Paying Attention

I’m beginning to feel more back to my normal self, after almost 6 weeks of recovery from surgery. It’s nice to feel like not 100% of my energy is required for the basics: working, healing, and required life things. I have some spare energy now, to think about the future, and enjoy life.

I wasn’t really sure I would totally pass as male after surgery, but it appears that I do. I’ve met several people who had no idea I was trans (until they were told.) I get ‘sir’ exclusively now, and on the phone, when I still have to use my legal name, people are confused. I get no weird looks going into the men’s restroom (I used to sometimes get weird looks in the women’s restroom before surgery, so I guess that was an indication of what was to come.)

And so now, as visibly male to pretty much everyone, things are changing.  They were already changing a bit online, on Twitter, in particular.

I tweeted this in response to a friend:


Then I tweeted this:


I realized that if someone didn’t know I’d been a lesbian, it might be interpreted differently than I’d intended.

That’s what I mean about paying attention. I spent 39 years walking around the world as a female-bodied female identified adult. Gender non-conforming, yes, but the ways in which I related to other humans was as a woman. Relating to other humans as a man is different. And I’m also aware that testosterone has had an effect on my emotional responses – I don’t react or act exactly the same way as I used to.

So I’m working on paying attention. It’s a good thing that has been an important practice for me for the last 30 years!


One week ago today, I stood in front of my plastic surgeon as she drew on my chest. I felt like she was performing her art on me, which, I guess, she was. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, groggy and out of it, looking out of the window on the unfamiliar hills of Richmond, CA, where my surgery was performed.

Ultimately, our transitions are about our bodies, whether or not we actively do anything to change them (although most trans people do something.) Our bodies in some way don’t fit us. This manifests in many different ways for different people. For me, one thing I felt strongly (since they appeared in my life in my late teens) was that my breasts didn’t really belong to me. And now, finally, I’ve let them go.

For most people, that might seem unimaginable – that a part of your body doesn’t feel like it’s yours. But it’s the reality of most trans people. Why that happens and where that comes from is still a bit of a scientific mystery, although it’s being slowly explained over time. But it has been the lived reality of my life for a very long time.

During the groggy drive home with the dear friend who stayed with me for a week, and for the last seven days of pain, discomfort, and, frankly, suffering, in the Buddhist sense, I’ve been in a healing process – but not just from the surgery itself. This whole transition process for me has been part of a much bigger, much broader arc of healing.

It was a part of the package I didn’t expect – the surprise, really, that deeply embedded in this process of transition was a surprising healing of my own inner and outer life – a mending of wounds and sloughing off of scar tissue.

What remains is still tender, like the scars on my chest will be for months. But I’m beginning to see the larger picture, and it looks more whole than I expected.

Becoming a Man in the #MeToo Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming a man. I mean of course I have, but more deeply than just this transition process.

In my adult life, I have been spared from sexual harassment. I think that’s largely because I have been gender non-conforming, and thus not an object of male attention. But I do fully know and understand the effect it has on women’s lives and livelihoods.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of man I want to become. Not just what kind of man I will be, but what kind of man I want to be. I think that it’s probably always been important to be conscious about male privilege, and how walking around in the world as a man is different. But now, it seems mandatory.

I already have witnessed a few trans men take on some of the more unpleasant aspects of male behavior (luckily, it seems rare.) I think it’s that for many of us, we see what society demands of men, and given that we want to fit in as men, we take on some of the same behavior as men.

I have said many times in the weeks and months after starting testosterone, that if you’d asked me what percentage of male behavior and psychology is conditioned by family and society, I would have said 95%. Now, after having experienced first-hand what testosterone does, I’d drop it down to 45%.

But I think what’s important about that is not to say “boys will be boys.”  I think that human beings have all sorts of inclinations and impulses no matter what our gender is, and we are taught how not to act out of them. Boys and men could be taught how not to act out of those testosterone-fueled impulses that I have now experienced first-hand. (In fact, plenty of men know quite well how not to act out of them, so it’s not that hard.)

One of the things I am acutely aware of is that for many women who don’t know me, there is a way that I will no longer feel safe. (Of course, as a black woman, there are ways I wasn’t considered safe, but let’s put that aside for a moment.) In fact, I’ve already experienced (on Twitter, primarily) how I am treated differently by women who don’t know who I am because I have a male name. Even though (I think) I’m saying pretty much what I would have said before. And so now, that makes me think twice, or three times, about what I say.


New Year, New Voice, New Name, New Life

So it’s 2018. It’s a big year for me. It’s the year I will emerge visually as a man. I’m having top surgery on February 6th. I’ve been on Testosterone now for 4 months, and my voice, as well as other things, have really changed:

I’ve pretty much completed the coming out and name change process. It’s interesting getting used to people calling me “Max.” I like it – and it’s also a little strange.

My legal name change process will soon be underway – I’m submitting the paperwork to the county next week, and 45 days later, I’ll have a court order with my new name and gender marker. I’ll also be submitting a change to the NY state for a modification of my birth certificate. Then starts the fascinating cascade of administrivia. Social Security, banks, credit cards, driver’s license, passport, etc. etc.

So there’s a lot of practical things to think about and do. And I’m still wanting to hold this time as sacred – to hold this big change in my life and body, and this big change in the way I will live in the world.

I’m wanting to be conscious about how I am living into this person called “Max.” Who is this man I am becoming, and what is he like? It’s so interesting to get to do this consciously – of course, I did it once before, but it was without experience, without self-knowledge, or really knowledge of the world.  But I still have so much to learn.

Spiritual and Emotional Work

Ever since I was in my mid-20s, I have been committed to growth and consciousness/awareness. Perhaps it’s been life-long, but it’s at least been conscious since that time. Part of it is just what I’m made of, and part of it is that I could see, in the small bits I had begun to do at that time, that my life was materially better and happier for it.

And, in many ways, my transition is a direct outgrowth of this commitment.

There are some things that have surprised me about this process, and one of them is that the nature of emotional, spiritual and psychological work I will do is shifting.

One example: people say a lot that testosterone increases one’s access to anger and aggressiveness. In my life, I have had very, very little access to anger – mostly because expressing anger wasn’t OK growing up. In fact, a lot of my emotional work over the past few years was increasing my willingness to experience and express anger.

But after several small incidents, and one incredibly frustrating experience with a customer service representative last week, where I literally yelled at her (if you know me, you realize how unusual that is) I realize that this is not going to be my issue anymore. My issue is going to be how to control the expression of my anger.

Another example – I generally used to be able to depend on my ability to read other people’s emotions, but it seems that ability is changing. I seem to be less able to do that. There is actually scientific evidence for this. So my work moves into working to be more conscious, and asking when I don’t know.

It’s all good, but it’s really interesting to me to watch how this is changing for me.

Max and Michelle

Seven years ago, I wrote this short piece in a writing workshop. (Originally, the name in the piece was “Michael” but I’ve changed it to “Max” as that is my chosen name.)

“Maxwell stays like a wish”

Max is always there, my best buddy in the world, friend to the end of the earth. He’s a part of me. The tall, strong man, gentle and kind. I can almost imagine us sitting in a booth at the diner, he chooses Depeche Mode, or maybe The Clash to listen to on the juke box (if they have it. Otherwise, the Rolling Stones.) He’ll order steak, or maybe just a burger, since it’s a diner, after all. I’ll just have the salad, not because I want it, but because it seems the right thing to do. He’ll be happy with the burger slopped with lots of cheese, and grilled onions, of course. We talk about life, about my parents, about women. We talk a lot about women.

I can almost imagine calling him up, talking about that woman I just met. He’ll always have something stable and wise to say, in the place where I’m all a fluttery and nervous about the whole thing. He knows me, deeply. As deeply as I can know myself.

He’s the one who buys the iPhone games, of course. Especially the ones with the orcs or catapults or cars to race around. He takes over while we’re in the BART, steering the car while my ears pop from the tunnel. He was the one that bought the big-ass TV, and I was the one who sold it a year later. But he didn’t mind. He’s the programmer, the one who can sit for hours on end looking deeply at code, seeing patterns emerge and putting them to work. I’m the one who is always putting up with clients, that is, until I get so annoyed I let him take over.

He’s always there, he stays like a wish.

I have been talking to a new friend about this conversation and relationship (between Michelle and Max) and he asked me how this conversation/relationship would look like now. So I thought I’d spend a little bit of time exploring it here. The narrator above, and below, is Michelle.

Max has taken over the role of our public face, which feels good to me. It never really fit me, that public face, that embodied living in the world. I’m all etheric and air, heart and spirit. Max is solid body – grounded in space and time, problem-solver, thing-mover, work-doer. He’s more than that, of course, and I’m more than ether, but that comparison seems to fit right now.

Sometimes I’ll peek out, see the world a bit through his eyes, the way he’s been doing that through mine for years. It looks differently, of course. Things that seemed obvious to me are a little more mysterious, and things that were mysterious (especially men and their ways) are much more obvious.  Sometimes I’m the one who has to feed him the emotional words he needs, and then he’ll remind me that he has some of those words, too, but it just takes him longer.

He’s so happy living in code these days, and I’m happy sitting “inside,” contemplating life and what it means to be human.

We make a good pair – complementary qualities and skills – together we get to be a heart-full, embodied, conscious person-becoming-man, but it took our rearrangement to make that happen fully. We’re both happy now, when we used to both be unsettled and at times unhappy with our old arrangement. Of course, Max wishes we’d been born with a male body, but then I have the sense that if we had been, this deep integration between us might never have happened, given the way our society is.

He still wants steak, I still want salad. We have both.


Coming out

I came out publicly as a lesbian in 1985. And it was largely a non-event. My family accepted me fully, I lost a couple of friends, but it was largely painless. It didn’t effect my work life, thankfully.

And as time went on, and I kept living out and publicly as a lesbian, there have been only a few moments where it’s mattered. Mostly because I have always chosen settings, places to live, and people to hang out with where this wasn’t going to be a problem.

So, unlike many people, my coming out as queer process was basically painless.

I don’t know how I’m going to look back at this coming out process – coming out as trans. Perhaps I have rosy-colored glasses looking back more than 30 years, but this process has brought up a lot for me, in surprising ways.

I think I know a lot more about myself now than I did at 25. And I know that one of my core wounds is the fear of not being accepted or loved for who I am. And as I affirm, really, who I really am in a more full way, that wound is being activated, big time.

And, on the other hand, so far, I’ve been met with a lot of support and love. I have great friends who have been great listening ears, and sweet, and understanding.

I have a lot of other people to come out to over then next few months, and so there’s a lot of fear there. So I’m taking a deep breath, and taking it one step at a time.

Ch. Ch. Ch. Changes

I’ve been on T (Testosterone) now for just over 4 weeks, next week will be a month. Some people have asked me if I’ve noticed changes, and there are only a few, at the moment.

One thing I’ve learned from reading and talking to people is that the changes you experience have a lot of individual variation. Some changes happen more quickly for some people than others.

I’ve definitely gotten smellier, and I can already detect changes in my personal scent. I expected that, but I didn’t expect it to seem weird – like I can’t quite recognize myself. (I hear I’ll get used to it.)

My libido is radically increased. Also expected, but surprising in its intensity. I didn’t have a super-high libido before T, so another expected but kinda weird change.

My voice hasn’t changed a lot, but it feels different. It feels more gravely, and I definitely can’t really sing right now (not that I want or need to, but I’m noticing that.) You can judge for yourself. Here’s September 5th

And here’s this week:

I do have some fatigue, but it comes and goes. My appetite hasn’t seemed to change much, which is a little surprising, as it is supposed to.

I do feel very subtly more emotionally stable, and kinda more monochromatic , but given that it’s only been a month, I’m not super sure it’s the T – it could be the effects of having made the choice to transition, a choice which feels so solidly right.

A big effect which I’m betting has more to do with the choice than T, but I can’t be sure, is that my mind is a lot quieter than it used to be. It’s hard to explain, except if you’ve been in a room with a refrigerator, and it goes off, you notice the lack of sound. You  might not be able to describe what the sound was like before, but you know it’s quieter. It’s like that. And I think it’s something I’m noticing really because of my years of Buddhist practice – I’m not sure I’d notice it otherwise.

Anyway, I’ll periodically update you on how things change over time.

Always Queer

Some transmen love other men, and some love women. Having been attracted to, and loved women my whole life, I can’t quite imagine testosterone changing that, although I guess it’s vaguely possible.

Anyway, what that means is that  the external world will see me, when I’m out with a woman, as a straight man. And in fact, many transmen consider themselves straight.

But I can’t do it. I can’t for the life of me call myself straight. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’ve lived my life in queer spaces and places for too long to do that. I don’t want to take anything away from transmen who feel that way – if they feel straight, more power to them. I just can’t embrace it.

And, that said, I also know that I will inherit heterosexual privilege at the same time as I’m gaining male privilege. But, as I eventually intend to be as out about being trans as I am now about being queer, those privileges are pretty tenuous. (And male privilege for black men is tenuous  in it’s own way.)

One of the things I’m very aware of is a loss of community with queer women. But thankfully, I’m gaining a new community in the process, which is making me happy.

Liminal Space

Liminal definition

One of the things our society doesn’t do well is honor liminal spaces, even though we go through many in our lives. Puberty, coming of age, giving birth, celebrating a romantic union,  and dying are all liminal spaces.

In many cultures and spiritual traditions, liminal spaces are holy. They are a place of reflection: looking back and looking forward. They are also places of change and stress.

I have been through a few kinds of liminal spaces that I have been consciously aware of, but this space, this space of making such a big transition, is probably the most profound liminal space of my life.

I’m impatient. I have 151 days until my top surgery. I have been on T for 3 days (in an hour or so.) And part of me wants to hurry everything up – I want the time to fly, and the changes to happen fast, so I get to where I’m going.

Except I realize that if I don’t pay attention to this liminal space, I will miss an opportunity.  An opportunity to pay attention to the holiness of this change. All of the ways that it’s so right, and the ways that it’s huge, for me and for the people I know.

I want to use this time, this in-between time, to appreciate myself, both in my feminine aspect, which I’m not eliminating, or putting aside, but greatly changing its place in my life, and in my body, as my masculine aspect comes front and center.

I want to use this time to reflect on all of the complexities of this change I’m undergoing. I don’t want to rush through it – I don’t want to miss the wisdom, learning, and holiness of this time.