A prickly subject and a prickly subject


editorial note: a revised and expanded version of this post is awaiting publication elsewhere. I’ll link when it appears. whee!

Tattoos? I got em. Scars, too, but we’ll save that for another day. This is written in part as response to this.

My biggest tattoo is a chest piece, depicting in cartoonish allure my first road bike, Vera, as drawn by one of my best friends, with wings sprouting from the bottom bracket shell. Beyond the bike in the foreground is a roadway and the rolling hills of Orcas Island. Birds are silhouetted aloft in the distance over the sky. The whole scene is framed with salmon berry leaves and a banner beneath proclaims JOURNEY, as taken from this poem, Velocipede:

cog teeth willing, speed and

I hadn’t planned my tattoo as a chest piece at all, but the more we planned the tattoo the more elaborate it became, and the more apparent that the finer details (lugs, etc) would not fit on my upper arm and still remain unblurred over years and healing. So. My chest became the new canvas.

It hurt like hell, some of it–but it also hurt good. I like getting tattooed. I like the process of planning, inking, and healing. It feels cathartic.

Does that make me dangerous? Maybe. Maybe it does, because I know the power of my body to heal, again and again. Healing is a transitory point, a place of great vulnerability and great power.

When I show someone my tattoo, I also expose my chest to them. I was reminded of this as a friend was peering at it yesterday as we sat on the porch. She gestured to the rest of my chest (breasts, if you wish–tits to me). “They’re nice!”

And I came up with what I always do. “Cheaper than top surgery.”


I’ve been binding for the last year or two, and for the first time acquired a “real binder earlier this year, which pancakes my tits to my ribcage. It leaves a little to be desired in presentation (there are hilarious bulges near my armpit region, for instance) and comfort, but my clothes finally fit right, and I feel so much less self conscious. Less self conscious getting dressed, less self conscious being out and about in the world.

Will I get top surgery? I get asked this a lot by a select number of people who seem to be very invested in how my gender transition will play out. A couple of those people are people with whom I have had sexual and romantic relationships, and a couple of them aren’t. I don’t know why they’re so invested in my body (yo, it’s mine!), I just know that they are.

Top surgery is expensive. Top surgery is invasive. Top surgery has the potential to remove sensation from my nipples, something that would be sexually…un-gratifying. And I’m still on the fence about “to babies or not to babies”, and if I become a carrying-parent, I want to retain the option of breastfeeding. That last one feels particularly pertinent to my current romantic relationship, which is with a person who definitely wants to babies, and does not have carrying (uterine) capacity.

I’m not particularly invested in “passing” as a man, my gender is more complicated than man/woman or male/female. It does feels disrespectful and it makes me itch when people call me by the wrong pronouns (she/her). It feels schizophrenic* when I have to use my legal name (a name I no longer use, otherwise) to access emergency medical care, my bank accounts, or even to fill out paperwork, though thankfully my new and temporary employer still calls me by my preferred name–I haven’t talked about pronouns with them. Instead our customers seems to call me by whatever pronouns are handy, which seems to work okay for now, though I expect it to create complications eventually. At least there’s a safe place to pee!

My whole life I’ve been told that I must be a dyke because of my gender. Even my mother thought so. As it turns out, the people I’m most often attracted to are people who are also masculine-presenting in some way. Is that a result of internalized misogyny/sexism? I don’t know–I think that I’m still working on the part of myself that has learned to dismiss femininity out of hand, but I also had the example of my mother, a strong, capable hard femme, to deter me from internalizing at least some of that shit. I can break open societal expectations about gender and sexuality simply by holding hands with my handsome bearded sweetheart while crossing the street.

I live in an in-between place. A journey is an in-between place, but it is a powerful one. My sight lines constantly expand and contract as I travel. I am constantly in motion, even when sitting still. The journey is the point, not the endpoint.

*I have mixed feelings about using this word in this context but have failed to come up with something more appropriate. Feedback, if you have any?


One Response to “A prickly subject and a prickly subject”

  1. Morgan said

    I admire your ability to inhabit the in-between. I have to work on that, myself.

    I suspect that people ask you those questions because they’re invested in you, and your body is a part of you. Also, people tend to be less attuned to etiquette when discussing subjects that they haven’t given much thought to, and for most people gender transition is something that they rarely think about. It’s similar to the dumb questions that people in wheelchairs get asked. It’s enough of a novelty that people’s curiosity gets the better of their tact. (It also rarely occurs to people that some of those questions aren’t simple to answer.)

    RE “schizophrenic”: people misuse that word a lot, usually to indicate something akin to multiple personalities, but I think your usage fits. After all, the root meaning is something like “break with reality”, and that’s basically what’s going on: people being disconnected from the reality of your identity.

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