Transition: Expensive but Worth It

•12 August 2013 • 17 Comments

I thought it couldn’t be done, but it has: I’m a man. All it took was time, money, effort, and a willingness to believe.

It’s been a little over two years since I went on testosterone, and a year since I had chest surgery. Next month, I have a court hearing to process my legal name and gender change. I’ve grown a beard and body hair (and a lot of frankly unnecessary upper arm and shoulder hair); my voice has settled at a low tenor; my hairline has receded to a widow’s peak (and is starting to thin a little, alas); and I’m consistently read as male both in person and on the phone. The only people who still call me “she” are the ones who’ve known me so long they just can’t seem to shake the habit.

On August 1, 2012, I had double incision top surgery with Dr. Brownstein in San Francisco. He retired in December 2012, so I was one of his end-of-career patients. You could tell he was so over being a doctor and ready to be done, but he still did a great job. I had a few minor complications having to do with my asthma, so I stayed in the hospital overnight, but overall it wasn’t bad. The drains were gross, my housemate DK was a champ, and the scars are fine with me.

Doing breathing exercise post-surgery

Doing breathing exercise post-surgery

I got an excellent result, cosmetically. My new endocrinologist said, when he met me, “Wow, you have a great chest. A lot of guys with your BMI have big moobs, but you’re completely flat.” I have no sensation in my nipples, and I think they’re slightly not in the right place, but that’s a small price to pay for having a completely male chest. Actually, my body thinks my nipples are down and to the sides of where they actually are, I suspect because the ends of the nerves that used to connect them are there. (One thing I’m less happy about: my belly really sticks out a lot now. I had no idea I was this fat until my chest was flat.)

It’s great having a flat chest. I can look at myself in the mirror bare-chested and it feels good. I like how shirts fit. I’m done with binders forever. I even stand up straighter. In many ways, I take it for granted now. I do miss the money, though. Between doctor and hospital fees, it ended up costing me around $15,000: something insurance wouldn’t cover.

(For  a friend who will be having his top surgery later this year, things are much brighter economically. California passed a law this year that makes it illegal for medical insurance to exclude coverage based on gender identity or expression. That means his surgery will be covered, giving him an out of pocket of about $250. Sweet, right? Alas, even if I’d waited, I wouldn’t have been covered, though: since I get my health insurance through Medicare (being disabled), the law wouldn’t apply to me. Still, it’s a tremendous win for Trans* rights. And it means people who don’t have a lot of savings but do have decent insurance, can get gender reassignment surgery! At least in California.)

So speaking of economics and hassle: now the name and gender change.

I’ve had to fly a few times over the last year, and rent cars in Texas and Louisiana. And a few bars have carded me. Let me tell you, handing over an ID (both passport and drivers license) with a very female name, showing a photo of a long-haired person, with the F box ticked for sex, and claiming it’s your bearded, short-haired, clearly male self, is a little nerve wracking. Although actually, I got fairly little flak for it, all things considered.. The Texas rental car person was the most suspicious. Most people either just looked at the ID, looked at me, and then accepted it, or accepted it when I said, “I’m transgender.” I think they decided that no one would be audacious enough to hand over an ID that seemed that unlike them unless they were, in fact, the person they claimed to be.

Texas challenged me for more details, but she backed down when I offered to go with her to a back room and show her proof of my birth sex. I would have, too, but I’m glad she didn’t call my bluff.

Anyway, soon that will all be in the past. I’ve filed the petition with the San Mateo Superior Court for a change of name and gender, and I have a court date: September 17 at 9:00 AM! On that day, I will become, legally, a man named Zachary Andrew. Then I just have to do a thousand and one things to get the name change reflected everywhere, including (ulp) talking to my ex-husband and finalizing some stuff on formerly shared retirement accounts.

Here’s what it takes to change your name and gender:

To Get a Court Order for Name and Gender Change in California

  1. Fill out a bunch of forms
  2. Provide a letter from a doctor stating that you have had appropriate medical treatment to change your sex
  3. File a court petition, pay $465, and get a hearing date
  4. Publish the order to show cause in a local newspaper for four weeks. (Because my mortgage holder and credit card issuers are totally reading the Pacifica Tribune to find out who might be changing their names to evade their debts.)
  5. Go to your court hearing
  6. Get certified copies of the Order of Name and Gender Change ($25.50 each)

Then, in this order:

  1. Change Social Security name and gender (Certified Order of Name Change, Letter from Physician, Application)
  2. Change Driver’s License name and gender (Certified Order of Name Change, Updated Social Security, Letter from Physician, Application, $26)
  3. Update Car registration (Title with new name typed above old name, Form for name change, Certified Order of Name Change)
  4. Get New Passport (Certified Order of Name Change, Letter from Physician, Original Passport, Photograph, Application, $140)
  5. Change name on Bank accounts (Certified Order of Name Change, Updated Social Security, New ID)
  6. Get new checks printed, and order new credit cards
  7. Change name on Stock and Retirement accounts (Certified Order of Name Change, Updated Social Security, New ID)
  8. Update Title on House (still figuring out what to do for that)
  9. Update name on Car and House Insurance
  10. Change name on Mortgage account
  11. Change name on Utility and other bills

And there are probably things I’m forgetting.

Broken down, just the bureaucracy costs are:

Court Filing 465
Newspaper Ad 170
Certified copies x3 76.5
DMV 26
Passport photo 12
Passport 140
New checks 30
Mailing costs 25
Total $944.5

Yikes, right? But in the end, it’s worth it. So, so worth it. I feel comfortable in my own skin at long last. I feel like myself. I really am, at last, that little girl who grew up to be a good man.

Nezu at 4 years old

Nezu at 4 years old

Nezu today

Nezu today

•1 February 2013 • 2 Comments

Dear readers,

Before I was ever a writer and editor, I was, and continue to be, a theatre professional. Specifically a director and stage manager. For the last month I’ve been in Los Angeles to direct a workshop production of a new dramatic musical. I’ve been immensely privileged to work on all three of Wayne Self’s original musicals, including this latest work, Upstairs, about the 1973 arson fire at the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans. It’s rare in musical theatre to be able to address such weighty themes; the Up Stairs Lounge fire is as much a part of the LGBTQ rights story as Stonewall, Harvey Milk, the AIDS Quilt, and Prop 8. Itis a story that needs to be told, and it needs to be remembered.

Today I am asking for three things:

1. Donate to the Upstairs Kickstarter. We need to raise $10,000 by February 17, or we get none of the money pledged so far. Every little bit helps, even just a dollar or two. 

2. If you will be in the San Francisco Bay Area 2/12-2/14, come see one of the three workshop performances of Upstairs.

3. If you know anyone who might be interested in helping us make the New Orleans 40th anniversary performance and an L.A. production a reality this summer, pass along the Upstairs website and Kickstarter information to them. Signal Boost this everywhere you can.

What’s this about?

Upstairs tells the long-forgotten story of a tragic arson fire in a gay bar in New Orleans in 1973. Thirty-two people, many of them members of the then-fledgling New Orleans Metropolitan Community Church, which had been meeting at the Up Stairs Lounge, were killed, in what remains to this day the single deadliest crime against an LGBT population in US history. At the time, the story was almost completely ignored by the news media. Though a suspect was identified, no arrest was ever made.

Wayne’s play is an elegant, haunting tale of damnation and salvation, telling the stories of several of the victims of the fire. The characters  include Buddy (based on the real Buddy Rasmussen), a bartender who led 35 people to safety, and Buddy’s partner Adam. Mitch, the associate pastor of the NOLA MCC, and his partner Horace. Drag performer Marcy and her dresser Reginald. And Agneau, a tormented and self-hating gay man. It is a morality play with a twist, told with sensitivity and dark humor, with a catchy and modern jazz and blues influenced score.

The cast is amazing: professional, insightful, and just tremendously talented. This Q&A with some of the cast members will give you an idea of the caliber of people I am working with.

In two weeks we will be premiering this workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area. Performances are scheduled for 2/12 in San Mateo, 2/13 in Berkeley, and 2/14 in San Francisco, and tickets are still available.

We hope to bring an expanded production to New Orleans this summer, in time for the 40th anniversary of the fire, and to bring the show to Los Angeles for a two week run after that. But that will only happen if the workshop performances and our Kickstarter are a success.

As I said at the opening, here’s how you can help:

1. Donate to the Upstairs Kickstarter. We need to raise $10,000 by February 17, or we get none of the money pledged so far. Every little bit helps, even just a dollar or two. 

2. If you will be in the San Francisco Bay Area 2/12-2/14, come see one of the three workshop performances of Upstairs.

3. If you know anyone who might be interested in helping us make the New Orleans 40th anniversary performance and an L.A. production a reality this summer, pass along the Upstairs website and Kickstarter information to them. Signal Boost this everywhere you can.

Thank you so much for any support you can give.

Zach McCallum (aka Nezu)
Director, Upstairs

Owldolatrous Press: Nezu’s New “Job”

•20 November 2012 • 1 Comment

I’ve been devoting my time for the last several months to a new project: I’m Managing Editor and a contributing author at Owldolatrous Press, an LGBTQI-positive webzine. As editor I’m doing a lot of management and behind the scenes work, as well as copy-editing and some graphic design. And as a contributor, I’m writing, mostly from a trans* perspective.

Here are my articles to date, I’d be honored if you read them, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and responses. Feel free to leave me feedback here or on the Owldolatrous site, if you are so moved.

Transgender Narratives: Why We Lie
The media myth is that all transgender people share a common story, but the truth is much more complex and rich. Some of us didn’t know from birth, but the pressure to pretend we did is immense.

Tranarchy in Pacifica
Graffiti in the sleepy seaside town where Zach lives seems to indicate there’s more to Pacifica than meets the eye.

Wait, I’m Back in the Closet? Coming Out Transgender
By the time Zach started coming out as transgender, he’d been out as queer for so long he’d forgotten how scary the process was. He found the stakes were even higher this time, as he came out again to family, friends, and co-workers, and to a whole new set of people. This time he wasn’t just asking them to accept his queerness, he was asking them to change what they called him and how they interacted with him: to think of him in an entirely new way.

Taking on a Full Grown Bully
“If you want to live in a world where bullying doesn’t happen, it is your business to try to make it stop.” Zach’s long-held resolve never to stand idly by when someone is being bullied was tested when he and a friend intervened in a street altercation and found themselves the bullies’ new targets.

Nonpliments: How Not to Give a Trans* Person a Compliment
When is a compliment not a compliment? When it’s a nonpliment. Editor Zach McCallum dissects that unfortunate old standard, “You pass so well,” gives several examples of the nonpliment in disguise from his own experience, and offers a much better alternative. The most important thing to remember is that a true compliment never needs a qualifier. Here’s my favorite: “You look great!”

What’s Wrong With Transgender Day of Remembrance
November 20 is a day set aside to honor and remember transgender victims of hate crimes. The statistics are appalling, but what does it say about trans* people that the only day we have on the calendar as our own is a day of grief? Zach McCallum looks forward to a day when we celebrate our trans* siblings lives rather than mourn their deaths.

The Girl Who Was Secretly a Boy

•12 July 2012 • 9 Comments

This week I swallowed my financial anxieties, moved a big lump of money from savings to checking, and paid my final deposit to Dr. Brownstein. (I still have to pay about $3500 to the hospital and anesthesiologist, which I am not panicking about. Nope. Nosiree. Cool as a cucumber am I…) Tuesday I got my blood tests done, and today I went in for an EKG (I have a completely benign heart murmur, but they like to be careful about that sort of thing.) I’m avoiding ibuprofen and aspirin. In twenty-one days I’m having chest surgery.

It’s funny, though, it still seems a little unreal.

One of the awesome women I go to church with, Betsy, is a nurse at the surgery center that takes care of Brownstein’s patients (in fact, if you saw the Chaz Bono documentary, she was his nurse). She’s going to be my nurse, too, thank heavens, because Betsy is awesome. On Sunday she greeted me with “Hi, Zach! Are you excited?” And I stared at her blankly for a moment, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be excited about. The song the choir was doing for the offertory? The fact that it was just 4th of July? And then I remembered, and laughed, and said yes.

I am excited. I think. I’m certainly looking forward to being done with surgery, and I keep staring at myself in the mirror trying to imagine how I will look with a truly flat, male chest, no binder required. Will I look slimmer? Will my shirts fit better? Will I feel suddenly naked without the extra layer of undergarment? Will I have to start wearing undershirts just to feel fully dressed? Will I be able to brush my teeth in the morning with my shirt off and not cringe away from my reflection? Will I feel more like I really am just a guy?

I’m a little apprehensive about the surgery itself. For one thing, it’s going to hurt, and while I’m sure I’ll survive, I’m not the kind of guy that looks forward to pain. More importantly, I’m not going to be in complete control, and not-in-control is not exactly my comfort zone. I’m going to be dependent on my housemate Ryan for help and looking after for several days, and I won’t be able to drive for a couple of weeks, either, or lift things, so he’ll have to do all the driving and grocery shopping and so forth. He’s taking time off work to stay home with me for the first week, for which I am beyond grateful. It’s really hard for me to be okay with asking someone for help, even someone who is giving it willingly, so despite the fact that it sounds completely ridiculous when I say it out loud, there’s this frisson of anxiety that bubbles up under my breastbone every time I think about it.

And speaking of not being in control, there’s anesthesia. I have a few issues with anesthesia, including having had problems with it in the past due to asthma, a minor phobia about waking up in the middle of surgery, and another phobia about just never waking up at all. Anesthesia is scary the way you’re there one minute and gone the next, and then you’re back with no sense of any time having passed at all. Luckily for me I have a friend who’s an anesthesiologist and also a trans guy who has had this surgery. Sam, I apologize in advance for the degree of quiet panic you’re going to have to deal with from me in the coming weeks.

But all that aside, there’s also this. On February 17, 2011, I wrote about my chest, “Long before I was willing to use the word butch or transgendered for myself, I would stand in the bathroom looking at my naked breasts and fantasize having them gone. I dreamed of surgery to reduce them, at first, and when I grew more comfortable with the idea, to remove them altogether.” And now, one year and not quite six months later, I am signing the consent forms and finalizing preparations for a “bilateral mastectomy & nipple areolar reconstruction.”

It’s the big step. This, then the legal name and gender change, and I’ll have made the transition. It’s a little daunting, even though it’s what I want. I spent most of my life being the girl who was secretly a boy, then the last year and a half becoming that secret boy, and now I guess, I’ll be the boy who secretly used to be a girl? I’ve been growing in my beard, so I’m almost never called “ma’am” anymore, but I still get a little shock of, “huh? you mean me?” whenever someone calls me “sir.” A pleased shock, but a shock nonetheless.

I’ve been thinking about my teenage self, and all the effort I put into learning to wear heels and nylons and makeup. Thinking about whether there were things I legitimately liked about being a girl. Were there ways in which I felt authentically female? I don’t know if I can answer that, really. It seems long ago and far away, and I was so focused on hiding the secret boy that I never really gave myself time to consider how real the visible girl was. But now, as I make the preparations to render her invisible at last, I wonder… Will I miss her? Just a little? Or will she, like my long hair, leave me feeling free when she’s finally cut loose?

Gender: Queer

•29 June 2012 • 1 Comment

About a year ago I started a Somewhere in the Middle group at my church for people who are trans, genderqueer, gender-flexible, and friends. I co-moderate the group with my transman housemate Ryan, who has actually done a whole undergraduate degree in counseling and has  graciously allowed me to take advantage of him by de facto making him a co-leader.

We are a diverse bunch, unsurprisingly. There are three transmen in three stages of transition—one fully transitioned for years, me (on T for a year, but pre-surgery and legal document change), and Ryan who has yet to start medical or legal transition but has been living and identifying as male for more than a year; one genderqueer person who is the spouse of the fully-transitioned transguy; one transwoman who transitioned in the 1970s; two cisfemale lesbians, one who identifies as butch, one as low femme (not partners); and a cisfemale straight person. Recently we gained two new people, both of whom identify as cisgendered: one lesbian, and one gay man.

Because we had new people, we decided to do introductions again, and because our new members were relatively unfamiliar with the various definitions we operate under, we covered some of the Trans101 kind of ideas about how gender and sexuality aren’t the same thing, and once you start taking apart gender, sexuality becomes much more murky. All the usual words—gay, straight, lesbian, and bisexual—are based on a binary gender system. You are either male or female. You are attracted to either males, or females, or both (but if it’s both you’re suspect, can’t make up your mind, are in denial, just want attention, are a traitor, are greedy, or maybe all of those things.)

If you have a vagina and you sleep with a person who has a vagina, and you both have beards, go by male names and pronouns, and use the men’s restroom, are you in a gay relationship? A lesbian one? What if you used to be in a lesbian relationship and then one of you transitioned to living as male while the other continued to identify as female, are you now straight? What if you don’t feel like you’re male or female? What if you feel like you’re some of both? Or more than both?

The whole thing got me thinking about the intersection of gender and sexuality. Ryan pointed out in the meeting that the cues our culture uses to identify someone as gay or straight are actually largely gender cues, which begs the question: if gender and sexuality are orthogonal, then why do gender cues inform our opinions about someone’s sexuality?

If a man acts in a way that culture defines as effeminate, or a woman looks or acts especially masculine, they’re likely to be considered gay, but what they’re doing is giving off gender cues, not sexual preference cues. And they aren’t really the same gender cues that straight people give off. A gay man might have some traits that are similar to the way straight cis women act, but there are a lot of differences. Likewise for a butch lesbian as compared to a straight cis man. (There’s a whole other topic here, too, on misogyny and how it’s at the root of homophobia, but I’ll save that for another time.)

The thing is, I’m starting to think that maybe queer is a gender. In fact, on a dating website, I defined myself as “queersexual, preferring people who identify as some stripe of the rainbow.” Why is that? There’s something about queer folk that attracts me, and that I identify with. Some of it is my preference for rebels and outsiders, and some of it, I think, is due to an assumption on my part that people who identify as “not completely heterosexual” and/or “not completely cisgendered” are likely to be more open-minded, more likely to have thought about gender and sexuality themselves, and so will be more like me.

Maybe that’s all it is, really, but I don’t think so. When I think about what kind of men I’m attracted to, it’s almost exclusively queer ones. (I’m not talking about simple aesthetics, by the way. If we’re just playing the “hot or not hot” game, then all bets are off.) The thing is, I really enjoy the company of queer men as friends. Maybe it’s an issue of not having a lot of straight, cismale friends. I have a few, and actually, am deeply fond of them, but I’m not interested in them sexually. So it’s not really friendships that are at issue here, it’s sexual attraction.

But maybe there’s a factor of availability coming into play. After all, I’m unlikely to turn a straight man’s head. So let’s look at women: am I more attracted to queer women than straight ones? Again, yes. But why? The more I inhabit a male appearance and identity, the less attractive I’m making myself to lesbians, and yet I’m still drawn to them. Is it because I know queer women aren’t going to be alarmed by what they find inside my boxers?

That really is a factor, I think. I’ve held back from any serious flirting with gay men because I can’t quite convince myself the plumbing I have won’t end up causing a scene right out of The Crying Game. Similarly, with straight women. No matter how clever I am with fingers, toys, and tongue, my dick is prosthetic and probably always will be.

And yet I know that sexual attraction is about a lot more than genitalia. As is sexual and gender identity. One of the things that helped me understand myself as transgender was how uncomfortable I felt when a friend invited me, several years ago, to be part of a women’s spirituality circle, and at the same time said she wasn’t comfortable holding meetings while her husband was around, because of the male energy he brought into the house. At the time I was still identifying as female, and certainly looked female, but I was well aware of the large dose of male energy I was walking around with. When I went to a few of the group meetings, I almost felt like an interloper, and definitely like an imposter.

I feel like I should be leading somewhere concrete with this, and I wish I could. I wish I could articulate my hypothesis—queer is a gender—and then systematically and logically argue for its truth. But I still haven’t freed myself from the gender binary even here: glance back over this entry and note how often the words “woman” and “man” have crept into my writing, almost without my thinking. And I know that’s not right.

On the other hand, maybe if you deconstruct gender all the way, you end up with heterogeneity so complete—every individual redefines gender, so that in a population of seven billion, there are seven billion genders in the world—that it looks like homogeneity. Everyone is different, so everyone is the same.

That’s not quite right either.

So let’s go back to the question of sexual attraction: are there any broad strokes I can apply to identify, out of that seven billion, characteristics that are common to the kinds of people I tend to be sexually attracted to? Yes. They tend to be smart, independent, free-thinking, aware of gender and sexuality as issues that need consideration, and unfettered by the dominant cultural rules about sexuality and gender expression. In a word, queer.

I guess for now, that’s good enough.

Milestones in Masculinity

•6 May 2012 • 3 Comments

Change is happening, incrementally, but inexorably. Somehow in the last couple of months, I’ve slipped from one side of the gender line to the other, so now when I interact with strangers I’m surprised if they call me “she”. Male is becoming the default.

The  big factors, I think, are voice and facial hair.

My voice is distinctly lower than it once was, both speaking and singing. Singing is still a challenge, because while I’m a solid tenor now, I have a crap falsetto, and a good tenor needs a good falsetto. I’m still working on that. But my speaking voice seems to have, just in the last month, acquired an extra dimension so that it isn’t just generally lower pitched, but also has an overall more male timbre.

I got a phone call the other day from someone stumping for a local political issue. Since I haven’t legally changed my name yet, my voter registration is still in my obviously female name. The conversation went like this.

Me: Hello?

Caller: *cheery* Hi. May I speak to Girlyfirstname, please?

Me: *instantly suspicious, because even when going by my girl name, I used my middle name, not my first name* Who’s calling, please?

Caller: This is Sandy. I’m calling about county proposition M. *launches into a short description of Prop M, which does something about roads and schools*

Me: Oh. Yeah, okay, you got me. *meaning, yes, this is Girlyfirstname, go ahead and tell me about Prop M*

Caller: *completely misunderstanding* Oh good! Then we can count on you to vote for Prop M? Do you think Girlyfirstname will vote for it as well?

Me: *amused* Yep, I’m pretty sure she’ll vote the same way I do.

Caller: Okay, great! Thank you, sir! Don’t forget to send your ballots in if you’re voting by mail.

Then I hung up the phone and cracked up.

I still hear my voice climb to the upper register when I’m pleased or excited, and it makes me a little self-conscious, but then I have some cis-male friends who have voices that do the same thing, so maybe it’s not the dead giveaway I’m afraid it is.

As for facial hair, I’ve got a lot more of a beard now, but it’s still light colored (you say grey, I say blond…) and patchy, with a little bare spot where a good surfer dude would have a soul patch. I can’t grow a proper moustache, either. I can do one of those ‘suspicious French waiter’ style things, with a giant gap between the two halves of the ‘stache, but it’s like the dead center of my face just doesn’t want to do the man thing.

The sides are totally making up for it, though—my sideburns are narrow but full, and dyed blue to match my hair. I grew them in at the suggestion of my friend Sam, and man, he was right, what a difference they make. I’d say they are the single biggest factor that gets me read as male at a glance. As such, they make me ridiculously happy.

Nezu's face in profile, showing sideburns

Sideburns and fabulous glasses

I’ve also finally got enough hair on my legs that I’m comfortable wearing shorts. I hadn’t realized how much my self-consciousness about my sadly hairless shins contributed to my disdain of shorts. And I have chest hair! Belly hair! Arm hair! I’d like more on my forearms and less on my upper arms, but hey, it’s a start. (The, uh, shoulder hair I could do without, however.)

Here’s the proof of the pudding. I live near San Francisco, and as such have spent many an hour in the Castro (gay center of San Francisco, in case you’ve been living under a rock.) Now, on almost every previous trip into the Castro, male passers-by on the street have kind of ignored me. Their eyes skipped over me, their faces registered no emotion. But two weeks ago I went into the Castro in the late afternoon, and noticed that a lot of guys I passed made eye contact and smiled. It was a sunny, gorgeous day, so I didn’t think too deeply about it. But I went back the next day on another errand, and it happened again. And when I went last week on another errand, it happened again.

I don’t think there has been a sudden influx of more joyous, friendly people into the Castro; I think it’s that the queer men I was passing on the street were, for the first time, seeing me as one of their own. Maybe even, dare I hope, attracted to me. It’s kind of awesome.

Eight weeks and counting down to chest surgery!

Gender Cafeteria

•30 March 2012 • 6 Comments

I had an interesting conversation with my therapist Myles (Oh Lordy, you say, not one of those conversations! But wait, give me a chance before you run screaming.) So I had an interesting conversation about gender and my feelings about having one. After a year of actively pursuing gender transition, how did I feel about it?

I said I wasn’t sure I really had a gender. Maybe gender just wasn’t part of my self-identity. I was making these changes to myself to make the world interact with me from a different set of gender assumptions, but that was still externally imposed gender, not something springing from within. When I do perceive myself as having a gender, it’s male, and has been as long as I can remember, but I have to think about it to be aware of having a gender at all.

Was I genderqueer? Myles asked, but I shook my head. Genderqueer seems to me to come from a place of blending essential gender features, some from menu A and some from menu B and some from menu C, etc, as opposed to my hands-in-the-air, maybe-I-just-don’t-have-a -gender, maybe-I’m-agender placeGenderqueer is a gender-positive thing, and I was feeling pretty gender-negative.

But Myles pressed me a little. He said in the year he’s worked with me on transition, he’s seen me become more sure of myself and centered the more I’ve adopted and inhabited and claimed for myself male as a gender identity.

So I thought about it a little deeper. And I realized, he’s right.

By the time I started transition, I’d mostly convinced myself I just didn’t want a gender. I mean, I’d spent my entire life with the uncomfortable “this is wrong” feeling about being female without any sense that there was any other option available, so I think, in an epic show of sour grapes, I took the whole concept of gender and said, “Screw that, I don’t want one anyway.”

It was like being in a cafeteria line and finding out there was one option and it was squash. Faced with that, I told myself I wasn’t all that hungry anyway, and did without.

gross, slimy, overcooked summer squash

Gross, slimy, overcooked summer squash

But then it turned out there were actually apples, too.

So Myles said, “See how you feel about it when I say this: Zach, you have a gender.”

And it was kind of surprising, because what I felt was giddy. Elated. Excited, like a little kid on his birthday opening a present. And I realized the thing was, maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t have a gender so much as I’d come to believe I wasn’t entitled to have a gender, since the gender I wanted wasn’t a match for the body parts I came with.

I think it’s going to take some practice, feeling like I’m entitled to have the world perceive my gender the same way I do. But I’m starting, little by little, to think “sir” is my right, not some precious title bestowed by a stingy world. And “ma’am” is an error, no matter how high my voice goes when I pet a cute dog, no matter how delicate my eyes are, no matter that I can tell you the difference between cerise, mauve, and puce.

I’m a grown up: I don’t have to eat squash if I don’t like it.

I think I’ll have apples.

yummy fried apples with cinnamon

Yummy fried apples with cinnamon. Om nom nom!