Wishing I was cis

Most days, I waffle between happiness and indifference about being trans. My intersex condition, queerness and transition have meshed together over the years in ways for which I’m grateful. They inform each other, add depth and for the most part feel like they compliment each other. I can’t really imagine what substituting part of my sexuality for another would mean, which is a nice place to be.

[Photo by Jonathan Allison from Unsplash, desripton: black and white aerial view of a major round about]

But when dysphoria gets overwhelming, it’s hard for many of us not to get into a “if only I was cis/ being trans sucks” pattern of thought. Nothing quite like thinking that an inherent part of what makes you up stinks to fuel depression. Certainly there’s nothing to cherish about having to jump through all the hoops, spending so much time, money (even with decent health insurance) and energy on one’s body merely to stop wanting to claw out of it.

What helped:
Putting myself in the context of my family of origin
Framing infertility/sterility how it actually is: not at all trans specific
Chatting with cis men about body image
Realising childhood sociolisation isn’t gendered

Putting myself in the context of my family of origin

I’m short for a guy; I used to believe it was a telltale sign of my medical history. For unrelated reasons, I had to go through government documents of dead relatives on my father’s side and noticed my paternal grand-father’s height. An inch shorter than my dad and I’m about an inch taller than him. It got me to realise: I’m several inches taller than my sibling, though we share the same parents, and I’m the tallest in my family of origin. There’s no rational reason to believe I would have been significantly taller if I’d had functioning testicles.

Your mileage may vary. Maybe you have siblings, assigned the same or different sex at birth, who are significantly taller than you, or you’re significantly shorter than one of your parents, or whatever. But odds are (this is not an absolute at all) your height is within the range you’d expect given the height of the people whose gametes made you up. As it was for me, it helped reframe my height from “indicative of my trans medical history” to “indicative of my genetic inheritance.”

Once, right after I disclosed to a stranger, she replied that she knew the moment she saw me because of the size of my feet. True story: I swap shoes with my dad of origin and no one thinks he’s trans.

Speaking of my dad, when I complained how slim I was, he told me to wait, that he didn’t fill out either until he was older. I was sceptical so he presented photographic evidence. What do you know, I’ve since filled out some.

[Photo by Varshesh Joshi from Unsplash, description: black and white family portrait of 3 monkeys]

I used to have a complex about how little my chest muscles are compared to the rest of me and most cis men. In my efforts to improve my body building skills, I hired a personal trainer. He asked which physical activities I routinely do outside of lifting weights. I listed them and he said “so you virtually never push with your upper body, you’re mostly pulling.” True enough, the sports I gravitate to involve hoisting up my body weight, utilise biophysics/my opponents moves against them, or primarily involve my legs. He explained that’s why I had a proportionally speaking unusually strong back and virtually no chest muscles. Also, the sports I gravitate towards focus on core muscles, which don’t bulk out as they increase in strength. My muscles and body shape reflect my preferred physical activities; my lack of chest muscle size has nothing to do with my medical history. When I look at the superstars of my favourite sports, regardless of their gender they generally have similar body types as me. Well, when you put it that way…

I like my favourite physical activities, my body is in great shape for those, I’m plenty strong for my needs, there’s no reason to believe it’d be significantly different if I was cis.

[Photo by Bethany Legg from Unsplash, description: a person, dressed in black, with brown shoes, is walking in front of a stop sign written on a road.]

Another time, I went shoe shopping for hiking boots with my BFF. He’s a cis guy, over 6 feet/183cm tall. Besides length, the sales person took our feet width before recommending particular brands. Turns out my BFF has A width feet, which is very narrow. I have C width feet; usual for a guy is D. Hard to grow a complex about having slightly narrower feet than average or it having to do with my height, medical history or whatever else when my cis BFF has significantly narrower feet still, is way taller and cis.
Sidebar: If it doesn’t go without saying, the sales associate didn’t comment about our narrow feet, and I’d bet money didn’t for a moment wonder “hmm… I wonder if they’re trans/not cis…” Cis people fall on both sides of averages just as much as trans people do.

I unexpectedly stayed at one of my sister’s for a while. I had enough clothes with me, but wound up needing 2 pairs of shoes during my stay. My brother in law, who’s also 6 feet/183cm tall, said we seemed to have the same size feet. Sure enough, his shoes fit me like a charm. I saved myself some coin and wore his shoes when needed.

Sure, add my dad, brother in law, and BFF together and it’s a sample of 3. But it’s enough for me to feel assured my shoe size tells you nothing about my medical history. And being cis wouldn’t necessarily have resulted in bigger feet.

[Photo from Unsplash, description: “mind the gap” written at the edge of a subway platform.]

Framing infertility/sterility how it actually is: not at all trans specific

I’m unusual in this regard, but perhaps others can draw parallels with other components of their bodies/experience. I come across a number of trans guys wishing they produced sperm. In and of itself, I appreciate this. Sure would simplify having kids (for those who don’t already have some or have a functioning reproductive system they’re able to use.) But many trans guys say it causes them dysphoria because surely it’s an indication of being less of a man/obviously trans. Intersex runs in my family. Many of my relatives and I could never produce viable gametes. Our respective paths to parenthood include a mixture of adoption, donated eggs, IVF and surrogacy.

Many of my cis friends have PCOS (not surprising given its prevalence rate.) Among those who wanted to become parents, most had to use the services of a fertility clinic, and some were told it was impossible for them to produce a viable gamete.

A few of my cis male and female friends have rare genetic disorders, family cancer histories, or other reasons to rethink passing on their genetics/risking pregnancy (as the case may be.) Some have opted to be surrogates for their kids (that is, carrying them but having used a donated egg) while others opted for a hysterectomy or vasectomy. Sterility cannot reasonably be considered as a telltale of a specific/trans medical history anymore than infertility. None of these people are lesser men or women for it. You probably agree with that in regards for them, but it seems a number of us struggle to apply as much respect and consideration to ourselves.

Always be on your side, the rest of the world doesn’t need your help to put you down.

[Photo by Erica Nilsson from Unsplash, description: a sign on a rail near water reads: danger thin ice keep off.]

I’ve never associated my infertility with being trans, but for those who do, there are countless other reasons you might have been born infertile or become infertile/sterile that have nothing to do with transition. I propose that if you can produce viable gametes but your dysphoria makes it impossible for you to utilise them, then you aren’t effectively fertile. Having functioning muscles and potential isn’t enough to ensure one can be a body builder or professional athlete. The mind has to be willing and able to come along for the ride.

Finally, a request from someone who was adopted: if adoption is what makes the most sense/the only option for you, please don’t write into a trans forum assuming no trans people have been adopted and will de facto sympathise with framing it as a “lesser” way of becoming a parent/growing a family. As Simone Bile said “My parents are my parents and that’s it.”
If you’d like to rage because adoption is expensive, in some jurisdiction discriminates against those of us who were adopted, in some places it discriminates against 2SLGBTIQ folks, those who’d like to single parent, is often racist, abilist, so on, so forth, I’m right there with you.

[Photo by Annie Spratt from Unsplash, description: graffiti that reads “Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it.”]

Chatting with cis men about body image

I attended a men only body image support group for a while. This group offered a safe space to sort out which parts of my struggle were caused by dysphoria and which were not. I was the sole trans participant but I felt deeply welcomed and supported by all. The time I spent with this group of cis guys was some of the most heart warming and affirming experience ever. A number of times one of the guys would pull me aside during the break and tell me how much they appreciated my contributions because it resonated with them so deeply but they wondered why I framed it so often as trans experience because they’d had the same thoughts about their cis bodies.

It can seem ironic, but I stopped going the evening I finally believed that my body image stuff was indeed common enough place. One of the guys struggling to accept his bigger body said he’d do just about anything to have my slim and short body as his own. I was floored. I told him I envied his broad shoulders, bigger forearms, wrists and height; I struggle(d) with a desperate need to gain weight so people would stop saying I’m “not much of a man.” He could hardly believe anyone would want his body as their own.

I then found the aforementioned non-binary personal trainer  from a few paragraphs up. Together we worked on making me stronger rather than hitting a particular body weight or shape. At the beginning I’d beat myself up for not having greater “default” strength/being able to do more weight and he’d check me right away. “pound for pound, you’re in the top 3 strongest people I’ve trained.” Hah. Nice.
I set a bench press goal, which I thought if I reached it, my chest would be “defined enough” for my taste. Over a year later I made my goal but my chest didn’t seen significantly bigger or more defined. I was about to tear into myself when my trainer put it in a perspective I’d not considered. “Congratulations, a common weight lifting bench marks is the ability to bench press one’s weight.” This can seem ridiculous, but I hadn’t clued in that my goal was indeed to bench press my weight, and there I was doing it. But since that reframing I’ve stopped giving a shit that my chest isn’t particularly big or well defined. I’m plenty strong, and that matters most to me.

As covered elsewhere, I made a point to cultivate friendships with cis men, both those who know my medical history and those who don’t. One of the unexpected benefits was having them share their body image stuff with me. Over the years, some of them have said, much like that guy in the aforementioned body image support group, that they envy some body part or characteristic of mine, and/or they casually mentioned what they consider to be part of my sex appeal to others, and so on. It’s been affirming to find out how cis men, both those into and not into me sexually, those who know and who who don’t know my medical history, view my body and where they think I fit along side social expectations and standards of beauty. I’ve had some envy my fur, facial hair, and I used to nitpick about both. Over more recent years, I’ve bonded in unexpected ways with those who have similarly little hair left on top.

[Photo by Charles Deluvio from Unsplash, description: corn on the cob loosely wrapped in measuring tape.]

One of the cishet guys who doesn’t know my medical history once invited me over for dinner with a serious tone to his invitation. I was bracing myself to have him share a cancer diagnosis or something of the sort when he asked if I might be available to pick him up from the hospital. Turns out he had gynecomastia. I wound up sharing that I’d had that too and surgery for it. The wave of relief was immense on his face. He’d heard it was common enough but to find out a buddy of his knew what he was about to go through lifted a weight off his shoulders. (The pun wrote itself.)

Another cishet bud who doesn’t know my medical history asked if I’d pick him up from the hospital as well. He said that since I’d shared body image stuff and related stuff in the past, he felt comfortable sharing with me his decision to get a vasectomy. He was concerned about a bunch of our friends knowing, for fear they might judge him. I was all too happy to be there for him. He was particularly appreciative that I showed up with a neck rest for him to sit on. He wondered how I knew that’d be welcome ;p

All of this happening over the last 5-8 years has been particularly meaningful as the last of my youthful glow are replaced with emerging fine lines. I used to consider my youth and head hair some of the few things “going for me” in the good looks department but I still think I look pretty good now that both are gone 🙂

tl:dr the more I’ve opened up about body image with cis men, the more common ground I’ve found. It’s oddly been one of the more affirming experience.

Technically there was a 4th part but it’s something I covered elsewhere: realising there’s no such thing as gendered sociolisation.

[Photo by Tim Gouw from Unsplash, description: people forming the word “resist!!” on a beach.]

I’m not saying there’s no discernible advantage to being cis. Hopefully it goes without saying, I’d have rather not required all these surgical interventions, acquiring all this scar tissue, being dependent on a doctor for my hormones, so on. But being cis wouldn’t be a silver bullet resolving all my issues. Making peace with, if not embracing, who and what I am is doable and healthier. The alternative didn’t work for me, especially long term.