On Transition, pt. 5 (and on Choice, pt. 4): Contrapoints and Surgical Dysphoria

Well, it’s been a while.

Between becoming an officially-licensed Twitter tran, a low-rent YouTuber, and…oh yeah, running headlong into a global pandemic and moving back to the home state I frankly never intended to return to, this hoary old blog has remained every bit as neglected as I always knew it would eventually be.

There will come a time when I will have to admit that I like having attention and an audience. I’m not there yet.

In fact, I’m here seeking refuge from that very thing.

To a degree, what I’ve written for YouTube and Twitter (yes, even Twitter) have largely supplanted the entire purpose of this blog. But there is something I have here that I do not have there: relative anonymity. Silence. A couple dozen followers from years ago are all that keep me from what I had when I first started writing here: complete and utter privacy. And there is something I get from having that that I cannot find on platforms where my engagement has been monetarily incentivized. And I miss that sometimes. And, for whatever reason, I feel that is something I need now.

So with that, let’s talk about a weird place I’m at with dysphoria right now.

(I’ve never used trigger warnings in this blog before, but I guess I’m a very different person now from who I was in 2017. I mean, obviously. So I’ll be talking very explicitly about genitalia and sex and all that “junk” (lol) here. Enter at your own peril.)

If you have read my “On Hormones” series, you’ll find a sort of journey I took in discovering and then grappling with my own transmedicalism. In fact, my “final word” on this was one of the most recent actual posts I made on this blog. And as of the writing of this post, this topic was also the subject of my most recent YouTube video.

Ugh, I can’t escape Mila Wren. Not that I actually want to. But also…

I guess these topics are heavily on my mind again lately. I mean, it can pretty fairly be said that dysphoria has underscored my entire relationship with my gender. I fully accept that not all trans people suffer from dysphoria. I support anyone’s right and, yes, validity to transition to whatever degree fits them best, to not transition, to be in a constant state of flux between genders or to have no gender at all. It is far from my place to tell someone who they are, and I have made many friends (and even one lovely-but-kaput romantic relationship) with individuals who fall outside of the gender binary. I am so happy to be able to support nonbinary people as much as I can. But that’s not me—I’m not nonbinary.

Since I first started this blog, Contrapoints has gone from the revered dark mother of leftist transgender YouTube to a deeply controversial figure within both of those communities, even a pariah of sorts. Hers is a name which has come up several times on this blog, as she was foundational to my coming to accept myself as trans…not to mention the fact that there was probably no other figure who ultimately inspired me more to start a YouTube channel of my own (there I go again…).

I have been compared to her more than once, and to be totally transparent, such comparisons still sort of take my breath away. I look up to her, and parasocially, yes—I see a lot of myself in her. I can’t help it. I love her dark sarcasm, her intelligence, her absolute mastery of the aesthetic (most of the time). The trauma bonding I’m sure we could share in.

Much of the controversy surrounding Contra has had to do with her relationship with nonbinary issues—the transmedicalism some see in her (allegations of which, to be honest, are not totally unfounded). My self-reflection on my own transmed past was at least partially rooted in the nuclear levels of heat Contra drew on the topic over the past couple of years.

My first disillusionment with Contrapoints as anything more than human came just a few months after I joined Twitter (hers was the first account I ever followed). Twitter gave me my first actual look at Natalie, rather than Contra, and that discordant break from the person behind the camera to the person behind the screen—it was jarring.

“I sometimes feel like the last of the old-school transsexuals.”

It’s a line from a tweet that received a *ton* of hate immediately after it went live, and has since been utterly forgotten amidst her other, higher-profile controversies. But for me, even still, this is the line I always come back to. The refrain that echoes again and again and again when I encounter Contra discourse. It’s a line that hurt me, confused me, and to which…on some level, I saw myself. And I hated that. I hated that she could so blithely say something like that, summing up a not-insignificant mountain of my own personal trauma and passing it off as—as what? A joke? A badge of “transier-than-thou”?

As you can imagine, relating to something I hated to its core was difficult.

Just months before that tweet, I had written a widely-read post on my difficult relationship with Susan’s Playground and the utter toxicity that was online trans spaces in the early days of the internet (Mila Wren: “and I’ve since made a video on the same topic”). The trauma inflicted on me by such websites is something I have simply had to learn to live with, and the actors inflicting that trauma are the very people I associated with the term “old-school transsexuals.” Natalie is just two years older than me—there is no doubt, based on references she made in some of her older (now deleted videos) that she had experience with those same spaces. In fact, that’s even how I interpreted “but my experience is very different” in that very tweet. How could she do that? How *dare* she do that?

A couple of things. One, what the fuck am I doing framing this post with a dissection of a two-year-old tweet that has long-since been deleted? Good question. Maybe I’ll eventually answer it. Two, I have since come to realize that what Natalie was doing (albeit clumsily and perhaps even poorly) was attempting to own that trauma, to reclaim it. My most charitable interpretation now is that it was merely an extension of her dark sarcasm which did not translate all that well to text.

Putting aside Natalie/Contra herself for a bit and looking at what it was about “old-school transsexual” that so offended me in my early days of transition, I have to talk a bit about gender essentialism. An absolutely crucial step to my accepting myself as trans enough to transition was finally encountering people online that didn’t hold up the old maxims of “to be girl: thou must like boy, thou must wear pink dress, thou must be passive, thou must play with doll, thou must thou must thou must.” Realizing I could be trans and be a lesbian, that I could be trans and play with hotwheels—that was what finally broke my egg. Ultimately, that was the thing that did it.

What tearing down those old paradigms ultimately translates to is allowing people to transition at their own pace, allowing them to go as far in transition as they feel comfortable with, and to not do the things they do not want to do. Simply admitting that you are trans is, in and of itself, such a monumental undertaking that to not have the pressure of “you must now, immediately and with full commitment, dedicate every waking moment and every single dollar you have to transitioning the ‘correct’ way” is unbelievably liberating. Especially if you are in a situation where you are not fully (or at all) supported, or where you aren’t privileged enough to have vast reserves of cash on hand to afford every possible surgery or whatever.

It took ~1337 words (no, really!), but ah, there’s the rub. The actual thing I’ve been struggling with, the actual thing I am writing this for. Privilege, wealth, accessibility of trans-specific healthcare, dysphoria, guilt.

I wasn’t lying.

When I started transition, I knew that in all non-emotional matters (I’m fortunate to have picked my friends well) I would be pretty much on my own. I would have to be entirely self-funded, I would have to do the work of making all the calls and dotting all the many, many “i”s, I would have to do it all. While I had grown up in a household where all my basic needs had always been met, I was also very much raised in a culture that fetishizes perceived self-sufficiency. I had to find my own way to pay for college (thank God for scholarships) and all my own living expenses. At no point after I moved out on my own had I really had anything that resembled expendable income, and by the time I came out, I had already had a decade of living “modestly.” And at the time, I was a teacher being brutally exploited by a university that already didn’t pay enough to keep me out of the red each month (and which offered me no benefits). How would I pay for the requisite therapy, doctor’s appointments, bloodwork, and hormones? Let alone anything “optional” like hair removal or surgeries? The cost of a new wardrobe itself would be staggering. And all that while trying to navigate the emotional and spiritual minefield of transitioning from the social role of “cis man” to “trans woman.”

The answer is, I had to apply for a credit card that I feel I will never catch up on paying off. But hey, at least I was able to start the process of facial hair removal (I’m north of $2k in on this alone so far and *still* have at least a year or two left to go) and buy some cute clothes. So at least there’s that.

Because I couldn’t even *really* afford the things I had already been doing, things like gender reassignment surgery and facial feminization surgery seemed like fantasies. I had no idea how I could ever, ever afford to have such things done, and so investing too much thought into how deeply I wanted them began to feel like self-harm. So I wrote them off, and did what I could to accept that I could do that and still be happy and comfortable in my life. Besides, again, it’s not like there is a “right” way to transition. I’m still a woman, even if I don’t have a vagina.

Unfortunately, the effect this has had on my dysphoria has been a net negative, but not in the ways you might think. I *hate* my dysphoria. duh. But specifically, I hate that I specifically have dysphoria that makes me crave a type of “femininity” that can basically be described as cis-passing. Having now met and befriended many assigned male trans and nonbinary women who might have one or a few types of dysphoria but do not suffer from bottom dysphoria and therefore don’t mind their original equipment, I find myself feeling…jealousy.

To be trite, bottom dysphoria (dysphoria stemming from what lies betwixt one’s nethers) fucking sucks. I have hated, resented, loathed my dick for as long as I can remember being aware of it, feelings which have only amplified with each passing year. I hate how “in the way” it is every day, and I hate that my only option for alleviating the dysphoria from that currently is to go through my day with it tucked between my legs. It’s uncomfortable to walk, and it’s uncomfortable to sit (I used to chew holes in the necks and sleeves of my clothes when I was little if they were too restrictive, so you can imagine how insane tucking an actual organ into such a position for hours on end makes me feel). I hate that it limits the clothes I can wear, I hate seeing it in the mirror. I hate that I have never actually been able to have a satisfying sexual relationship because I hate the thing I am forced to have sex with. I mean, imagine trying to have sex if you hate the equipment you’re doing it with. It’s functionally impossible. The best I can ever manage is to dissociate enough from it to not think about it or pretend it’s something with a clit and labia instead.

But more than anything, I hate that I hate it.

At this point in my life, I’ve sucked more girl dick than eaten girl pussy. I never thought I’d be here, but well, here I am. And while part of that is a whole other topic entirely, one thing the experience has imparted on me is a deep admiration for penis-equipped women who not only don’t mind, but fully own what they have. I mean, on a somewhat cynical level, the logistical convenience of just being fine with what you have is *huge* compared to having to pony up tens of thousands to have it inverted or else be able to dissociate from it. But also, what could possibly be more badass than being a woman and taking ownership of having a thing that you are prescriptively supposed to *hate*? For it to not be this shameful thing that should never be acknowledged or discussed in polite company, but instead to just be like “yeah, I’m a woman with a dick, what the fuck of it?”.

Or maybe I’ve just become the chaser I was always warned about.

Regardless, it’s a huge middle finger to cisnormative society, and I can’t overexpress how much I love that. And so I’ve tried—really, earnestly tried—to be okay with what I have. To accept it, to own it, to have the same attitude I’ve grown to so admire (and yes, lust after) in other trans women.

But I can’t do it. I have bottom dysphoria, and no amount of “tricking” myself into believing otherwise can make it go away. And I fucking hate that. Not only for all the expected reasons, but also because it feels like I’m acquiescing to a cis, essentialist definition of what it is to be a woman, and that I’m thus betraying the cause of tearing down cis normativity. That I’m betraying by trans sisters, and that I’m somehow (paradoxically) less trans for it.

That is one half of my dysphoric jealousy. The other half can be found with the jealousy I have developed towards women privileged enough to be able to afford GRS, FFS, and any other transition-related surgery/procedure.

I have to admit, I not only struggled when Contrapoints revealed that she had gotten FFS in her video “Beauty,” but I have continued to struggle to some degree ever since. I’m not proud to admit that; in fact, I hate it. Because the core of my struggle was and continues to be plain, simple jealousy. But that hasn’t stopped me, much to my ultimate detriment, from rationalizing that jealousy.

To a degree, I’ve maintained some degree of hope of one day being able to afford gender reassignment surgery, as it is a procedure that many insurance plans will actually cover. Facial feminization surgery, on the other hand, is almost always relegated to the status of “cosmetic” and therefore rarely covered by insurance. And it’s every bit as expensive as GRS—the average range is something like $20k-$50k. Because of the jobs I’ve held and my expenses, I’ve not been able to save a dime…ever. $20k might as well be $20m. It’s an impossible sum.

So when I’ve seen the women who have FFS done, I cannot help but notice the wealth and privilege they tend to come from. The supportive families they often have footing the bill. And in a world where I and so, so many others feel immutably barred from that comfort, the comfort of being able to pay the entrance fee to a cis-passing life and all the safety and glamor that comes from that…yes, it makes me feel jealous. And it makes me resentful.

And so here was Contrapoints—a trans woman I genuinely looked up to, “the last of the old-school transsexuals”—flaunting her FFS to SOPHIE’s “Faceshopping.” Contra, who was already so beautiful. Contra, who was supposed to be an advocate for the community. How can you advocate for trans people if you are paying tens of thousands, perhaps even close to a full hundred grand, on cosmetic facial surgery for yourself? Surgery to bring your face more within cis beauty standards, and in doing so, reinforcing those same standards that argue trans is not, in fact, beautiful.

And there it is—did you catch it? If not, go back over that paragraph. Read it more closely. What do you see?

Through jealousy, I have internalized the very gates our society uses to keep trans people from having access to the pathways that can help them overcome their dysphoria. “Cosmetic facial surgery”—Jesus, I’m even using their language, the language of oppression. Of gatekeeping.

If there is no right or wrong way to be trans, then it should as logically follow that trans people should be just as allowed to pursue the things they want as they should to not pursue those things that do not interest them, including surgical procedures. Someone electing *not* to have gender affirming surgery isn’t any less trans than someone who does, and inversely, the former is not less trans than the latter. Jealousy and acquiescence to the hand I had been dealt blinded me to the truth of the latter, and my lizard brain responded by resenting those who fit that definition. Gross, I know, but I’m working on it.

And I mean, it’s something I do have to work on. Because I’m not nonbinary. And in fact, I do suffer from dysphoria—a lot of it, even still.

I find myself thinking about that tweet a lot again these days—“my experience is very different…I sometimes feel like the last of the old-school transsexuals.” It hurt me when she wrote that. Pretty deeply, in fact. But part of that hurt, as someone born around the same time and transitioning around the same age…it’s because I see some of myself in that tweet.

Thanks, I fucking hate it.

And the reason I’ve been reconciling with those two-year-old feelings and all the resentment and jealousy I’ve felt since then towards trans women with access to such procedures—it’s because my own situation has changed. I’m making double what I was making this time last year. I have insurance that will pay for GRS. In fact, I have a consult for it in February with one of the best hospitals for that procedure in the US. I may actually have a vagina of my own by the end of next year.

And it doesn’t stop there.

As of yesterday, I have also been hired as a barista at Starbucks. What is the significance of that? Well, Starbucks has some of the most comprehensive trans-specific health insurance in the country, and they offer it to employees who work 20 or more hours a week. It’ll almost certainly suck, but I will be able to work there part-time after my regular job and qualify for insurance that covers…everything. The rest of my electrolysis (hair removal) will be covered, for starters. But moreover, Starbucks will pay for FFS. I am going to have FFS. That surgery which I coveted, that surgery which has caused me to resent more than one of my fellow trans sisters over the past few years. And not just FFS: but body contouring—a procedure that felt so unrealistically impossible that I’d never even considered it before. But there it is, right at my fingertips, a procedure to narrow my waist and widen my hips. Basically for free.

I’m excited—I am. But its been difficult to reconcile all the other feelings it has also elicited. Shame, perhaps most of all. Shame at how hearing of other trans women having such surgeries once made me bristle, and shame at how I’m now excited about being able to now pursue the same thing. How instantly that switch seemed to flip for me, how now it was no longer a mark of “privilege” but of “hard work.” I have become the object of my own jealous hate and resentment. Just…how gross.

And you would think that in order for me to have reached the point that I’m actively pursuing such surgeries that I’ve overturned my old, negative modes of thought towards them and those who have them done. But I haven’t, not entirely. And that’s the weird, contradictory, illogical, toxic dysphoria I’m dealing with now. I still feel, on some level, that somehow I’m “less trans” if I want to swap a peen for a vageen, if I want a face and body more in line with expected cis beauty standards. That I am betraying not only other trans people, but a part of myself. That I am, therefore, completely unfit to advocate for trans people. That somehow I’m ashamed of my transness, and I’m willing to go to whatever ends to now hide it.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth, but that’s just how dysphoria works, baby.

If another trans woman were to come to me and tell me everything I’ve written here, that somehow it’s bad that she wants gender-affirming surgeries, I’d strongly and immediately disagree with her. “That is absolutely, patently, untrue,” I’d say…or something like that. But it is, unfortunately, possible to recognize all the reasons why a particular mode of thought is bad for others to have, and still apply it unequally to yourself. I’ve done it my whole life.

I remember, early in my transition, reading about other trans people’s emotional and mental struggles before and after gender-affirming surgeries. This was back before the resentment and jealousy, back when I simply looked wide-eyed and thought “How could you feel that way? You so deserve it! You deserve that happiness! I’d be so over the moon if I were you right now.” Already you can see the seeds of covetousness there, but it was much more innocent. Much more supportive. I need to get back to that. I want to get back to that. I’m working on it.

Just because I’m trans, doesn’t mean I’m innately a good person, that all my takes and feelings are good, that I’m automatically any more “woke” than anyone else. I accept that I’ve held harmful views, that I still struggle to be a better version of myself.

I guess you could say I’m in sort of a transitional period of my life.

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