transgender

*Tips for Trans Teens*: Where to Look for Tucking Help?

Being young and transgender comes with a number of challenges, especially when puberty hits. What does a young MTF (male-to-female person) do with that stuff hanging down, getting in the way?

Talking about down there can be awkward no matter who you are, so I'll answer with a story about a trans teen in my own life who might share some of your concerns.

~~~

Samantha (Sam) is my mother's recently turned 13-year-old long-term foster child. Sam is transgender (MTF) and has come to see me as a support person, someone she can trust. A few months ago, when Sam was still 12, she pulled me aside and asked if I could help her with something.

She said it was kind of an embarrassing thing for her: She had some clothes that she couldn’t wear because her privates would show. I told her that was a very common problem, and not to worry: there must be a number of products out there just for that purpose. I said I would do some research and get back to her.

First, I went to a part-time CD/TV (cross-dressing) adult friend and he directed me to a YouTube celebrity, Vera Wylde, who he felt had helpful tips and wasn’t sexually explicit in her explanations. Sam and I watched her tucking tips on YouTube and found out that yes, Vera does a nice job of keeping the language and explanations simple and non-sexual.

As an adult watching, Vera’s explanations of everything seemed useful. The video was, however more geared towards adults, and Sam even mentioned that it was not exactly appropriate for young or pre-teens.

Still, I found the video fascinating, and I learned that there is a thing call a gaff, (a wider G-string that holds in the male parts). Sam was a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of a gaff. It made sense that Sam, who is not yet at the age to wear a G-string, wouldn’t want to wear one.

Although, for older trans girls who might be interested, it was good to discover gaffs are actually easy to find. They can even be found on Amazon.

~~~

My friend also directed me to a New York-based designer Cy Lauz, who makes beautiful undergarments specifically for cross-dressing, transsexual and transgender women's tucking needs. I was touched by Miss Lauz’s innovation, and impressed by her classy designs. While not exactly right for a 12-year old girl, and slightly expensive, this line is stylish and elegant. 

We continued our research and found a line on Etsy called LeoLines, which sells a variety of patterns of underwear for younger girls and leotards specifically for trans MTF pre-teens and young teens. And we were pleased to discover that they are reasonably priced, slightly more than regular panties, but much less than designer lingerie for adult trans womn. There are many designs to choose from and the customer reviews are positive. 

~~~

The next step for Sam, now that we have found products, is to see if her local support services can help with the purchases. As a foster kid, she has a state caseworker and some funds available already -- but she also, as a transgender teen, has a second caseworker with a wonderful local organization called Transactive.

As soon as we can afford to order the products, Sam plans to write a product review and we will let you know how they worked for her.

Also, stay tuned for a future article on Transactive in my “Tips for Trans” corner. Transactive is a wonderful organization -- I only wish it had a presence in every city! 

 

Photo courtesy of Adam Foster / Flickr.

On Writing a Southern Trans Male Teen: An Interview w/ 'A BOY LIKE ME' Author Jennie Wood

This week, I sat down with lesbian author and trans ally Jennie Wood to discuss her new YA novel, A Boy Like Me. The book is about a teenaged trans boy finding himself and love in a small Southern town.

Mitch: Hi, Jennie! Thanks for talking with me about A Boy Like Me.

Talking to you, I could tell immediately, from the twang in your voice, that you’re not from Boston. Are you from the same Southern area Peyton lives in?

Jennie Wood: Yes, but I created a fictional town because I think...it’s fiction. You get to create a world and make it come alive. I think if I had picked my own home town, that’s almost easier. But the imaginary town of Wiley is very close to where I grew up in central North Carolina.

The use of music stood out in this book; it gave the story a textured background. Everyone likes music -- Peyton, Tara, his uncle and his uncle’s girlfriend. And I know you’re a musician in real life, so you probably drew from your own experience. I think music worked well with the book’s theme of silence -- the way it allows Peyton and the girl he loves, Tara, to speak this language that isn’t words.

What were you aiming for with including all of the music in this book?

Music -- like romance and LGBTQ characters --  is in everything I write. I think I wanted -- because Peyton struggles so much with language, vocabulary, and finding the right words -- for music to be something he and Tara shared. Something he could express himself with, like when he plays the drums on her songs. He can show her how much he cares about her through finding the right drum part. And in the recording studio, you can shut out the whole world. He can own that world, control it.

Music is also a way that Peyton can feel accepted. For instance, Tara loves David Bowie, and David Bowie is all about androgyny and gender-bending; this showed that music is a place where Peyton could live. Where he could feel at home and find a place to be comfortable: in his uncle’s music shop, in the recording studio, in making music with Tara. Music becomes Tara’s way of communicating with Peyton too.

All the songs that are referenced in the novel, are actual songs that I wrote from Tara’s point of view. I recorded them, and while I was working on revising the novel, I had the dream that the book would come out with a CD in the back. But, 215 Ink is a small publisher and didn’t have the resources for that, so I just put all the songs on my website.

 Jennie Wood's A Boy Like Me, published by 215 Ink

I was struck by the role of male caregivers in the book -- Peyton’s uncle and Tara’s father. You didn’t make it so that all the adults in Peyton’s life didn’t support him. And Peyton moves towards becoming a male caregiver in the end. You made the moms the antagonists. What was your thinking behind this?

Well, I wanted Peyton’s struggle to be about him: his inner struggle to accept himself. I felt like it was more realistic if not everyone in his life accepts him, but not the other extreme: not everyone is against it. I wanted people to struggle to see him; Tara gets him, Tara sees him, but other people in his life, like his uncle and his uncle’s girlfriend, love him unconditionally but are confused about what he’s going through. But they’ve traveled, they’ve lived in other places; the uncle’s girlfriend is from Chicago. They definitely get the sense that he’s struggling with something, and they get that he loves Tara.

The struggle that everyone sees him as a lesbian was what I felt like would happen in a small town like that. But I didn’t wanted this to be a story where Peyton just met external obstacle after external obstacle, and no one supported him. I think it’s more interesting, and also more realistic, in the world of that small Southern town, that there is some unconditional support, especially since its set close to the present day. And that there’s some physical obstacles and danger. Because that’s realistic too. I wanted the story to be bittersweet -- and the biggest obstacle to be internal, especially as told in the first-person. Even if he has a hard time communicating with himself.

Peyton does face a lot of external obstacles, though I could sense that you were trying to balance them out. You don’t want to write a story where his life is total crap because he’s trans…

...right, I didn’t want to write that story. But I also didn’t want to make it too easy for him and have it be unrealistic. You know, I had some people say to me as I was writing, “ Well, I hope it doesn’t have a happy ending.” Or, “I hope it’s not easy for him, because it shouldn’t be.” And I was like...balance.

Writer & Musician Jennie Wood

Peyton does go through a lot of those common trans youth struggles that teens face who aren’t accepted by their parents or their schools. It’s hard to see trans kids going through this hard stuff that happens afterwards, even though it’s realistic. Did you struggle with the thought that he goes through too much hardship?

Right, right. I struggled with both. That’s why I tried to stay as true-to-life in that small town, in that small, conservative world, and I tried to make it bittersweet. This also goes back to the fact that you can’t please everybody [as a writer]. Your book isn’t going to resonate with everybody...and it shouldn’t. That’s okay. I did struggle, though.

In revision, actually, I did pare down the two fight scenes. It’s a young adult novel. And I didn’t want it to be a “miserable trans boy” story. We don’t need that. Even though you don’t want to think about the audience too much -- you want to be true to the characters -- I did go back on the last revision and took away some of the violence. I don’t want anyone to be depressed [after reading the book]. There’s so much work to do; I wanted people to walk away understanding some of the struggle -- even though everyone has their own individual struggle -- but to be uplifted.

We’re at this really unique time, I think, in trans representation in popular culture where homelessness, depression, mental health issues, instability-in-general are still so very real and need to be talked about, but we’re aware that they’ve dominated “trans” stories for years and years. 

And we’re now finally at a place where we’re seeing some really positive representations of trans folks in pop culture, and there’s this new pressure -- at least, I feel it, within trans and trans-ally communities -- to only focus on the positive. Because we’re trying, in some sense, to overcompensate for the years and years of too much negativity. As a writer, you might feel a pressure to push the negative stuff away. But there are consequences for that too. Anyone who’s working with trans characters right now is going to have to reconcile that tension.

Right.

This was an important conversation to have. Thanks for talking with me today!

You're welcome. Thank you.

 

Author photo courtesy of Dead Darlings writing blog.

"Dirty Beautiful Words": Poetry by Trans Artist Brooklyn Brayl

Brooklyn Brayl

Editor's Note: Brooklyn Brayl is a trans, New York-based poet whose debut collection, Dirty Beautiful Words, was released late last year. Her raw poems deal with finding herself as a trans feminine person, reckoning with the violence (domestic & public) that can face trans women, and the fluctuations of gender identities.

Brooklyn and her book were recently profiled by Out magazine. Afterwards, Brooklyn nuanced her interview on social media, saying, "While I'm beyond ecstatic and appreciative of any support from anyone ... let alone a big magazine like Out, I wanted to clarify that I am still very much in flux and in process, something that I'm not sure comes across in this article. The truth is, I have yet to figure out my peace, which is why I wrote the book in the first place."

Brooklyn's work is painfully honest and self-searching. It's thrilling to watch this young trans artist bloom into her complex themes as she blooms into her complex gender.

Below, Brooklyn offers a poem about her work, as well as a short film accompanying her poem "Bones." (*Trigger Warning: domestic, physical violence*). - Mitch Kellaway, Editor of "What's on Our Minds Today?"

~~~

A Transgender Coming-Out Story Told In Visual Poetry

by Brooklyn Brayl

 

Dirty Beautiful Words is my coming-out story in artistic format. It’s the wrestling between the binary world in which we live – the boy in which I was born and the girl I would like to become. 

However, like gender identity, it’s complex, and I’m still sorting it out. 

What labels fit, what labels do not and how to be present at this exact moment in my body and in my questioning and in this step in the process of coming to terms with my identity. 

Is transitioning even entirely right for me? 

Does it make me any less of a transgender identity if I do not meander to the other side completely? 

Do I have the courage to show the world who I really am? 

Who am I really? 

All I know is that my gender has never totally felt perfectly aligned and this book is me being honest about that. It’s the fight between who I am and who I want to be.

 

~~~

Bones

from Dirty Beautiful Words by Brooklyn Brayl

*Trigger Warning: Domestic, physical violence*

Bones

Mascara bruises porcelain 

Like spilled ink 

Careening over her jawline 

Soaking her body wet 

Beads of pearls 

Drop from her chest

Hitting bathroom tile

Her backbone slivers down the wall

Head landing upon kneecaps

She remembers the time 

She first felt 

Unbeautiful

She was twelve years old

Braces on her teeth,

And battle scars on her feet

Her daddy's hand 

Never touched her pretty face

Never told her she could change the world

Never saw her spin in ballet slippers

Tonight's not unusual

She's grown up to be 

This tragic enigma

Insecure in her skin

Longing for a love

That will love her for her

Stripped of make-up

And not how she feats in jeans

Jeans she vomits to belong to.

Her mind's a blur

Floating inside 

Champagne bubbles and cigarette smoke

Celebrating the naked truth

The truth that her life's 

A never-ending black circle

Buried deep 

In her bones

Like a paper cut 

~~~

Photos courtesy of Brooklyn Brayl.

*Tips for Trans Teens*: Binding the Trans Male Chest

Puberty brings a growing self-consciousness about our bodies that can sometimes be a mentally difficult experience. Many young transgender males see changes in their body and feel the need to bind their chest to make it look flatter, more “masculine.”

I thought my son, James, would never need to worry about binding because he was taking hormone blockers. We were sure the breasts would never grow. The problem wasn’t that he grew breasts, but in his pre- and early-teens years he had a chunky build. Both he and his big brother had what they called moobs ("man boobs").

Since his brother had them too, he was a little less self-conscious than he might have been. But in our society, a society that gender scholar Judith Butler has termed heteronormative -- or, in other words, a society where heterosexual norms, including those about "correctly" masculine men and women -- people become hypersensitive to what is “normal” for each gender.

When he got to be about 12 years old, James started to lose weight. He worked hard to lose fat and build muscles, especially in his chest area. But even with the weight loss, muscle gain, and hormone blockers there was still some fatty tissue in the chest area. James was becoming more interested in girls by then, and increasingly self-conscious about his body.  He did some research and tried different tips -- such as doubling up his t-shirts -- which I'll share with you now.

~~~

Wearing two t-shirts is the first tip in The Hudson’s FTM Resource Guide on binding. This worked for James sometimes, but he would get hot easily, and in the summer two shirts was too much. He insisted we get him something to wear under his clothes, something made for transgender bodies.

In other words, his next step was to try a binder. A binder is a specially-made tight undergarment, sometimes referred to formally as a "compression shirt," that flattens th eupper body. He found a company in Taiwan called T-Kingdom.  We purchased the lower-end model tank top that cost around $46.

We went for the tank top style he wanted to hold his tummy fat in. But if all you need is the top / chest binder they cost between $30 and $36.

T-Kingdom's sizes run smaller than the average Western sizing, so I would recommend a size larger than you would usually purchase. We had to exchange the first one and it cost us an extra fee because of the international shipping.  James was a medium for most things, but the T-Kingdom products were tight, and it was hard to breathe, so he went with the large and they worked great until he grew out of them.

~~~

James’ biggest concern his binders was the stiffness of the fabric. He is very private about being a transgender male and felt the stiff fabric was too obvious. Nobody could tell just looking at him, everything was bound down pretty flat, but he was concerned that if someone patted his back or accidentally touched his chest they would notice he had something stiff under his clothes.

James also mentioned that the other reason it was better to get a larger size binder, he felt, was because if the binder was too tight the fat bunched up around his armpit, and he worried that it looked like he was wearing a bra.  Mentally he felt better and it helped his self-confidence, but he was still nervous that someone might touch him and ask what he was wearing.  While T-Kingdom makes a good quality product, James was frustrated that the company is international and it took weeks to receive the products.

Today, as a teenager, James is quite fit. He is still doing blockers, and he started testosterone last year so his body shape has changed, and he doesn’t need to bind his chest anymore. However, for transgender males who feel the need to bind, he said he would recommend TranZwear over T-Kingdom. Their products are less expensive. Binders run as low as $12 and are custom made for your individual body type.

~~~

In addition to these products, some sites, such as the Wikihow, have other practical advice to offer.  The Wikihow site has easy step-by-step directions and easy to understand explanations for binding. They also offer practical safety tips.

As a mother, I must emphasize my concerns with the health and safety of binding ones chest.  The Go Ask Alice site also has some good safety advice, as well as helpful tips and links.

I have yet to meet anyone -- whether transgender or cisgender (non-trans) -- who is completely happy with their body exactly the way it is. We all have something we wish we could change. We may not always like it, but we still have to live in it. So please, whatever way you might change or manipulate your body, please educate yourself, and be safe.

 

Photo courtesy of Aidan Jones / Flickr.

 

LGBTQ Youth Bookshelf: Some Mind-Expanding Trans* Reads

Transgender people's lives are rich, unique, and complex. Once you get past the "Trans 101" nuts-and-bolts of terminology and medical/legal transition-specifics, there's a whole world of trans* lived experiences to explore.

Today, I took just a small sampling from my own bookshelf of books on trans and gender-nonconforming stories that I've enjoyed, and have made me think. This list isn't in order of "best to worst", by the way -- they're all tops on my list for different reasons.

it's worth noting, too, that some of these are "harder" reads than others -- more difficult subjects or more dense language. But reading is, in part, about challenging yourself to grow, and I've always felt deeply rewarded by pushing myself outside my limits.

So I hope you pick up a book and enjoy!

~~~

The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You
S. Bear Bergman

Trans writer S. Bear Bergman's essays humorously address issues from women's spaces to the old boys' network, from gay male bathhouses to lesbian potlucks, from being a child to preparing to have one.

"The Nearest Exist May Be Behind You" by S. Bear Bergman

Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions, and Imperialism

Viviane K. Namaste

Trans scholar Vivane K. Namaste calls readers to think critically about transsexual politics in relation to feminism, with particular focus on intersectionality and de-centering the American trans experience as the universal "trans" experience.

"Sex Change, Social Change" by Vivivane Namaste

Visible: A Femmethology (Vol. 1 & 2)

Jennifer Burke (editor)

Visible: A Femmethology, the only two-volume anthology devoted to femme and feminine identity, calls the LGBTQI community on its prejudices; celebrates the diversity of individual femmes (including trans women & men); and challenges conventional ideas of how disability, class, nationality, race, aesthetics, sexual orientation, gender identity and body type intersect with each contributor's concrete notion of femininity.

"Visible: A Femmethology" (Vol. 1 & 2) edited by Jennifer Burke

 

Self-Organizing Men: Conscious Masculinities in Time & Space
Jay Sennett (editor)

Self-Organizing Men explores the he roles of paradox and incoherence in the construction and maintenance of the masculine self through poetry, visual images, essays, and humor.

"Self-Organzing Men" edited by Jay Sennett

Transgender History

Susan Stryker

Trans historian Susan Stryker's concise, chronological history covers the transsexual, transgender, and cross-dressing communities in the years following World War II; trans radicalism and social change through to the early 1970s; the mid-’70s to 1990—the era of identity politics and the changes witnessed in trans circles through these years; and the gender issues witnessed through the ’90s and ’00s.

"Transgender History" by Susan Stryker

The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard

Tom Leger & Riley MacLeod (editors)

The Collection represents the depth and range of tomorrow’s finest North American writers chronicling transgender narratives. 28 authors showcase the future of trans literature and the next great movements in queer art.

"The Collection" edited by Tom Leger & Riley McLeod

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (editor)

Nobody Passes confronts and challenges the very notion of belonging. It explores and critiques the various systems of power seen (or not seen) in the act of “passing." Trans writer Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore sets out to ask the question, “What lies are people forced to tell in order to gain acceptance as 'real'?"

"Nobody Passes" edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us

Kate Bornstein

Gender Outlaw is an exploration of gender theory, interspersed with Kate Bornstein's personal anecdotes, and closes with the full text of Bornstein’s two-act play, Hidden: A Gender. Part coming-of-age story, part mind-altering manifesto on gender and sexuality.

"Gender Outlaw" by Kate Bornstein

Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme

Zena Sherman & Ivan E. Coyote (editors)

Sherman & Coyote's collection aims to resist simple definitions and reductive stereotypes of butches and femmes. Persistence gathers leading voices in contemporary queer writing whose hearts pounded the first time they read or heard the words "butch" or "femme."

"Persistence" edited by Ivan E. Coyote & Zena Sharman

Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary

Morty Diamond (editor)

Exploring the crossroads of gender and sexuality, Trans/Love offers honest, engaging narratives that depict dating, sex, love, and relationships among members of the gender variant community.

"Trans/Love" edited by Morty Diamond

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity

Julia Serano

Feminist writer Julia Serano shares her experiences and observations—both pre- and post-transition—to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole.

"Whipping Girl" by Julia Serano

 

Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness, and Becoming a Man
Thomas Page McBee

Trans writer Thomas Page McBee's short, lyrical piece of creative nonfiction maps a journey toward self-realization as he suffers the post-traumatic anxieties of two pivotal events: his father’s sexual abuse of him as a child, and his near-death encounter with a mugger.

"Man Alive" by Thomas Page McBee

Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family & Themselves
Zander Keig & Mitch Kellaway (editors)

I'd be remiss to not list my own co-edited anthology! 27 trans men discuss their social transitions and roles as male community members: fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, friends, and mentors. Their essays address many topics, including birthing and raising children, gay male sexuality, facing racism, and finding solace in deeply held religious beliefs. 

"Manning Up" edited by Zander Keig & Mitch Kellaway