has been a blessing. She finds herself in better health than she has ever been in before, as though the her body now has the right chemical balance for the first time. Hormones have also started her breasts growing. She jokes that looking at them will make them grow. Later, I had her flash me in the restroom. The rest of the effects of hormones are similar to going through puberty. Colleen says, “I love what is happening to my body now.” She even likes the monthly hormonal cycles and bemoans not cramping or bleeding. (But she hates that she still has to shave facial hair – sometimes twice a day. Removing facial hair is a cosmetic change.)

Hormones have even changed Colleen’s sexual turn ons, although she says it’s, “not just the hormones, it’s the headspace. Sex depends on what’s going on emotionally.”  and “sex is very emotional for me.” She’s experimenting with what is successful sexually now. She reports that it works about 90% of the time. I’m still kind of hung up on the chicks with dicks phenomenon, but then Colleen says, “I have never been really genitally focused sexually. I mean obviously, that’s where a lot happens (but) my whole body is an erogenous zone.” Oh yeah, that’s how I feel too.

So I want to know how Colleen’s family is responding to her transition. She has two small daughters who are 4 and 6 years old. How do you tell small children that Daddy is now Mommy? Well, in typical small child fashion, they work it out for themselves. Colleen is open to her children’s preferences as far as a title, but admits that it’s awkward to be called Daddy in the Ladies Room. The girls have taken to calling her DaddyMommy and more and more often just Mommy as they perceive that it makes her happy. They are dealing with the changes with great equanimity.

Not so Colleen’s father. She says, “My dad is John Wayne.” He believes that men don’t express emotion. He’s deeply in denial and has gone to great lengths to avoid talking about Colleen’s transition. About a year and a half ago, Colleen sent her dad a letter explaining what was going on. After 2 months without a response, she started to fear that she was losing her dad. She had a bit of a breakdown, but finally called her father. They spoke for 45 minutes about cheerful things they had in common, but nothing real. Finally Colleen asked about the letter, which he admitted he had read but believed Colleen had “crawled back into the bottle or was on something.” At this point Colleen had been sober for about about a year and was really angered by his response. She said, “Fuck you! I was sober then and I’m sober now. And this isn’t changing. This is for real.” He got off the phone pretty quick, but they can still talk as long as Colleen doesn’t mention anything about the sex-change. It’s a tricky situation to be in.

ColleenThe only other discrimination Colleen has run into was getting beaten up during Gay Pride, after leaving a gay bar. As she points out, someone was going to get beaten, it might as well have been her. Still, it’s a shitty situation that would leave anyone feeling bad and she speaks of it with more calm than I could muster.

She tells me that it’s important to “be proud of your true self” and explains that she just has a birth defect – she should have been born female and wasn’t. I think she’s very brave and amazing. She has a charming way of maintaining a steely spine while looking at the positives in life. I want to help other people like her. I ask what she would tell people who are considering a transition. She says, “Fucking go for it because you have a chance to be happy for the first time. But! Get a hold of your issues and work on them. A sad boy will be a sad woman.”

Jul 242011
 

InterviewingThis week I am doing a series of posts about gender. Gender fascinates me: while it seems simple and binary on the surface (either you’re a boy OR you’re a girl), it’s really so much more complex. This series is the result of my intense curiosity about gender nuances that I have sensed but never experienced myself.

My own experience with gender is that I was born female. I never wanted to be male because I had a poor opinion of men. I never even went through a phase of pretending to be a boy like lots of girls do. As an adult, I came to respect men as equal to women. I wanted a partner who would meet me in the fullness of their gender, male or female. I wanted a counterpart. I started to fantasize about wearing men’s clothing in sexy ways. In recent years, I have experienced being male on an energetic level through strap-on play. While fucking Harold in the ass, I have felt my maleness. I have a cock. I can even feel myself ejaculating into Harold’s cunt. I can feel his breasts bounce. I do, in fact, have a strong male side.

I’m still at a loss to describe my gender, though. I’m basically happy being female, especially if I can let the male side out to play occasionally. Joel calls my gender “futch” for being both femme and butch and that works pretty well, but I associate the terms femme and butch with being a lesbian, which I am not. So I say that I am “gender Playing with gender and sexqueer.” I am many things. My gender boundaries are fuzzy. And what I am learning is that gender is not clear-cut for many people. Perhaps gender is more of a continuum than binary.

For some people, the outward physical manifestation of gender at birth doesn’t fit the internal knowledge of gender and they struggle for years to find a comfortable balance. Many of these people decide to change from one gender to another, becoming transgendered.

Surprisingly frequently, babies are born with such “noticeably atypical genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in” – about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births according to the Intersex Society of North America. More people will discover abnormalities later in life, making the intersex condition common enough that you probably know someone who was born with a mix of genitalia from the gender spectrum. These babies are often assigned a female gender without waiting to see how the individual feels.

Joey the boxerMaking changes to the physical body to reflect an inner sense of gender is not a good answer for everyone. Not everyone feels the need to choose between boy and girl. Some people have found other ways of expressing their gender as multifaceted. Examples are drag queens and butch lesbians and all manner of places in between.

I’ve been asking questions about gender presentation, hoping that my genuine curiosity outweighs any unintentional insensitivity. I’ve interviewed five people who each have a unique perspective on gender: Colleen, David, Jim, Kyle, and Aleksa. You can read about them over the next week. And in the end, I’ve taken what I learned and put it into practice. At the end of the series, read about me getting in touch with my inner boy and taking him out in public. Yep, Evoë packs!