Volume 1, fall 2013
William Wednesdays A special series from Out for Health’s QueerTips tumblr
We did a thing. There’s our tumblr, which is awesome, but then there’s this bi-weekly column called William Wednesdays. WW got so cool so fast we sad holy hell, this needs to be a thing, a thing we can share and give out and tell people about because we know people learn from stories. A thing that needs to exist outside the Internet. Imagine that. So, here’s one version of one human’s life who is an awesome trans person doing his thang and being himself and trying to make his way in the world. There are a trillion other narratives, too. This is but one, so this isn’t a “how to” ‘zine but rather a "be yourself but how cool to get a look into another human’s life" ‘zine — because seriously, when we get an inside view into the lives of others we usually end up being nicer people, what with the reading and the learning and the understanding and the realizing that we all have tons of layers of stuff that make life, life. Read on queers.
William Wednesdays: An Introduction
Introductions have always been complicated for me. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other from playgroup days all the way through high school graduation. You never really had to tell people your name, save for new professors at the beginning of each school year. But even then, all you had to do was say “here” when someone called the name on the attendance roll that corresponded with the one on your birth certificate. That’s a lot different than saying, “Hi my name is…” and have it turn out to be something that’s not really you at all. Substitute teachers in middle school always thought my class was playing tricks on them when I raised my hand when I heard my birth 3
name called. “That’s not you,” they would say, annoyed, as they took in my cropped hair, pudgey face, baggy clothes, and upper lip hair- yes, at the age of twelve. “Who are you actually? Tom? Aaron?” My classmates and I would have to insist that I wasn’t lying, until the sub got embarrassed and moved on with the roll. We would all laugh about such incidents at lunch, and I would secretly take pride in the fact that everyone read me as a boy. In fact, I used to keep a tally in my journal of how many times I got called a boy per year. I passed in men’s bathrooms when the line for the women’s was too long. People would always ask my parents, “Is this your oldest son?” and they would say no, but I would smile gleefully and add a little tally mark in the back of my mind. At middle school basketball games, opposing teams would make fun of me, shouting, “Boys aren’t allowed to play on girls teams!” and gossip about me to the fans in the bleachers. Maybe that’s how my teammates always knew I was different, despite the fact that my biology told us I was one of them. Through the years of playing basketball, soccer, and softball with the same group of girls, my teammates instinctually called me Shish, the 5
shortened version of my incredibly long last name. Looking back, it feels like a blessing that I didn’t have to hear my birth name yelled at me to pass the ball up or to celebrate that game winning home run. I started dating my first girlfriend in my senior year of high school, and almost immediately instated a “no birth name allowed” rule. At the time I As a sophomore in college, I couldn’t articulate why, started revisiting the gender but I knew it felt wrong identity issues I suppressed having someone I was infor so long, and started timately connected to experiencing the same name look into my eyes and issues I once had in high call me that name. This resulted in some interschool. esting pet names that my best friends utterly loathed, such as “Baby Dino” and “Babykins,” but I embraced it because they were affectionate and gender neutral and didn’t make me feel like I was a lie. As a sophomore in college, I started revisiting the gender identity issues I suppressed for so long, and started experiencing the same name issues I once had in 6
high school. My girlfriend, like those teammates of the past who only called me Shish, slowly stopped using my birth name, without me having to ask her. Instead she called me Bear – a nickname I immediately fell in love with. It was appropriately chosen, given my bumbley nature and the fact that I had started growing out all my body hair. Over that summer and the beginning of the next semester I experimented with a couple of male names. First came Brett, the frat boy bro side of me that came out whenever I put on a hat and tank top at one of my band’s gigs. As soon as the hat went on, the other guys in my band would yell, “Brett’s here!” and they would intuitively call me by that name. I hadn’t even told them I had been questioning 7
my gender, but the amount of leg and armpit hair I was sporting was pretty hard to miss. Then I briefly tried the name Mark, as it shared some letters with my birth name. However, I ended up purchasing a certain sex-related item that many trans guys own that came with the name Mark, and I refused to be named after my dick. Right before I officially came out as transgender, I texted my mom and asked what I would have been named if I had been born biologically male. 8
Being the perceptive parent that she is, she responded with, “WHY ARE YOU ASKING? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU’RE QUESTIONING ABOUT YOURSELF? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT?” I shimmied around her questions and weaseled out of her the two names that could have been mine the first time around: William or Armen. As soon as I read it, I knew. William. My uncle’s name. I had originally been named after my aunt, so it felt like I had still been named by my parents, but this time with the correct gender. The name stuck, and I have never questioned it since. My driver’s license now reads “William Armen Dias Shishmanian.”
I’m proud of my name. I’m proud of who I am, and I’m proud when I extend my hand to meet someone and get to say, “Hi, my name is Will,” without a bit of shame or uncertainty.
William Wednesdays 2: Packing Heat (And Also Anxiety) For those of you reading this who don’t know what a packer is, I’m going to give you a brief descrip on and a warning that the next 900 words will be about the junk in my pants. So if you are a rela ve or a teacher I had in the 6th grade or just someone that doesn’t want to read about anything called “Mr. Limpy,” this is your chance to exit. S ll with me? Packing is the prac ce of pu ng SOMETHING in your pants where one would expect to find a penis. Trans guys and masculine‐leaning gender non‐conforming people have many ways of doing this, ranging from a bunched up sock to a flaccid penis prosthe c, more commonly called a pack‐ er. They can cost anywhere from fi een to hundreds of dollars depending on style, how realis c they look, or if they are made to allow you to pee stand‐ ing up. Those are called STPs, or “stand to pee” devices. I got my packer in an unusual way. I had agreed to write film score for my friends’ film, “Lesbian With a Truck” (yes, it is as awesome as it sounds). Un‐ fortunately, by the me the film was in picture lock, I had two days to write the score before the screening. This led to a 12am‐4am session in the studio composing the score for the 25‐minute film. In return for my work the filmmakers told me to name my payment. I asked only for a bo le of white wine and a $15 packer called Mr. Limpy, brought to you by the very same 10
company that makes Fleshlights, aka those sex toys that are basically stand alone genitalia in a cup. When my packer came in the mail, I rushed to try it on, excited for the long awaited bulge and ability to do that manly crotch‐adjus ng maneuver. However, the seafoam green shorts I was spor ng that summer didn’t leave much to the imagina on. The bulge was way too obvious, despite the fact that I got a “small” sized packer. When I tried to walk with it, there was a li le too much adjus ng happening, meaning I had to keep going to the bathroom to make sure it didn’t fall out. The only pair of pants I had that were ght enough to keep the packer pre y secure without having to worry about losing my junk were a deep burgundy color – not exactly a pair of pants you can wear every day without people no cing. The answer to these problems was obvious. I needed a harness. As with packers, these come in many styles and prices, ranging from about $15 to $100, depending on material and what kind of straps and pouches are involved. I don’t know why, but every me I would go to purchase a harness, I would end up deciding against it, saying I didn’t pack enough to warrant spending another twenty‐five bucks on my dick. Somehow, I missed the obvious ra onale that perhaps the reason I didn’t pack that much was the paranoia of having the packer fall out of my pants BECAUSE I DIDN’T HAVE A HARNESS. A few weeks ago I finally gave in and bought the cheapest harness I could find, 12
wan ng to give packing another try. When it arrived in the mail, Although I felt like a sexy male I raced to my room and put it model, I knew this was not on. At first I got confused and their funcƟon, and fiddled ended up wearing it like a around unƟl I realized the man‐thong, with the leg straps in the bu floss posi on. straps were moveable, and Although I felt like a sexy male meant to keep the packing model, I knew this was not their pouch in place. func on, and fiddled around un l I realized the straps were moveable, and meant to keep the packing pouch in place. Much more comfortable, I put my packer in the pouch and felt the manliness wash over me. YES, I thought to myself. THIS was the dick security I had been wai ng for. Why had this taken so long for me to buy? I ran around my house for a li le bit, bounding up the stairs, fiddling on my laptop, playing guitar, all the while smiling to myself at the fact that I knew I finally had what belonged in my pants, and it wasn’t going anywhere. The first me I went out to the bar wearing my packer, I encountered a new fear that was not solved by the harness. It was karaoke night, and the room was crowded. As people pushed by me, all I could wonder was, “CAN THEY FEEL MY DICK? IS THIS TOO MUCH? DOES EVERYONE THINK I HAVE A BONER? 13
BECAUSE I DON’T.” A few days later asked one of my workout buddies how much bulge was normal. I gave him the rundown of how the packer felt: squishable, definitely not hard, but maybe bigger than the average junk. He told me, worst‐case scenario, people would be impressed. In his words, “Girls are gonna be like, hey, that guy has a big dick…all right!” I decided I could embrace the bulge. Packing is a really personal decision. Many trans guys try it out, and plenty of them decide that it’s not something that’s necessary. I feel like it needs to be said that me wri ng this is not an invita on to ask me, or any other trans guys, if they are packing or not, just the same as you would not ask a cis‐person what’s in their pants. I’ve had it happen before, and let me tell you, there is really nothing more embarrassing than having someone call a en on to your crotch in front of a group of people. I don’t pack every day, but when I do, its func on is to make ME feel more comfortable in my own body, not to have everyone comment on my bulge.
Embrace the bulge 14
William Wednesdays 3: Second Puberty and the Benefits of Pain O’Clock As a trans guy, I got really used to being disappointed with what I saw looking back at me in the mirror. When I cut my hair and stopped shaving my scraggly, pre-pubescentlooking facial hair the summer before I transitioned, I still knew I wasn’t seeing the real me. Even after starting testosterone, I started playing this daily waiting game that led to obsessively studying and over-analyzing my face and body. I could hear my girlfriend getting bored with me saying things like, “HEY IS THIS ONE HAIR ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE COURSER THAN USUAL, ‘CAUSE I THINK IT IS, HERE TOUCH IT.” Even though being on testosterone is like cramming male puberty into a few short years, it still feels like watching grass grow waiting for changes to happen. I think that’s why I get so much out of seeing pictures of myself; it allows me to track my changes much more clearly than just seeing my face in the mirror every morning. Last summer while I was waiting for what seemed like forever to start testosterone, I decided a good way to start making my body look more masculine was going back to the 15
gym. I would go 3 or 4 days a week, but quickly got frustrated by the lack of visible results. I also felt paranoid that I wouldn’t pass around the other guys in the free weights section of the gym because I had to work out in a sports bra, or as I have renamed them, “compression tops,” since wearing a binder is awful for any sort of exercise that requires a lot of heavy breathing. This year, after being about 5 months on T, I discovered p90x – the six day a week, high intensity workout that promises to get you IN THE BEST SHAPE OF YOUR LIFE. Every day at “pain o’clock,” I get together with my best friend and one of our guy friends who I am convinced came out of the womb equipped with a six pack, and together we sweat and groan and power through an hour to an hour and a half of suffering in an attempt to sculpt our weird bodies. It took a few days, but I have fallen into a deep, unconditional love with p90x. Obviously, there are many reasons to love p90x and working out in general that have nothing to do with being a trans guy. I can eat whatever I want and know that I’m either replenishing my body’s nourishment from that day’s workout, or I’m going to burn it off the next day. After doing all the cardio and leg exercises, it became a lot easier to walk up the unforgiving Ithaca hills without getting tired. And having my workout planned for a specific time every 17
day helps regulate my schedule and makes me feel like I have always accomplished something positive for myself. But besides the practical reasons that plenty of people, trans* or not, like working out, doing p90x has given me a lot of reasons to love my body and myself that I didn’t have before. It’s also significantly less stressful than going to the gym. Since I’m in someone’s living room, I don’t have to be paranoid about wearing “compression tops” since I workout with two people I am close with and I know are not analyzing my chest when we work out. I also love being able to work out with a cisguy who has a similar build as me. When he pushes himself, I push myself to keep up. I know I’ll never have the exact same body as him, but I’m always more motivated to do that one extra push up or pull up if I’m trying to match someone else’s strength. Also, as this spring break proved, working out with other people makes it much easier to actually keep up with the routines and stick to the schedule. It’s much easier to break a commitment you made for yourself than one you share with someone else. The thing that I like best about doing p90x is that I can do something for my body that is 100% me, and on my own terms. It’s not like waiting for testosterone to do its thing and wondering what changes are going to happen. I 18
know that if I do enough pull ups, I’m going to get a more muscular back. I know that if I do enough curls, I’m going to have bigger biceps. If I push myself hard enough, and treat myself right physically, I am GOING to see the type of changes I want. Of course, I don’t think that being muscular is equivalent to being masculine or “manly,” and I don’t think every trans* guy (or cis-guy, for that matter) needs to work out if it’s not what they want for themselves. But I love the fact that I get to see my body get a little closer to the way it’s supposed to be every single day, and I know the result is something I can control.
William Wednesdays 4: On Buttery Nipples and “Passing”
One of my little known but most beloved interests is dancing. Not like ballet or tap or anything, although I did take one dance class around age 3. Of course, I quit immediately after seeing the dress they wanted me to wear for the recital. Little poofs on the shoulders and a lack of pants has never really been my style. No, the unstoppable dancing beast inside me is more into the same raunchy club music that I refuse to listen to on the radio in my car. Transitioning has only made me more comfortable with dancing in public. I used to keep my ability to move my hips a secret, thinking it would make me look girly, or signal to some horny, party-going bro that I would like him to get all up on my ass. But now I just get read as a guy who is kinda mediocre at dancing and kinda bootylicious, and no one thinks anything of it. Being that one of my other beloved interests is “all things that are queer,” it should not come as a surprise that I instantly jumped at the opportunity to go to a gay club with some of my queer girl friends a few days ago. In Syracuse. Which is over an hour away. At 10:00pm. On a Thursday night. When I have class at 10am the next morning. MY LOVE FOR QUEER DANCING KNOWS NO BOUNDS. 21
My expectations for the night were pretty much get a beer, shake my hips with my friends, and dance off the burrito I had for dinner that night. However, I got a lot more than I bargained for when a guy, who was actually shorter than me for once, asked if he could buy me a buttery nipple. Mom – if you’re reading this, don’t worry; that’s just a shot with Bailey’s and some sort of butterscotch liqueur. They are very tasty, and do not get you very intoxicated. One buttery nipple lead to another, and I was dancing with this guy, let’s call him Rodrigo. This initiated what became the theme of the night: validation versus paranoia. On one hand, it felt great that I was unquestionably read as male by someone who only likes men. He whispered in my ear how sexy I was, and touched my chest without questioning the tightness of my binder underneath my shirt. He also didn’t question my packer, which I realized as soon as he went to grab it. That’s where the paranoia really kicked in. Between that and his constant attempts to lift my shirt up (and possibly off), I started getting nervous about what would happen if he found out I was trans. Would he freak out? Would he punch me and call me a liar? Would he be too drunk to care? I quickly flashed some terrified eye signals to my friends, who helped dance me away from Rodrigo’s buttery clutches. 22
After spending most of the night dancing with my friends, another guy approached me to dance, and I decided to give him a shot. He seemed less drunk, and more respectful with his hand placement. However, he was attempting to do some new and interesting things with his knee that made me paranoid about how realistic my packer was again. Apparently, that thing is pretty realistic, because we kept dancing, and by the end of the night my friends had to convince him that I wasn’t interested in him and that I wasn’t gay. He didn’t believe them, probably due to my extreme excitement about dancing to Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl,” which has been my dream to sexily dance to in a club since middle school. Overall, I had a great night. I got to dance and be surrounded by queer people and didn’t have to pay for any of my drinks. But the feeling of validation that no one questioned the fact that I was a guy made me start thinking about the term “passing” and how it applies to me. At the end of the night one of my friends said, in a totally supportive way, “You passed so well all night!” And yes, that is true, and I am so happy for that. No one found out I was born with the wrong parts. My dick felt like a dick. My chest felt like a guys chest. My beard looked like beard. But thinking about all these things just made me think, I don’t pass. I am. I am a guy. To me, the term “passing” implies that I am pretending 23
to be something that I’m not. I feel like I’ve reached a point with myself and my gender where I know exactly who I am, and that does not entail hoping people don’t realize I was born with the wrong set of junk. I just know that I am who I am, and that happens to be a guy.
William Wednesday 5: A Week In The Life Being a 21-year-old college student who is about to graduate and attempt to be a real person while slowly drowning in a dark sea of student loans can be stressful. Combine that with both the physical and interpersonal aspects of transitioning, and you can probably imagine that life gets complicated. Here is a brief look into a week in the life of a transgender man who is a senior in college, aka, stuff I did this past week and an example of how often trans* stuff comes up in my day to day life, whether I like it or not. Monday: My senior recital – a compilation of the highlights of all of my compositions for the past four years. This process includes not only the writing of the music being performed, but also finding performers, scheduling and running rehearsals, conducting, and slowly driving myself mad. This recital was one of the most important projects of my semester, and my entire college career, and I am proud to say that it was completely irrelevant to my transition. My recital had nothing to do with my gender or being a guy, but my talent and my drive and my work. And I am proud of that. 24
Wednesday: My bi-weekly T shot – this week that included scrambling to find someone to give me my injection, since my girlfriend is studying abroad this semester, and my good friend who has been doing it in her absence was out of town. I know that I should be able to give myself my shot, but I am a weenie and freak out if I see needles going into skin, so I need assistance. And I can now add one more person to the list of people who have seen the upper quadrant of my butt. Thursday: The screening of the filmed version of the musical I wrote music and lyrics for, The Lesbian Fairytale Musical. This also had nothing to do with me being trans, but it was pretty great and queer. Friday: I get the divine pleasure of hearing a freshman girl use the word “tranny” in my own house (in reference to the green M&M character, which…what?). After she was told to never say that word again, she said she couldn’t see what was wrong with it. I am going to assume that I now pass well enough that she had no idea I was trans, otherwise I can’t imagine she would be daring enough to say that word in front of me. Saturday: I have to make a pit stop at my house before I go out for the night because I forgot my packer. Because I must dance. Sunday: I attempt to order my post-top surgery binder-vest that I will have to wear for the first five days after my surgery next month, but cannot because the online calculator apparently couldn’t process how high the measurement was for my upper arm. I would like to thank p90x for this moment, but I do acknowledge that this is most likely a computer glitch, and not the fact that my biceps are truly that overwhelming. 26
Monday: I wake up at 7 in the morning to get ready and leave in time for my endocrinologist appointment, which is an hour and fifteen minutes away. The appointment’s purpose is basically to measure me, weigh me, ask me how I’m feeling, give me a new prescription for my testosterone, and draw blood to check my levels. I got congratulated by my doctor for gaining muscle instead of fat, and for not getting acne (not that I could help that either way). As I scheduled my next appointment, the receptionist told me I looked like I was from a commercial. I’m not sure if that means I am not quite attractive enough to look like an actual actor, or if I just look vaguely familiar, but I am taking it as a compliment. On Monday, I also got the privilege of getting to respond to the intrusive question, “How do you have sex?” on my tumblr. I am usually very open to answering questions on my blog, mainly because a lot of them come from other trans* guys who aren’t as far along in their transition. But the details of my sex life are not relevant to anybody that is not actually having sex with me. For some reason, people feel entitled to ask transgender people (and other members of the LGBTQ community, for that matter) sex questions because they don’t understand, and are too lazy to do an ounce of their own research. While I am more than happy to help educate people who want to learn, that does not mean I have to give strangers every tiny detail of my life with a smile on my face, in hopes that it will breed acceptance and not more questioning and hate. 27
As I write this I wonder if it sounds like I am complaining too much. I am very blessed that I have been so accepted throughout my transition, and that I have started my medical transition without many problems. Part of me feels guilty for letting other little things bother me, and that I should just accept how lucky I am. But another part of me says no, I should not have to hear awful slurs targeting trans* people in my own house. I should not be expected to answer questions about my personal life in an attempt to educate ignorant people. I should not have to drive a total of 2 and a half hours for a brief check up at the doctorâ€™s because trans* healthcare is so far behind and hard to find. I complain about these things not only for myself, but for my trans* brothers and sisters and gender neutral siblings who also have to deal with this stuff day in and day out, when really we just want to be people.
Want MORE William Wednesdays? queertips.org Or search “Out for Health” on tumblr! 31
Calvin Kasulke, editor & illustrations William Shishmanian, author ÂŠ2013 queertips.org outforhealth.org facebook.com/outforhealth
So. There’s our tumblr, which is awesome, but then there’s this bi-weekly column called William Wednesdays. WW got so cool so fast we sad ho...
Published on Oct 1, 2014
So. There’s our tumblr, which is awesome, but then there’s this bi-weekly column called William Wednesdays. WW got so cool so fast we sad ho...