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The weight of a name change

July 19, 2012

Argentina’s gender identity law went live over a month ago but I still haven’t changed my legal name and gender. I needed time to mull over the decision and do a little mourning, though I think I’m finally ready.

Every step of my transition was deliberate, carefully thought-out. I knew full well that I didn’t have to bind, or wear clothes from the men’s department, or take T, or have surgery unless I really wanted to (or needed to). Transness isn’t a package that you buy whole. And I know that my ID says nothing about me as a person: not changing it is a valid option. There are a few trans people in my life who are choosing to keep their old IDs even though they publicly transitioned years ago.

For me, changing my name legally is fraught with emotions, especially because I have to modify my birth certificate before updating anything else. In part, I feel like I’m erasing my past, dishonoring the person I’ve been, pegging myself like a butterfly in the little “male” box. It’s like reliving what I felt when I socially transitioned, and again when I physically transitioned. Once again, I have to remind myself that change is part of life, that it’s ok to move forward, that no change in appearance or documentation can take away my past without my consent.

On the one hand, correcting my ID is a no-brainer because I’ve been living as male for a long time and it’s worked for me so far; on the other hand, it feels like a big step because it’s my final one (I might get a hysterectomy eventually, but only if it’s medically necessary and it won’t be about transitioning). It’s the only thing left that marks me as visibly trans, and though being visible can be uncomfortable, it has its bright side too: some people are deeply moved by knowingly meeting a trans man for the first time and I’d like to think that the encounter makes them more trans-friendly. Having to share something so intimate has also brought me closer to some people, like teachers, who I might not have approached personally otherwise.

Ultimately, I know I need to change my documentation to function in daily life. I avoid situations where I need to show ID –like doctor’s offices– because it’s awkward and people get suspicious; at school I’m constantly afraid of discrimination and being “outed” without my consent. I guess I could handle it if I were more self-confident and willing to disclose, but I feel prepared to move on and save my fuel for other battles. I’m ready.

Big smiles

June 8, 2012

Argentina’s gender identity law went live this week, which means –among other things– that we can now easily change our name and legal gender. So exciting! On Monday, Facebook exploded with pictures and updates from happy friends who had gone to start their paperwork. Here are some photos from the news so you can get a taste of what it was like:

(clicking on the images will take you to the source)

I love how many people went in groups, and treated it as a celebration, not a mere administrative formality. I haven’t started my own paperwork yet, but I will soon :-)

Argentina’s Gender Identity Law

May 18, 2012

Image source: Télam

Have you heard about the new Gender Identity Law in Argentina?  It passed over a week ago, but I can still hardly believe it. Here’s why it’s so amazing:

–Anybody will be able to change the name and gender marker on their ID through a simple administrative procedure. That’s it. No need for a judge’s permission, no need for psychiatric approval, no need for any body modifications.

–People who do want to modify their body will have the right to have hormones and surgery covered by their health insurance (or by the public health system, if they’re uninsured).

–There’s a special clause to protect the rights of trans youths: if a kid’s parents were unsupportive, a judge would intervene in the best interest of the child.

This law was passed almost unanimously in the Senate last Wednesday (May 9th). Nobody voted against it, though one senator abstained from voting and several senators were absent, probably because they would’ve looked bad if they voted against (now, that’s cultural change — it’s finally frowned upon to be against trans rights!)

Every account of this law mentions that it’s the most progressive piece of trans-related legislation in the world because, among other things, it avoids pathologization completely (trans identities are not described as an illness). I’m really happy, not only for Argentina, but because it raises the bar for trans rights everywhere.

Also, I think it’s a source of hope — after all, Argentina doesn’t have a great history with trans issues. Just a few years ago, when I started transitioning, it was impossible to change your ID without genital surgery. During the 90’s, many trans women and travestis suffered and died due to police persecution. The statistics for trans people –unemployment, school drop-out rate, life expectancy– are still dismal. It goes to show that countries can change, though legal rights are just the beginning. Things can get better when there’s a large movement willing to take on the fight.

That’s another thing I love about this law. It doesn’t put trans people in a passive place of suffering, illness or victimization. It wasn’t written by doctors, psychiatrists or condescending allies. The text of the law was written largely by the trans movement. The very process of passing this bill acknowledged the trans community as a force to be reckoned with. All the large LGB organizations backed the law, but trans leaders and organizations were at the heart of the process. I find that very empowering. It’s a shift from a place of despair to a place of anger. Beware, enemies of “the trans”, lest you unleash la furia travesti!

Traveling while trans

January 26, 2012

I’m about to undertake a journey that involves many “firsts” — it’ll be my first time traveling alone, my first time hosteling, my first time in places where I don’t speak the language… I’ve never been on such a long trip, nor have I ever strayed this far from home. I never thought I’d dare to do something like this — that is, until I transitioned.

I’ve had the opportunity to wander around the country in the past few years, both with family and with friends & classmates, so I’ve been able to see how my attitude towards travel has shifted throughout my transition. I loved vacationing as a kid, but it started to be awkward when my appearance became ambiguous in my mid-teens (partly because of the public restroom dilemma, partly because my parents were embarrassed when people read me as male). Then there was a long period when travel was utterly terrifying for me, first because I was obviously queer, then because I was passing as male full-time but I knew I could be “discovered” at any time due to my voice and chest. Heck, my own city became scary for a while (though that’s another story), so why would I want to go to places that were unfamiliar and full of people?

But as I’ve mentioned before, transitioning has opened a lot of doors for me. So, when I had the chance to travel to a student conference a few months ago, I allowed myself to be talked into going. I had good reasons for not going: we’d all be sleeping together on a gym floor, I didn’t know what the shower setup would be in the locker rooms, and none of my classmates knew about my past. But deep down I knew that I’d be fine and that I was just making excuses for not stepping out of my comfort zone, so I let myself be dragged along with my friends. (Important note: I was with people I trusted and who would’ve been OK with my trans status if I’d had to disclose for whatever reason. I didn’t put myself in risk at any time.)

And you know what? I had a great time. With my newfound confidence, meeting new people from around the country was less daunting than it would have been an year earlier. And the thing I’d been most anxious about –my trans body and how I’d maneuver it through certain situations– wasn’t such a big deal after all. In fact, my worst fear about the showers did come true –there were no partitions whatsoever– but I simply bathed in swimming trunks and wrapped a towel around my waist when changing.  And when it was time get un/dressed in the evenings and mornings, I felt comfortable enough to take my shirt and pants off in front of hundreds of people –modestly facing the wall– even though someone could’ve noticed my chest scars or the lack of bulge in my underpants (which aren’t obvious signals of transness, anyway). All in all, being trans was a non-issue in that trip.

So I pretty much jumped off the deep end when it comes to traveling stealth –it might have been less intimidating if I’d been with a smaller group and staying in a hotel– but I managed to get through it with ease. Knowing that I’m capable of confronting this kind of situation has given me a huge confidence boost: I feel that my horizons have expanded significantly, in quite a literal sense. I can’t even imagine the freedom I’ll feel when I can get my ID in order.

500 days on T

December 23, 2011

I recently turned 500 days on T, which is a nice number to celebrate. Also, it coincided with my last day of school (hooray for summer!), so it’s a good chance to look back on the past year or so.

In retrospect, it’s amazing how much I’ve socially blossomed this year. I knew my body was holding me back, but I didn’t realize how much until I managed to align my body with my mental “body map”. Perhaps it’s like getting glasses when you’ve had slightly fuzzy vision your whole life: you suddenly realize how clear the world can look and you don’t understand how you managed to get by beforehand.

Although I didn’t think that changing my body would change my life so drastically, I did want to physically transition before university so I could feel confident when meeting new people. I didn’t believe I could keep my past private for long –though, as it turned out, I could and did– but I did want to feel comfortable with myself. People already saw me as male before T, but they often stared at me, wondering why a little kid was in their class. And my chest was manageable before surgery, but I couldn’t deal with binding anymore, and it was really awkward whenever someone patted my back or chest. I know I was privileged to “pass” as my gender, but physical transition was something I needed for these reasons and many others.

Luckily, I was able to start testosterone seven or eight months before starting university, so no one questioned me about my age. And I had top surgery a week before the first day of school; though I wish I’d had more time to recover, getting that done before classes started was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Suddenly, interacting with people was easy. Sure, I was still slightly socially awkward, but I didn’t have to worry about my body anymore. I actually made friends, and even some close friends! It was as if I’d been walking against a wall, and the wall had suddenly been lifted: I glided smoothly into a new role as a friendly person, astonishing my old friends and even myself. (My personality and tastes weren’t radically altered; for instance, I’m still introverted and avoid parties. What shifted is how I interact with other people.)

Before each of my transitional-related decisions I reminded myself that transitioning isn’t a magic solution to everything: after all, cis people can also be shy, socially awkward, anxious, etc. But for me, transitioning was kind of magic. I’m still amazed at how quickly my life changed for the better after changing my body. I’m so glad that I made the decision to do it, and that I had the resources and support to make it possible. It’s like a second chance at life. I am so grateful.

Towards a gender identity law

December 1, 2011

A few hours ago, the lower house of Argentina’s Congress voted to pass a “gender identity law”. It still has to go through the Senate, but this is great news — especially because it passed with a whopping 167 ayes, only 17 nays and 7 abstentions. I watched the debate online and I could hardly believe my eyes when some of the most right-wing politicians spoke for the bill.

The proposed law is truly groundbreaking — it would allow us trans people to correct the name & gender marker on all our personal documentation without needing any medical/psychological approval or body modifications (so it wouldn’t pathologize trans identities). On top of that, health insurance and the public health system would have to cover hormones and surgery for those of us who do want them.

I was confident that the bill would pass, but I never imagined it would be so unanimous. In particular, I thought there would be more hesitance about putting money towards trans-specific health care, but that issue only came up once or twice in the debate (and someone quickly pointed out that it wouldn’t make a huge impact, financially). The only really controversial topic, as it turned out, was the inclusion of underage people in the bill.

This law won’t change everything for trans people –in several countries where ID changes are allowed, trans folks still struggle– but it is a huge step, especially if medical expenses are covered. And the trans community in Argentina has been undertaking beautiful, ambitious projects lately, which deserve an entire post and which give me much hope.

As a group of activists chanted in Congress today, “¡Alerta, alerta, alerta que caminan / travestis feministas por América Latina!” (“Watch out, feminist travestis are walking through Latin America!”)

For more details in English about the proposed law, here’s the Buenos Aires Herald article for today and here‘s a month-old article that nonetheless explains the bill in depth.

What was transitioning like for me?

September 24, 2011

I was recently asked this by a person who is considering transition, but is concerned with the struggle it might entail. I thought my answers might help someone else, so here they are:

What was transitioning like for you? How long did it take before you could stand in front of a mirror and actually see yourself standing there? What does your family make of it all? What do strangers make of it? Was it worth it? So many questions, but they’re all very personal and everyone’s different!

What was transitioning like for you? The hardest part, in my case, was figuring out that my discomfort was about gender issues, and then finding out how I wanted to live my life gender-wise. There were difficult moments later, of course, such as coming out in all the different spheres of my life, but they were limited to a relatively short time periods. Even the aftermath of each coming out never extended further than a couple of months; whereas it took years to finally feel comfortable within myself, and know what I needed to do in order to be happy. Once I figured that out, the rough spots of transition were tolerable because I knew they were taking me closer to my goal. Like Lucille Ball said, “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”

How long did it take before you could stand in front of a mirror and actually see yourself standing there? My own reflection made me uncomfortable for years before questioning my gender, though I had no idea why. But when I first tried thinking of myself as a boy, even before cutting my hair, I spent hours staring at my face close to the mirror, wondering “can I see a boy there?”  – and I could (at least from certain angles, some of the time). After cutting my hair short, it got better; I could recognize my whole head as mine. Binding helped even further.

The only thing I really struggled with about my reflection was my hips – they threw me completely, so I avoided full-body mirrors. A few months on testosterone helped immensely, but I think it was psychological because my body fat didn’t shift that quickly – I think I finally felt comfortable enough in my body to accept it as a whole.

What does your family make of it all? My family had a really hard time accepting the changes in my appearance: ever-shorter hair, clothes from the men’s section… Living with my parents, it was a constant fight. But they finally worked through their issues (they did attend therapy for a few months) and, when I came out as trans, they had already done a lot of processing and were ready to take it on. That doesn’t mean they accepted it instantly; but within a few months they were using the correct name and acknowledging my decisions.

What do strangers make of it? I don’t know; most strangers are in your life for a short period of time, so they don’t really see how you’re changing (though my neighbors think that I’m two different people). The hardest group of people, for me, were the people I knew by name but who weren’t my friends (most of my schoolmates), because I had to interact with them but didn’t feel close enough to tell them about my transition; so they kept misgendering me. It was awkward. No one ever commented about my appearance, though, and trust me, my classmates saw me change radically.

Was it worth it? This is the most loaded question, but also the very easiest to answer. Yes. I never dreamed transition could make such a difference in my quality of life; though I must’ve known –or hoped– it deep inside, or I wouldn’t have done it. I’m glad you didn’t ask “was it hard?” because I would’ve had to tell you “yes, it is hard”, and I wouldn’t be showing you the whole picture. Yes, it might’ve be hard, but living is so much easier now –seriously, you wouldn’t believe it– that every ounce of struggle I’ve gone through is worth it. Most of the time, now, I don’t even remember the tough moments I’ve gone through, and when I do, I’d readily go back and endure ten times the strain, knowing what life is like now.

I can’t tell anyone what their (possible) transition might be like –everyone’s goals and contexts are different– but in most cases it is not impossible to change at least some parts of your life in order to feel more comfortable. Maybe it was just me, but when I first thought about transitioning, it seemed laughably infeasible. It took me several months to realize that the world wouldn’t end if I started living in a different gender. Quite the opposite.

Living as a cis man

July 25, 2011

I just finished my first university semester and, as of yet, I haven’t told any of my classmates that I’m trans. Though my name hasn’t been changed in the school’s system (and I haven’t changed it legally, either), I talked to all my teachers at the beginning of the year and managed to maneuver through tight situations without having to disclose my past.

This is the first time that I’ve been “stealth” –not openly trans– in my everyday life (though I have been stealth in one class or another for 2.5 years). It made me realize that, like teenage boys, I hadn’t yet formed an identity to go with the young (cis) man people were starting to see me as. In fact, I think I went through all the steps of teen male socialization in fast forward: I tried to be masculine at first and avoided physical contact with guys, fearing rejection; then I tested the waters to see if my new friends were ok with breaking gender rules; and finally I felt comfortable enough to let my guard down.

It’s been curious, seeing how the same parts of myself have different implications depending on whether I’m seen as trans or cis. If I talk about knitting or baking with my old friends, they know I learned these things because I was raised as a girl; if I talk about the same things with new buddies, they become markers of queerness or femme-ness. And, as I’ve discovered, I feel comfortable with being seen as a queer cis male. I thought that passing as cis might be sad because I’d have to hide cherished parts of my past, but I’m realizing that I don’t have to hide them; they just take on new meanings which are also acceptable to me.

I would like to disclose my past to some of my new friends, but the field in which I’m studying is really small (so my present classmates will be my future colleagues) and information like this gets around very fast. I never thought I’d be able to stay stealth for so long –I figured someone would see my student ID or find out through mutual acquaintances– so I didn’t think I’d even have this choice. I’m taking my time with this decision because it will have long-lasting consequences; though being open about my past would be rewarding for many reasons, disclosures can’t be undone.

Edited to add: a few months after writing this (11/11/11) I disclosed to one classmate whom I’d become very close with and who I trust completely. I’m glad I did it. We ended up becoming even closer friends — in fact, he came out to me as queer right after my disclosure!

Presenting -but not identifying- as male

May 13, 2011

When I started transitioning socially, I felt hesitant because I didn’t fully identify as a male/man. So I went slowly, only taking steps when absolutely necessary: first I chose a neutral name, then a male one, then I switched pronouns with different groups of people… By two years ago, I was living as male in small parts of my life (extracurricular classes where I was perceived as a cis boy, interactions with strangers).

Fast forward to the present: I still don’t identify as male1 , but I’m perceived as one in all areas of my life. It can be odd to be read as cis and straight, and I do occasionally feel like parts of my identity are being erased; but it feels comfortable enough, and it’s much more fitting than passing as female.

I’m coming to accept that presenting as a binary gender doesn’t mean that I have to identify as one; likewise, my identity –or lack thereof– doesn’t force me to constantly live outside the binary (close friends do know that I’m neither here nor there). They’re two different parts of my gender that don’t have to “align” one way or the other, just like gender expression and gender identity and the body can combine in a myriad of ways. For me, it helps to remember that many people –for many reasons– choose to present differently from how they identify:

  • trans people who don’t want to transition, or transition in parts of their lives
  • genderqueer people who live within the binary
  • in history, “passing women”2  —FAAB people who lived publicly as men– some of which lived/identified as women in their private circles.

I think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that how I identify –though important– is a rather abstract notion. I am being perceived as male, with all the privileges that it entails, and rejecting maleness is no excuse to deny it.

Since starting university two months ago, I’ve been living as male in my daily life to a further extent than ever before (and as a cis male to boot — I’m not disclosing my trans status for now). I’m curious to see how it feels in the long run, and whether I find a malehood that’s a closer fit for me. I’m pleased to announce, though, that I feel more at home with myself than ever before, socially and physically, so these gender explorations aren’t so urgent; they’re less about discomfort than about learning who I am as a person. Which, at 19, isn’t such an odd thing to do.


1 Actually, I suspect that I don’t have a deep-seated gender identity at all. I do feel strongly about certain gendered aspects like pronouns, names, and –in Spanish– word endings, but I don’t feel like those things coalesce into one steady identity. I’m still exploring this, though.

2passing woman – chiefly used in the historical sense to refer to a non-transgendered woman living as a man in order to have access to careers and lifestyles only available to men at that time. Some historical figures who would today be more accurately called FTM transsexuals or transsexual men are sometimes referred to as passing women. “ — definition from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Of course, it’s hard to know how they identified and why they lived that way; the term probably lumps together wildly differently life-stories. Also, we shouldn’t force today’s categories onto the past.

Ten days post-op

March 26, 2011

Surgery went well! I wasn’t so nervous going in as I had expected, there were no complications, and –although the first days were rougher than I’d anticipated– I’m now feeling almost back to normal.

There’s a lot of text (and video) online about recovering from top surgery, so I won’t delay you with the whole story here, although I’m open to any questions you may have. I do want to mention a few things that my surgeon did differently from doctors in other countries, or even other surgeons I met here, besides the unusual technique:

  • He didn’t leave any drains in my chest, which was great for my comfort and squeamishness (I hadn’t heard about top surgery without them, so I was wary at first, but ultimately I trusted his judgment).
  • On the third day he covered my wounds with tegaderm, which is a waterproof dressing, so I could take showers (but the idea of water hitting my chest still terrifies me, so I’ve been taking tub/washcloth baths).
  • He does all his wound care himself, twice a week, which is great because (1) I’m squeamish, (2) I’m sure that it’s done properly, and (3) he can control the wounds’ progress often.

I’m very happy with my chest, even though I haven’t seen it completely: my nipples/incisions are covered with gauze and I’ve decided not to look until the stitches come out. I still have a lot of swelling, but the relative flatness is nice. I thought that, at first, I’d miss the volume that I lost from my chest, seeing as I’d lived with it for so long (I’m prone to nostalgia, even for the bad things in my life). I thought that I’d have to get used to the flatness, despite having wanted it for so long; but when I looked down at my chest after surgery, it just made sense.

I think it’ll be harder to grow accustomed to my scars and the new placement of my nipples. I’d always seen myself, in my mind, as having a flat chest; and I’d even seen it in real life, thanks to binding. But it was harder to picture exactly where my nipples would be, their size, or what my scars would look like, so I expect all of that to look foreign to me at first. That’s another reason why I haven’t looked under the gauze yet: so I can get to know my chest slowly.

I feel very grateful towards my parents, who have been taking care of me during my recovery. They don’t know about this blog, but still: ¡gracias, mami y papi!