It pains my heart to see each one of you fade away. Disappearing into the night like supernovas, who fill the void of space with their brightness, before they die out.
In your letters, you say that nothing gets better. That for some it may but for you it will not. And sadly, you are right. Although we are all the time reminded that life eventually gets better and we find happiness, it is never true to everyone and much of life happens without our conscious decisions and not according to our plans. In many cases – our lives are the result of luck and its game with our various privileges and chances.
I am deeply sorry, my fallen sibling. Deeply sorry, because, once again, society has forsaken you.
Societies are not, however, concepts without faces. They are people. People like you and me. And sometimes I think that it is me within that society, dear sibling, that has abandoned you the most.
Every day, in every place of the world, there is one of you pleading for acceptance, hiding in the shadows, hoping no one knows the very thing that makes you – you. And the very thing you consider your darkest secret. You live in fear of rejection, fear for your own life and sometimes, the only fear you have left in you, is the fear of what lies on the other side of life.
Focused on positive messages and on bringing more light to our realities, it seems I have forgotten about you. But I didn’t, dear sibling. I know, who you are. I know you are and have been scared all your life. I know that you have given up on the possibilities that life may bring.
I feel I have abandoned you by not remembering your names, by reminding politicians about you with statistics instead of your personal stories. I bring focus to your actions but do not efficiently underline how other people’s actions have led to your decisions. Because even though I believe you have all the right to take your own life, I wish you did not have to.
I wish for a world where living means to thrive, dear sibling, not struggle. I do not believe it is in our destiny to fight for recognition of who we are. We should not be forced to battle, especially our families, who brought us to this world and should mean for us to be happy.
Our destiny is to live to our own expectations and be happy for who we are. Nothing more and nothing less.
And it saddens my heart that you still did not and do not have this recognition. It saddens me to know that for every successful and fulfilled trans person, there is another who was denied the possibility to be one.
You die, because the world is not ready for you.
I hope you are at rest.
It was Leelah’s suicide note that broke my heart, but sadly every day someone commits suicide or is being murdered, because they are trans. I have seen a number of reactions to this news, including trans people accusing her of not being strong enough or not being persistent enough to find for her own identity. And it is the most saddening fact of all. Because we should not be giving hard time to other trans people for their choices or judge what they can or cannot do.
If there is no solidarity between us, how can we speak of justice at all?
It’s almost 2015, which means that in a few months, it will be two years since my last testosterone shot. These last 20+ months have given me a number of experiences and helped me understand both my body and social processes regarding (de- and re-)transition and how our communities (both cis and trans) very often put a lot of pressure on gender presentation and its association with bodies affected by hormones.
Yours truly on December 10th, 2014
But first, a disclaimer. This article is not about making others feel bad about their identities, experiences and/or bodies. Neither does it try to convene the idea that quitting hormones is an experience to be shared by everyone. It is simply a narrative of a person who chose the path they are currently following. Nothing is set in stone and one day you may read a 10 things that made me come back to testosterone article. Until that, please enjoy this completely personal list of lessons I had to learn and situations I found myself in.
And second, a little background. This particular piece has been in my head for the past 15 months and only now I found the will and comfort to sit down and put my thoughts on virtual paper. Even though I have been sure about my choice from the very beginning, the thought of sharing it with others, and not just with my friends and community, but also with my family, has been quite dreadful. It felt like another coming out story (and still does!) and I am really tired of these. Not because coming out is not important (although the concept is problematic on a global scale), but because once you do like 2 or 3 of these, you think you’d be done at this point. All I can say at his point is, enjoy these 10 lessons I’ve learned for the past year and a half and don’t think about it as a coming out text. Just enjoy the ride.
1. Quitting hormones is NOT a big deal
For more than a year, I did not break the news about the decision to go off hormones to anyone. The only other person who was aware of what was happening was my ex, with whom I didn’t just share an apartment but most of my personal life as well. That closeness created so much comfort, that I didn’t think it was necessary to discuss my choice with anyone else.
Until a few months ago, when I decided to break the news with very close friends who have been there through my whole transition. I still remember my palms sweating and throat closing, unable to share what I back then thought was the ultimate confession a trans person can share. A moment when you openly renounce most of what modern medicine gave us to be able to celebrate our bodies the way we intended them to be in the first place. (I can’t deny, I did feel like somewhat of a trans-traitor).
“It’s been a year” I whispered “12 months since I’ve stopped taking hormones”.
One of my friends looked at me surprised. ‘This is it’ I though. The very person who gave me so much strength when I was first dealing with my dysphoria a number of years ago was about to shake her head in disbelief. But she didn’t. She smiled instead, poured some tea into my empty cup and nodded.
“Oh, I’ve stopped a while ago, dear child”. I looked at her surprised, she continued without hesitation “If it’s not good for you, why take it?”.
Why? That was one of the questions that were missing in my 'off hormones narrative so far’. I knew I stopped, and the reasons were many, but that one rhetorical question brought everything together. No one was forcing me, and I didn’t want to force myself either.
“It’s no big deal” another friend looked at me “You’re not the first person to come over with exactly this. The world is not crumbling and neither are you. Many of us have chosen to let go”.
At that point I was a member of a few online communities where exactly this issue has been discussed (and have spent HOURS looking for similar experiences on live journal archives or tumblr), but a real-life conversation brought me to a broader understanding of how often we think we know everything about our trans sibling when in fact, we may not be knowing anything.
2. You do not have to explain yourself, it’s your choice.
I feel as if I don’t have to underline it, but my own experience has shown me otherwise. When I finally was ready to casually open this topic in various conversations (in support group meetings first, when discussing hormones with other trans masculine persons second and finally when I met friends I have not seen for a longer time) I found myself answering the “why?!” question in many, often completely different things.
Someone who talked to me in January was convinced that going off was a health decision because of high blood pressure, in March you would have known that it was still related to health, but came as a package with quitting smoking and drinking, in May a number of my closest friends learned that this decision was part of a plan to start a family. And to be honest, all of these could have been true.
I did suffer from high blood pressure while taking testosterone and that was exactly why a few months earlier I quite smoking. Other issues pushed me to stop drinking, too. And for some time me and my ex were seriously considering bringing a baby to this world (In Central Europe. Can you imagine?).
All of these could have been important reasons for going off hormones. And all of these should not matter at all. Because what we do with our bodies is a choice we are entitled to. That is an important fact I have learned in late 2014 and now, whenever someone asks the dreadful “why” question, I smile and politely say: Because I can.
And that is exactly enough information.
3. Still, people will ask…
This doesn’t stop people from asking a number of questions. Some come from actual health concerns, some are simply absurd and in some cases can trigger dysphoria. For some reason people think that once you have decided to quit hormones, it also means that your body, especially your brain, quit dysphoria on you. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As much as one can suffer from dysphoria even years into one’s transition and without a break from hormones, the same is true for when you decide to go off.
Remember your first trans coming out? I surely do. I remember my first and then that whole wave of coming out sessions when friends, strangers and family members asked inappropriate questions about my health, genitals, mental stability and everything they thought was ok (but in reality was not) to ask a scared young person.
Surprisingly, telling someone you’re off hormones is quite similar to that. Except you need to get ready for a whole new experience of personal and improper questions, going even beyond what a trans coming out conversation looks like.
There are a number of things I have learned so far. My favorites include: not being trans enough, being scared of having an actual trans experience (?!), quitting on my trans brethren and being a victim of wrong diagnosis. The latter meaning that I should not have received the F 64.0 diagnosis Transsexualism.
4. …and they will talk, too.
Not everyone has the courage to say mean things to your face. Therefore, once you have revealed to someone that you are off hormones (whether you’re taking a break or decided to quite forever), you are in for a lot of talks behind your back and if you’re available through social media, you may experience (anonymous) online bullying.
If there’s a community around you, you are definitely in for some comments that, even if shared outside of your closest circles, will eventually hit you. There’s never a good way of dealing with them. A lot depends on context, whether you trust your sources and so on. There’s also never a good time to be ready to work with information like this. Personally, I have chosen to not extend my contact circles and either ban or delete those of whom I have information that have been sharing different comments through social media. Sometimes I choose confrontation, but that goes only for those people whom I find important to me and who may be scared to talk to me about everything that is happening.
Questioning my experiences, diminishing my trans identity, telling others I am not “manly enough” or that I am “probably just a woman who’s confused” – all of these comments have been and still are shared about me. They pop up during conversations, are part of online discussions on social media and have also reached me through anonymous questions on my ask.fm channel or through my community network.
Although I am definitely a fan of talking things through with your closest friends to unwind and not bring any frustration online, as it is easy to use against us later, I can see how that is not possible for anyone.
Look out for yourself. It’s a dangerous online and offline world out there.
5. Hormones are not 'the final trans experience’ and you won’t stop being trans if you stop taking them
Remember “all these studies” cited in online discussions that all it takes to “cure” someone from being trans is to give them hormones that are “in accordance” with sex assigned at birth? I think about them every time I experience estrogen boost from my body, because there is never a time when I feel more on the right track in terms of my trans identity and experience when this happens. And that is simply because coming back to my pre-testosterone body did not change who I am in any aspect.
Quitting hormones did not make me 'less trans’. On the contrary, it made me appreciate every single second I thrive in everything I have achieved so far as a person. My name, my body and my work as a trans advocate. In fact, a number of us come to terms with our identities sometimes long before they are able to start receiving hormones. Does that mean that before that moment our identities were not actually there?
Our communities still have a hard time accepting the fact that we are entitled to pursue our own narratives of transition. We transition at our own pace and every single transition is a unique act in itself. The fact that we are so diverse in these experiences makes us so strong. Both as individuals and as a community.
6. Your body will change
Whether it’s an interesting or dreadful experience (I can see both sides), your body will change and that may be one of the hardest experiences when going off hormones.
Sometimes it can become a triggering experience, especially if it makes you confront quite drastic changes like repositioning body fat, disappearing or reappearing body hair, some minimal changes in your voice and even your weight.
In my case, most of these changes have been manageable. Not all of them, though. In some instances, I had to go back to my pre-transition clothing style to hide some aspects and make others more visible. Although contrary to my pre-transition experiences, I have learned to use different clothing styles to my advantage and can manage both with a super manly appearance and a bit of gender queerness.
And even though sometimes my changing body will give me a hard time, I remember that this is the most self-aware time of my life and I should use this awareness to my advantage and not be bothered by how I am read by others.
Dealing with dysphoria, however, is an absolutely different experience and whenever I have a dysphoric day, I would just take a break, do things a bit slower and try to find at least some joy in life. Nothing helps me go through a dysphoric episode better than realizing that most things in my life are fine.
7. Passing may be tougher
It may seem weird coming from a person who became bald shortly after starting hormones and got loads of facial and body hair, but – yes. In some instances I will not pass as I used to.
However, this year I had an interesting experience of being read as a creature whose gender needed to be openly discussed on the street and all because I chose to shave my mustache, leaving only a lovely beard. Which, to my surprise, apparently made me look less like a man and more like Ether Darling from American Horror Story Freak Show. In other words, my expression and identity are judged differently based on extremely small changes and hence I do not have either the nerve or cultural wisdom to predict how I may be read by strangers.
Definitely something I had to learn and accept.
8. Checkups and monitoring one’s health is extremely important
To be honest, that goes for every person, whether off or on hormones. And I cannot stress that enough. However, going of testosterone is best consulted with an endocrinologist or – even better – an endocrinologist and gynecologist. If one happens to have undergone hysterectomy or ovariectomy, this type of consultancy is even more relevant.
I must also admit, that I did not consult anyone when I first went off hormones, which was mostly related to the fact that I lived in a country where such expertise would not have been possible to access. The only thing I could have done was to go off and then visit my old healthcare provider in another country to confront her with already happening changes and her recommendations.
Finding a good healthcare provider who is educated on trans healthcare is very difficult, so one should not be afraid to ask their peers for advice. If it’s impossible to find a proper expert for consultation, one has to, unfortunately, create trans expertise with a healthcare provider of one’s choice. It may sound difficult or even impossible, but persistence is a good advisor. Finding a healthcare provider open to trans issues may not be difficult, the most difficult aspect of this particular experience is the fact that you will be the one to have additional talks, educate that provider and ensure that they know what they’re doing.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a person like this a few years ago. Between our two appointments (about 6 months between) her knowledge rose from an entry to a “I know everything about your issues” level and all it took was an approachable yet proud attitude. “I have chosen you to be my healthcare provider from now on and expect that you educate yourself” I proclaimed on my first visit. “OK” she said, quite surprised and there it was.
Although I’m not sure whether I could stomach this today.
9. Make sure you are ready
I wasn’t. My first initial going off testosterone was a well-planned endeavor which ended up with so much dysphoria that the only possible solution was to forget about the whole thing and quickly go back to taking shots.
A few months passed when I realized everything was in place and that me and my body are ready for the adventure. One important thing I’ve learned through this experience was that my initial need to go off was not wrong, there was simply no reason for it at that very point in space and time.
But I eventually found myself in the right spot on the continuum, and here we are.
10. You can always go back if you feel uncomfortable
I did once and may do it again one day. Maybe one day I decide that I want to have my broader shoulders and thick body hair back. Or maybe I will not.
Whatever my decision will be, my only hope that it will be mine and that it will be respected. Especially by my peers.
Civil Partnership in Poland: a political failure to recognize society's needs
IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is a 2013 piece I have written while observing Poland’s political fight for civil partnership. At that time I was studying abroad and had only the information shared with me by my colleagues and the media, but felt a great need to put how I feel about the issue into text. Today, more than a year and a half I feel that it is about time to share this little piece with the world, especially that civil partnership in Poland is still out of reach.
Edit: It’s December 18th, 2014 and only a few hours ago, the Polish Parliament decided not to put civil partnerships on its agenda. Again. And not by just striking the proposal down, but by simply deciding not to have any debate on it. Out of 437 Members of Parliament, a simple conversation on this important issue was acceptable to only 185 and absolutely unacceptable to 234 MPs. Out of these 437, 18 decided not to take sides. Sadly enough, more than 50 members of the ruling party were also not willing to push the issue further.
Photo by David Shankbone
In light of recent changes in Europe in relation to marriage equality, definition (if any) of family and the role of gender in the legal changes which try to grasp today’s fast-paced society, one could pose a quite invested question – is Poland ready to come to terms with social reality? Or rather – are Polish politicians ready to realize that the struggle for civil partnership is not focused on tearing down the very base of humanity? If one is determined to give an existing relationship a legal status – aren’t they confining themselves to all a certain’s culture standards, standards which quite too often are defined as humanity itself?
The question of how culture defines standards and the definition of humanity are not the scope of this article. Neither is the ongoing political discussion, which has crossed the line too often, and therefore has reached the limits of what one would call a “public debate”. There is no debate. What we are seeing is a wave of homophobic and transphobic statements and opinions (labeled as facts) being constantly thrown at the general public. It is quite understandable that the reaction from those who defend the idea of civil partnership is scarce.
Even though homo- and transphobia need to be constantly challenged, reacting to those particular statements gives them a lot more screen time than they actually deserve. In reality we are faced with a difficult dilemma – to react means to give the impression that homo- and transphobic attitudes are a relevant part of a political discussion. To not react poses those who issue the statements in a position that they are righteous, because no one has the will to challenge them.
Those statements however, can be used as an example to show how prejudice and a lack of knowledge of an issue can lead to the worst of political failures. The failure to recognize the needs of those who create the electorate by simply using the very tiresome idea of the Other (sincere apologies to Lacan), acting as if those who support a certain revision of the law are not a part of the wholesome structure that is society.
What is more than interesting is the fact that in the case of civil partnership those who oppose the idea are unable to define who exactly is the Other. In most cases, as one could predict, it is the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people who suffer the most ostracism, even though they are not the only target group of civil partnership.
What is civil partnership then? The very concept can be tackled from various points of view. In relation to the needs of those relationships who can be registered as marriages, civil partnership creates an out-of-the-box alternative, a possibility to challenge the heteronormative standard of a union between two persons of different legal genders1. This particular option functions as a doorway for those who want to enjoy some of the privileges created by an institution of a registered union, but at the same time find themselves invested into a fluid, postmodern lifestyle which does not give in to the traditional idea of family stability.
When it comes to two persons of the same legal gender, civil partnership can be defined as “a taste of equality” – a type of consensus between the actual societal needs and the conservative concept of marriage and family. When thinking about political strategies and recent European history, civil partnership is also seen as a first step to further recognition of new forms of unions and families.
Why did Poland decide not to take this important step to change its attitude towards an alternative to marriage? There might be a few reasons – each one of them, however, comes back to the supposed definition of marriage within the Polish Constitution. Article 18, referred to numerous times during the parliamentary debate on civil partnership, but never actually quoted, states that:
Marriage, being a union of a man and a woman, as well as the family, motherhood and parenthood, shall be placed under the protection and care of the Republic of Poland.
This particular definition of how the state protects its citizens has become the core of deeming all the three civil partnership proposals “unconstitutional” and has created a general view, shared by a great number of parliamentarians, that creating any form of an alternative to marriage is a devious assault plan on traditional family.
This particular attitude, however, is not only wrong but shortsighted, to say the least.
Firstly, when thinking about various lifestyles and the globally diverse family life, it is quite difficult to define what is traditional or conservative – especially when one considers the fact that the western idea of a nuclear family, forcefully posed on global societies, does not precisely fit into the term “traditional”, as its origins are easily traceable to post World War 2 changes.
Secondly, what seems to be the biggest issue, Polish politics have been experiencing a rather curious turn in relation to how politicians (especially parliamentarians) constitute their legislative role. Instead of being the force working towards bettering the situation of their citizens, the Parliament has taken a different turn – it started seeing itself as a collective protector of public morals and values. The collectiveness of those morals and values, however, seems to be trapped in an idea of a stable society defined by firmly established morals and practices, instead focusing on observation how relationships and unions change in relation to current economic and societal processes. In other words, a failure to recognize the need to introduce civil partnership is a failure to understand the everyday reality of Polish citizens and residents.
This lack of knowledge can be especially identified when thinking about the needs of different groups described by the LGBTI acronym. From the conservative side, civil partnership has been seen as an element of the “gay agenda” and what the political discussion has been focusing on was the “classic” threatening image of two men not only being able to marry (even though neither of the proposals tackled the question of marriage) but also adopt children (also not added to any of the proposals).
The patriarchal approach to relationships has once again almost fully invisibilized the position of lesbian women and, as usual, did not look into any problems of the bisexual population, not to mention transgender or intersex citizens. Male-centered binary attitudes have defined civil partnership as a heterosexual (“a man and a woman”) vs. Homosexual (“a man and a man”) dichotomy, even though the concept itself has been presented for different types of unions, those of the same legal gender and those of a different status. Civil partnership proposals have also raised the hopes of the transgender and intersex community, especially – but not only – in relation to the gender recognition process.
When one thinks about the complexity of issues which might rise up due to the specific expectations of marriage as a heteronormative phenomenon – it is quite understandable to see the need of creating a civil partnership alternative for those citizens or residents who do not comply to everyday standards of binary gender expression.
Even though two persons might be of different legal genders, this does not automatically implicate that they are not seen by society as being of the same gender. They are legally able to enter into marriage, but might not feel comfortable to agree to every heteronormative aspect of it. Hence, they would choose civil partnership as an alternative.
Civil partnership was also seen as a chance for those unions who continue their common lives even though one of the partners has decided to go through the gender recognition process and change their legal gender status. Current gender recognition procedures force an individual to divorce their spouse since marriage is available to those who are of two different legal gender statuses. In other words, and in great opposition to what has been raised from the conservative side, civil partnership might have had a positive impact on family lives. The law would no longer force families to fall apart.
Hence, by rejecting all civil partnership proposals, the parliament has clearly indicated that not all Polish families are equal.
In light of all the issues and over the top political reactions, one should also ask – what was the Polish parliament so afraid of?
On January 25th 2013, three proposals have been presented, each one of them being slightly different (drafted by various entities as well), all of them – however – accessible to two persons of either genders and none touching the subject of adoption. What might be especially interesting is the fact that the proposal presented by the leading party, Civil Platform, has been judged by the community as the rawest and not at all relevant to what were the actual needs of those citizens and residents who might have been interested in registering their union.
It did not create a possibility to form a partnership with a non-Polish citizen and had also denied most of the financial benefits to which married couples are entitled. Still, even this particular proposal could not pass the parliamentary vote after which a special commission would have taken the lead and worked on developing the text. Even though this particular proposal did not pass by a tiny margin, the results of the vote clearly indicate that both the supposed definition of marriage in the Constitution and an illusive idea of what exactly is family have clearly overwhelmed the Sejm that day.
And how did the community and civil society react? Individuals and whole groups were furious, tired and very disappointed. Thinking back to where it all began – commenting on drafts, discussing whether the proposals (at least those open to discussion) should be all-inclusive or rather for those couples who are of the same gender status, arguing on various details… And then keeping track of what has been happening inside the Parliament, demonstrating, protesting, spending hours in front of the Parliament desperately trying to get the message across… From a personal experience, it has been a significant learning process and any knowledge acquired throughout this journey would be of great use for the future. And not just for this particular proposal, but others which certainly will follow. However, judging by what the former Polish Minister of Justice, Jarosław Gowin, said once in an interview:
[…] I am opposed to granting unjustified privileges for those who do not want to enter into marital relationships.
There might still be a long way to go.
1I refuse to acknowledge the “same-sex” discourse in relation to marriage and family equality, due to the fact that it invisibilizes the issues faced by both the transgender and intersex community. The issue of marriage is, in fact, the question of legal status, not body characteristics, therefore I find it very important to underline the legal aspect of the topic.