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January 2018

The first weeks of rehearsal sail by in a mix of whole-cast and individual work. As a cast, we sing through the show a couple of times with that cast recording before starting to work with a piano. Wednesdays right now are set aside for those of us with solos to work one-on-one with Dr. T and George.

We now have a pianist. Dr. T filled in for the first couple of rehearsals, but he’s the first to admit that particular instrument is not his forte. Her first night, Lee just introduces herself and sits with Dr. T at the piano while those of the cast that are there sing through most of the big group numbers. I’m still getting used to the idea that not everyone is at every rehearsal; two different people are or will be out for 3-4 weeks each during the next couple of months, and two “brothers” are part of the high school basketball team, so they’re juggling rehearsals with practice.

The cast is still in flux, too: The person originally given the part of “Gad” (one of the brothers) has had to back out, and we still don’t have a Mrs. Potiphar.  By the end of the month, Christie, George’s wife, has agreed to take over “Gad”. George’s first choice for Mrs. Potiphar is apparently unavailable, but at least two people already in the cast have offered to do the part. Personally, I care a little bit more about this last piece of news: During her one scene, Mrs. Potiphar attempts to seduce Joseph. I’m already nervous about it, and would like to know who I’m working with sooner rather than later.

By the end of the month, I set a rule for myself: No more listening to the cast recording I own. While some songs only differ in key and/or tempo, others have been changed dramatically, with verses deleted or added or rearranged. I know we won’t have any big dance breaks, and I need to stop listening for music cues that may or may not be there.

February 2018

George and I start talking after rehearsal one night about costumes. “Have you thought about the prison scene?” he asks.
“What about it?”
“Well, do you want to go the Donny Osmond route?”
I offer a half-smile, but my heart starts beating faster. When Donny Osmond played Joseph, he ended up shirtless in the prison scene. “I mean, I will if you want me to,” which isn’t really a lie, “but how would that work?” I’m stalling, but also curious to hear his answer. (For those of you unfamiliar with the show: Joseph gets sold into slavery. Mrs. Potiphar, the wife of his owner, tries to seduce him. Potiphar finds out, blames Joseph, and has him thrown in jail.) George has already said the Potiphar sequence wouldn’t be as… sexy as is sometimes portrayed, so I doubt there’ll be a reason for my shirt to be removed. On a more personal level, while I have no problem going shirtless, I am a little worried about the fact that my top surgery scars can still be identified. As I haven’t come out to anyone in town yet, it could lead to some potentially awkward questions.
I would almost swear that George blushes at my question; at least, his face gets a little redder. “I don’t know yet. But think about it.”
In my head, I see this conversation as a weird dance, each of us trying to follow the other’s lead. I make a quick decision to leave things up to George, resolving to talk to him if and when there’s a concern. “Like I said, I’ll do what you ask me to.”

While I’m slowly getting used to this version of the show, there are some things that I wish could still be included. Among these is the duet between the Narrator and Joseph during the reprise of “Any Dream Will Do”; I’ve always loved the vocal harmonies in that section. I happen to mention it to Elena, our Narrator, at one point, and she agrees with me. She also already knows the harmonies. We try it out one night with the piano, and Dr. T and George agree that we can add it in.

The next few rehearsals bring several changes. On the bright side, we now have a stage manager, Bea. (We haven’t started blocking yet, but it’s nice to know that job is covered.) George also announces that he’s cast our Mrs. Potiphar: Kira, who currently plays one of the brothers, will take the role. She joins a growing list of people playing more than one part: “Jacob” also plays “Potiphar”, “Zebulon” and “Isaachar” also play the “Butler” and “Baker”, and so on. Sadly, we also lose a member of the team: Lee, our pianist, has to step down for personal reasons. George immediately starts looking for a replacement, but also presents another possibility: There is a company that makes and licenses digital recordings of the music for the show. The best part? Said recordings can be edited. Keys can be changed, tempos can be sped up or slowed down, and whole sections can be cut or repeated if necessary. The only catch is the price tag. If we opt to go this route, our budget for other things, like costumes and props, will be considerably less. After much discussion among the group, we agree that, if the money can be found, we’d like to go with the digital music.

One week later, an anonymous donor sends a check to cover the entire expense of the music.

Over a month in, and we are FINALLY starting blocking (who stands on stage, how they move, entrances and exits). The small stage at George’s church makes this a bit of a challenge (fortunately, the stages we’ll perform on will be larger). For now, we do the best we can, even if some of us can only be “onstage” when standing off to the sides.

From the start of blocking, it’s clear that George’s directing style differs quite a bit from what I’m used to. There’s a lot more discussion between him and the people he works with, and even people not involved in a particular scene are free to chip in suggestions. Sometimes, this works very well. Other times, we end up in “discussions” where people are talking over one another and no real decisions get made. However, it’s also clear that George spent this past month thinking about what he wants to see on stage, so we at least have some sort of guideline during this process.

Rehearsals now work a little differently. We start off with numbers that involve as many people as possible (often everyone, or darn close). Songs with fewer people happen later on, so that those not involved can leave for the night. While we won’t have much in the way of sets and props, we still have to rehearse as if we have said items on hand. I do better when I have something physical to use, especially when it comes to costumes, so I bring in a coat to use for the scenes that require it. Said coat is the source of much amusement, as it’s the duster for my Captain Reynolds costume. But it works!

March 2018

The next phone call with my parents brings a surprise: They want to come see the show! They’re not the only ones, either: Kelly mentioned back in January that she, Lucas, and Andy were going to see what they could do about coming in from Nunap to catch a performance, and friends in Anchorage and Kenai have also expressed an interest in getting tickets. When tickets finally go on sale early in the month, I let people know. Immediately, I get quite a few orders.

Blocking continues. I have the easiest time with numbers where I interact with other characters. My solos, on the other hand, prove to be a bit of a sticking point. George has me come in early a few times so that we can work on those songs without an audience, something that I appreciate. We use a similar approach for the Potiphar sequence, although that one often gets left until the end of a rehearsal. Elena is the mastermind behind this number, so she and Kira have already worked on it a few times without me or the others involved. The first time we all get together is a bit chaotic, but we figure it out pretty quickly. Thank goodness Joseph is supposed to be uncomfortable during this scene; I don’t have to act very much!

We finally get to rehearse in one of our performance spaces! Stage A, another church, is only a few blocks north of George’s church, but I still drive there tonight because it’s been snowing all day. Compared to our normal rehearsal space, the place is big. The stage has to be at least two-and-a-half times the size of the one at George’s church, and has two levels. A baby grand piano takes up most of the top level. George says we won’t be moving it; I suggest throwing a brown sheet over it and calling it a sand dune. Most of our rehearsal tonight focuses on vocal work, although we do take a little time to try out a couple of things on the larger stage.

Spring break at last. A whole week of no teaching. While I have a to-do list of errands and appointments, for the most part I’m able to rest my voice during the days. I do pick up tickets for all of the various people who want to see the show. Some, like those for D and her family, I drop off in person. Others, like those for the Nunap folks and my dad, I simply keep on my dining room table. In rehearsals, we finally get to use Stage B (yet another church), our other performance space. As soon as I walk in to the space, I mentally dub it “the Barn”. Acoustically, that’s exactly what it is: Concrete floors and prefab walls create a large, open space that swallows the sound and redirects it elsewhere in the building. The stage is a raised plywood platform across the south end of the room; not as big as Stage A, but still larger than our rehearsal space. In exploring the rest of the building, I make a somewhat distressing discovery: In the men’s bathroom, the partition for the stall stops about a foot shy of the wall. Immediately, I plan to only use that facility when absolutely necessary, and never when someone else is in there.

George brings a large box to rehearsal: Props and costume parts have arrived! The former immediately get added in to the appropriate points of the show, but the latter will wait until dress rehearsals begin. While a large portion of our costumes came from the high school, George did order everyone a pair of Thai fisherman pants to use as a “base” for our looks. Some, like me, will never take the things off; others use them only when playing certain characters. After talking over my options with George, I go ahead and order two shirts for my own costume; since the one I want isn’t guaranteed to be here in time for the show, the second will be a backup. But the most important costume doesn’t come in the mail: On the 22nd, our amazing costumer delivers the titular coat. Everyone is anxious to see it, and we are not disappointed: The floor-length garment has been created by piecing together strips of fabric in a variety of patterns and colors, and the hems have been edged in a glittery black and gold star design. I put it on, and I am Joseph.

Our first performance is only a couple of weeks away. Rehearsals move into our performance spaces, particularly the Barn, so we can get comfortable with where and how we can move during the show. Several things have to be re-done to fit both the new layouts and our lights (we don’t have them yet, but mark their eventual locations with tape). We also “woodshed” several segments, doing and re-doing until things click into place. Elena and I start using the microphones we’ll have for the show, and much discussion ensues about who else might need a mic, and if so, what type (headset, lapel, or handheld). In the end, the decision is made that, while Elena and I will be mic’ed at both locations, the other soloists will also have mics at the Barn. The “brothers” will pass a lapel mic around as necessary, and Pharaoh will use a handheld as part of his character. Sets, such as they are, get added in, and the majority of us start wearing our costume shoes or sandals so we can get comfortable performing in them. The last few rehearsals turn into semi-dress rehearsals, so that we can take stock of what we have and what we still need, and start working on transitions for those that need to change costumes. The first night, I feel anxious about dressing in front of the others, and actually take my costume shirt into the bathroom to change before rehearsal starts. By the time we end for the night, I’m too tired to care, and join everyone else in the “greenroom” (one of the Barn’s meeting rooms) to change into our street clothes.

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November 2017

For the first time since I moved to Alaska, I have no concrete plans for Thanksgiving. At one point, I thought about flying back to the village, but traveling in and out at this point of the year can be challenging. Anyway, most of the people I’d want to see typically head to Anchorage or someplace else on the road system for the holiday. I do have friends in Anchorage, but for one reason or another we aren’t able to get together for the actual holiday, although I do manage to make plans with D to hang out the Saturday after. The thought of spending the holiday alone threatens to pull me back in to the depressive funk I’ve only recently begun to escape.

Rescue comes in the form of an invitation from Christie, the school librarian, to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. I gratefully accept, and Thursday afternoon finds me walking the couple of blocks to their house. The gathering includes not only me and Christie’s family (her, her husband, and two youngest daughters), but also a former teacher, back to visit for the holiday, and a couple of other families. I know all but one of the kids from school, and I’ve met George, Christie’s husband, before, but the rest of the faces are unfamiliar. But everyone is friendly, the food is good, and the conversation pleasant, with much talk of various family holiday traditions. At one point, one of the other guests asks George for more information about the show, and my ears prick up. I’ve heard rumors that a local production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” would be happening, but didn’t realize George was involved. I listen as he gives a brief outline of where they are in the process and what he envisions for the show. “When are auditions?” I ask.

“The first week of December.”

December 2017

The days leading up to my audition bring more nerves and anxiety than I remember from previous auditions. Then again, this is the first time I’ve done anything like this since I Transitioned. The last time I auditioned for anything, I’d just begun publicly identifying as a man, and hadn’t started any sort of medical procedures yet.

The day of the audition, I go back and forth on what to wear. Part of me would be fine just wearing my normal, everyday clothes. But there’s another part of me, the part that desperately hopes to land the lead, that says some sort of costume couldn’t hurt. So I keep my jeans, but swap my button-down for a linen shirt I bought in Greece some years ago, and grab a pair of sandals to change in to.

Choosing a song for the audition brings it own set of worries. I haven’t sung in public since my voice changed, and while friends and family assure me it still sounds good, I don’t know how it sounds to people who don’t know me as well. While I know it’s unlikely, I’d love to land a lead or featured role in the production, but I’ve only ever heard those parts sung by tenors. Testosterone made my voice drop, and my singing voice these days fits more in the baritone/bass range. I can reach the lower end of the tenor range, but is it enough?

I deliberately arrive at auditions at the scheduled start time. While I don’t think it’ll be overly crowded, I just want to do this. The longer I wait, the worse my nerves get, so I’m relieved to see only a couple of other people there. George greets all of us and shows us the forms we need to fill out. Soon, it’s my turn. I take my forms and head in. George greets me again, and I say hi to Dr. T. He’s the music teacher at school, and apparently will be working on the show, too. George gives me the go-ahead, I take a deep breath, and sing through “Close Every Door”, one of Joseph’s big solos. I answer a few questions for them, thank them for the opportunity, they thank me for coming in, and I’m done. Now the waiting begins.

I walk into callbacks a week later, secure in the knowledge that I am Joseph. George called a few days ago to offer me the role; he only requested that I not say anything until the official announcement later this week. He also asked that, if possible, I swing by callbacks anyway, both to meet people and to be measured for my costume (the coat!).

January 2018

I picked up my libretto and score a week ago. Tonight, I’m walking up the street to our first rehearsal. I’m a little nervous, for a variety of reasons. I feel that I need to prove myself to the rest of the cast; most of them have worked together on previous productions. We’re meeting in a church, where George happens to be the pastor. The relationship between organized religion and the LGBT community can be… interesting. Sure, I “pass”, but theatre doesn’t always leave personal barriers intact. I stuff that particular fear into the back of my mind; no sense getting ahead of myself. Besides, my old friend social anxiety is clamoring for attention, and I can’t let it be left out, now can I? Thank goodness I already know roughly how tonight will go, otherwise I would be even more of a nervous wreck. I arrive at the church door at the same time as several others. I recognize a couple from callbacks, and one from Community Band. More people trickle in over the next fifteen minutes or so, including the rest of George’s family. Finally, everyone is there. George motions for everyone to take a seat as he outlines the schedule for the coming week and month. After introductions, tonight and tomorrow will be “sing-throughs”, with the entire cast (everyone who can be here, anyway) singing along to a cast recoding from one of the professional productions of the show. Wednesday, Dr. T and George will do some individual work with those of us who have solos. The next few weeks will follow a similar schedule. “Any questions?” George checks. When no one speaks up, we move on to introductions. It’s quite the group: Kids and adults, a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Most of my “brothers” are being played by women, and more than one person will be playing dual roles. As Dr. T finally presses “play”, I take a deep breath. Time to get started.

 

Five years ago today I woke up elated and afraid. Elated because I was getting top surgery! Afraid because I was getting top surgery.

I suspect the joy is a little easier to understand. From the moment I hit puberty the first time, I loathed the way my upper body looked. Initially I denied the changes that occurred right under my nose; once I finally acknowledged them, I refused to step out of the house in anything other than a tight sports bra. When my costume for the musical during my sophomore year didn’t allow for that, I wore a tight tankini instead. I tried wearing traditional bras a couple of times, but I hated how they felt and how they made me look. When I hit college and began Transitioning, I switched to Ace bandages for a while (not one of my brighter ideas) before finally purchasing several binders. Essentially a double-layer spandex undershirt, these garments flattened my torso even more than the sports bras had, letting me “pass” as a man when I wore clothes. I also bought a special binder made of swimsuit material for the summers, so I didn’t have to fight with a girl’s one-piece suit anymore. As long as I wore clothes, I was somewhat comfortable in my body. But that wasn’t enough. I remembered times as a kid when I ran around with no shirt on. I remember closing my eyes in the shower when my body began changing, and training myself to not look below shoulder level in mirrors if I didn’t have at least a bra on. The binders may have been a help, but they also added two very tight layers under my normal clothes, which meant I overheated even more easily than I always had. And I wanted back the feeling of freedom I had as a kid, when I felt more comfortable in my own skin.

From the moment I realized that I had to Transition to keep going, I wanted top surgery. For an assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) individual like me, that means I would basically get a mastectomy.  It’s not something every trans person wishes for, or can afford. But I knew that for me to be truly happy I needed it. The biggest question became when, as most insurance companies at the time didn’t cover ANY costs related to the procedure. So I kept working, kept saving, and did research. I learned about the different types of top surgery: Depending on how large your chest was pre-operation, the surgeon might opt to do “keyhole” surgery or a bilateral mastectomy with nipple grafts. The former procedure leaves less visible scars, because the incisions are made in the nipples. It also works best for folks who are no larger than an A or small B cup. I realized pretty quickly that I’d likely end up having the second procedure.

Spring of 2012 brought with it that long-term substitute teaching job, and with it, a large paycheck. As soon as I realized just how much money I’d have by the end of the semester, I kicked my surgery research in to high gear, because there was a very good chance I could have the procedure done that summer. After looking at costs and reviews, I scheduled my procedure with Dr. Medalie in Cleveland. And the countdown to 25 June began.

Even with how excited I was when I woke up that day five years ago, I was also a little afraid. As much as I disliked it, my body was still a known quantity, and had been for years. I’d never had surgery like this before; what would that be like? I’d seen a video on Dr. Medalie’s web site of the procedure, so I knew exactly what was about to happen. How much was it going to hurt? And what if, after all of this, I wasn’t happy with the results? What then?

Dr. Medalie performs this surgery as an outpatient procedure, so I didn’t spend any time in a hospital. I arrived at the surgery center a couple of hours before the procedure, and was back in the hotel room by early evening. The next few days proved to be the biggest trial of my whole Transition: The dressings on my chest and drains in my sides made moving around too much painful, and I couldn’t really move my shoulders. The drains also meant I had to sleep on my back (NOT my preferred sleeping position). I forced myself to relax as much as possible and spent the week catching up on sci-fi TV shows.

One week after the surgery, the drains came out, the dressings came off, and I got to see the new me. My first look didn’t do much to dispel my previous fear: The grafts and incisions were still in the early stages of healing, my skin was prickly with re-growing hair (my chest was shaved prior to surgery), and patches of yellow and orange showed where I’d been swabbed with iodine during the procedure. But over the next few weeks, as I exercised and stretched and got back to the business of living my life, I realized that the fear had proved unfounded.

Five years later, I have no concerns about how my chest looks. Regular exercise has allowed me to build a decent amount of muscle; between that and my body hair the scars of my surgery are a little hard to see unless you know what to look for. I no longer wear multiple layers of clothes to hide my shape, only for comfort. The first time I went swimming in just trunks ranks as one of the happiest days of my life. In many ways, five years ago today marked the start of ME.

It’s a dysphoria day.

I’ve been living authentically for almost ten years; I’ve been on hormones for just over seven. Two surgeries, four-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years ago, went a long way towards banishing these moments of disconnect.In my daily life, no one questions my gender. And yet, I still have days where question myself, where the dysphoria that once occurred daily rises up from the dark corners of my mind and makes itself known again. I can’t always pinpoint the trigger for these feelings. Today, though, I know exactly what caused it.

I’m letting my hair grow again.

Some context: At its longest, my hair has never passed my jaw. In fifth grade, I got it cut so that it brushed the tops of my years. Not a “pixie” cut either. Some of the earlier pictures show a bowl-style cut; later, I styled it by parting it on the left and pushing my bangs off to the side. I got it cut again right around the time I started hormones and have spent the last seven years sporting an almost Tintin-like style: short back and sides, with the front long enough that it flips upwards. Until I moved to Alaska, haircuts occurred monthly, although I would occasionally grow it out a bit for Halloween costumes.

Things changed a bit here on the tundra. My coworker Jenny cuts hair, but between her schedule, my schedule, and the cooler temperatures I’ve taken to going two or three months between trims.

As has become my custom, I got a haircut in August right before I returned to Nunap. My intention was to then grow it out for Halloween. I ended up buying a wig to use with my costume, but I didn’t get my hair cut right away. For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something different with my hair anyway, so I figured this was as good a time as any to start.

Watching my hair get longer again has been interesting. Some things are funny, like seeing my students exclaim over how it no longer stands up. Other things are annoying, like the two cowlicks in the back that won’t lie flat no matter what I do. (One advantage to letting my hair continue to grow: Said cowlicks no longer exist.) And some things I’d just plain forgotten about, like how much static charge can build up in this dry air.

At one point a couple of weeks ago, I looked in the mirror and realized that my hair has now reached the same length it was in high school and my first few years of college. Back when I was bullied for how I looked. Back when I avoided public restrooms for fear of the looks and words that would come my way. Back when I started living authentically and had to deal with people questioning each and every thing about how I presented. Old memories and feelings I thought I’d dealt with began clamoring for attention again. For the last two weeks, I’ve been coping with these demons from my past as I try to go about my daily routine, teach my kids, prepare for the holidays.

The loudest voice keeps telling me, “You look like a girl.” Intellectually, I know this is bull. My hair is longer than other men, about the same as others, and far shorter than some. Emotionally, the words resonate with a different meaning: I look like I did when the world identified me as a girl. And that was not a happy time.

I admit, once I realized just what memories were stirring, I nearly texted Jenny and asked for an immediate haircut. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent time thinking and reflecting.Part of me wants to keep my hair this length, at least for a little while. Yes, I have bad memories associated with it, but if I get it cut again right now, then those will also be the only memories and feelings I have about this look. I’d rather overwrite them with a more positive take on things. And what does it say about the society that I was raised in, that I worry so much about if my appearance and gestures are more “feminine” than “masculine”? Because it’s not just the length of my hair that can cause dysphoria; I still worry about the shape of my body and the way I gesture with my hands or sit in a chair.

So how do I cope with dysphoria days? I reach out to my support network. In this case,  I took pictures and posted them on Facebook, seeking validation from my friends. They responded with nothing but positive energy. I pull myself out of my body for a bit by reading or writing fiction. I watch some of my favorite movies or TV series. I work out. Or sometimes, like today, I pull on a favorite baseball cap (backwards) and t-shirt, park myself in front of my computer, and spend hours working out how to arrange my thoughts into an articulate blog post. Because the naming of the demons gives them less power over me. Because “shared pain is lessened”. Because I know I’m not alone. Because I want other people struggling with similar issues to know that they aren’t alone, either.

 

 

A few days ago, an article popped up on my Facebook news feed: a group called the Binding Health Project just published the first study on chest binding to be carried by a medical journal (Culture, Health, and Society).  As I read through the article (which can be found here), I found myself immersed in memories of my own experiences.

As a youngling, my body didn’t offer too much in the way of dysphoric triggers. In my experience, society as a whole and my family in particular were more lax in what kids got to wear and how they acted. Several photos exist of me running around the family lake house as a toddler with the top of my one piece bathing suit pushed down around my waist, and I have strong memories of sitting by fires on the beach there in just shorts or pants.

Initially, I was in denial about the changes puberty brought to my body. I saw myself as a boy, and the idea that my body may be developing in a different way intensified the feelings of discomfort I was already experiencing. When I couldn’t deny the changes to my body any longer, I insisted on only buying sports bras. Through high school, my dysphoria and body image issues only continued to grow. The sports bras became both a blessing and a curse: Underneath my preferred t-shirt and vests or hoodies, the undergarments provided enough camouflage that I felt comfortable moving through the world, but at the same time the very name of the things reminded me that society saw me as a girl. I only wore a “regular” bra a handful of times, and never outside a dressing room or my own bedroom. To this day, even the memories of those few experiences bring an overwhelming feeling of disconnect between the mental and the physical, a dizziness that only increased when I’d contemplate wearing the things out in public.

College brought the opportunity to explore my identity and begin living authentically. No longer happy with the sports bras, I researched other means of binding my chest. For the immediate future, buying commercial binders was out of the question. Instead, I settled on using Ace bandages. Each morning I’d wrap the elasticized cloth around my torso, pinning the end in place with my arm as I secured the little clips. This method had its drawbacks: The bandages would roll around the edges, leading to an oddly lumpy silhouette. And while I joked that it forced me to breathe from the diaphragm, I would sometimes feel short of breath when exercising or playing trombone. I never had trouble following the so-called “eight hour rule”; by the time my classes had ended for the day, I was more than happy to return to my dorm room and ditch the bandages while lounging in a baggy t-shirt.

In the middle of my junior year, I finally bought several binders from Underworks, one of several companies that sells these items. After the constriction of the bandages, the binders brought a new feeling of freedom, both physical and psychological. Instead of a tight band around the center of my chest, the binders spread the compression out over my entire torso, which meant no more unsightly bulges. Even better, the garments looked like an undershirt, which meant I no longer had to worry about what would happen if someone caught a glimpse of one. Best of all, I no longer wore a bra, which marked me as a girl, or a bandage, which implied I was damaged in some way.

I wore binders for four years. While never as uncomfortable as the bras and bandages, I still had to deal with a near-constant feeling of over-heating, particularly in summer. After I started hormones and my body began changing, the binders gradually became even less amenable. Testosterone combined with my workout habits to begin reshaping my chest even without surgery, which lead to chafing around my armpits and shoulders. I also had the fun of learning how it feels when hair grows in underneath such tight garments. Not binding was never an option: I couldn’t bear the sight of my naked chest for more than a few moments at a time, and hated the weight that hung off my body without support. However, the idea of wearing binders for the rest of my life never held much appeal, either. Like so many others, I sought a more permanent solution in the form of top surgery.

Even though it’s been over four years since I last bound my chest, I still think about how that experience shaped me, both psychically and physically. I worry that the Ace bandages in particular re-shaped my ribs in some way, and wonder what the consequences of that will be further down the line. I also worry about my trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming siblings who resort to even more dangerous methods of binding themselves. I sincerely hope that the Binding Health Project continues their good work, and that that work influences how the medical community helps others like me.

Some other me asserted his male identity as soon as he could speak.

Some other me still hasn’t publicly said, “I’m a guy.”

Some other me identifies as female.

Some other me has a body that aligns with their gender identity.

Some other me hid how smart he was in school, so he could fit in better.

Some other me came out in high school.

Some other me had multiple girl- and/or boyfriends before he turned twenty.

Some other me went to Homecoming and/or Prom, at least once.

Some other me never went to college.

Some other me went to a different college.

Some other me made it to Australia for that semester abroad.

Some other me actually had a relationship with Her.

Some other me made a career in musical theatre.

Some other me plays in a symphony.

Some other me works as a zookeeper.

Some other me got the job running the Teen Docent program at the museum.

Some other me never even worked there.

Some other me turned that long-term substitute teaching job into a full-time career.

Some other me got a job in Baltimore or Denver.

Some other me worked in a bookstore rather than go back to substitute teaching.

Some other me still works in the labs at the university.

Some other me got a part in a Star Wars movie.

Some other me makes his living as a novelist.

Some other me actually managed to tell a person that I loved them, and had them reciprocate.

Some other me already has a significant other and kids.

Some other me never had surgery.

Some other me never met my best friends.

Some other me never got over his social anxiety.

Some other me makes friends with everyone he ever meets.

Some other me cut off all ties with his pre-Transition past.

Some other me never left my hometown.

Some other me always has a plan, for everything.

Some other me randomly jumps on a plane or drives with no destination in mind.

Some other me has the privilege of moving wherever he wishes.

Some other mes have it better than I do.

Some other mes aren’t nearly so lucky.

“If I met [him] I would ask [him] that one question we both fear: Some other me, how’d we end up here?”


This summer has brought a lot of changes with it, and it got me thinking about many “what if?” scenarios. The title of this post and the quote at the end come from the song, “Some Other Me” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for their musical “If/Then”.

Even though I now live three-thousand miles away in the middle of nowhere, I’m still active in the trans community of my hometown. (Actually, it’s likely because I live in the middle of nowhere that I’m active in the community….) I maintain the Facebook page for the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and communicate with several members of other trans and LGBTQ groups. When I’m home, I try to get to at least one event or get together. In between times, I keep updated on various goings-on via Facebook and online news sources. Back in April, an article ran about the local school district’s plans to unveil a district-wide transgender non-discrimination policy (NDP). Based on the policy that’s been in place at one high school since 2014, the district-wide version merely sets things out in a such a way that every school in the district can also be accommodating of students who don’t fit into the gender binary. Prior to voting on the policy, the school board announced a series of three public hearings where anyone could speak their opinions on this and other policies or issues before the board. The first two of these hearings took place while I was still in Alaska, so I had no chance of taking part. The last, however, took place just this past Monday.

Preparing for the hearing actually began the week before, when I called the office of the board to state that I wished to speak at the upcoming hearing. I had to give my name, where I lived, and the issue about which I’d be speaking. In return, the person I spoke with gave me my number (I’d be the 21st speaker of the night), told me I would have three minutes, and requested that I bring 15 copies of my remarks for the board members.

I spent most of Monday morning writing, crossing out, re-writing, and editing what I planned to say. (Three minutes doesn’t seem like a long time until you actually try talking for that long.) I then spent time that afternoon worrying about what to wear. Polo or button down? Short sleeves or long? Tie or no tie? I eventually settled on an outfit I frequently wore while substitute teaching.

The school board’s offices are in the same neighborhood as my grandparents’ apartment, the natural history museum where I once worked, and the main branch of the local library. Even though I speak in front of groups a lot, I still get nervous about it, so my original plan was to park the car and then hang out at the library for a bit before going to the meeting. On my way from the garage to the library, I passed a van that bore the name of a local Baptist church, which didn’t seem like a good sign. Turning the corner, I noticed a sizable crowd gathered outside the main entrance of the board building, and my heart sped up. Could all of these people be here to protest or speak in support of the NDP? Would I have to talk in front of them? Would there even be room for everyone at the meeting? Mostly concerned about this last question, and curious to hear what (I thought) the opposition had to say, I decided to forego the library and approached the group.

Within a couple of minutes, I discovered that the group gathered at the door, which included the church group, were actually there about a completely different matter: the recent hiring of a new superintendent. My nerves calmed a little at that point, but I still felt jumpy at the thought of speaking in front of all of these people, especially as the crowd continued to grow as the time of the meeting drew nearer. Fortunately, I did spot some friendly faces in the mass: The leaders of the local LGBTQ youth theatre group and several of their actors. When the doors finally opened, they and I positioned ourselves as close to the front of the line as we could. This turned out to be a good move: The security guard who opened the door said that due to the amount of people speaking (85!) and the fact that the building had no power, they would not be able to let everyone attend the hearing. Fortunately, the theatre group folks and I made it inside.

Public hearings are held in one of the conference rooms on the second floor of the building. According to family who have been to these things before, normally the public sits at one end of the room, the board members at the other, and anyone who is speaking stands on the floor in front of the board and uses a microphone. Due to the power outage, this set up was changed slightly: Members of the public sat at either end of the room, and the board members sat in the middle, facing the entrance along that wall. Said entrance had been blocked off to create a sort of podium so that any speaker could be heard by everyone in the room. After making sure everyone was ready, the Speaker of the Board explained the procedure for the night: People would be called on to speak in the order in which they had phoned in in the week leading up to the meeting. Copies of the complete list were available for the public. The Speaker would call people in groups of 6. Those called would head out into the hallway to wait their turn at the podium. In a speaker’s turn came, a board employee would take the copies of their statement for distribution to the board members. Once you started speaking, you had three minutes. A bell signaled you had about a minute left; a second bell meant your time was up. Due to the amount of speakers, there would be a short break after number 40. “Are there any questions? Then let’s begin.”

By now, I knew that not everyone was there to talk about the NDP. Several people spoke on behalf of a local charter school whose charter is up for renewal. Others spoke in favor of proposed renovations for another school. The majority spoke for or against the new superintendent. And several other people spoke about the NDP. As I listened to each speaker, I scanned the crowd to see their reactions on each topic. School renovations and charter renewals mostly garnered polite applause. Pro-new superintendent speakers got huge rounds of applause from their faction (which seemed to be the largest in the room), while those who want the board to re-open the search garnered less applause and the occasional “boooo!” Speakers on the NDP also earned a fair amount of applause, and no catcalls that I could hear. Soon enough, the Speaker announce my name, and I moved into the hall to get ready.

After handing the copies of my statements to the staff member, I paced a little as I waited my turn. I’d recognized some of my former coworkers in the crowd; what would they think when they heard me speaking? There were cameras from a couple of local news networks there; would my face be on the 11 o’ clock news?

Soon enough, it was my turn. I walked to the makeshift podium as the copies of my statement were passed to the board members. With a last look around the room, I looked down at my own copy of the speech, tucked my hands in my pockets so no one could see them shaking, took a deep breath, and began speaking:

Good evening. My name is Cee Jay L. I have a story to share with you. In February of 2012, I was hired by this district as a long-term substitute for a middle school science classroom. In March, as the [standardized tests] approached, I led a discussion on basic genetics with my 8th graders. One of the students asked about what makes a person a boy or girl. My initial answer focused on X and Y chromosomes, but several students quickly jumped in with questions about terms like, “hermaphrodite”, “transsexual”, and “he-she”. So I took a deep breath, tried to calm my racing heart, and walked the students through the differences between sex and gender, and what exactly makes a transgender person. One student vocally struggled with the thought of making such drastic changes to her body, so I asked her to think about it like this: “Imagine that you were born in the body of a boy. In your heart and mind, you know you’re a girl, but because of how your body looks society tells you that you are boy and you can only do certain things.” All of the students got thoughtful looks on their faces, and then the student who had asked the question stated, “That would suck!”

I admit, I breathed easier at that point. For you see, I am transgender. As an adolescent, I fell squarely in the middle of your definition for “gender expansive” students: a perceived girl, complete with an “F” on all the paperwork, who neither looked nor acted like the other girls. Fortunately, I had friends and teachers and administrators who worked with me to make my time in school an overall success. As an adult, I’ve worked with organizations like the Initiative for Transgender Leadership and THRIVE to ensure that more students like me have equally supportive experiences. So tonight I am here to show my support for the proposed Transgender Nondiscrimination Policy. As you can see, your students already get it. I encourage you to follow their lead. Thank you for your time.

Applause followed me as I returned to the hallway. Other speakers waiting there offered me smiles and congratulations. I thanked them and stepped off to the side to take a few deep breaths and calm my racing heart before rejoining the audience to listen to more speakers.