I’m busy preparing my boy-muff for a swim in the local public pool after I was inspired by a letter I received from a trans woman in response to my recent article Boy Tits in the Locker Room. After reading the article, she’d decided to go swimming again for the first time in a very long time. It made me realise that I stopped going swimming too. I never really consciously thought “geez, my body is kind of weird to most people, so I’m not going to do laps at the pool anymore”. I just conveniently forgot and subconsciously decided that wasn’t an option for me. Inspired by my new penpal, I decided it’s time to get back in the pool.
Part of my life’s work is around challenging cisgendered (non-trans) ideas about my body, and working with my trans siblings to generate our own language and embodied concepts of gender. In this article, I’d like to question the concept of “transition”, talk about the many shifts in the labels I’ve used for my body parts and the spaces I occupy with my body.
So, my decision to take to the pool. It’s one thing to have my boy tits in the locker room, but what about in a public pool? Should I wear a wetsuit shirt? A full length binder? What about my tiny “boy muff” underneath my swimming shorts, more conspicuous by its small, rather than large, presence? For laps as compared to leisurely swimming, I prefer to wear speedos. In Australia we call them “budgie smugglers”-as in, if your junk were a budgie and the swimming trunks are tight, they’re smuggling the budgie. My budgie, however, is too small to smuggle. Mine’s not even a sparrow or a humming bird, but more like a peach pit. But “peach-pit smuggler” doesn’t really have the same ring, does it?
I’m already somewhat accustomed to working through my complicated feelings around the public display of my junk through my clothing. I’m about to do a new show, “Transgender Seeking…” in Toronto on June 19, ahead of touring it the USA and Europe later this year. The costume is no pants, just a pair of tighty-whiteys, aka, men’s white undies. In the show, I intentionally choose not to pack (ie, I don’t put a sock or a packer in my undies), because I want to use my time on stage to create more space for some of the many ways that trans bodies look. I’m not assuming this means I’m making space for trans women’s bodies – the type of transphobia women who are trans face is very different to men who are trans. In my personal life I may not be super comfortable going about in public with just undies, no packer, but when I’m on stage, it’s less important to be authentic to my own personal experience and more important to carefully consider the political & aesthetic choices I make. I already play a whole host of different characters, and likewise I make intentional choices about how to present my body. Sometimes I also choose not to bind so that there is a hint of boy tit beneath my costumes. It’s sort of uncomfortable but whatever, so is transphobia period (see Boy Tits in the Locker Room for my thoughts on discomfort as a white trans man).
I have a complicated relationship with both loving AND not liking my body. As much as I hate to discuss these complexities publicly with non-trans people (see my article “Dear trans people and genderqueers”), the truth is that sometimes I find it difficult to tell how I really feel about my body. I’m so used to simplifying things so that cisgendered (non-trans) people will understand. So that I can be validated by the gatekeepers (like doctors) as a “real trans person”. Sometimes I wish I had a different sort of junk, one like the wide array of cisgendered men’s junk. But other times I love the bits that I have. Either way, I’m grateful for how much pleasure I get from my bits, even though my sexual experiences are sometimes complicated because of other people’s reactions.
Certainly a big turning point for me in how I feel about my body has been reclaiming labels and terminology that feel good. About 5 or 6 years ago, I started calling my existing junk my penis or dick along with my “inny hole” or “boy hole”. My tits became simply “my chest”. It felt liberating to claim these words for my body. To unsubscribe from the anatomy books. To mix and match the anatomical diagrams and their labels.
Now I’m at yet another shifting point. I’m going from needing very clear traditionally “male” gendered language around my body to a more playful approach with the words I use. In certain contexts, I’m starting to enjoy playing around with re-labeling my body parts traditionally “female” gendered names like tits and muff and redefining what that means in terms of also being a dude. At first, I just shamelessly tricked you into reading the article through using the words “boy muff” in title when that’s not really how I relate to my junk. But now that I wrote it, I’m like, yeah “boy muff”! I kind of like that! Who says boys can’t have muffs and tits? How boring to think only one gender owns any particular body anatomy. Yawn. It’s exciting to discover words that feel good in different contexts. At this stage, probably heavy breathing in my ear about my boy muff and boy tits is not really going to do it for me in a sexual way. But I find it entertaining to use these terms outside of the bedroom.
For me, this playfulness is only possible with getting more comfortable and confident with who I am as well as challenging cisgendered (non-trans) understandings of bodies and the singular acceptable “trans story” that doesn’t quite fit for so many of us. Working with my trans siblings to generate our own nuanced language and understandings of our bodies and the ways we live inside (and outside) of them is an ongoing source of healing, inspiration and strength for me. I’m grateful to my trans experience which leads me to constantly question assumptions around my own and other people’s genders. My years have been marked by so many amazing transitions and transformations.
This is one of the many reasons why I don’t use the word “transition” in relation to the process I underwent of taking hormones, changing my pronoun etc. To single out this one particular part of my gender journey (or indeed, my life journey) and call that the point when I was “transitioning” negates the lifelong growth process I’ve been through and will continue to go through. I’m totally supportive of other trans people using the word “transition” for themselves. I don’t use the word “transition” because it reeks of the medical system which considers that I was a “girl” and then transitioned to become a “boy”. It insinuates that my validity as a boy or man only began after I got the stamp of approval from the doctors. Facial hair? Check. Flattened hips? Check. Deep voice? Check. Thick set jaw? Check. Congratulations, now you’re a dude. Yawn.
Yes, taking hormones was a major deal and a big marker for me. But it marked no more of a “transition” than when I insisted on being in the boy gymnastics class when I was 8. Or tried to get into the boy scouts three years in a row, until they finally changed the rules in Australia and let “girls” into boy scouts. Or had my first trans lover. Or told my family that I was trans when I was 31.
What the medical system and their beloved concept of “transition” can’t quite grasp is that I was already a dude long before that needle jammed full of testosterone went anywhere near my butt cheeks. I already experienced my chest as a boy chest. Now it’s a saggy boy chest. My face was a man face. Now it’s a hairy man face. And my junk was already a dick. Now it’s a penis one day and a boy muff the next.
So, stay tuned to your local public pool, where my boy muff will be diving and proudly doing laps up and down the pool. That’s right, this is one little budgie that will not be smuggled.
Thanks to the amazing Chanelle for editing and feedback!
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