Photo Bomb

There’s something that’s been on my mind since it happened to me on Saturday:

I was at my hometown bar when someone I know but don’t really know started telling me about her cousin ( a girl) and her girlfriend. I didn’t ask, by the way, but I sat and listened as she shouted over the music that they live in another state and the girlfriend is a real bitch and do I want to see a picture of her cousin? I don’t care, so I say, “uhhh.” But, it’s too late. She’s scrolled to a picture of this girl. She awaits my response. So, I say, “okay.”

Maybe thirty minutes later I’m dancing with Cyrus and I see my mom trying to take a picture. I can see that it’s not her phone, but I don’t think a lot about it. Of course, I just flip her off because I am me.

Not too long after, I’m talking with my aunt, and I turn to say something to Cyrus. I see this massive phone right in my face, held by the person I know but don’t know. I say, “what the fuck are you doing?” She says, “I’m taking your picture.” Rudely, I ask, “why!?” And she says, “Don’t be hateful. I just want a picture of you.” Again I ask why. This time, she instructs me to stand up, smile, and she takes a selfie.

Queer people: You KNOW what this was about and why it bothers me.

NOT queer people: You can sit with this one and think on it until you find the answer.

Just a few weeks ago, I had to explain to someone I’ve known for many years what a micro-aggression is after this person revealed that they aren’t really an ally and can’t decide if they want to be. No. I didn’t have to explain. I chose to. I chose, once again in my fucking life, to educate someone.

I have been an out queer now for 24 years. The first year, I was out in Callaway County, Missouri. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) I was the first queer person to come out in my high school. You’ve all read or heard about that year by now, so I won’t repeat it. It was bad.

But, at the time, I had a very special thing going for me: Youth. I was excited to discover gayness and learn all the terms and wear rainbows and pink triangles. I was happy to have found that I wasn’t alone. I had the time to explain to you that, no, no one is “the man” in the relationship. I was so hopeful, friends, that because I was so blessed to be from such a small community, everyone would realize I was still just the same person they loved previously. That wasn’t the case.

It’s still not the case.

After 24 years of explaining to you and you and you that I am just a human person like everyone else, I am exhausted. I can no longer expend this energy to help you understand. It’s not really my job in the first place.

This photo incident got me really worked up. The thing is, I’ve been me for so long, I no longer think about how I look or how others look at me. I have short hair, I don’t wear dresses, and now I don’t have any boobs. I’m androgynous as fuck. And I look good. And I forget that people out there might be somehow upset or excited by this….this non-gendered expression. Some people, with large phones, might even see me as a spectacle…one they can just secretly photograph.

As I’ve been relaying this Photo Incident story to friends, one queer friend asked, “are there really people out there who’ve never considered their gender and sexuality?” And, I bet some of you reading this haven’t. You haven’t needed to in order to justify your own existence. You’ve never had to convince people that your relationship is just as valid as theirs. That your intimate relationships are not their business just like theirs aren’t yours. What a privilege to never have anyone ask you intrusive questions about your sex life, to assume things about how you feel toward your partners, and for someone to feel totally comfortable asking you about what parts you do and do not have.

There are an infinite number of genders and sexualities and ways to have intimate relationships with other age-appropriate human beings.

I once posted a meme that said, “to choose to be visually queer is to choose your happiness over your safety.”

Today I said to two “straight passing” queer friends, “my androgyny is a burden on me.” People see me and make a lot of assumptions about who I am. And they base their interactions on those assumptions. If I wanted to, I could grow my hair, swish my hips, and learn to contour my make-up. Boom. I’m not queer-looking. And maybe people would treat me differently.

-Of course, when I write about these things, I’m never just talking about the LGBTQIA+ community, I’m talking about other minorities, too. Those who face different prejudices and have been forced to educate others since the day they were born.-

I come out to someone, somehow, every single day of my life. I live in a world built for cisgender straight people for cisgender straight people, which means I’m bombarded by micro-aggressions every single day. Sometimes, a Jeep full of frat boys call me a fag as they speed by me. Sometimes, people refer to my very serious partner of many, many years as my “friend.”

And sometimes, well, they just want me to shut-up and hold still so they can take my picture.

You Can Never Go Home Again: Part II

This whole story isn’t really about being queer. My life isn’t supposed to be about being queer the same way yours isn’t meant to be about your romantic and sexual relationships. That’s not who you are in your core. You don’t “identify” as straight. You don’t describe yourself that way. I don’t want to describe myself by my relationships, either. But I have to. Time and again. Why? Because it matters to cis-gender straight people for some strange reason.

I moved to Houston sometime in late summer of 1998 after I graduated high school. Why Houston? Because my girlfriend, an educated, polite, and successful Texan happened to be from there. (The story of how we met is detailed in the coming out anthology if you want to read it some time. It’s romantic as hell and even includes writing letters and making mixtapes featuring The Cure, Depeche Mode, and George Strait.) I had plans of softball scholarships and Mizzou, but I secretly applied to the University of Houston and made my escape.

The shock of going from a quiet town along a river to a huge, stinky city near the gulf was immense. I could read a map, but I’d never driven anywhere larger than Columbia. I didn’t really know how to cook or wash my clothes. I didn’t know what raves were. Until I did. I hated cilantro and avocado and I’d never had Indian food. I went to class and came home to the house we shared with my girlfriend’s best friend. I was a terrible roommate. I don’t think I cleaned once. I’m sorry to both of you. After a few months I felt myself slip away; I realized I’d never been where no one knew me. Around my part of the world it was always, “Aren’t you that Holzhauser girl?” The anonymity of the city helped teach me I wasn’t as special as my parents had led me to believe. It was a tough lesson to learn, but it was also a huge relief. I had to remind myself constantly that was a big reason I had to leave.

Being queer isn’t a lifestyle. It’s not like subsistence fishing. It’s not deciding to live in a van and travel the U.S. like Steinbeck. I did a lot of queer things in Houston, though. I had a friend who sneaked me into “the gay bar.” (It was called “Chances” or “The Barn”) There were plenty of gay bars, but only one I ever really went to. It was divided into three areas: The front was a classic American diner where the trans ladies and drag queens hung out. The middle was what we called, “prom.” That was the area for dancing to Madonna or whatever was new. Then, in the back, that was where you could two-step. I went other places, too. Rich’s was a men’s bar that looked like something from all of those films I watched about cities. There were almost-naked men everywhere. Some wore make-up. Some wore mesh shirts. Some danced in cages. All of them smiled at me in a way that told me I could belong and not belong at the same time.

No one tells you how uncomfortable it is to watch so many same sex couples and other queers dance and kiss like straight people. When you’ve never seen it, even if you’re one of them, it’s disorienting. And I’m not talking about gross stuff. I’m just talking about people acting like people do when they’re out on a Saturday. I was embarrassed that I had to get used to it. In my world, there were no queer people in movies or in tv shows. I wasn’t used to seeing myself anywhere other than my own mirror.

I was taken to a pride parade without understanding the concept. I mean, when you’re queer, no one teaches you history or anything, they just expect you to know or figure it out. So, there I was, walking down the sidewalk taking in the parade, when some dudes are walking backwards, holding signs and chanting, “God hates fags!” They accidentally bump into me. One dude turns around, you know, instinctively, and apologizes sincerely. I look at him for a moment as he looks at me in a white tank top, baggy men’s jeans, and Birkenstocks, my chain wallet glistening in the sunlight. I say nothing as I wait for him to see the irony of what’s just transpired.

I shaved my head and dressed more masculine. Then, I grew out my hair and tried out leather pants and no bra. I learned to drink Shiner Bock and Lonestar while I danced with older women who’d bought them for me. I learned to play rugby, what an arthouse theatre was, where to go around the city, how to drive anywhere, how to shut up with my former judgmental shit and learn about new people. I learned how to live in a city. I got so good that no one who met me would guess where I came from. By looking at me, you’d think I was some sort of rave kid or alternative street kid.

I lived in the queer part of town. Westheimer. People were very weird there, so I was nothing. I didn’t stick out. No one gave me the looks. I blended in and found my people at the job I worked which was an outdoor/camping supply store in the area. This is where I unlearned all of the prejudices I’d amassed growing up and where I became cultured. I was schooled in music: Tito Puente, Bob Marley, and Shakira. I learned what vegans and vegetarians were. Oh, the food I learned and learned to eat! I learned that abortion isn’t the murdering of babies. That not all brown people are from Mexico. That not everyone grows up eating squirrel. And, I was shocked to find out that not everyone was Christian. I learned that people can be bad. That people can be very, very wonderful and accepting. I learned there that I was not alone. That we are all different and the same. I grew and grew into myself.

More and more frequently I found myself in spaces where my whiteness was the minority, and sometimes unwelcome. Some huge and very bright light bulbs started flashing above my head.

In that growth and that swarming mass of beautiful and strange people, I started to see my hometown as an awful, backward place. Only white Christians lived there. Only straight people lived there. I had to consider all of the racist shit I’d heard growing up. Did I remember correctly that my relatives said these things? There was a whirlpool of bigotry that my younger self felt but couldn’t name. Most people there had never really left. Had they tried to? Were they stuck there? I felt like I was the only one who knew I had the choice to leave.

Not many people from my family reached out to me the four years I lived in Houston. I mean, of course my parents did, and I even made trips home for holiday gatherings. At the time, my relationship with my parents was still very strained, but they were getting better. The distance helped, of course. Only one aunt sent me a letter. I can’t remember what it said, exactly, but it was something along the lines of “I don’t understand your lifestyle, but I still love you.” As a 19 year old, it pissed me off. Now I see it was an attempt at reaching out, maybe apologizing. I still carry the guilt of not responding to that letter.

At that time, I was ashamed of where I’d grown up. I was embarrassed to be so ignorant. I felt deprived of a life I could’ve had if only I’d been raised in an urban place.

The first panic attack I ever had was at an Indian restaurant after I bit into a samosa. The flavor was too much, too unfamiliar. There were so many people in the restaurant and so many cars whizzing by. And my new girlfriend who couldn’t figure out why I’d freak out over such a delicious place to eat. I had to leave. I wanted to be by myself. But in a city that large, it was impossible. I tried to think of a place to go. I pictured parks with trees-full of people. Museums-full of people. There was no where. So, I sat and cried in my basement efficiency apartment.

Each night when I tried to sleep, with all of the sirens blaring, and cars with their vibrating trunks and Tejano music, the occasional screams, the upstairs neighbors stomping about, I put a pillow over my head and tried to think of home. I just needed one night of peace, of an open window and cool breeze. Of frogs and cicadas. Just one day in the woods alone to quiet my thoughts.

My only options for an existence seemed to be to stay in the city that was wonderfully ambivalent toward me but was constantly noisy and busy, or go home to the peace of my river where people stared through me and talked about me behind my back. Back to the country where people had opinions about groups of people they’d never even met. Back to a place that no one could seem to leave.

Portland, my hometown, was suffocating though I could get lost in the woods. Houston taught me how to feel alone without ever letting me be alone.

I was 22 when I felt like I knew too much and not enough. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.

For the first time in my life, I felt like an orphan.

Age 21. Somewhere in Texas Hill Country.

You Can Never Go Home Again: Part I

When I came out at the age of 17, I knew my family would never look at me the same again. From the beginning, I was called pretty and beautiful. My mom kept my hair very, very long, and it was given a lot of attention and praise. I was enrolled in kid beauty pageants and put into dance classes. I was made to wear sun dresses and Easter dresses and I had those damn lace collared socks. I hated all of it. Well, I didn’t mind the tap and gymnastics portions of dance class. I knew then, when I was 5, that I was different from the people around me. Most of those feelings I dismissed because I was adopted. I figured, you know, adopted kids just feel a little out of place no matter how much their family loves them.

There were times when I wondered if I was supposed to be a boy. There were times when I wished I could be. There were times I cried about all of those feelings in that tiny overhang of bluff by the river. Of course, this was in the ’80s. In my part of the world, there was no such thing as gay people. And there was definitely no such thing as trans people, or any alternative gender. In case you’re getting excited about my own gender reveal, calm down. I’m not saying anything, really. I’m a girl. Probably. I guess. I just don’t care. I am just me. But more than enough people have called me sir. Or stared me down in a bathroom. Or looked at me with that look you’ve never known unless you’re gender-bending in some way.

Anyway, you know that coming out in Callaway County was hard. I don’t want to sound tough about it anymore; it was traumatizing. Someone keyed “dyke” into my gym locker. I told some teachers, but guess what, nothing happened. There were rumors that I was kissing random people at the softball field. There were people who straight-up told me that their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with me anymore. That I was going to hell.

When I went to basketball camp, only one person would be my roommate. She endured some teasing and a lot of questions from the others wondering how she could possibly be comfortable sleeping in the same room with me.

My basketball coach was so rude to me the first few days of practice, I quit. The previous year, I was MVP and won Best Female Athlete. When I handed him my uniform, all he said was, “okay.” Yes, you know him. And yes, you know his wife was also my fifth grade teacher and is currently a MO state senator. And yes, when my ex-wife was pregnant and I introduced her, she literally looked past us and said nothing.

My parents sent me to therapy. Not to help me in the sense we might think about it now, but to help me get back to being straight.

I saw someone in a gas station a few years after I graduated and he was like, “heyyyyy, how are you?” In that kind of voice that says something was really wrong with me. I asked, “what do you mean?” He said, “You know, all of that stuff you went through in high school?” I said, “you mean coming out?” And he was like, “no, all the drugs and stuff?” I was like, what the fuck are you even talking about? I was a total narc in high school. I hated drugs. I hated alcohol. I judged anyone who used them. I went to two parties; at one, I had three sips of Boone’s Farm and drove my friend home. I felt guilty about that for years. Maybe you’re wondering about the other party? My friend got high and drunk and started puking. Luckily, she came with someone else, so I wasn’t responsible for her. But there was so much hetero making out, I had to leave. I arrived sober and left even more sober. Anyway, I yelled at that guy in gas station, “I’m just fucking gay!” and left.

And then there was the sexual harassment, luckily all verbal, interspersed with lewd sexual questions and suggestions. There were threats of corrective rape.

So, being 17 and gay in a tiny ass, rural, southern town in 1997 wasn’t just hard; it was hardening.

Those obvious abuses were awful and plentiful. The worst things, though, were the looks and the utter silence. This came from the principal, who scowled at me any time I walked by. This came from most of the teachers and students. Most importantly, it came from my family.

That was surprising and the most damaging. I was doted on since I was little and even up until the point I was outted. I was the smart, pretty athlete they were all so proud of. Then suddenly, I was no longer beautiful; I was a wretched disgusting creature unworthy of words. No one really spoke to me. About anything. When they did, they didn’t meet my eyes. I had hoped that my family’s love for me would help them understand that gay people are just people. I believed that if they really knew a gay person, they’d learn that it wasn’t sinful or bad or whatever they thought. At the time, I wanted them to ask questions because I had the strength to teach them. There were no allies to do the emotional lifting for me. I was ready. But. It was just a year of silence. And those looks. How does one describe them to someone who has lived such a life as not to experience them?

Well, it is the face of someone right before they vomit. It is pale and disoriented. It is the face of someone seeing a mugshot of a pedophile on the news- that sick sonuvabitch. It is the face of someone as they draw up their nose at the first hint of skunk. It is the face of someone who has been betrayed.

It is the face of your parents and cousins and aunts and uncles. It is one of those dreams when you realize you’ve gone somewhere naked.

Yes, that’s it. You’re naked. But you can never wake up.

I was out just a few months when this was taken. Yes. It’s my senior picture.

Your Racist Relatives

Dear White People,

I’ve written to you many times about what it means to grow up in a racist, rural, southern area. I’ve outed my cousin for saying racist shit at Thanksgiving and another one at the Mokane Fair. I’ve written twice about why I don’t stand for the national anthem, I’ve shared my thoughts on what it means to be raising a white man, and I wrote about the unrest at Mizzou in 2015, since I worked there at the time.

I’d like to tell you that when I wrote about my cousin and his racist joke, I was sent a message from his mom which was intended to put me in my place. It essentially said: We’ve tolerated your gayness, so you must tolerate his racism.

I will not. I have not. And we have not spoken since then.

And that’s OKAY.

I know a lot of you white folks out there are struggling right now. You are fighting the good fight, but most of your family is posting shit about All Lives Matter, how rioting never solved anything, how if “they” would just protest peacefully, everything would be fine.

You know it’s bullshit. You know that when your uncle says, “I’m not racist, but…”

You. Fucking. Know.

You know because you’ve always known. Your whole upbringing was awash in racist shit. It’s seeped into every part of you, even though, at a young age, you knew it wasn’t right. You knew it didn’t make any sense that people would say those things or even feel that way when you had literally never seen anyone who didn’t look like you. How could people form opinions of others they’d never even met?

But listen. You’re not 9 years old anymore. Now if someone at the picnic says, “You can come sit over here with us white folk” you can ACTUALLY FUCKING SAY SOMETHING. Because now you have words and context to tell that family member to fuck off. Loudly. So everyone can hear.

It’s okay to call a racist a racist. Even if they’re your aunt, your cousin, your parent. Even if they protest that they aren’t. Even if they get mad.

Even if they never speak to you again.

And I know that’s what makes you hesitate. Because you know once you start doing it, fuck, you’re gonna lose a lot of your family.

But do you really want to hang around people who feel like that?

Again, I know it’s hard. Just a few weeks before my grandma died she was telling me a story about how my aunt really liked this black man but couldn’t date him because, you know, he’s black. All I said was, “Why?” And she said, “I guess you’re right. It doesn’t even matter.”

What would’ve happened if I said nothing? If I just let it slide?

1. She would’ve thought I agreed

2. She would’ve thought that’s the way things are.

Guess what? It’s okay to delete your racist relatives from social media. It’s okay to call them out. In fact, it’s your job as an ally, as a human being on this planet, as a responsible citizen of the United States of America, to do so.

Maybe you’re afraid of the repercussions. Sure. Maybe you’ll get in a huge fight. Maybe they’ll never speak to you again. But. Also. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll think long and hard about their actions. Maybe they’ll ask questions. Maybe, like you and I have had to do, they’ll admit all they’ve been taught and then work to change themselves.

And dig this: maybe there are a few more people in your family who think like you. Maybe they, too, are chickenshit to say anything for fear of losing a family member or having a hard conversation. Maybe a majority of your family feels just like you but no one says anything because of the strong personality of you know who. WHAT IF YOU ALL JUST FUCKING SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF JUST SITTING THERE ‘POLITELY’ ?

Fuck politeness.

Fuck racists.

It is your job to educate yourself about the deep, deep roots of racism in America. It is your job to educate and argue with those family members. Yes, it’s tiring work, but you know what else?

Our black friends, neighbors, teammates, co-workers, relatives, and loved ones are fucking exhausted from doing all the hard work.

Are you tired of explaining to your mom’s best friend on facebook what white privilege means? Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Are you sick of your well-intentioned neighbor saying, “I don’t see color?” Too fucking bad. Keep going.

Do you swear to god your head’s going to explode if you one more person say “aLl lIvES MAtteR”. No one cares. Too fucking bad. Keep going.

And finally, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling even a little bit mad at anything I’ve said, ask yourself this:

  1. Have I said all lives matter in response to black lives matter? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  2. Have I ever said, “I’m not racist but….” (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  3. Was I raised in a small, southern, rural town? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)
  4. Was I born and raised in the good ‘ol USofA? (If yes, you were definitely taught to be a racist, but with some reading and listening to people of color, you can learn and be helpful)

We ALL have a lot of work to do.

Here are some resources to get us started:

NAACP – http://detroitnaacp.org
Detroit Urban League – https://www.deturbanleague.org
Black Lives Matter Detroit – https://www.alliedmedia.org/blm-detroit
The Detroit Justice Center – https://www.detroitjustice.org
Focus Hope – https://www.focushope.edu
People’s Action Detroit – https://www.thepeoplesaction.com

Stream some movies:

“When They See Us” Netflix
“Mudbound” Netflix
“Becoming” Netflix
“Teach Us All” Netflix
“Just Mercy” Amazon Prime
“I Am Not Your Negro” Amazon Prime
“The Hate You Give” Amazon Prime
“Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” Amazon Prime
“Whose Streets” Hulu
“Black Stories Presents: Your Attention Please” Hulu
“If Beale Street Could Talk” Hulu
“Sorry to Bother You” Hulu

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (There is a movie based on this book)
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt
Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
Racism Without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa

(this list courtesy of NAACP Detroit)

Scar Twins/Twin Scars

On February 26th, I had my bilateral mastectomy. I was back at work on March 9th with a few random aches and some strange knots around my scars. And then, on March 18th, the university told us to work from home if we possibly could. I’m grateful to say that I could. I mean, I still can. This is my seventh week working from home.

Really, it’s like I never went back to work. It’s like I lost my breasts and the world changed. I had cancer and then the world suffered from a pandemic.

You’ve probably forgotten about the cancer. I forget most of the time, too.

I wonder, if I would’ve know I’d have all this time at home, if I would’ve just gotten some reconstructioned breasts. Probably not. But all this time at home has made me think. It’s also forced me to slow down and heal in ways I probably wouldn’t’ve if rugby were still going on. Even though I retired.

In an effort to tell my body to go fuck itself, I’ve started running. Not that kind that involves a ball and an objective, just the kind where you go out and force yourself to keep your legs pumping into nothingness. It’s awfully boring. But I hear it’s good for me.

I’ve been fishing a lot, too. I’ve been turkey hunting with Dad. I’ve made some music with the family. I go on walks with Gaby almost every day. The family eats dinner together every night. Chef Gaby has been very busy in the kitchen creating things she’s always wanted to but never found the time. We’re all benefiting from it.

But, maybe you’re wondering, you know, what’s it like to run without boobs? It’s great, I guess. I only have to wear a shirt-no special bra. I feel sleeker. I feel more athletic even though my times and distance don’t really prove that. Erika has complimented my chest a lot. I look really good in my shirts now, but, like others working from home, I haven’t worn real clothes in nearly two months. I have five t-shirts and two pairs of jogging pants I rotate for work clothes. I’m even wearing my bad underwear. Why? Well, why not.

I did have an appointment the other day with a medical oncologist. My surgeon sent me there to make sure I couldn’t benefit from an estrogen blocker (since my cancer was estrogen positive), but he told me the risks outweigh the benefits, especially considering that I shouldn’t have any breast tissue left. We discussed my next appointment with genetics. There, they can tell me if I have a serious mutation, like one of the BRCA things. Like, maybe the one that causes ovarian and uterine cancer, too. The oncologist said the dreaded words I’ve heard all year long “at your age…”

Getting cancer at my age, he says, probably means there’s something else going on. Something that genetics will find. And if I have that gene, he says, I should just go ahead and have a total hysterectomy. Or I can have trans vaginal ultrasounds every three months until I die. I’m positive if women were the majority of doctors for centuries, this dildo camera would not exist. So. No thank you. I’d rather have another major surgery. I’d rather be a brain in a non-sexed skin suit than someone being probed by one of those goddamned things for eternity.

We were supposed to be going on vacation in a few weeks to an island country. I was concerned about it during surgery, like, would I be healed in time? What sort of bathing suit do I wear? Can I go topless? What are the social rules governing this type of body? Curious, I put on my sports bra swim top. It was uncomfortable. I mean, I can’t believe I used to have to wear one of those all of the time. It looked hilarious since my chest is literally concave now. Let’s just say I’m glad we’re not going to the beach soon so I can have more time to figure it out.

I guess that’s about it. My scars are scars. I no longer have adhesive stuff from the steri-strips clinging to my skin. I though that shit would never come off.

When I finally showed Cyrus my scars, I lifted my shirt, feeling nervous about his reaction, but his face lit-up, “Mom,” he said, “I love it!”  He lifted his shirt to reveal the vertical scar that runs down the middle of his stomach (from his feeding tube surgeries). “Now we’re scar twins!”

Of course I cried.

20200505_204402

This is my office/the exchange student’s old bedroom. It’s like my own private dorm room.

 

17.

I’m obsessed with a Sharon Van Etten song: Seventeen . You see, I’m not really sure if she’s writing it for a younger person, or her younger self. For me, it’s for my younger self. “I used to be free. I used to be seventeen…”I used to be seventeen. Now you’re just like me.”

You really have to listen to it. There’s a melancholic repetition of notes that never really resolves. It makes the song feel, I dunno, epic. Or just too sad. Or too correct.

I’m nearly feeling like myself again, after the surgery. I’m back to my household chores: laundry and vacuuming.

I’m becoming more comfortable in my body. I’ve been feeling really good about myself.

And then I took a shower tonight.

I still have steri-strips on my sutures. Or my suture areas. It’s not over yet, you know. I still don’t have range of motion in my shoulders. I still have some kinda gross scabs where my drains were. Fuck. It was only a week and a half ago that I lost my breasts.

I just happened to be listening to this song before I got in the shower. I was singing it to myself while looking down at my scars. I kept thinking, you know, seventeen year old Christina realized she was gay. She came out. And it was fucking hard. Of the most traumatic things to ever happen to me, it still ranks among the top 3. For years, it was the worst thing I ever experienced. And I kept thinking, you know, if I could talk to my 17 year old self, what would I say? I would say: It gets better… as far as the sexuality stuff goes. But. It also gets worse. You’ll have a tiny baby. You’ll finally get boobs when you’re 27 (after eating and drinking too much in Alaska) and then lose them when you’re 40.

As if 40 isn’t a hard age, anyway. I’m literally half way through my life. If I’m lucky. If I would’ve never met my biological mother, I would’ve never known to go to the doctor to get the ole’ boobies checked out. Being me, I would’ve never gone until something felt really wrong. And then, who knows. But I can’t really think like that because, here I am, in this reality.

***

I’m still in pain, but I pretend I’m not. My chest aches constantly. I mean, it’s not a sharp pain, just a constant, dull ache.  There is a lump of skin that now exists in my armpits where it didn’t before. My arms rub against it on both sides. I can’t feel half of my right armpit because a nerve was cut. I can’t really feel most of my chest, especially around the sutures. I’ll never get that back. It feels weird to shave my armpits. I can’t really tell where the razor is. My body is changed forever in so many ways.

But. It’s okay.

This is me now:

20200305_093039

Bathroom selfie!

I look good. I look fit. When I look at myself now, I can’t even picture what boobs look like on my body. What are they, anyway?

***

Tonight I went through my bras. I kept three sports bras. I don’t really know why. I guess my drawer just looks too empty without them. I’ll never need to buy an expensive, tight fitting one for rugby. I am keeping a few thin ones for swimming, and some other, cotton ones for an occasion that I can’t imagine yet. Maybe tank tops?

I’ve been out in the world to buy groceries and eat dinner. Without a bra. There are times I reach up to scratch my shoulder and notice there’s no bra there. I’m like, that’s sexxxxyyyyy. And then, I’m like. no. There’s nothing on my back, either.  No racer back sports bra. I feel…free. I feel naughty. I feel… I don’t know. I just feel different. I feel lighter. I can’t wait for summer and to feel less sweaty.

Another weird thing is my sternum is really out there. I’m not used to anything really touching that part of my chest, but now, when I hug, it’s the first thing to hit someone else’s body. It’s such a strange sensation. And there are divots in my chest where my breast tissue was. It’s just ribs and skin. That’s the void I keep talking about.

***

I guess that’s it for now. I’m doing good. I feel okay except when I listen to Sharon Van Etten, but that was true before all of this, too.

If you’re not into that kind of music, here’s a nice, new-ish country song to let you know my feelings.  Some days you just breathe in. Just tryin’ to break even. 

So, seventeen year old Christina: it gets better, but harder in different ways. And so much better in different ways.

It will all be worth it.

Some days you’re livin’/like you’ll never die.

 

 

 

 

Down the Drains

Today was a stellar day. For real.

My surgery was last Wednesday, and today, Wednesday, I was able to get my drains removed. Technically, I was supposed to only have one taken out, but my doctor came to my appointment to tell me the pathology results of my lymph node (all clear!) and I showed her what a good patient I’d been keeping track of the output of my drains, so she told the nurse she could remove both. I pretty much knelt at her feet and nearly cried tears of joy.

So, those goddamn drains are gone. The cancer is gone. Boobs are still gone.

The drain removal was…strange. If you’ve ever had them, you know. If you haven’t, well, it’s like a snake being pulled from under your flesh. It hurts, but in a small worm being pulled from your skin kind of way. Now I have two large-ish holes in my skin leaking some pinkish fluid, but nothing that won’t heal in a few days. The sites of the holes and under my skin are still sore, so I’m not sure how much pain I’m feeling from the actual boob removal or from the drain sites. The nurse also had to mess around with the stitch that was holding each one in place. It wasn’t fun. But the payoff was totally worth all of the weird discomfort.

Anyway. Enough of that.

Yesterday I went on two walks totaling 2.3 miles. Today I went on a 2 mile walk. It feels good to be out of my chair and out in the world. After my drain removal, I walked upstairs to see some coworkers. I also went to the pet store to buy our cat a scratch post that he’ll use.

And, in other, very exciting news, I’m wearing a t-shirt and hoodie instead of an over-sized button up men’s shirt. I feel like myself. Or very close to myself. For my appointment today, I wore a dress shirt that I sometimes wear to work. It was the first time I’d worn regular clothes. It is a button-up, but a men’s, and one that actually fits me. I looked fucking fabulous in it. No boobs made it fit perfectly. There was no button gap. And, like Gaby’s been telling me, I look like I lost weight. I look really fit. But really, I just don’t have boobs. You can’t really tell I don’t have boobs, though. I just look like a person in a shirt. And my shoulders look great. Like, wide, fit, and awesome. Even the nurse commented on it.

I meet with my doctor on Tuesday for a routine follow-up. After that, hell, I’ll probably go back to work. All I have left to do is work on my range of motion for my arms.

I have the brain space now to start thinking about other things: taking care of Gaby, the kids, planning for grad school, planning our summer vacation. Did I mention we bought a house? Did I mention that I got accepted into grad school, bought a house, and found out I had cancer all in the span of like, 9 days? That was fucked up.  I’m still not able to let those things come into my brain yet, but I know there’s space for them. Every minute, I’m clearing a path.  And that means everything right now.

It was just one week ago that I had breasts;  I’m already forgetting what that felt like.

20200304_152055

Touching the void for scale.

 

As a side note, I want to thank everyone for reading, especially those people I don’t know. I heard today that one woman who just received a Healing Chair is reading this. A woman I don’t know. So, to her, and anyone else out there whom I’ve never met but who might be going through something like this, I hope this helps, if even a little bit.

 

 

The Healing: 6 days without

hi.

I’m bored. But I don’t have enough energy to actually do anything.  Two days ago I left the house with Gaby. I walked a few blocks downtown, and then came home to sit some more.

Yesterday was lovely outside, but I didn’t really feel like going out. I opened the window for a while, though. Even going down stairs to eat some lunch is pretty exhausting. I’ve been napping after lunch for several hours every day since surgery. I feel lazy, but I think this is what I’m supposed to do.

If you’re like me, you wonder what I look like. So, here it is:

Photo from Christina

It’s pretty hard to look at. As you might be able to tell, I’m not so sure how confident I am about this new body. I’ll be fine, though. The most awful part right now are the drains, which are the tubes you see right there. They’re moving gross fluid away from my wounds, but those goddamn tubes are held into my skin with just one stitch. They are sore. They itch. They are annoying. I’m hoping they’ll get taken out tomorrow. After that, I’ll probably feel a lot better.

There’s really no sensation in my chest. There are areas around my armpits where it feels like I was numb, but it’s starting to wake up. My understanding is that I could feel like that for the rest of my life.

Since I last wrote, I’ve cried. There are a lot of reasons why. You can guess most of them, I’m sure. I don’t regret my decision, but hey, it’s been just a few days, so I’m giving myself some time to deal. It’s a lot to see my body change so drastically. To contemplate what it means to live without breasts for the rest of my life. They were literally just here and now they’re gone. I went to sleep with them and woke up without them. And now I just have to sit around waiting to feel better. All I have is time to think. And though pre-surgery Christina would give one million dollars for alone time in her house, post-surgery Christina feels lonely and sometimes pathetic. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want visitors, though. I don’t know what I want or how to feel. I want these drains out. I want to have enough energy to ride my bike. I want my life back.

One thing I didn’t think about is my inability to hug. Gaby and I are trying more, but it feels weird to me and my sensation-less chest. Maybe it hurts. I can’t really tell.

One very good thing that has happened to me is “The Healing Chair.” Someone told me about it just a few weeks before surgery. It’s a non-profit organization that lends out to breast cancer patients a recliner with an automatic up and down button. I’ve slept in the chair since surgery, and I spend almost all of my day in it. It’s been lovely, but I’m ready to move around some more. And I don’t like the label “cancer patient.”

I am just Christina. Who happens to suddenly be without breasts. Who will be back in the saddle in maybe a week.

 

 

 

Into the Void: Two Days Without

Surprise, motherfuckers. I’m back.

It was a long day at the hospital on Wednesday for everyone except me since I got to sleep through most of it. The WHOLE surgery team was made of women, so that made me feel super awesome right until the moment they knocked me out.

For the two weeks leading up to surgery, my fitbit recorded how my resting heartrate when from 58 to 100 on the day of. Today, it’s finally back down to a relatively normal 61. I can’t tell you how relieved I feel to have the surgery finally done. I was able to leave the hospital just a few hours after I woke up, so I’ve had some nice time at home to rest and heal.

Am I in pain? Kind of. My chest feels tight and my muscles sore, but it just feels like the soreness after working out super hard. I’ve felt worse after rugby games, honestly. The most annoying pain is caused by the drains on both sides of my chest. I’m hoping those can come out relatively soon. After that, well, I can pretty much do whatever I want. I’ve been practicing raising my arms so my shoulders don’t get stiff.

But what about my mental health? I feel great, actually. But there are moments of strangeness. Last night I was holding a mug. And ladies, you know how you bring your arms in and hold mugs to your breast? (Or maybe you don’t know because I didn’t realize until last night) Well, I did that, but my arms never touched my chest. So, I used my hand to reach for where a breast should be, to test my emotions. When my hand got to where it should have felt something, and I kept moving it closer to my body, well, it just felt like my hand fell into a black hole. I don’t quite know how to describe it. There’s a void or negative space where my breasts once were. It’s like my hand fell through time.

As you can see, I get to wear this cute, pink bra thing. It holds my drains so they don’t get tugged on, and it keeps my bandages in place, too. The next big step will be taking off the bra and bandages to really have a look inside. I’m not ready for that yet, but the time will come. And rest assured, you’re going to see it whether you want to or not.

IMG-20200227-WA0001

At this very moment, I feel awesome. I can’t wait to get theses drains out and move on with my life. The most amazing thing is it’s almost Spring. Having this done during the winter would’ve really sucked, but the thought of little tiny flowers poking through and a slightly warmer sun is really powering me through. I can’t wait to ride my bike again. Or grill a huge steak while drinking too many shitty beers. Or, maybe I should work on making my stomach as flat as my chest. That’s one of the disadvantages of being flat; there’s nothing up top to balance out what’s below.

Maybe in a few days when the reality of what’s happened hits me, I won’t seem so fucking chipper.

HOLY SHIT THE SUN JUST CAME OUT!

But. Maybe this is just me now.

Thank you to everyone for sending messages to Gaby and me, and especially those who’ve helped us with my drains and bandages.

Also, the doc said it might be a few days before I got my appetite back. Puh-lease. I had several pounds cut off my body, but I already weigh more than when I went in. HA.

Alright. Now. Back to Netflix and snax.

No boobs ≠ boy: 15 hours

I’ve never really cared about my boobs. There are very few occasions I remember trying to shown them off, and I’ve never tried to hide them. They aren’t big enough to cause problems like back pain or the dreaded male gaze. They aren’t small enough for anyone to have commented on their smallness. Usually one sports bra is enough for rugby, and regular bras off the rack seem to fit just fine. I’ve never yearned for more or less of them. I’ve been pleased with them this whole time and never really knew. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone…

As a cis-woman who’s only slept with other cis-women, my adult life has been full of breasts of all shapes and sizes. It would be incorrect to say that I don’t sexualize them, because, you know, I’m queer, but I’ve never stared at them on strangers or cared about their size or shape on my partners. I’ve always joked that boobs are just fine, but I have some, too, so they aren’t as exciting. In comparison to the way cis-men seem to lose their minds over them, I am not like that at all. They are demystified when they also belong to you. And when you’ve worked in a histology lab where your job is to throw out the cut-off breasts (and other samples) every week.

During my consultation with the surgeon, I asked if she could save my nipples and maybe give me a male chest. She said that she knows a great plastic surgeon who’s done FTM (female to male) transitions. But that would take some time and I’d have to talk to that surgeon first to see if I was a good candidate and all that. Then, my brain was like…Stop. I tried to imagine taking off my shirt to see a male chest in my mirror on my body. And it seemed, really, really wrong. I halted that conversation with the surgeon and was like, no, not really, sorry. Just cut them off and leave the scars.

Then a million things came to me at once (or, at least, what felt like a million things):

I am totally a woman.

Trans men might feel some sort of relief if they were in my situation.

Trans women might be pissed that I’m so apathetic about my breasts.

When I look at my new chest without breasts, will I then, maybe, in the tiniest amount, feel what trans people have felt their whole lives? Like my body doesn’t match my brain. Or, like, something is missing.

Of course, boobs do not a woman make. Really, I have no idea what it means to be a man or a woman or non-binary. I mean, I know a million genders exist, but I have no way of classifying them. I do know I’m a girl. Again, I don’t really know what that means.

As the sporty little kid who played with all the boys, there were times when I was little where I wondered if I was supposed to be a boy. Like, maybe the all powerful creator, or whatever, messed up just a little bit. I loved “boy” things, but I was told that was wrong. I asked for GI Joe’s one year for Christmas and got a cabbage patch doll. I was bombarded with Barbies any time there was an occasion to give me a gift. In fact, I had this massive, hand made Barbie house. When other girls would come over to play, they’d lose their minds at this thing and all the accessories: corvette, bubble bath, horse, hair twister, make-up barbie, two kens! My mom wouldn’t let me cut my hair, instead it grew down to my ass. I just wanted short hair and a 49ers jersey, pants, and helmet. It didn’t seem too much to ask.

As I grew, I realized none of that made me a boy; it made me a kick-ass girl. So, I played sports as hard as I could. I was told I could throw a ball like a boy (that’s a lie; my form was better than most boys’) And I loved it. But the one sport I wanted to play, football, was always out of reach. It “wasn’t for girls,” and there wasn’t even a team close to where I grew up.

Then I came out. And you’ve probably heard most of these before, in other writings and rantings, but here’s a summary:

-So, you want to be a man?

-So, you’re/who’s the man in the relationship?

-Who’s on top?

-Okay, but why can’t you dress like a girl?

-Why are you trying to look like a man?

-Why would you date a woman who looks like man?

-And, of course, very obscene comments/questions/threats about my sex life

Alas, after all of that, I am still not a man. I don’t want to be a man.

Here I am. A cis-woman in love with another cis-woman. Which, honestly, I’m tired of writing about and reminding you of. But this is really relevant right now because, you see, Gaby’s partner is loosing her breasts. Gaby is going to have to watch me go through this. Gaby will have to run the house for three weeks while I cry and complain and try to move around too much.

And all of you have cheered me on these last few weeks, but you’ve all forgotten the silent victim of this cancer; it’s Gaby.

I don’t know what it’s like to watch my partner lose her breasts. I won’t know the sadness of seeing her take of her shirt and find nothing there but angry, smirking scars where something beautiful once was. I don’t know the pain of having to put on a smile when people say, “this is great because you caught it early!” Or, “thank God she’ll survive.”

Yes, I will be alive. But perhaps a part of me dies, if just for a little while.

* * *

In all the papers I’ve been reading about lesbian vs. straight women choosing bilateral mastectomy, lesbian women deal much better. Why? They have a more supportive partner. Their sex life does not suffer, but straight girls have problems. Lesbians care less about the stigma of having no breasts because they’ve fucking dealt with society’s bullshit their entire lives. But, and this is the part I love, they find no benefit in having cancer and going through the experience. Straight girls do. Why? Because they’ve never had to examine their lives so much before.

I’m thankful to be a queer woman. I’m thankful this cancer is as tiny and stupid as it is. I’m very thankful to have Gaby as my partner.

Tomorrow is the big day. See you on the other side.

 

 

 

And now, the final stop on their farewell tour: rugby practice.

20200225_213210

Fuck football. Rugby has fewer pads and more tackling. And the coolest fucking people I’ve ever met. (also, 35 degrees and wet)