Family skeletons

My mom and I have been talking again after about two years of almost complete silence. We’ve been writing letters back and forth, which I think I’ve mentioned. I got a letter from her a few weeks ago saying things I really wanted and needed to hear from her, so our communication has been more open since then. I’m still a little wary, but it’s really good to be honest for the first time maybe ever.

Yesterday I got a letter from her that shocked me. Not the entire thing, but just one part of it. She told me that when he was twelve, my father had a severe stroke.

My father was an emotionally abusive, manipulative, pathological liar. I strongly suspect he had Borderline Personality Disorder (so does my mother) and I’m pretty sure he was also a (literal) psychopath. I say this mostly dispassionately. I suspected his mental illness was at least partly organic (he was a very premature baby in the 1950s; I’m surprised he even survived) and partly environmental. I knew he had a bad childhood, growing up in the middle of a household of eight siblings (out of 18 total) with a father who was also physically and emotionally abusive. I knew he was the black sheep, not that any of the siblings have ever really liked each other. I knew he got picked on by my grandfather.

Then my mother told me that after the stroke, he had to learn to walk and talk again, and all throughout his recovery, his siblings and his own parents tormented him, made fun of him, made life generally difficult for him. There was one story–I vaguely remember this being told, but it was told as a family joke–that the family was on a roadtrip and made a pit stop. He went to the bathroom, and they all decided it would be funny to leave him. When he came out, they were all gone. This was their son and brother who was terribly ill. This was their cruelty.

It is no goddamn wonder that he grew up with a borderline personality.

He abused us, my siblings and me. He was especially awful to my oldest brother. I’ll carry the emotional wounds from his neglect and his emotional barbs and his harshness until I die. But I am filled with sorrow when I think about a poor kid thinking he had been left by the family who hated him for no good reason. It explains so much about my life and the things I witnessed growing up. It explains why we moved halfway across the country away from the whole family. It explains the screaming matches that went on for hours after my grandfather’s funeral and around our visits before my grandmother’s death. It explains why my aunts and uncles on that side made occasional half-assed efforts to contact me and my brother but never talked much to my parents. Nobody ever talked about this, of course.

 

It also makes my father’s funeral into even more of a circus of absurdity than it already was. I need to write that story just so you can see the brand of crazy I came from. Because they are fucked up people.

I’m not sure how to process this. I still think forgiveness, at least of the type most people encourage, is bullshit that’s made as pre-packaged advice to get someone to shut the fuck up about their pain and get over it already. But since he died, I’ve sought to at least understand him better. I wanted to know what made him the way he was, and what he would have been like if he hadn’t been so patently fucked up. It adds another layer to think that organic brain injury may have had way more to do with his behavior than I had ever thought. It doesn’t excuse anything he did to us, his children, or my mother, his partner, or anybody else he manipulated or abused, but it explains a lot. And it is so, so sad.

Top surgery – one (calendar) month after

This last week (or so) has been a significant improvement over the last few. Despite having a busy week with faculty development ahead of school starting on Monday, I got through only a little more exhausted than I normally would be. The scabs are almost all gone, but a lot of the sensitivity and skin tightness remains. My range of motion is also sub-optimal. My GP agreed that physical therapy would help, so I’ll be starting that relatively soon. I know it will go away with time, but I’m impatient and I would like to be able to reach things on the top shelf without doing an awkward hop. I’m not short, but I feel like I have T-rex arms.

The spikes of nerve pain are less frequent, but the random itching is still there and is even more distracting than the pain. At the end of the day, I still have some swelling, especially under my arms, and some discomfort around the scars. When looking at my chest the other day, I was dismayed to find that although previously my left breast was noticeably larger, the right side of my chest was now larger.

…and then I realized I’m right-handed. The chest incisions followed my pec muscles exactly, so OF COURSE my right side looks bigger. Derp. I guess I’ll need to work my left side a little more as I get back into weight bearing exercise.

breathren, dost thou even hoist?

Anyway, so here’s an update picture.

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See? Scabs are almost gone, except a little on the nipple grafts, which I’m trying not to mess with too much. That dark spot on my right arm is what remains of an epic bruise from surgery. There’s a little more redness around my ribs on the same side from the liposuction that’s almost gone, too.

Today I bought a bunch of new clothes. It was a huge surprise to be buying smalls (in men’s) as opposed to a large or extra large in women’s to accommodate tits. I spent an obscene amount of money on clothes, but it was something I’ve been needing to do for a long time, and I’m actually happy to put clothes on my body now, which is an entirely new experience.

That’s it for now. I have some thoughts percolating about other issues, but that will have to wait until my head isn’t crammed full of “holy fuck school starts on Monday and my shit isn’t ready” thoughts.

Top surgery – three weeks after

Mostly a physical update today. For those of you wondering, I’ll be getting back to Gillian Key within the next day or so.

Slowly, my mood is improving. Still not feeling happy awesome, but I’m less actively sad, which I’ll take. I’m trying to shift my sleep schedule a little earlier than it has been, since school/work starts on the 22nd, and next week I have some faculty stuff. So far it’s been kind of a struggle, and my body is resisting my attempts at regulating when it rests and how long. Normally, my sleep schedule isn’t much of a problem, but it’s been fucked since surgery. 

My range of motion has improved substantially since last week, and the bruising is a lot better as well. The scabs are slowly starting to feel not so stiff. The area between my collarbone and my incisions is still hypersensitive, though. Wearing a shirt stings sometimes and wearing a seatbelt feels like being punched repeatedly in the chest. I’m starting to realize what a difference all that boob fat made to the sensations I have in my chest. There’s nothing to pad, say, something bumping into my chest when I’m carrying it or a cat walking on my chest. I keep wondering if my chest is swollen, and then I realize I’m probably just feeling muscles I haven’t felt since I started growing tits at eleven or twelve.

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This one in particular doesn’t walk so much as he stomps like a runway model.

I’ve also discovered I can’t wear most of my favorite t-shirts anymore, because they’re cut for people with tits and they hang on me weird now. Since I tend to wear v-neck, the neck ends up being very low, like low enough to show the incisions if I’m leaning forward. Looking forward to buying new clothes, though now I’m not sure how to dress my flat chest and big ass.

Here’s where TMI begins.

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Why using the bathroom is such a big fucking deal for a trans person

I’m still getting misgendered a lot. I didn’t expect surgery to be a panacea, of course, but it’s a little discouraging that for whatever reason, I’m still being pegged as female. It might be my voice, but I think I at least present androgynous otherwise. Maybe it’s that people default to female when they see someone whose gender isn’t clear, I don’t know. Intellectual brain wants to know.

The misgendering is part of the reason why using the bathroom is a trial. If people see you walk into a bathroom, you gender yourself. People will react to you based on what bathroom they saw you in because the bathroom had labeled you. On the other side, if you don’t match the gender people think you are, using the bathroom according to your identified gender can be dangerous. Yes, like physically dangerous. The threat, or at least possibility, of violence makes turning a very normal, regular thing into a cause for stress and concern every time there’s no gender neutral bathroom nearby.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, most people won’t pay attention.” Maybe, but all it takes to make a bathroom life hell is one person to harass or assault you. It’s less about the (prospective) reality and more about how someone shouldn’t be afraid to use the fucking bathroom. And as long as transphobia exists, that fear will exist. For a trans person or gender non-conforming person, no space that is so strictly gendered will ever feel safe. I can’t overstate this.

It’s not just feeling safe, either. It’s feeling comfortable. Using a bathroom, at least in the West, comes with it an expectation of privacy, and that privacy is ingrained in us from the time we’re very young. If I feel comfortable and private anywhere, it ought to be when I’m pissing. But when I walk into a crowded women’s bathroom and I know that means they’re labeling me female, or when I walk into the men’s bathroom and I hope desperately they don’t look too closely at me, I am sure not comfortable.

Others have written extensively about how governments have policed who uses which bathroom, the kerfuffle conservatives make over trans people using the bathroom, and the social perceptions around trans people and bathrooms. I could write a treatise on how gendered bathrooms are fucked up in the first place for many reasons and how they help construct a false sanctity of gender roles and gender separation.

Radical feminists, even those who don’t think of themselves as trans-exclusionary, sometimes say that allowing “men” (trans women) into women’s bathrooms would make women feel unsafe because “women get sexually assaulted in bathrooms.” Someone actually said this to my face once. There are a thousand different ways this is intensely fucked up. But you know, I get that fear, because those of us who were socialized as women were taught to fear men, consciously or unconsciously, and we were especially taught to fear violation by men. If I’m being completely honest, it’s part of the reason the idea of using the men’s bathroom scares the shit out of me. It’s really, really hard to shed that ingrained anxiety about a) crossing constructed gender lines and b) entering a space that is filled with the people you were taught to fear.

If you’re a cis man, imagine entering a bathroom filled with lions. More likely than not, the lions won’t give a shit that you’re there as long as you have a mane, as long as they don’t look too closely. The lion social contract to ignore questionable events in a private space might prevent them from saying anything anyway. But they’re still goddamn lions. You were brought up thinking of lions as being ready and willing to do you harm. If given half the chance, they’ll eat the face right off your head. You could make the “not all lions” argument, and you could argue that once you put on a mane and start getting big and hairy, nobody will know you weren’t born a lion. But that doesn’t remove the ingrained fear that something large with pointy teeth could hurt you. It’s not an exact analogy, but it’s close.

I hate that Western societies have constructed gendered spaces that are then sanctified, thereby putting those of us who blur or cross gender lines in danger for violating that sanctity. I hate that walking into one door or the other when I need to pee determines how strangers will label me. I hate that being socialized as female means being afraid of people who were socialized as male. I hate that I have to think this hard about using the fucking bathroom.

Top surgery – two weeks after

I’m not doing a very good job being up-to-date about my posts. My mood has been pretty shit in the past week. I originally started this post on Wednesday on my iPad, but for whatever reason the WordPress app doesn’t let me save a draft, so the post published prematurely instead. I decided to separate this post from the commentary post because they’re on two separate topics.

I was going to post Wednesday and say my pain is almost completely gone, but that’s not true today. I drove two hours across the mountains to Ellensburg Wednesday for a faculty seminar thing, and now I hurt.

TMI time. My RL friends might want to stop reading unless you want to know way more than you wanted to about my non-tits.

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Top surgery – 3 weeks prior

I mentioned parents in my last trans-related post. One question I always get except from the rare person who also has a fucked-up family is, “How is your family taking it?”

And my answer is, “Well…they’re not.”

My crazy abusive father is dead. Saturday is the third anniversary of his death. In order to explain what that means, I’ll give some background:

My parents split up when I was sixteen. They waffled back and forth about whether they’d get back together for a couple of years. They finally did when we discovered he’d been faking cancer for a year. In 2003 or 2004, he disappeared. I heard neither hide nor hair of him for seven years.

Now you have to understand that this man was the boogeyman to me. I grew up afraid of him, afraid of his emotional manipulation and abuse. I lived in fear that he’d find me. Every once in a while, he’d send me a letter via my mother, begging my forgiveness. I was thankfully grown up enough to recognize it for the manipulative ploy it was. I always wondered what I would do if I heard from him again.

Then, toward the end of July in 2011 six or seven days before I was scheduled to move to Seattle, my older brother called me and told me our father had turned up again, and he was dying. Of cancer. I had to ask if he was fucking joking. Apparently, he was not.

I drove from Minnesota to the hospice center in Kansas to confront him. That was a bizarre, absurd trip that I’ll get to sometime. I went with Tiger and my best friend at the time. I yelled at him and told him I hated him and how he’d manage to ruin so many parts of my life. I told him he’d never done anything for me. All the while I was watching his face and started to feel guilt creeping in. I was yelling at a dying man.

Then he said, “What did you ever do for me?”

No more guilt.

I managed not to spit on him and walked out with a free conscience. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I don’t regret doing it. I don’t regret what I said. I’m really, really glad he’s dead. But even so, this time of year is hard. The day after we got back to Minnesota, I finished packing and we left again bound for Seattle. I arrived on the first of August; he died on the second. It was an indescribably stressful time, and that has left its mark on me. I guess that’s why I’ve been thinking so much about parents lately.

What would he have thought of me now? I don’t know. I don’t know what he really, honestly thought of me when I was still alive. It’s an uncomfortable thing to be at least partially masculine identified but have no masculine role model. My brothers decided to identify with him after he died, and I didn’t. I want no part in that shit.

So where does that leave me? With my mother, I suppose, though that relationship is just as fucked up in its own way.

My mother rediscovered Jesus some years back and is extremely sheltered. We didn’t speak for almost two years, in part for this reason, but about a month and a half ago, as surgery drew nearer, I decided I wanted to contact her. I knew the risk that I would regret it immediately (which is kind of true), but I just felt like I needed to finally come out to her. I didn’t really have anything to lose. I wrote her a letter.

Her response was no more and no less than expected. “I’m sad you’re turning into a different person, this isn’t God’s plan for you,” blah blah. It was still hurtful, though, and I had to take a step back and figure out how to respond to that. She literally did not even know what transgender was until I told her a few years ago in a different context. How the fuck does she think she can pass judgment on something she knows absolutely nothing about? I had read plenty of parent rhetoric from other trans folks, but somehow, naively never expected it from my own mother.

My mother and I have a lot of issues, primarily having to do with my father, and I’m sure the coming-out process is going to bring every single one of those up. Maybe it was a boneheaded move to kick off the process right before surgery; her next letter is apparently in the mail, and I’m considering not reading it until after surgery. I really don’t want to go into it feeling insecure and negative. This is the one thing in my life I haven’t once had second thoughts about. I’ve second-guessed life choices, career moves, life moves, relationships, my own creative work, posting this damn blog. I’m an anxious person, so I question everything. But I have never wondered whether surgery was the right way to go. I don’t need her doing it for me.

Yet somehow I think it was the right time. For one thing, I was able to be realistic about what to expect. I knew I could handle whatever came, even if it would be hard. I am in a much better place than I was two years ago regarding my own identity and mental state. I have wonderful, wonderful friends and a wonderful partner who have gone out of their way to support and encourage me. I don’t need her support.

But I do. She’s my mother.

My parents failed me my entire life. In some ways, this goes especially for my mother. I don’t think I’m being melodramatic. My parents weren’t violent drug addicts, nobody ever spent time in prison, there was no physical abuse, but our household was filled with quiet desperation and anxiety. My father was emotionally abusive and my mother did nothing to stop him. I grew up learning to take care of myself (or not) in every way. But I never stopped wanting my parents to just fucking get it right for once. Get your shit together and be my parent when I really could use one.

You’d think I would stop wishing for that eventually.

 

Top surgery – one month prior

I originally meant this blog to be sort of a live blog of my transition plus some writing/academic stuff thrown in, and then Gillian took it over. You’ll probably see some of all of those things sprinkled in with hatereads from here on out.

In less than a month, I’ll be having top surgery, which is the first major step in my transition. While this is a positive step toward reducing my body dysphoria, it’s a huge step, a huge physical change, and it brings up a lot of anxious thoughts. As I’m already an anxious person, they’ve been weighing extra heavy on me lately. I don’t say the following to complain or as a bid for comfort or attention, just to articulate my thoughts and maybe let someone else know that they’re not the only person to ever have them.

I’ve had surgery before–an appendectomy in 2005–and I was completely alone through most of the process. I was 19, away at school, and it was emergency surgery. My recovery was mostly alone, too. Now is completely different. I have Tiger, I have lots of friends and support. What I don’t have are parents, which is a different post altogether, but on the whole, I’m in a much better place in just about every sense. This surgery is my choice. I’m medicated. I’m more mature. But, unfortunately, more scared than before.

Part of it is that my appendectomy happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to be anything other than violently ill before I had surgery. I’ve had several months to dwell on this. The bigger part, of course, is the fact that not only is this a much bigger surgery, it signals a huge change in my life, and I have a lot of worries about it.

How long will it take me to recover? How out of it will I be? I got shit to do before my school year starts in September.

What if I have a medical emergency after surgery? Will my insurance pay for it even though they don’t pay for trans-related care?

I really really hate narcotic painkillers. Will I have to dope myself up to deal with the pain?

Will the anesthesia fuck with my mood disorder?

Will I look weird without tits?

Will people react to me differently? Even if they say they won’t, will they do it anyway? Could they even help it?

Will my actual physical transition interfere with my getting tenure at my job? Most of my coworkers know I’m trans, but thus far I haven’t challenged them with any physical changes.

Should I do a living will, just in case?

I’ll be completely broke for a month just after surgery. What if I didn’t plan well enough and I can’t afford to pay bills or get necessary medications?

How will this change my view of myself? I know I can expect some highs and lows, but what if it fucks me up? I’ve worked so hard over the past few years to get better. What if this sets me back?

Anxiety has steadily become less a problem in my life in the past year, and you can’t even know what a blessing that has been unless you’ve suffered from anxiety for a long period of time. Over the past several days, though, since I discovered it’s less than a month until surgery, it’s been with me almost constantly. Christ, is this the way it’s going to be for the next 27 days? I’ve got a book to finish editing, an article to write for publication, a class to finish teaching. I can’t be constantly crippled with anxiety so all I can manage while I’m home is sitting around watching my Sims make out with each other.

What will my mother say?

Ugh.

Part of me can’t get the next 27 days over with fast enough. Part of me is panicked because that would be 27 fewer coherent days to get responsible shit done. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be torn between five things I need to do and end up doing none of them.