Beard Challenge Results

Results of the Beard Challenge are in. Readers may recall that I decided to grow my beard out over spring break, just to see how far my facial hair had progressed in thirteen months of testosterone therapy.

Results were not exactly what I had hoped.

Beard Challenge March 2012

As you can see, even a week’s solid growth could not give me a natural-looking beard. The hair easily grows long enough, but I just don’t have enough coverage yet. The whole effect is patchy and scruffy and really not worthy of being called a “beard.” This is unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected. Trouble is, I don’t know exactly what to expect. Will I be able to grow a natural beard in another six months? A year? Two years? There’s really no way to tell. Even my doctor hasn’t given me any answers. I guess it’s different for everyone, but I wish I had more of a ballpark figure.

 

Posted in Changes and Observations, Photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Discrimination Against Transgender People and 13-Month Update

Hello, blogworld. It’s been a long time; too long, in fact. I stopped writing in this blog when I started running out of Internet time on the Peace Boat, and when I got back to the United States, my life went in a lot of hectic directions that had me pushing my writing to the side.

Short update: I am now working as an adjunct lecturer at a couple of U.S. community colleges while I look for a full-time professorial job. I have been on T for a little over 13 months. Sadly, my voice seems to have gone as low as it is likely to get, but with practice I have gotten more command over it and I am back to singing–just in a different range. I’m still getting hairier every month. I looked at the last photos I posted of my sideburns and laughed outright. I don’t have a picture to put up right now, but I’ll take one soon to show off: the sideburns are now as bushy and natural as one could ever hope. I still don’t have as much facial hair as, say, my brother, but I’m doing an experiment this week to see how much of a beard I can grow. Results next weekend. I still don’t have a terribly hairy chest, but the hair on my stomach has all turned dark, and just this week I noticed that the hair on my upper back is starting to do the same. That is actually more hair than I really wanted, but what the hell. That’s part of the fun.

Legally I have made a lot of progress. After two separate court hearings, I succeeded in having my name changed. My PA driver’s license now lists my correct name and gender marker. I have also changed the name on my social security card and have opened a bank account in my new legal name. I have yet to change the names on my degrees and transcripts, but I have the paperwork to do so. I’ve just been overwhelmed with teaching. The one legal hurdle I have left to surmount is changing my New York birth certificate, but it looks like that’s going to be difficult. Their policy is not to change gender on a birth certificate except in cases of genital surgery, which I do not intend to perform. I have to look into that more.

Honestly, though, this update was not the reason for my post. A cousin of mine in the U.K. was assigned a college paper on discrimination against transgender people, so she emailed me asking for my perspective. When I had finished writing it down, I realized that this is exactly the kind of stuff that I started this blog to talk about!

So here they are: my thoughts on discrimination against trans people, as written to my cousin. Hopefully this will get me back into the habit of posting updates. Keep a lookout for more!

I think it’s really cool that your professor is asking you to write about discrimination against transsexuals, because a lot of people–at least in the States–don’t really think about transgender people when they think of gay rights. It’s just a much less visible thing. There are some serious legal inequities in the United States; for example, gender identity is not part of our national laws against housing or employment discrimination and the medical needs of transsexuals are often not covered by our health insurance.

In my personal life, though, I haven’t experienced much direct discrimination. I’ve been on T for over a year now; my voice has dropped, I’ve changed my name, I wear a chest binder and a packer, and it is now incredibly rare that anyone mistakes me for a woman. Since no one can tell on sight that I am transsexual, I don’t think there are many opportunities for discrimination. The one arena where I could potentially have trouble would be in employment discrimination, because I still haven’t quite finished the paperwork to change my name on my degrees and transcripts. When an employer sees those two names, it isn’t too difficult to surmise that I have had a sex change. Luckily for me, I work in higher education, a field that tends to be more liberal and where diversity among applicants is often celebrated rather than shunned. Though I never say outright that I am transgender in a job application, I don’t take great pains to hide it; my LGBT advocacy is prominently listed on my resume and I mention my commitment to diversity in every cover letter I write. It is possible that this could have cost me job interviews, but if it has, I am not aware of it.

I think that MtF (male to female) transsexuals are more at risk for discrimination than FtM (female to male) transsexuals like me. In general, it’s easier to spot an MtF woman than it is to pick out an FtM man in a crowd, and that just has to do with biology. Most trans women (as I will refer to MtFs) are taller and broader than the normal range of cisgender women and they often have facial bone structures that make them easier to identify. Trans men like me, however, often do fall within the normal height and size range for cisgender men. I’m definitely not the tallest guy around, but at 5’8″ I have certainly met cisgender men who are my height or shorter. I also think it’s seen as more normal for a guy to be small than for a girl to be exceptionally large, especially because men from non-European ethnic backgrounds do tend to be smaller in stature. The same can’t be said of women of other cultures: it is not so easy to find examples of larger-than-average women.

This difference in reaction is also a product of the patriarchal nature of our culture. I think that trans women are subject to greater discrimination because of the sexist perception that men are better, stronger, and more powerful than women. In terms of gender “transgression,” it is seen as more acceptable for women to “move up” and transition to the male role than it is for men to “move down” and take on a female role. This also seems to tie in to the greater vehemence of bigotry against homosexual men than against lesbian women. In a backhanded way, this perception was also the source of the only case of direct discrimination I have experienced for being transgender.

When I was an undergraduate and had just begun to discover my gender identity, I went to a meeting for a feminist group on campus. I was still in the very early stages of my paradigm shift and I still looked, sounded, and dressed like a girl. I had long hair and big tits and wore tight clothing. I went to the meeting thinking that I would find a group of like-minded people, people who were willing to defy gender conventions and accept new interpretations of gender. I soon discovered that I was completely wrong. When I revealed my gender identity, these women became hostile and combative. Why do you want to be a man? they asked me. What’s wrong with being a woman? Why isn’t that good enough for you? 

I had never been faced with such questions before and I was unable to articulate then, as I can now, that transgender people don’t want to be something else. It’s not a matter of desire. We don’t look at our gender, find ourselves unhappy with it, and decide to take on another gender that we like better. We are another gender, somewhere deep inside and beyond our genitalia; we look at our bodies and feel despair at the disparity between the outside and the inside. We are not changing ourselves into something else. We are changing our bodies to reflect what we really are.

These feminists couldn’t see that. All they saw was that I, dissatisfied with my lot in life, wanted to “jump ship” and play for the other team. It was desertion, in their eyes, and perhaps their nasty reaction was to stave off a feared mutiny. Sadly, I don’t think they’re the only ones who had that view. My first girlfriend’s mother was an educated, open-minded, liberal woman, yet she raised concerns that my influence might cause her daughter to also “turn transgender.” Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t “turn” someone trans any more than you can turn someone gay. If the influence of another person helps a transsexual to accept him or herself, it means that that identity was present long before the influence. It’s not something you choose. It’s something you are.

Posted in About Jay, Changes and Observations, Discrimination, Law and Legal Issues, Recognition, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trans on the Job: Meeting My Coworkers

The Peace Boat is the first job I’ve had where I’ve been completely open and honest about my trans status from the beginning. I made it very clear in my application materials that I am a transman, and I have not shied away from making my gender identity known. That’s not to say that I say hello and immediately add, “By the way, I’m transsexual,” but it does mean that my gender status was part of my initial self-introduction. It’s a strange and delicate balance: I’m trying to be open without being in everyone’s face.

Fortunately, I couldn’t have asked for a better job as my first “out” employment. The Peace Boat is an extremely open, accepting environment and so far I’ve been treated with perfect respect. I’m actually a volunteer, not a salaried employee, but the compensation for my teaching services is a free ride on the Peace Boat’s global voyage, which costs 1,290,000 yen ($16,125 US) for paying passengers. Not a bad deal for a travel addict like me. The coordinators for the voyage—my “bosses,” in effect—are salaried employees and take their jobs seriously. After I was hired, my direct supervisor called me up on Skype to talk about my living situation on the boat and to make sure I knew that he was going to do his best by me with regards to my gender status. I could tell that he was a little uncomfortable, but not because transpeople make him uncomfortable. The feeling I got was that he really wanted to make sure that I was respected but because he hasn’t had any experience supervising a transperson on the job, he wasn’t sure how to go about it. I really appreciated his consideration, and since my arrival in Tokyo I’ve found it replicated in the rest of the staff, both salaried and volunteer. I’m definitely looking forward to the next three months.

First Impressions: Orientation and the Other Teachers

After that uncomfortable first night in the Tokyo hostel, I finally got the chance to meet the other Peace Boat teachers at our orientation. Although we had all talked previously on the teachers’ forum and I had made my trans status known in my introductory post, I had no idea what to expect from my coworkers in person. Meeting the team was a pleasure and a relief, but I still had some lingering doubts about how well I would fit in. Sure, everyone knew about my trans status and seemed accepting of it, but what did they really think of me? How did I look to them? Were they humoring me, treating me as a man but thinking of me as a woman? Was I a complete outlier, something that they couldn’t process? I couldn’t tell. I noticed that a few people made pronoun slips at first, but they all seemed to correct themselves right away, so I tried not to point out their mistakes. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable or to get off on the wrong foot.

The night after orientation was the first real test of my status among the teachers. I had indicated to the coordinators that I should be housed in the men’s dorm room, as the alternative would be completely inappropriate, but I still didn’t quite know how the other guys would react to me. Luckily, things turned out pretty well. I felt a little weird changing my clothes in front of my roommates, but as long as I turned my back and did it quickly, it wasn’t too awkward. There wasn’t a lot of socializing going on, but to my relief I was included in the activities, even the bit of “guy talk” my roommates and I had after the girls had gone to bed. This was a new experience for me, and already I was becoming more comfortable with my fellow teachers. It was the next day, however, when I really started to feel at home.

Anecdotes of Acceptance

I can’t list one specific experience that made me feel accepted among my coworkers, first because no one anecdote would do the feeling justice and second because there are simply too many examples and recounting only one would be incomplete.

It started around the second day of orientation. I was beginning to feel comfortable with the rest of the language teachers and I definitely felt like “one of the guys.” We’d been told that the coordinators would be observing our interactions with the rest of the staff during orientation in order to make up our room assignments for the boat, and I was already starting to wonder who I’d be placed with. In my rooming questionnaire, I’d indicated that I was completely comfortable with who and what I am but that I wanted the coordinators to make sure that whoever I was placed with would be comfortable with me, too. How would they manage that, I wondered? Simply by seeing who I got along with on the first day?

At orientation, however, I soon realized that the process was a lot more complex than I’d imagined. Our potential roommate pool was not simply the other teachers but also the group of translators who’d be accompanying us on the boat. When we all met for the first time, it was a whirlwind of activity. During one of the “get to know you” games, I was briefly paired with a young Japanese guy named Ken who would be translating for the Spanish speakers on the voyage. We had to introduce ourselves briefly, and when it was my turn, I mentioned, “I’m the trans guy on the boat.” He smiled and said “Yeah, I know.” Hearing that surprised me and made me wary. As far as I knew, the translators hadn’t been informed of my transgender status the way the other teachers had, and it was disconcerting to think that a stranger had so easily deduced that I was born female. I began to wonder what the other staff members were thinking of me. Did all of them read me incorrectly, or worse, as some kind of poser? That worry remained in the back of my mind until at last, at the end of the day, our rooming assignments were announced. I happened to be sitting next to the astute Japanese-Spanish translator and our names were called as the first set of roommates. I was torn between pleasant surprise and an uncomfortable nervousness. I already liked Ken a lot and was looking forward to getting to know him, but he’d called me out as trans on the very first day. Would it be hard to live with someone who had a feminine idea of me?

Later that night, Ken assuaged my fears. My roommates and I had invited Ken to stay with us for the night since we had an extra bed. We were all sitting around having drinks in the hostel room and my gender came up. Another teacher, Logan, confessed that when he’d first heard that there would be a transperson on the boat, he didn’t know what to call me. “I said ‘she’ sometimes,” he admitted, “Or ‘it.’” Not in an objective way, he explained, but simply because he didn’t know what to call me or what I’d be like. “As soon as I met you, though, it was obvious. It’s ‘he.’ You’re a guy.” The rest of the group concurred, and I felt better than I had in a long time. Several people mentioned that they felt lucky to have me on the ship so that they could learn more about transgender people, and Ken spoke up. “I’m the luckiest of all,” he said, “Since we’re going to be living together.” The other teachers agreed and we all wondered aloud how the assignments had been made. “I knew we were going to be roommates,” Ken said to me. “Actually, I was consulted.” That’s when it all made sense to me. Immediately I felt more at ease. Ken hadn’t picked me out from across the room as a trans guy. He’d had inside information.

After that night, the good feelings just kept coming. Everyone on staff called me “he” automatically, even the ones who knew about my gender status. I made friends with girls and guys alike but was always included in the ‘guys’ group, both in spoken language and in actions. Perhaps the best anecdote and the one that made me feel most at ease comes from the final nights of pre-departure, when we moved to another hostel and I shared a very small room with Beth, one of the female teachers. We’d laughed about the size of the room and our different genders and had jokingly pretended to be newlyweds. As we were going to sleep, Beth chuckled to herself, then explained to me, “I just thought, ‘Oh god, what if I wake up in the morning and Jay has, like, a big boner or something?’ And then I thought… wait a minute.” She laughed, and so did I, but I think she was surprised when I told her that was the best thing I’d heard all week. It’s hard to describe how great it feels to know that someone is so comfortable with me and my gender that she forgot, for a moment, that I wasn’t born male. That is true acceptance.

Posted in Recognition, Reflection, Workplace and Coworkers | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Trans in Japan

As you may have guessed, I am back in Japan and have been for about three weeks. I spent the first week and a half in Toin, the small town where I lived from 2007-2010, and I am now in Tokyo preparing for the Peace Boat. We sail on Tuesday and I’m getting very excited.

This is the first time I’ve been in Japan post-hormones, and it’s really interesting to see the difference in people’s reactions. On the plane I didn’t notice any misrecognition (people reading me as female rather than male). Of course, it’s harder to tell how people are referring to you in Japanese because it’s common to hear sentences without pronouns or gender references. You can easily talk about someone in the third person without ever making a gendered statement. However, almost everyone in the airline industry speaks some English, and I was called “sir” more than once.

Back in Toin: Reactions in the Japanese Countryside

In town things were very interesting. Many of my friends know about my transition and therefore were aware that I would look and sound different, but there are also a number of people who I never told, either because of language difficulties or out of professionalism. Specifically, the members of my taiko team, Hiryu Toin Taiko, were never aware of my trans status. Almost all of them speak entirely in Japanese, and my language skills are not up to the task of explaining what I am and why. My coworkers at the middle school where I taught also did not know, though I didn’t try to hide anything. I just didn’t explain it.

The taiko players pretty much treated me the way they always have. It’s obvious to anyone who looks at me that my gender expression is masculine, but because the taiko team had been told that I was a female, they simply chalked that up to foreigner weirdness and continued to treat me like a girl. It’s definitely a strange feeling, but I haven’t felt the need to get into the subject with them. If I went back to live in Toin again and was regularly playing, I think I would find someone with better language skills to help me explain, but right now it’s just not worth it.

My former coworkers had bigger reactions. The two teachers who I worked with most often both commented on my voice immediately, asking if I was sick. Both were surprised when I explained the reason for the change. I was gratified to see that they noticed immediately. It means that there’s a significant, discernible difference in the sound of my voice, and that’s a great thing. The other teachers I worked with also reacted to the change in my appearance. Mostly I got stares and “my, you’ve changed!” exclamations, but the school clerk told me with some embarrassment that he hadn’t recognized me at first. “Otoko ni mitai,” he said. You look like a man. Don’t worry, dude. It’s not just you.

On the other hand, my close friends were more subdued in their initial reactions. I’m not sure if this was because they were expecting the change or simply because they were trying to be polite, but they did later confirm that they’d noticed. One in particular went out to lunch with me and asked all kinds of eager, curious questions about my injections, about the surgery, and pretty much everything else she could think of. It was awesome to have someone so interested who wasn’t shy about showing it.

Hostel Dormitories and Bathing Woes

Since coming to Tokyo it’s been a whole different ballgame. My purpose in the city was to attend the Peace Boat orientation, meet my new coworkers, and do a bit of sightseeing before we set sail. From the moment I arrived, I felt that the universe had stepped up its game and my commitment to transition was being tested. The accommodation on my first night was not a room, but a bed in a dormitory-style hostel. The Peace Boat coordinator who had reserved my room assured me that there would be no problem with the hostel, despite the fact that my only legal forms of ID still list me as female and I was booked in the male side of the dormitory; he told me that no one would need to see any official documents. I was a bit uncertain because I’d always been asked for ID in hotels before, and sure enough, the first thing the desk clerk asked for was my passport. I handed it over, expecting some kind of confrontation, but to my surprise he simply copied the page and stapled it to my customer information form. Either he didn’t check to see that the name and gender matched what I had written or he didn’t care.

I was given a room key and shown the way to the dorms, where I got another surprise. The first thing I saw in the dormitory was a Japanese man who must have been over 60 walking around in his skivvies. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been much of a shock, but in the moment it really drove home the fact that I had crossed over to the other side. Immediately I felt nervous. What if someone questioned my gender? What if there was a confrontation? What would happen to me if someone decided I was in the “wrong” room? I stowed my baggage in my assigned locker and fled to the bathroom, hoping to take a long shower to wash off the day’s travel grime and to settle my thoughts. Imagine my shock when instead of a neat row of shower stalls I encountered a blue split curtain with a big white ゆ in the center–the traditional marking for a Japanese onsen, or public bath. This wasn’t a true onsen, of course, since the water was from the Tokyo taps and not from natural springs, but it was obviously a public bathing place.

I’ve been to onsens before, but that was pre-transition, when I was on the women’s side. When I started hormone therapy and switched from using women’s bathrooms to men’s, I accepted that I would never be able to visit a public bath again. It’s a shame, because the tradition is a good one and very relaxing once one pushes past the puritanical American body shame that is common in my home country. Nonetheless, I gave it up, knowing that unless I had both top and bottom surgery (which I am not planning on) my presence in an onsen would not be welcome. I never expected that I would be faced with a public bath as the only available form of personal hygiene. Standing in front of the blue curtain, I’m ashamed to say that my courage failed me. I turned around and went right back to the dormitory.

Shaken and feeling very alone, I took my pajamas into my curtained bunk and hid there for the rest of the night. I changed in the pasty glow of the fluorescent reading light and despite the opaque curtains, I felt a jolt of paranoia every time there was a sound out in the room. When footsteps passed by my bunk, I kept expecting someone to throw open the curtain and gasp in horror. Eventually I managed to sleep, but the dorm experience is not one I would want to repeat.

Luckily, the next night’s accommodation was not with a group of strange Japanese men but instead with two of my male coworkers from the Peace Boat. I felt much more comfortable with people I knew, at least a little bit, and I also discovered (much to my chagrin) that the shower stalls in the hostel bathroom did have curtains. If I’d simply gone in to check it out, I would have been able to shower from the get-go and could have saved myself a lot of angst. It’s a good lesson in courage and one that I will try to remember throughout the voyage.

Physical Changes: Updates

I haven’t noticed significant physical changes in the past four weeks. My body hair is continuing to slowly darken and spread, but right now a lot of the progression is on my torso, which I only see about twice a day when I change clothes or shower. The dark hair on my stomach is spreading up towards my chest, though it still isn’t particularly thick. I’ve noticed a few darker hairs in the center of my chest, too, but nothing to write home about. Not yet, anyway.

My beard continues to grow in very, very slowly. Previously my facial hair was growing primarily on the chin and upper lip with some scruff on the neck and two lines of hair beginning to form on my cheekbones and chin. Now I’m also starting to notice a few dark hairs tentatively filling in the center of my cheeks. It’s clearly going to be a long process but I am seeing some slow improvement.

Unfortunately, I packed my headset in the wrong bag and will be unable to record my voice today, but I’ll remember to do a quick recording when I retrieve my luggage on the boat this Tuesday.

There’s a lot more to say about my first encounters with my new Peace Boat coworkers, but I’ll save that for another post as this one has already run on long enough. Cheers to everyone reading!

Posted in About Jay, Changes and Observations, Recognition | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Last Injection in America (until November)

Today I used up the very last of my first 10ml vial of testosterone. It’s the last time I’ll be injecting before I fly to Japan next week. As previously mentioned, I’ll be volunteering on the Peace Boat, which sails on July 19th and returns on October 27th of this year. I will have sporadic Internet access during my journey and hope to be able to update this blog while I’m away, but my posts may be irregular. Readers have been warned!

I saw my doctor at Mazzoni on Thursday and he commented that I seemed much happier. It’s so very, very true. It’s been about 5 months now since I started T and it has really changed my life. Before I figured out that I was transgender, I was a miserable, suicidal person. The realization helped, but I always felt awkward and in-between before I started my medical transition. Sure, I still have awkward moments, and things won’t really be perfect until after my voice settles down, my beard grows in, and I have top surgery, but for the most part things are going well.

Misrecognition is now less common for me than being properly recognized as male. In fact, I can’t actually remember the last time that someone called me “she” or grouped me in with the “ladies.” I can, however, clearly recall a moment of proper recognition last week. I was driving with a friend in the passenger seat, stopped at a red light, and I made some sort of overdone, nerdy gesticulation as part of the conversation. Two girls in a red Jeep were stopped in the left lane next to me, and they burst out laughing. “Yeah, boy, yeeeeah!” one of them catcalled. It was just about the best thing ever.

Though my beard is definitely not optimal, I am much hairier than I was when I started. My sideburns are starting to look pretty bushy. I’m not very good at shaping them, though. I feel like at this point I may need some kind of beard trimmer to keep them looking tidy rather than shaggy. Observe:

Left Sideburn

Left Sideburn - 5 Months on T

Right Sideburn

Right Sideburn - 5 Months on T

The right-hand side is definitely more grown in than the left, which is weird, but the left can sort of hold its own. Do my beard-wearing compatriots have any advice for proper trimming of these glorious hairy things?

In other hair news, my leg hair is rad. I feel like it’s pretty fully grown in at this point, which is awesome. It’s dark and thick and I get great coverage. It’s even reasonably thick on my inner thighs, though the outer side is still much better.

Leg Hair - 5 Months on T

Leg Hair - 5 Months on T

The band-aid and slight redness are from today’s injection. No making fun of my football boxers. They’re awesome.

My voice continues to be a source of pride and pleasure. A good friend called me for the first time in a few months and was shocked by the change. The contrast between now and January is startling and awesome. The full lineup of voice clips is available in the voice gallery, but I’ll post a comparison set here just for kicks:

January 29, 2011:

June 18, 2011:

Check that out. Is it not rad? I think it’s pretty rad. I can’t even remember sounding the way I did in January, and I’m pretty sure my voice is still changing. Here’s to continued awesome.

Posted in About Jay, Changes and Observations, Photos, Recognition, Reflection, Voice Recordings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Pre-Departure Transition Update

Generally speaking, my transition is going well. The perennial problem of my parents’ misuse of pronouns has not abated, but only time will tell if that will ever be solved. Physically, I feel that changes are taking place, but they’re happening slowly. I’m no longer noticing new things each week. This could be because I’ve gotten used to the changes, or it could be because they’re more subtle now. Either way, I haven’t written about them in some time, so it’s time to do a full update.

Recognition

Summer is rolling in, and I think that helps me in terms of recognition. As soon as I started wearing shorts rather than long pants, I noticed that people were far more likely to recognize me as male or at least to be uncertain. I would guess that this is due in part to my leg hair and in part to the more obvious difference in style between men’s and women’s shorts (as compared to long jeans, which are more androgynous). I haven’t had any strangers call me “she” lately, with the exception of some store clerks or waiters who greet a group of me and my female friends as “ladies.”

Some notable incidents lately: On a trip to the courthouse (more on this later), I once again had to interact with several of the clerks in the civil filing division. Because they had my court papers in front of them, I can’t be sure whether their recognition was based on my appearance or an uncommon sensitivity to transgender matters, but one called me “he” and the other very carefully used no gendered pronouns at all. The latter was actually more encouraging to me than the former. Up until this point, people who were unsure of my gender seemed to default to female, but this woman was on the fence enough that she was unwilling to commit to either pronoun. I thought that was pretty awesome. Then, just two days ago, I happened to be at Wawa making a purchase. When I finished, the (male) clerk said to me, “Have a good one, bro.” That pretty much made my week.

Voice Changes

My voice is definitely deeper. When I answer the phone, people often mistake me for my brother or my father. On voice chat, there’s never any question as to whether or not I am male. The only unpleasant consequence of this is that suddenly I am a terrible singer. I’m sure that with practice I will be able to master my new range, but right now I’m having a world of trouble just with karaoke. Songs that I used to be able to sing easily are now way to high for me, and I’ve discovered, to my shock, that most songs by male vocalists are out of my range unless I drop down an octave. After failing miserably at a Panic! At the Disco song, I turned to a friend and said, “I’m starting to think that I might not be a tenor after all.” She looked at me like she was holding back a guffaw and said, “Really? You think?” It was a “Thank you, Captain Obvious” moment.

The funny thing is that even though my original vocal range was pretty much a tenor I, I never honestly expected to go down so low that I couldn’t sing tenor anymore. It’s possible that this is just due to lack of practice or vocal instruction and that, in time, I’d be comfortable in a tenor range again, but it’s also possible that I’m heading into baritone or even bass territory. This is both exciting and a little daunting. I’d love to have one of those crazy James Earl Jones type voices, but I’m completely lost as to how to sing with one. I’m also starting to realize that the majority of male rock singers (my preferred type of music) are somewhere in the tenor range.

Of course, I’ve yet to try any actual choral singing or theater singing with my new range, but karaoke singing has me very off-balance. I’m used to singing in a higher register, so I default to that even when the notes are too high for me to reach. I have more trouble singing a particular note in a lower range. I’ve never been a sight reader, nor do I have perfect pitch, but in the alto II – tenor I range I can generally think of a note and then sing it. In my new, lower range, that connection between thought and action has yet to form. I imagine the note, but when I try to sing it, the sound is off and I have to experiment a little to get where I’m supposed to be. Since I’ve been singing for much of my life, this is a very strange and disconcerting experience. I know I just need more practice, but it has me very off-balance for now. I wonder when my voice will reach its new range. I wonder how I’ll know.

I’ve updated the voice gallery with all the voice clips I’ve recorded to date, but I’ll put the most recent one here, along with the first recording I made back in January for reference. The results are very clear:

January 29, 2011:

June 4, 2011:

Hearing these changes is absolutely thrilling. It makes me realize just how far I’ve come.

Name Change

Due to my Peace Boat voyage, I had to request a continuance for my name change hearing. It will now take place in November, shortly after I get back from the trip. Getting a continuance was a very simple process and the clerks were very understanding. I just hope that things go as smoothly when I get back, and that the judge will agree to my petition for sealed records. That’s really important to me.

Hair Growth

My leg hair is now thick and dark from the top of my thighs down to my ankles. My arm hair seems to be getting a little darker, too, but it’s not as prominent. The hair on my stomach is a little darker, especially the “happy trail,” but other than the smattering of long dark hair that has always grown on my breasts, I have seen no chest hair. This doesn’t bother me. My brother doesn’t have much chest hair either, and I’m not too keen on having a ton.

Facial hair is coming in slowly but surely. I still have to shave my chin every day, but the rest can grow for a couple before I really have to beat it back. Sideburns are growing daily on both sides, but for some reason the one on my right grows in thicker and faster than the one on my left. I don’t know why this is and it irritates me. Come on, sideburns! Work with me here.

A small amount of hair grows regularly on my cheeks, jaw, and neck, but it’s not as visually prominent. The hair on my neck, however, can be quite irritating if I don’t shave it regularly. You can’t see much of it, but it starts to itch.

Injections and Dosage

I’m still at the 1ml dosage every two weeks, and I like it. I haven’t noticed anything in the way of mood swings or “low” periods that I was warned about. In fact, I haven’t noticed any mood changes at all on T. Maybe that’s abnormal? I don’t know. I guess I generally think more about sex than I did before I started hormones, but I sort of expected that so it never surprised me.

New Binder and Bathing Suit Shirt

In preparation for the Peace Boat voyage, I ordered a second binder as well as a swimsuit binder from Underworks. The regular binder is just a second copy of what I already have so that I’m not stuck without a binder when one of them is in the wash. When I put the new one on, however, I was shocked by how much tighter it is than the old one. I guess even with proper care, chest binders get worn and stretched out a bit over time. I’m definitely going to be wearing the new binder rather than the old one whenever possible. It gives much better compression.

I have yet to test the new swimming binder in the water, but I tried it on and I like it a great deal. There’s no way to get around the fact that you’re wearing a top into the water, but this binder looks a lot more like sport wear and saves me from having to wear a T-shirt with a very obvious sports bra underneath. I don’t know how recognition will be, but I’m planning to head to the beach sometime this weekend or next, so I’ll report back afterwards.

International Travel

I had to submit a lot of paperwork in order to request customs clearance for my medication and needles when entering Japan, but the specifics of that process deserve their own entry. I’ll write more about it when I get the final decision from the Japanese authorities.

Phew, that was a lot of updates. I’ll try to post more frequently in the three weeks left before I leave the country. Stay tuned!

Posted in Changes and Observations, Law and Legal Issues, Recognition, Voice Recordings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Apologies after a Long Hiatus

It’s been almost a month since I posted here, and there is a simple reason, one that I wasn’t ready to talk about until now: I thought, for a while, that my transition and my openness about it had cost me a job.

For almost two years now, it has been part of my life plan to serve as a volunteer English teacher aboard the Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO that circumnavigates the globe in three-month voyages promoting peace and sustainable tourism. After the completion of my Master’s thesis (I officially graduated on May 15th but had finished in early April), I was finally at liberty to submit my application. As part of the process, I was asked to make a self-introduction video that talked about me, my teaching style, my personality, and what I could contribute to the Peace Boat.

I had already made it clear in my written application that I was transgender; at this point in my life, I refuse to hide it. I don’t necessarily advertise myself to everyone I come across, and ideally I’ll be recognized as just another guy rather than a gender bender, but I will not be closeted. If an employer isn’t comfortable with who I am, I reasoned, then I don’t want to work for them. I’ll find someplace else. Happily, that didn’t seem to be the case with the Peace Boat, and the sensitivity they showed in emails towards my name change and other factors convinced me that I was on the right track.

In fact, I became so convinced of my correctness that I began to think that my gender status could actually be a mark in my favor. I represent a clear and present diversity, and I am obviously open to sharing my unique perspective with anyone who will listen. I decided that in my interview video I would, among other things, invite the viewers into my private life and show them the tools I used for my injections.

Naturally, I didn’t perform an injection on camera, but I did show my needles and explained the process of injection. I figured that this would be useful information, not only because it showed an important part of my life but because it demonstrated how very honest I was about my transition and how willing I was to share it with others. I thought I had done a good job with the video and was excited when it resulted in an invitation to interview via Skype videoconference.

The interview started off as I’d expected, with questions about my teaching style and experience. It was only when the second interviewer took over that I began to feel uneasy. She brought up the video almost at once.

“I was wondering about that bit in your interview video, where you actually demonstrated one of your injections.”

She’s British, and her tone carries a mixture of morbid fascination and vague, extremely polite disgust. I know at once that I’ve made a mistake but I keep smiling, asking her to clarify what she’d like to know.

“I was just a little surprised, I think, that you’d choose to put that in a job interview, so we were all just wondering if you could tell us why you made that choice.”

Suddenly I realize that these aren’t happy-go-lucky hippies whose only purpose is to bring peace and love to the world. They care about their mission, sure, but their primary objective is running a business. Their students are paying for their passage on the boat and also for the lessons, so they’re looking for collected, professional teachers who can give them their money’s worth. How stupid could I have been not to see that? This is bad, and I know it, but I can’t back down now. I have to defend my decision or I’m toast. I explain to her–to all of them–that I’ve been pressured to hide in the past, to put up a front about who and what I am in order to get a job, and that I’m unwilling to continue doing that. I give the whole speech about being myself and only wanting to work for an employer who accepts me. Please let them be content with that.

“Well, yes, I see your point about that. It was just that extra step–you know, going so far as to show the injection. That’s what we wondered.”

Never mind that I didn’t actually stick a needle into my leg on camera. Apparently pantomime was shocking enough for them. I force myself to stay steady and calm despite my panic and despair. This isn’t just any job, I remind them, though of course they know that. On the Peace Boat, I’ll not only have to work closely with all my colleagues, I’ll have to live with them. There are no days off. There’s no down time. There will be some privacy, I’m sure, but there won’t be the separation between work life and home life that I’d have in any other job. My home life is my work life, and I have to be honest about what my home life entails. This is how I live. For a job like this, it has to be recognized and accepted.

She let the matter drop after that, but I was already worried. I felt like I was on unsteady ground, trying to justify not only my choice about the video but the very choice of my transgender existence. I knew intellectually that it wasn’t true, that they wouldn’t have let me get so far in the application process if I was going to be denied over my gender status, but I was still nervous. Questions followed about how I would deal with conservative, older Japanese people who might not understand my gender status and about whether I’d had any conflicts with my Japanese coworkers during my JET tenure. I could tell that they were trying to figure out whether or not a transsexual was suited to life on the Peace Boat. Perhaps because of this, perhaps because of general stress, I flubbed a later question asked in Japanese, presenting my language ability as much lower than it really is. I told myself that the show must go on and I kept on smiling, but at that point I thought I was an automatic reject.

When the interview ended, I felt drained and pessimistic, though I’m sure I didn’t look it on the outside. The interviewers thanked me for my time, and the leader added, “I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve really gotten to know you during this time. We can all see that you are an open, honest person.” I thanked him, but in my heart I thought, that’s it. I’m too open for them. They don’t want me. I blew it.

For the next few days, I was depressed. I could see my two-year goal fading away in front of me, and I’d gotten so close. I kicked myself for messing up, for saying the wrong things, for being too forthright, but most of all I hated my gender identity, the peculiar combination of genes or hormones or whatever it was that made me a tranny. Normal people don’t have problems like this. Normal people don’t need to justify themselves. They don’t need to defend their gender to anyone, and they don’t need injections to maintain it. Why couldn’t I have been born a normal boy? Why did I have to be so screwed up?

They called my cellphone first. It was nine in the morning, practically on the dot, and I was sleeping through as much of my morose languor as possible. I fumbled for the phone and saw that the number was “unknown;” used to telemarketers, I sent the call to voicemail in disgust. Only then did I wake up a little more and realize what day it was and who might be calling me. Frantically I sat up and called my voicemail, but just as the message began to play, my home phone rang. “Hello?” I answered.

“Jay? This is Jonathan, from the Peace Boat. We’re calling to thank you for participating in this long and highly competitive application process.”

Rejection. Flat and unmasked, but delivered with a smile. I could hear it in his voice and I liked it even less. No, thank you, I said, but my chest was tight. I was consumed by the sickening, twisting feeling of failure, the knowledge that all of my efforts had come to nothing.

“And we’re also calling to invite you to join us as a GET teacher on Peace Boat’s 74th global voyage.”

Wait, what? I didn’t say anything at first, just gaped at the phone, not sure if it was real. Then I heard the laughter in his voice and I knew, damn him, that Ryan Seacrest wannabe, that it was real. He’d set me up, and I’d been played just like the kids on the reality show contests who thought they were getting cut and then didn’t quite believe it when they were actually the ones chosen. The audience knew, of course. The audience always knew. They could see the result from the beginning, clear as day. Only the hapless, hopeful participant was fooled.

I grinned like an idiot, even though he couldn’t see me, and this time when I thanked him I really meant it. It’s all real, it’s all true, and I’m going to sail around the world teaching English. I did it. I won.

Now all I have to do is convince Japanese customs to let me bring my needles with me.

Posted in About Jay, Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments