It’s hard for people who are not transgendered to get good understanding of what life is like as a trans person. Therefore we need to take the time to get to trans people. I would like you to meet Patrick* (not his real name) a 23 year old trans man living in Michigan. He has graciously agreed to be our personal representative for the transgendered experience. With him, we will discuss everything.
I hope that you read this interview and learn something about the transgendered experience. I hope that it helps you to build greater understanding and compassion for people who are too often ignored by mainstream society. Even if you only learn to stop staring, that’s still positive progress. Of course I hope for more but this is a long road.
With that, let’s jump into part 1 of our 3 part interview.
Ok, so my first question is about terminology. I like to refer to my transgendered friends as trannies. I like to think it normalizes their experience, in the same way that gay, lesbian, & straight do for their respective populations. However, I know that often people find it to be a bit crass. What do you prefer?
I don’t mind it but I have a lot of friends who take offense to it. In general, I use the term trans for shorthand and I always use preferred pronouns because it’s polite. If I went up to my friend Ashley* and was like, “wassup, dude.” She’d be like, “WTF?!”
When it comes to pronouns, it’s only respectful. Then again I if someone called me a girl, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But, I think it would be different for people who are already struggling with their gender.
On the topic of pronouns, I was researching ones past he & she, when I came across all of these other ones that I’d never heard of. Ze, zir, po, zow, zo, pir were among the 30 or so listed. Who uses them and where did they come from.
They all come from different roots and languages. There’s no uniformed standard that I’ve seen. I think it’s because [Julia Serano] used it in [her book] Whipping Girl but the most popular I’ve seen are ze and hir. Unfortunately, they get used in correctly all the time.
These words bother me because they are not English words. I could see if we created a new pronoun for transgendered or gender neutral people but these seem too nonsensical.
Well I need to make a distinction here. Transgendered applies to a lot of things. Male identified heterosexual cross dressers are transgender. If you transgress any gender boundaries you’re considered transgender. For terminology sake, transgender applies to anyone who transgresses traditional gender boundaries.
Then within transgender there are people who label themselves as transgendered who identify as a different gender than they were born as. Then there are people who are transsexual who identify as a different gender than they were born as and are seeking surgery or other treatments. Then there are transvestites who cross dress for a sexual fetish but there are also cross dressers who don’t do it for a sexual fetish. Then we have drag performers who cross dress to put on an act, a caricature of another gender.
It’s a lot and it can be quite confusing.
That’s different from everything I’ve heard. As far as I knew, transgendered simply referred to the medical diagnosis.
You know, I’m not up on the medical stuff. I know that normally the diagnosis is either gender dysmorphia or gender identity disorder.
What gender do you identify as?
I normally say that I am a trans man. I’m always a guy and always male but sometimes I feel the need to specify that I’m trans.
How were you born?
When I was born, I was presented to my mother as a girl. However, I failed to go through female puberty in, what my doctors considered to be, a timely manner. My mom became concerned when I started going through male puberty and took me to a doctor. He put my on Yaz, which is a hormonal birth control that contains a testosterone suppressant and an estrogen supplement. That forced a female puberty.
I took it for 5 years before I was like, “This is not right. I need to not be on this, I need to talk to mental health professionals and figure out what’s going on.”
I have gotten a couple of suggested diagnosis from a couple of doctors and they said that I am probably intersexed. However, I’ve never been diagnosed because if they did I would lose all my medical coverage. Being intersexed is considered, what they call, a pre-existing condition. If I would have found out before I was 18 I would have been able to get a diagnosis and maintain my coverage.
You mentioned the issue with medical insurance. That makes me wonder what other difficulties have you faced getting treated or going through the process as a whole?
[Laughs] What difficulties haven’t I faced? I tried to have my name changed because of my gender preferences. The judge called me an “it.” He refused to talk to my lawyer and told me that, “people like you don’t deserve equal treatment.” He then sent me out of the court.
I had top surgery [bi-lateral mastectomy], but I couldn’t afford it initially. I was going through the University of Michigan and it was really expensive. Someone suggested Beaumont, so I tried there. I literally could not talk to anyone there who knew anything about what was going on. They sent me to the breast oncology ward because I was having a bi-lateral mastectomy.
The people there were very resistant to talk to me because they dealt with people who were losing their breast to cancer and I was asking to have mine removed for psychological reasons. They finally connected me to a surgeon and had to wait six weeks before he would see me. I usually bring my best friend along to these appointments but he refused to let her come in because she wasn’t my wife. I don’t see why that mattered because he always used the wrong name and female pronouns. This doctor asked for written consent from my entire family, I was 20 years old. I didn’t go back to see him.
I ended up getting the procedure done at U of M comprehensive gender services center by a fantastic surgeon who did an amazing job. But before I got that far I had to go see an endocrinologist in the U of M system but outside of the gender services center. He treated me like shit. He told me that me and my best friend were only friends because we were fat. Like the other surgeon, he refused to use the correct pronouns.
He dangled testosterone like a carrot and told me that I would have to lose 25lbs. in 4 months to show him that I was dedicated to my health. He also informed me that he didn’t care about my mental health. He then forced me through a bunch of unnecessary tests to prove to him that I wasn’t suffering from diabetes or other weight related ailments.
I went on a crash diet to get my weight down. I met his weight requirement and got the testosterone but I’ve never been back to see him. I’m now getting treated at my school’s health clinic. There they treat me like a human.
How did testosterone affect you?
It put me through the puberty I should have had as kid. I was miserable. The only time I wasn’t hungry was when I was too sleepy to eat. The only time I wasn’t sleeping was when I was too hungry to sleep. I gained 30lbs of muscle. I grew hair all over, I’m now a bear. My voice dropped considerably. I had some body weight redistribution, the weight that was on my chest and thighs moved to my belly.
All those changes that happened to your body, did they make you feel better?
They made me feel more confident because I was presenting in the way I felt I should. I didn’t have to worry about taking off my shirt if it got too hot. I had to wear a compression vest and it would cause sores because it was so tight.
Why did you have to wear it?
Because I felt like I could be perceived incorrectly. Like I had to do everything I could to appear male.