letter from berlin, for the jewish new year

23Sep12

posting this now, though i wrote it almost two weeks ago. some decisions take time to become public.

I am losing my summer feet and remembering the origins of these callouses : the bumpy pebbles outside our kitchen in Vermont. Listening to Blonde on Blonde because I’ve finally gotten sick of Robyn on repeat. Recently returned from 48 hours of truly moving contemporary art experiences at Documenta 13. I live in East Berlin at the moment and might take my first injection of testosterone this week.

There’s a lot to consider, when it comes down to it.

Looking at art cleared my head, filling it with new ideas instead of its recent clutter. Little film sets and animal spirits and the power of sharing your private games of perception with a festival full of people; the collective meaning of the objects we compulsively gather; the expansion that happens to an artist’s vision when they are given an entire house to fill. In my notes I made to-do lists and sketches for spider webs on a white metal bedframe, started a new faerie tale to revive the wild ponies from their slumber. Pondered more about the line between metaphor and truth. I guess you could call it magical realism, but if real life is magic then isn’t it just documentary?

This is personal but it’s important : I bled for the last time this week. My body had been repressing it for months, and this week it let go with a vengeance. The surge in female hormones clouded my head, making me foggy and needy and intensely emotional. I felt like I was going to die ~ or maybe that I was actually already dead, barely tethered to this earth, hovering somewhere between here and the spirit world. That general semi-monthly resentment I’ve grown used to felt more like self-harm this time around.

I hadn’t bled since I started talking to the doctors about hormones three months ago, and as I’ve waffled on whether to step forward or stay hidden in this female-assigned body, I think I forgot how urgently my body has asked for change. Some deep part of me finally understands that I have available options ::: I don’t have to keep doing this if I didn’t want to, anymore.

I don’t want to keep doing this anymore.

I just want to live my life, make my art, and figure out new ways to be good to the people I love.

I want my body to stop bleeding. I want to remove the excess flesh from my chest. I am tired of feeling terrible about my appearance. I am too much of a feminist to hate my body this way – it’s not right. Something needs to change.

I already hold the answer in a vial on my windowsill.

Transition no longer feels like an option : just an extension of the truth I have always worked to uphold. My truth is a space between genders, and the way I present myself to the world should reflect that.

But mostly I want to be able to look in the mirror again and not cringe. I want to be happy with what I see, and I want my visual truth to be accurate. I hope these hormones will help me feel more balanced, more settled in my body. This transient person is who I have become, but I remember what it’s like to feel comfortable in my skin – back before I understood anything about gender and who I truly am.

The more research I do, the more I am convinced that there has historically been a place that existed between genders. At least 1/3 of Native American nations once recognized the two-spirit people amongst them, individuals who held many genders within them and were honored as visionaries, healers, artists, and spiritual leaders. Since colonialism obliterated Native two-spirit individuals from the menu of acceptable genders, transgender people and their histories have been largely suppressed. But Nepal now officially recognizes a third gender in all dealings with the state, theorists from Magnus Hirschfeld to Harry Hay have felt that being queer was actually its own gender. “Genderqueer” still feels too academic somehow, and “they” is a pronoun without grace, but I know there is truth to my understanding of myself and I am determined to continue articulating it.

I have the freedom and the privilege to be public about who I am; I have been using my life to set a political example ever since I burned out on actual politics. Now I want my body to change, as a personal and simultaneously political act.

I have made my peace with it : the next step is change.

So : this is my Rosh Hashanah resolution, then. I am looking at the liquid in that vial right now, and wondering how it will FINALLY feel when it lives in me, where it belongs.

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7 Responses to “letter from berlin, for the jewish new year”

  1. 1 LL

    i love you so much.

  2. 2 Rita

    I wish you the very best on your journey. I hope you will soon feel more at ease within yourself. Thinking good thoughts for you and sending good vibes your way.

  3. I commend you for being public about your personal life. But, I am worried that “the answer” may not be in a vial, as you have implied. I am concerned that the idea of individuals needing to express their gender visually in these old and rote ways–via testosterone or estrogen, breasts or no breasts only validates old notions of gender and validates the idea that someone needs this or that addition or subtraction to be this or that person. Living between genders but without testosterone is possible, as is eliminating bleeding. Sure, you could remove your breasts, but you could loose all sensation (that would be a big deal for some people). I applaud you for wanting to use your body as a canvass– there are others who have transitioned using this motif including Genesis P-Orridge, but at the end of the day this:

    “I am too much of a feminist to hate my body this way – it’s not right. Something needs to change.”

    I already hold the answer in a vial on my windowsill.”

    Is really concerning. I don’t know you or what you have done to try to “change” in terms of changing your feelings about yourself, and I don’t want to judge you or deny you the right to your own decision or act like this is a simple choice for you, because obviously it hasn’t been. But the words you are using to describe your feelings are the exact same words used by women who feel like their breasts aren’t big enough and get breast implants. They think doing this one thing will be “the answer” to their feelings of inadequacy. I hope you are able to find peace with yourself and know that you are attractive and queer enough and everything you would already imagine yourself to be already. Right now you are awesome. Right now you are in between genders and you don’t NEED a vial to get you there.

    Here are two links to ponder:
    http://14karatliving.com/2012/08/13/a-letter-to-my-former-self/
    http://www.dapperq.com/interview-with-liza-cowan-of-dyke-a-quarterly/

    Best of luck to you, and thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • Hi there – and thank you for your thoughts. I’ve been considering these decisions (both hormones and top surgery) as the constant voice in my head for two years now, after a lifetime of understanding myself to be “different” but not being able to articulate quite HOW. My recent bout of extreme dysphoria was sort of the last straw in a debate about whether any sort of physical transition was necessary, particularly for a person who considers themself neither gender. Why transform into to a more male exterior if that feels as inaccurate as a female one? Why grant myself options that weren’t historically available to two-spirit individuals?

      The answer, for me, is that this is 2012 and this is what we have. I understand that once dysphoria reaches this level, it doesn’t tend to go back. As you may know transition is a state that begins long before hormone therapy and continues long after. This was a particularly influential piece that I read : http://www.sarabecker.com/t/seasons.htm in helping to understand my personal experiences in context with greater patterns of human/trans behavior.

      Since I wrote this post two weeks ago I’ve started taking T but in gel form, which works much more gradually than injections. I may reach a point where my physical androgyny matches my interior sense of self and that’s where I might stop the hormones. But after what felt like AGES of internal debate about this, I needed to take action. It’s not that my body is inadequate, and my self-esteem has always been strong. That’s how I realized and understood the dysphoria for what it was.

      • 5 amar

        Great questions by fakepretty, and likewise response from Quito. I just stumbled upon this, and I’ll try to get some thoughts down. Coming from a healthcare profession, I can’t help but see medical intervention for gender issues as “treatment”, implying gender-non-conformers have something to “treat”, implying they are pathological in some sense.

        It seems that, in the past, trans people kept their bodies and changed their presentation to match their bodies when they needed to deflect the negativity from society. Now, trans people change their bodies to match their presentation when they need road to go more smoothly. Then there are the people who keep the mismatch (although only a mismatch through the eyes of heteronormativity), and theirs is the path less traveled, but hopefully they change the roads for more than just themselves.

        If the problem is that society expects female-bodied people to act/dress/present in a certain way, wouldn’t a political act be NOT acting/dressing/presenting in ways that hegemony expects? Rather than disliking yourSELF, and going to lengths to introduce medical interventions that come with their own risks, make society do the work of accepting a female-bodied individual who is between genders.

        The best political act would be looking in the mirror and liking what you see, and perhaps that’s the hardest.

        Anyway, you clearly experienced some anguish in this decision, so the last thing I intend is to cause more of that once the decision has been made. Instead, I expect that you probably have better responses to my less-eloquent questions. I’m just trying to learn.

  4. 6 Teresa

    Dearest Quito,

    I love you and support you. Kudos to you for exploring and facing the difficult questions.

    T

  5. 7 Anonymous

    Quito,

    Beautiful thoughts – and what a thoughtful and respectful conversation they gave rise to! Sending all of my love and support your way

    Caty


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