Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I Asked My Mother, "What Will I Be?"

People seem to enjoy reading about my gender transition, and it's healing and helpful for me to write about it. So I thought I'd put together a post on what it was like for me growing up trans - and not knowing it.

Before I was ever born, my very Christian mother prayed to Jesus to send her a little girl. I know this because she frequently told me how the only thing she ever wanted in life was a little girl. She meant it in only the best way: an expression of how happy she was to have me! But as I got older, it began to trouble me, because I wasn't so little anymore and I wasn't very good at being a girl.

Some trans people can look back to early childhood and point out a lot of signs that they were "born this way". For me, there were only two. The first was my twin brother Bobby, who held the distinction of being imaginary - or "invisible" as I insisted at the time. Bobby was a boy version of me, we were "identical" despite being opposite-sex, and he went everywhere I did. I would later learn that it's not uncommon for trans kids to imagine an opposite-sex twin! At the time, though, I just knew I wanted to spend all of my time being with a boy.

The other clue came one day when I was watching my grandpa shave. I asked if I would shave when I grew up, and I will never forget his response: "Only if you grow up to be a man". Now, by this age I was pretty fully socialized as a girl, and I protested, "But I'm a girl, won't I grow up to be a woman?" My grandpa told me, "I used to be a little girl". Excitedly, I asked how he turned into a boy, and he said he didn't remember. I rushed out of the bathroom to go and figure out how I could trade places and become Bobby. I loved the idea of growing up to be a man and learning to shave like my grandpa. When I asked my mom, she said that my grandpa was pulling my leg and stressed that I absolutely could NOT become a boy. I remember being pretty disappointed by that, and I don't remember spending much time with Bobby afterwards.

The full story about my grandpa, by the way, is that when he was little my great-grandparents divorced, and my great-grandfather was granted custody. My great-grandmother felt she had a right to her son, so she kidnapped him and made him live as a girl, since the police were looking for a little boy. He was eventually returned to his father, but only after living as a girl for long enough to remember it in his 70s!

For the next several years, I seemed like a normal enough little girl. I liked my Barbies and Babysitters Club books, and lots of gender-neutral activities like drawing and playing on the swingset. But there were a few little signs that I was different. For one, no one could convince me to care about being pretty. I wore baggy clothes and my hair was in a big knot because I wouldn't let anyone brush it (but I wouldn't let them cut it short, either). I loved to play in dirt and mud - I once got in trouble at school for making a "sand angel" since we didn't have snow in Florida! I was also a pretty sensory-sensitive kid, though, so all that stuff could be just as much the result of that as anything to do with my gender.

Puberty is when shit started to hit the fan, gender-wise. I cried and screamed when I had to get my first bra, and then I refused to wear anything but a sports bra. When I got my period I remember laying in my grandmother's bed, curled up in a ball, wishing I could wake up the next day and be three again. This was as close as my kid-mind got to feeling suicidal - I knew my life as it was was intolerable and I wanted to escape. By age 11 I had retreated to spending most of my time in my room, watching VH1 to see gender-bending people like Michael Jackson and Boy George. I liked certain girly things, like nail polish and glitter, but I idolized boys who liked those things, instead of women. So I spent my preteen years wanting my body to stop becoming feminine and wanting to be like men who wore makeup. But I still didn't consciously have thoughts of wanting to be a boy.

As I grew into a teen, I started realizing I was different. I had a lot of deep-down, confusing feelings about being queer but not being quite sure how. I knew I was attracted to boys, I knew I was fascinated by gay men and gay male culture, but I also knew I couldn't be a gay boy because I wasn't a boy! So I came out as a lesbian, then as bisexual, then I decided I was straight, then bisexual again. I couldn't figure myself out. By this point I knew about trans people, but I believed two myths about trans men: That they were all very, very masculine, and that they all knew they were boys from the time they were toddlers. So while I loved and ate up any story about any kind of gender-bending, I didn't feel any sort of identification with trans men. At the same time, I kept going through phases where I'd wear boys' jeans and baggy t-shirts, which I felt super comfortable in. Unfortunately, those times were less common than the times I spent trying really, really hard to be a girl and act the way girls were supposed to act. I didn't feel comfortable enough with who I was to even really get to know myself.

It wasn't until I was 24 that I consciously began to think of myself as a trans person. I had known lots of trans people by then, but it wasn't until I discovered the word genderqueer that I started to question my own gender identity. I found the website Genderfork and something resonated deep inside, so strongly that it was terrifying. Since then, I've played around with my gender expression and found that I'm more comfortable presenting in a more masculine way. I still chose a gender-ambiguous name, Elisha Aster, and I still don't feel completely like a man. But in 2011 I started gender therapy, and on August 1st, 2011 I began testosterone. Whether or not I feel completely like a man, being on T feels great! And yes, just like my grandpa promised, I get to shave my face.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


A few weeks ago I posted about some big plans I have. It's hard to believe it was that recent, because things are already starting to happen! Since people have been asking, I thought I'd post an update on what's going on.

The House

The first thing I needed to do was find a source of money for all the other endeavors, and that meant finding a buyer for my house in Florida. Luckily, that happened almost immediately. My neighbor back in Florida owns the property next door to mine, and it would be profitable for her family to own mine as well. So her son made me an offer almost right away! It's not a lot of money, because the house is old and the property's not in great shape, but it's just enough to cover the things I want to do.


I've been spending a lot of time browsing RVs, and I've decided exactly what I want: a 17' Casita Spirit Deluxe, or another very similar trailer. By keeping a close watch on this site and being willing to go with an older model, I should be able to snag one for $3,000-$5,000, which is right in my budget. I also plan to sell my car and buy a Jeep Grand Cherokee or similar SUV for towing. There are lots of Grand Cherokees online in around the same price range as my car's Blue Book value, so it should be a pretty even trade.

Goddard College

So far I haven't done much toward getting into Goddard because I need to pay off my loans first. I did do a FAFSA and find out that once my loans are paid, I should qualify for a full Pell Grant (based on last year's income). I also requested the standard admissions information packet and browsed the online catalog. So far, Goddard looks highly compatible with the rest of my plans, because I can get credit for documenting what I learn and do during my travels.

Top Surgery

I've been researching surgeons. Now, I'm not a highly religious person, but I do believe in intuition and paying attention to certain signs. My mind was telling me not to go with Melissa Johnson, because I was unimpressed with some of her results on Transbucket, and even less impressed by her $100 consult fee. In contrast, Paul Costas does consults for free, and while I could only find a few of his results on Transbucket, they all looked good to me. Plus, his website looks a bit less tacky and more professional than Johnson's. But something kept not feeling right when I'd think about calling Costas' office to schedule a consult, and I couldn't bring myself to do it. I finally decided it was just that I'm not ready to start planning on surgery just yet. Meanwhile, I posted about my surgeon dilemma on Tumblr, and a total stranger messaged me to stress that they had a wonderful experience with Johnson and they'd recommend her above anyone else. And in fairness, I had to admit that the one thing I keep hearing about Johnson is that she and the hospital she works through take excellent care of patients. Then today - after I'd already decided to put off calling Costas for awhile - a friend who knew nothing of my dilemma emailed me out of the blue to say his friend had a great surgeon. He gave me her contact info, and lo and behold, it was Melissa Johnson. So you know what? I think it just might be worth the $100 to check her out. Gut feelings and word-of-mouth are important things to consider.

So that's where I'm at right now. In the meantime, I'm trying to make my budget stretch to cover food, gas, and medicine until I finish all the legal shenanigans involved in selling the house. After that, it's mostly just red tape and miscellaneous errands standing between me and the life I want.

Monday, May 21, 2012

One Hundred Barbies

Now and then I like to buy myself things that I never had as a child because my mom didn’t think they were for little girls. It wasn’t that I wasn’t *allowed* to have them, it’s just that her eyes went directly to the pretty pink things and it never occurred to her that I’d be interested in anything the next aisle over. And honestly I liked bright colors, and boys’ toys were often navy blue and forest green, so it wasn’t hard for me to start imitating my mom and going right for the girly stuff.

But when I grew up and realized the “boy aisle” was full of Legos and Ninja Turtles? Oh man, I was pissed. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dolls, because I did. But I swear we once counted my Barbies and “fashion dolls” and I had literally a hundred of them. What kid anywhere on Earth needs 100 Barbies? My mom always claimed we couldn’t afford Legos, and she was right that the damn things aren’t cheap, but neither are Barbies! Where the hell did I even get 100 Barbies? Let’s see… every birthday and Christmas from age 2 to 12, so that’s ten years times about 5 relatives giving me a Barbie each time makes 50, plus countless trips to the dollar store where I begged for a $2 “fashion doll” which my mom was happy to buy because she loved Barbies so damn much herself.

And there’s nothing wrong with Barbies or enjoying them. I’m fully opposed to the kind of “feminism” that tells girls not to like feminine things. But yesterday at Target I decided, you know what, I have a twin bed and I want some motherfucking kid sheets. I always kind of gravitated toward the gender-neutral even as a kid, so I went  in looking for stuff like Super Mario and Spongebob. Instead I ended up in an aisle split - just like the toy aisle! - between pink flowery things and “boy stuff”. The girl sheets were your standard pretty patterns like colorful stripes and stars and stuff. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of those things if you like them. The problem is what was being sequestered in the blue side of the aisle: stars and planets, dinosaurs, cars and trucks. In other words, SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. ARE FOR BOYS. They’re kept in a separate section so that thousands of moms, like mine, will instinctively skip them over while shopping for little girls.

Holy shit, we are sending kids this message on bed sheets. Our children are literally being swaddled in sexism from the time they’re old enough to notice their sheets have stuff on them. And then we wonder why girls are falling behind in math and science later in life. You guys, I loved dinosaurs and space just as much as any kid with a penis, and it wasn’t because I’m trans. It was because science is awesome. But I did not spend my childhood being told that science is awesome, except by Miss Frizzle and Mr. Wizard. I spent my childhood learning from the adults around me that I was supposed to be sweet and not ask too many questions, and that I was going to grow up to be a mommy and maybe, if I was really an overachieving genius, a secretary.

So when I was five and fascinated by ape skeletons, seven and wanted to be an astronaut, thirteen and checking out books on neuropsychology? No one noticed. I'm not whining here about my gifts not being nurtured by expensive things like space camp and trips to far-away science museums. I'm saying my interest in science was entirely overlooked. For comparison, I was an early reader and my family jumped on this and piled me up with loads of books and spent tons of time reading to me and teaching me how to spell. I'm grateful for this attention, but just like I wonder how many of those 100 Barbies could've been Legos or dinosaurs instead, I also wonder if some of that reading time couldn't have been spent designing marble runs or making baking soda volcanoes.

The fact is, my family - which consisted mostly of women raised in the 1960s and earlier  - didn't encourage me in science because they were afraid of it. No one had ever taught them any science beyond how to keep a cake from falling. Similarly, my Girl Scout leaders erred on the side of making construction paper placemats instead of models of the solar system. I was a little girl being raised by women who were told they couldn't do science either.

Speaking of the Girl Scouts, the GSUSA has set a goal of creating gender-balanced leadership - including in fields like science and math - in one generation. That's a lofty goal, and one I'm glad they're bold enough to go for. And I would argue that if we're going to do it, we're going to have to start by de-gendering things like Legos and dinosaur sheets. Which I bought. Not because I'm a boy now and boys buy dinosaur sheets, but because I'm an adult now and I realize science isn't a gender. And because dinosaurs are awesome.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In which I ramble about RVs and bore most of you

I found a buyer for my house! That means I can afford the things I mentioned wanting in my last post:

  • an RV to live in
  • paying off loans and going back to college
  • at least a portion of what top surgery will cost (this depends largely on the cost of the RV)
I've been researching full-time RVing on and off for a few years now, and I've gotten pretty clear on what I want. One thing I've found to be true about dreaming is the more specific and focused your dream is, the more likely it is to become real. So here's what I want: A lightweight, preferably fiberglass, 17-20ft travel trailer, with a bathroom, enough beds to leave at least one as a bed most of the time (usually the beds convert to dinettes), and a table or desk that exists independently of the bed setup. It needs to have a kitchen, but not a fancy one, and it needs to be light enough to tow with a mid-size SUV (which I plan to trade my grandma-style Buick for).

I started plotting to sell my house for an RV two years ago, but I'm glad I waited. I've had time to learn how much space and how much stuff I really need, and it's turned out to be a lot less than I thought. I came up from Florida with a single carload of stuff. I'd say I regularly use about half of that, plus some stuff I've shared with housemates, like kitchen equipment. Generally, most of my needs are met by a laptop, a small stack of books, a couple pairs of pants and about 15 t-shirts. Had I gone directly from having a whole house to myself to living in an RV, I would've bought an enormous class A and maxed out the weight capacity carrying stuff I'd never use. 

For anyone else interested enough in RVs to be curious about my specific preferences, here's a breakdown of why I want what I want:

Type: Travel Trailer

I was initially convinced I wanted a big class A or class C rig (if you don't speak RV, these are your typical Winnebago things you see people driving to Florida in). However, doing some more research convinced me that a towable trailer is the way to go. I can leave it behind at a campsite or someone's driveway and go exploring in a separate vehicle, I don't have to worry about my house going into the shop for repairs, and I can spend less for an older model without having to worry about the mileage on the odometer or failing an emissions test. Plus, my dad lived in travel trailers for a lot of my childhood, so they hold a certain nostalgic appeal for me. There were other possibilities in my size range, namely pop-up campers and class B camper vans (think of the VW "hippie bus"). I feel that pop-up campers are a bit flimsy and temporary-feeling for fulltiming, and frankly I've never heard of anyone fulltiming in one. Camper vans have a certain romantic appeal for those who love the idea of just hopping in their car for a roadtrip, but they're a bit cramped and the toilet, if there is one, tends to be right smack in the middle of the van. I like the idea of being able to have guests or even bring a friend along for short legs of my journey, and no matter how close I am to my friends I do not want them watching me on the toilet.

Size: 17-20ft

Again, I thought I wanted/needed something much larger, but after reading the blog Technomadia and seeing how a couple can live comfortably in a 17ft trailer, I realized that the amount of space I need for just myself is actually quite tiny. True, I need the same amenities as a family - a kitchen, a bathroom, a place to sleep and a place to work. But being a solo traveler, I'll have the luxury of not needing a lot of empty space between those amenities. And when I'm towing I'll have a lot more flexibility in where I can go than I would in a Winnebago. I saw someone driving around Dorchester, an inner-city area of Boston, in an enormous tour bus today. This did not strike me as a good idea.

Layout: bed, table or desk, kitchen, bathroom

Why I need these things should be self-evident, but there's a surprising amount of variation in how RVs and travel trailers are laid out. For example, being one person, I don't really need a four-person dinette eating up half my floorplan. A small desk or table will do, and if there's a dinette I can leave it as my bed all the time. The reason I want that is because I hate making my bed in the first place and I know full well I'll be too lazy to convert it back and forth every day. (Realistically knowing your own limits and shortcomings is a good factor in making a dream actually doable. This is also why I ruled out cosmetology as a career when I realized I'd probably have to do pedicures.)

Car: Mid-size SUV

I have never pictured myself as an SUV person, but I am even less a pickup truck person. I plan to do a decent amount of city exploring, and I just don't see myself doing it in a monstrous truck. I am not above driving around downtown Boston blasting Kenny Chesney, but I'll be damned if I'm going to do it in a Silverado. Plus, I don't ever want to be that person who makes his friends sit in the backseat of a quad-cab with their knees jammed into their pharynxes. I've been there and it is not comfy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some plans

I have a big fear of sharing my long-term plans with anyone until I know for 100% sure they're going to happen. I think I'm afraid I'm going to jinx myself and end up looking like a failure if I change my mind or don't finish something. But sharing my plans also helps make them more real to me and allows people to offer help and advice. So here are some of the plans I've come up with for the next few years.

1. Start saving money
This isn't a goal in itself so much as a necessary first step for achieving the other goals. Unfortunately, saving money means that paying half my income in rent is not going to be sustainable long-term, so I need to figure out how to either make more or spend less. (Or both.)

2. Go to Goddard College and finish my BA
While I currently don't have specific plans for a line of work that requires a degree, it does seem silly to be doing nothing with my AA when it wouldn't take much more work to get a BA. Goddard is a pretty unique school that awards credit for prior learning and also offers a BA you essentially design yourself. This seems like a pretty good deal since my experience tells me no one in the real world really cares what your BA is actually in. (Pro tip, kids: do volunteer work in a field related to your dream job. It matters so much more.) Goddard also only requires you to actually be present on campus (which incidentally is in Vermont) for one week out of the year, which makes it a good fit with my next goal...

3. Sell my house and go RVing
These are actually two separate goals, because selling the house will be a huge project in itself. I own a property in Florida that would be worthless except that it includes a good couple acres of land. It will be difficult to sell, and it won't get me enough money to buy another house. But it will easily cover the cost of an RV. I've been wanting to go RVing for a few years now, but I put that dream on hold when I moved to Massachusetts. The big difference now is that after living in a few places I've realized all I need is a place to sleep, a place to eat, a bathroom and a laptop. So instead of a big hulking class A Winnebago, I've decided to go with something smaller like a class B camper van or a pickup truck hauling an Airstream trailer.

4. Get top surgery and legally change my name
These are the only two steps left for me to consider my gender transition complete. Chest reconstruction surgery is expensive and not usually covered by insurance, so this is also dependent on getting the house sold. Changing my name is much cheaper and easier but I want to get all the legal headaches of selling the house out of the way before I do it. The tricky part is I don't want to be recovering from major surgery in an RV so I'll have to do that in between selling the house and setting out on my travels.

Those are my big goals for now. The main thing is I don't know where to start any of them. So if you have any advice on how to figure out what I want to study (which I have to know before I can write my Goddard application essay), or how to sell a house when you live in an entirely different part of the country, please let me know.