What’s in a name

Changing your name is a liberating experience. I’ve been working though name options for years… way before I even figured out anything to do with my gender, even back to when I was in in my teens. I have had more nicknames than I could probably list and now when I realise that so many were gender neutral. Do you ever look back at your life and wonder “How the hell did I not figure this out sooner?”

Changing my name has been confusing as I have never really had a name that I was particularly drawn to. For years the options I was most inclined to were Alex and Lee, but honestly how many gender queer Alex’s and Lee’s are there? Then there is the issue where changing your name through your tertiary institution is almost impossible and getting new certificates printed by your professional body is a lesson in futility.

Eli is derived from my birth name Elizabeth. I like it. Initially I used Eli just in the safe spaces of my trans support group and then tried it out on various social media platforms. I was still ambivalent about the name until first time I heard someone refer to me as Eli in conversation. Hearing my name spoken out loud resulted in a moment of heart fluttering delight. Slowly I incorporated my chosen name into other social spaces.

I changed my name on Facebook.

Eli

The response was wonderful. There was an outpouring of love and support from many of my friends, both those that know me as Eli and those that only know me as Beth. This is not the first time I have asked for gender neutral pronouns on Facebook and I changed my gender to gender queer gender fluid last year when the option first became available. So this is nothing new. Well perhaps nothing new to me.

I had a family member message me to ask what this all means.

I think change can be confusing for family most of all. There are things that they have assumed about you for all of your life which you suddenly (to them) are saying are incorrect. Gender is still seen as an immutable fact and for the majority of cisgender people, the mere existence of transgender people is something easily ignored. Even when cis people have had experience with binary trans people, non binary trans seems beyond comprehension.

The changing my name has been fantastic. The response has been affirming. It seems most everyone has swapped over to using Eli with minimal fuss. Pronouns are still a bit tricky and there are people who want to engage me in the “they can’t be singular” debate rather than to just try use the pronoun and take my word on the fact that they as a singular pronoun is correct. Educating the masses can be a full time job.

Fear of the unknown

The only time people make big changes is when the pain of doing nothing becomes greater than the fear of change. How does one live with so much fear for so long?

For the longest time I have struggled with feeling like I’m not enough. Not male enough, not female enough, not trans enough… certainly not trans enough to claim the transgender label.

Coming out as a non binary trans person is scary. There is so much confusion involved in trying to find a comfortable place to exist in a very binary society. The temptation to remain stealth is enormous because, let’s face it, society doesn’t like question marks and people that can’t be neatly boxed. It is easy to hide in the label of lesbian especially since that label allows a certain amount of gender non conformity are eccentric self expression. Why bother rocking the boat by being all non binary up in everyone’s face?

The answer for me is that not getting to be wholly myself go too uncomfortable that change was necessary. I am not a gender nonconforming woman. I am not a lesbian. I can’t carry on playing that role, and trying to fit that expectation is too limiting.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

The thing is, I contain multitudes of gender. I would say my resting default is agender/neutrois with wild swings to masculity and femininity. This is why I identify as genderfluid. My gender presentation is entirely performative. Often I will be having a particularly masculine or feminine day but it is easier to just wear my default pants and a vest/button up as I don’t want to have to think what to wear of fuss with make up. Furthermore, sometimes I don’t want to stand out anymore than I have to. Being as obviously queer means that going out into the world can be stressful and at times even abusive.

Before I came out as non binary I had spent a lot of time on social media and in the world as an openly out lesbian. I can count the number of times I experienced outright homophobia on one hand, however identifying as non binary opened me up to a level of transphobia that I was completely unprepared for. As my gender expression has become more masculine and androgynous the number of incidence out in the world and online has been intense. I have had shop assistants ignore me point blank as if I don’t exist at all. There have been sniggers and pointing at me. I have been told that my gender identity is delusional and antifeminist online. Mostly I can brush off the mutterings of “moffie*” or whatever other slur gets thrown my way but there are days when I just don’t have the spoons to deal with society’s violence.

This brings me to my fears that was holding me back from starting my non binary transition:

What if my gender presentation means that I won’t be able to make a living as a small business owner? I am entirely at the mercy of Jo Public. If I’m too much, too weird, too different, will I ever be able to make a living? My spouse talked my down from this panic by pointing out that there are people who need me to exist exactly as I am and that there are people who will come to me exactly because I am non-judgemental, non-normative and exactly because I am really fucking good at what I do. So I have given myself the deadline of a year to make this work before I start looking at other full time employment.

What if giving up my passing privilege will be too much on days when I have very low energy reserves? I have struggled with mental illness my whole life. Some days I just can’t leave the house. Some days coming up against overt bigotry is going to leave my scuttling for bed and unable to function for a couple days. This still scares me a bit. I am scared of people, I am scared of the violent reaction of society towards trans people. I have built up a good support network of people to help me through the hardest time.

Family backlash is a real worry for me. I’ve had close family make really transphobic comments. Thankfully I also have a spectacularly supportive spouse who has no problem coming to my defence in difficult situations. We’ll cross this bridge when we get to it I guess. I have hardly been secretive about my journey, and I know info about my transition will come out at some point. I have absolutely no desire to pre-empt the conversation though, maybe that makes me chickenshit.

Being an activist means I don’t get to chose who engages me and when. Being an out and openly trans person makes you an automatic spokes person for all trans people in the eyes of the world and cis entitlement demands that we make ourselves available for questioning at any time. The inappropriate questions from random strangers still gets me in a spin some days, like the new pharmacist at the pharmacy where I got my T from asking me at the checkout counter about the ins and outs of HRT. Uuuuuuuh wut!?! Then there are moments when I’m out wearing a binder, where someone looks at my face and can’t figure out where the breasts are that they’re expecting which results in my chest being stared at as if the map to the holy grail is printed there. I know that my existence will be a point of curiosity from here on out, I can only hope that I will deal with the questions with a bit of grace.

http://ifunny.co/fun/8i2nC6Ao2

Of all the worry I have about transition the things I don’t worry about are things like; is this right for me and am I ready for the physical changes. I have never been more sure of wanting something. I am still in a state of euphoria at starting HRT. I am stunned at the feeling of rightness and the positive emotional changes I have experienced so far. Internally I know this is right for me, now just to get the rest of the world on board.

Wish me luck!

*moffie – the Afrikaans equivalent of faggot

Three decades and change

Looking back in my life, I was a rather genderless child, my days were spent reading, playing HeMan and Barbie, swimming and daydreaming. My mom was never prescriptive about my choice in clothing and for the most part I dressed myself in vests, jeans and flannel shirts. I think those carefree days were filled with a easy personal authenticity. Then I hit puberty and the amount of societal pressure to conform became so overwhelming that I lost myself somewhere along the way.

Again I stumble trying to pinpoint a beginning or a place to start talking about my gender journey in retrospect. Things that contributed to my slow journey to self include everything from how much we moved around as a child, to my mother who was a single parent and who did everything to provide for our physical needs but was emotionally absent from large parts of my life, I was a forgotten child raised by stream of family and housekeepers but mostly left to my own devices. I spent most of my childhood lost inside the daydreams. There was very little outside of my own imagination to relate to.

For a while I lived in boarding school. This was the time when puberty came knocking. I learnt about menstruation from the instructions on the side of the pack of pads that my mom had packed in my bag. The conversation about menses with my mom went something like: “Do you know how to use these?” “Yeah, I’ll figure it out.”

“I’ll figure it out” would become my motto. I am the poster child for Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It, but what happens when there is nothing in the world to use to build self identity that actually resonates? In my case, I tried everything and by a process of elimination found parts that almost fit. The women in my life were strong and capable, so I tried to emulate that, fit myself into the mould of hyper femininity. I grew my hair, dyed it, cut it, straightened it, curled it… I fumbled with make up, I shaved my legs, shaved my pits, waxed, plucked and groomed everything that was expected while still feeling like an imposter. I dated men… because that is what was expected. My parents were awkwardly supportive when I went to Pride marches with gay friends. “We’re proud of you and your gay friends, so how gay are you?” “Well I haven’t ever had a girlfriend so I have no idea, I’ll let you know if I figure it out.” That was the single exchange on the matter. About a year after that my step dad arrived at my flat to change a lock only to find my girlfriend living there. That was the beginning and end of me coming out to my family.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. I’ll figure it out.

I recently read and article over on SheWired titled Where Have All The Butches Gone, which describes my experience rather well. The lesbian community was a safe space for me to explore my reality and for the first time I got to experience gender nonconforming people; butch lesbians. I was hooked. Now, the thing is, I never wanted to be a butch lesbian. I never really even wanted to be a lesbian, but the experience of seeing people who straddled gender with confidence was intriguing. I wanted part of that. I wanted to date butches, I wanted to be around butch women, I wanted in. Now at this point I was still firmly brainwashed into believing that gender roles were pretty hard and fast, so what choice did I have if I wanted to date butch people other than be the femme in the Butch/Femme dynamic. Dating in the lesbian community in South Africa was a mess of archaic gender stereotypes… butch and femme go together, you can get away with two lipstick lesbians together… but butch faggotry? UNHEARD OF.

So I found me a nice butch. We settled down, got married, decided to have kids… and that was when shit got real! Pregnancy. The “natural right of passage for woman” is not a fun experience for people with unresolved gender issues hell I don’t think it can even be considered fun for cisgender women. For the first time in my life, the heteronormativity of our butch/femme dynamic grated beyond what I could endure. We fought about my refusal to shave my legs and under arms. I rebelled against the expectations of me as a femme woman. I got angry at people assuming I was heterosexual based on my swollen belly. The never ending questions about my “husband” that when corrected only degenerated into even more invasive questions about the hows of queer reproduction, add to that the fact that I was carrying twins, and the deluge of “do you know if they are boys or girls?” I felt completely invisible in my queer identity. I felt like I no longer existed as anything as a host for the parasites growing inside me. The resentment grew… aggravated further by the thankless and isolating (and icky) experience of breastfeeding. I hardly left the house for the first 4 months of my kids life. My partner and I lived like ships in the night with me awake all night with babies that never slept more than 45 min and one of whom was a colic baby, and my spouse working long hours at a demanding job, desperately trying to be the perfect provider working harder and harder to make sure the babies and I had everything we needed. It is no wonder that post natal depression hit like a freight train.

The thing about rock bottom is that it really helps to strip away the bullshit. When I stopped to look at myself I could no longer recognise myself or my life. When you have no energy to uphold the societal roles and pretences that once were the focus of your identity then you finally get to look at what is left.

  • I am not a mother
  • I am not a house wife
  • I am very queer far beyond identifying as lesbian
  • I am not a woman
  • I can’t exist in a world where the only way I can get validation is as a woman in feminine presentation

Thanks to insomnia and late night Twitter, I came across language that shook me to my core. For the first time I read about non-binary trans people, gender fluid people, gender queer people. There were many tears shed as I realised that I was not the last dodo, that my experience of gender was not something imaginary or unique to me. First I found other people on Twitter, then I joined the CtrlAltGender Facebook group and started going to the weekly meetings on Wednesday nights. I met other non binary people. I have found a community in which I belong and that fits comfortably for the first time in my life.

Funnily enough, the place of comfort and acceptance in my gender identity that I find myself at now feels very similar to the unencumbered freedom I had as a prepubescent child. I’ve shrugged off two decades of confusion and can just be who I am. I also mostly dress in jeans, vests and flannel shirts now.

A Love Letter to Anyone and Everyone with a Mental Illness

This is so important to remember. As someone who struggles and lives with mental health issues I can relate to how difficult it is to keep a positive internal dialogue. I am my own harshest critic.

Let's Queer Things Up!

loveletterConfession: Sometimes I feel unlovable. Sometimes I feel unworthy.

Sometimes I look at the scattered marbles strewn across my mind and think to myself, “Who could love something so disassembled, something so broken?”

In this society, we are taught that the worst thing for a lover to be is “crazy,” and that being “crazy” makes us deserving of our loneliness and our longing.

To be “crazy” is to be unworthy, to be unwanted.

Confession: Sometimes I want to run away. Sometimes, even after getting married and even after a thousand “I love you, I need you, I want you’s” – written, spoken, texted, felt – I fantasize about taking the train as far away as I can go, up the coast where no one can find me.

Sometimes in our desperation, we isolate ourselves, fearful of what it means to be seen, to be visible, to be known.

Confession: I…

View original post 736 more words

Testosterone… hell yeah!

IMG_20150714_103534

I am doing low dose depo-testosterone (testosterone cypionate) 50mg every 2 weeks. I expect changes to happen slowly and will document the changes I experience them.

24hrs after my first shot:

  • Cramping in the muscle after the injection… to be expected with an IM injection into a new site. It left me limping a bit the first night but is fine now.
  • An emotional high from the actual fact that I was starting T followed by a sense of calm. Emotionally I am feeling great. I don’t know how to describe it but it feels like there is a slight gap between me and my normally very global emotions that gives me a little room to breathe. It is quite a relief actually.
  • Increased body temperature. I feel warmer than what was normal.
  • Sleeplessness. I woke up after only 4.5 hours of sleep and couldn’t get back to sleep but also don’t feel tired either. I am sure this will stablise as my body adapts to being T powered. I’ve always had issues with insomnia but at this moment I don’t have any of the zombified bleurgh that usually accompanies a poor night sleep.
  • Enthusiasm and motivation. Usually, I struggle to motivate myself to do anything but the high I am on has me feeling like I can conquer the world. How much is the T and how much is just plain excitement… who knows.
  • Hungry. So hungry…eat all the things. I am not used to being constantly hungry and am finding it a bit weird.

That is it for now. I’ll add more as I notice.

Day 1 HRT

Yesterday I took my first ever dose of T. This is the beginning of my non binary transition. Beginnings… perhaps the real beginning was over a year ago when I realised that non binary transition was indeed a possibility, but any journey has its key moments and for the sake of celebration I will take the day I pushed a needle into my thigh as a beginning.

Here in South African, the non binary/gender queer community is very small so there isn’t much support for people considering non binary transition. That said; I have found myself a small but supportive group of non-binary folk who have been an essential part of my journey. I remember asking at a trans support group meeting in October last year “Transition to what exactly though? What transition is there for non binary people?” I found my answer… transition to a self that I can recognise in the mirror. Transition that embraces the liminal space between genders. Transition to the beautiful, complicated ungendered place holder that is my internal sense of self.

One of my dear gender queer friends helped me document my pre-T body and first T shot. I am usually a pretty self assured person but exposing myself in such a vulnerable way was difficult… not the taking my clothing off to document my body but rather the intention behind looking at myself as a work in progress and seeing myself head to foot (something I haven’t done in years). The intentional looking at those parts of me that are so entwined with body dysphoria; wide hips, the way I can’t contain my feminine softness in a binder, a body made up of too many curves. Beyond the raw vulnerability I feel empowered, because I know that I can change this form of mine to something that fits better.

Here are the photos by Germaine de Larch you can see more of their work here.

IMG-20150713-WA0003IMG-20150713-WA0004IMG-20150713-WA0006

Dysphoria inducing binder photo. ARG!

Dysphoria inducing binder photo. ARG!

IMG-20150713-WA0007IMG-20150713-WA0009IMG-20150713-WA0011

Post shot smiles

Post shot smile

Thanks for reading and sharing my journey with me. Here’s to the future!

Here be dragons

Beginnings… they are rather complicated things aren’t they? Especially when your story doesn’t have a convenient milestone marker saying “This is the beginning” and life is so very full of both beginnings and endings.

It is really hard to introduce yourself when there are so many things that are still rather complicated.

You can call me Eli… that may change, but for now it is as close to a name as I have. I am a thirty-something, genderqueer, non-binary trans person living in South Africa. Pronouns they/them or ze/hir.

This blog is going to be a safe space for me to document my experiences with non-binary transition. There may also be talk of politics of all types and varieties.

Welcome and thank you for joining me on this journey of self creation and self discovery.

IMG_20150318_144645