bandages off (shot 23)

The two feelings are completely distinct.

The first, the need to get rid of my breasts, I was prepared for. Since the moment in my childhood where I learned what being a girl meant for the future of my body,  I dreaded the day puberty set in. This was followed by years of sports bras turned chest binders, layers of shirts and hunched shoulders. July 31st, the day of my surgery, I was finally able to experience the fulfillment of this need. Even under the layers of bandages and through the haze of the pain killers, when I came to after the procedure I felt the lightness. A huge weight had been lifted, quite literally. It was exhausting. It’s like I’d been holding my breath since I was fourteen years old. On July 31st, I exhaled.

The possibility of having a male contoured chest is the second one. Throughout the years of growing disconnect I had with my chest my focus was on wanting them gone; I hadn’t been able to imagine what would be in their place. I’ve imagined an empty void. I couldn’t picture what it would actually look like for me to have a masculine chest. And I didn’t care. Anything was better than what I had. On August 6th, I had the bandages removed and was able to see my chest for the first time. It was the opposite of drowning. It was taking the training wheels off the bike. It was the second after the roller coaster starts its decent, past the building anticipation and into the moment where you throw your arms up and scream. It was seesaws and slides, it was my first home run, it was red popsicles and roller-skates. It was my first kiss, it was tree houses and love letters, it was falling in love.  It was a feeling of knowing that things were going to be better than just ok. It was gold.



It’s SF Trans march today, and I couldn’t be prouder

It’s Pride weekend in SF and today is my first trans march being out, and it feels really good.

I’m already falling behind in these blog posts. Since my last post, I’ve traveled to Philly for the Trans Health Conference, hosted Science, Neat in SF, and have just returned from an incredible biology conference in Raleigh. Life is good, and fast.

These past few weeks have also been full of changes on testosterone (most of which I talk about in the two videos). My favorite change was subtle. Ever since I returned from the Philippines, an overwhelming majority of people that I don’t know are reading me as male. It feels incredible.

Other changes in the last month or so:
– sweating way more when working out
– major breaking out
– officially never have to buy tampons again
– no more mood swings
– confidence up, and risk-taking up
– sex drive through the roof
– stronger. bigger. i’ve put on about 15 lbs since starting T
– it’s finally time to stop getting scanned by the TSA. The last trip through, the female
attendant wanted to rescan me bc I showed up female, and the male attendant wanted to
know if I was sure I didn’t have a necklace on. I assure him I was just wearing 4
– all my dress shirts don’t fit over my shoulders anymore (I feel like the hulk)
– the rare moments that I experience anger, it feels like I’m holding the gates back on a
pack of angry sled dogs with a toothpick

The Philly Trans Health Conference was one of the most life affirming events I’ve attended. Beyond the education and connection to resources, I met some incredible men that I hope will be friends for life. My opinions on surgery have shifted, I feel less alone in the struggle to figure out my path, and I feel empowered to be out and visible, especially after meeting many folks in STEM fields there who don’t have that option.

I presented my first conference talk at the Evolution conference. This last week in NC was also life affirming, although in a very different way. I met folks to collaborate with, found a lab I’m going to work really hard to join for my PhD, and am feeling confident as a guy in this field. I also attended the Women in Science lunch, as an ally. While I struggle with my own visibility in these spaces, I do not struggle with standing up for and starting conversations about women, POC, and LGBTQ folks in STEM.

When people ask me if I have support in my transition, the answer had been an overwhelming yes, with the exception of one person who drifted off the radar. Happy to report that that connection was rekindled, and now I can officially say that yes, every single person I have come out to is 100% on board.

Also, if anyone knows how to stop getting these black screens on my youtube videos, let me know.



Science and Gender (Shot 10 &11)

Dear San Francisco,

I have a confession: I miss you. More than I’d like to admit.

I am sitting outside on the patio overlooking the Verdi Island Passage, it’s just before sunset and the sky is glowing. There is a slight breeze and I am sipping on a mango shake.  In 30 minutes I’ll run upstairs and grab my gear for our night dive. My muscles are the good kind of sore and I’m sun-kissed. I’m able to identify so many more nudibranch species underwater, and I’ve probably eaten an entire chocolate cake. As far as science goes, this is pretty much the best.  Wake up at 6am every day, eat breakfast, do two 90-min dives, eat lunch, process specimens, drink a mango shake, maybe do a night dive, dinner, share a bucket of beer, process specimens, sleep.  Being here is a not so subtle reminder of how happy I am in this career choice, how excited I am to be working towards someday being able to run an expedition like this myself.  There is no better way to learn than in the field. I’ve thought a lot about Pez Maya, the volunteer coral reef monitoring project I joined five years ago when I wanted to make sure that a career change to biology was what I wanted to do. I was as sure then as I am now.

Layered between the bliss of it all is gender. Transitioning as a grad student has been one of the more challenging spaces I’ve had to navigate.  First, I have to say that I’ve gotten nothing but acceptance and support from everyone, which means the world to me especially because I had been so scared of how my transition might impact my career. What’s so tough about it out here in the Philippines is two-fold, how I’m seen and treated by others, and how I see myself. We are all living in pretty close quarters here (I was assigned a cis-male roommate for the first week, something my advisor checked in with me about in advance, which meant the world to me) and it’s the first time I’ve spend this much time with everyone.  There are also folks from other institutions and other departments that I’m less familiar with. So as to be expected, I got “she’d” a lot right off the bat, and I had to decide on the fly if/how to have some conversations with folks who I want to respect me professionally. The guy I roomed with is a casual acquaintance from high places at the Academy, someone I hadn’t personally told about being trans.  I saw him downstairs having a drink with the guys so I thought it was safe to give myself a shot. I was debating if I should bring it up when he walked in on me. We ended up having a really good conversation about it (he’s family too), and with some of the other visiting researchers, but it is really challenging being around people who still see me as female even though they want to be supportive. The “she’s” are turning into “she-he” corrections and a lot of folks seem to be just avoiding pronouns all together, something that I used to prefer pre-transition, but now makes me just as uncomfortable. Which is where you come in San Francisco. Even though the “she’s” are par for the course, it’s usually way offset by the overwhelming amount of support and community, and the power of being around people who aren’t just supportive, but who really understand, who get it. That’s gold. There are times when sexist and homophobic undertones make it into the joking around here. And it’s hard to know how to navigate it in this situation.  Normally, I’m quick to speak up about this sort of thing, but it’s my first expedition as a grad student, and I’m struggling equally as hard to keep up as a budding scientist.  I find myself desperately trying to remember that all of these people don’t mean it. It’s making the boys club a little hard to be a part of, and the feminist in me is disappointed that I’m not standing up for what I believe in.  What it is doing is helping me appreciate my advisor, and reminding me what I’m looking for in a PhD lab.  The days are hot, the work is hard, the sleep is little and with that, the weight of the reminders that I was born female is heavier. This brings me to how I’m dealing with seeing myself.  It is hard to be pre-op in the tropics. It’s hot. Many days it’s over 100 degrees.  I wear more clothing swimming than most people do on a cool San Francisco day.  Also, the truth of the matter is, it’s hard to hide your body in a wetsuit. It just is.

Where I am getting support, though unknowingly, is from the Filipinos.  I’m being read and treated exactly they way I’m comfortable with.  Thank you. It’s hope.  It reminds me that there’s hope for an easier future.

I’m leaving the expedition tomorrow for a week on the beach. Time to think, reflect, and rebuild my confidence that being who I am, and being patient in this process, is worth it.  San Francisco, see you soon.

Voice (Shot 8)

In ten minutes my flight for the Philippines should be taking off…but it’s delayed, and I’m at home still. Perfect time to catch up on blogging. The biggest news is that my blood work came back great. Kidneys, liver, blood cells, you name it, all normal.  What that means is that I was able to increase my testosterone injections to double what I had started on. Instead of injecting more every two weeks, instead I’m staying on the same amount, just every week. Last week was the first time that kicked in and it hit me really hard. My heart was racing and I couldn’t focus, it was just like my first few weeks on testosterone again. The difference was that the next day, I felt great.  I had my next shot this past Wednesday, and I didn’t experience any out of the ordinary feelings. I’m feeling strong, happy, much less crazy, and glad to say goodbye to those horrible lows that came with shots every two weeks. When I was looking over my blood work with my doctor, I noticed my blood testosterone level score. It was somewhere in the low 500s, which she told me was in the normal cis-male range. When I asked what my blood testosterone was before I started T, she told me that they usually don’t check because cis-women’s testosterone range is so much lower (15-70ng/dL). I was more surprised that the cis-male adult range of testosterone was so large (270-1,070ng/mL). Low 500s is fine with me. Hopefully I’ll be catching a cab to SFO in the next hour. I’m actually looking forward to the 14hr flight to Manila. I haven’t had that much free time in ages. (Shot 9)

on anger. (shot 5, week 8)

The original title of this post was going to be “Buckminster doesn’t even have a castle,” as a tribute to what it’s been like juggling school, work and transitioning, and my inability to get things crossed off my to-do list since starting testosterone.  One of the things that continues to be scrawled at the bottom of my lists everyday, in the not-so-urgent category, is getting my fish, Buckminsterfullerene, a castle. My brother got me this very hip aquaculture fish tank for the holidays, and I thought it’d be fun to get the fish on the day I started testosterone, like a testosterone birthday fish. Maybe there was something I liked about the idea of taking care of an animal that would feed my nurturing side, and I would have a side-kick.

I did finally get Buckminster a castle.

I did finally get Buckminster a castle.

Long story short, the testosterone birthday fish ended up in the freezer within the first 24 hours, Buckminster (and a tank heater) came home with me a few days – and a lot less pressure – later, and this post is on how testosterone has changed the way I experience anger. Anger feels like a track meet. Before testosterone: If something happened that made me angry, I would first give it some thought to make sure that I understood what had happened (checking out the course). I would try to see if I could make excuses for it (the pre-race stretch). Then after I was sure that yes, that wasn’t cool, I’d start to justify my feelings, and admit that yes, I’m upset (warm up run). And then the feeling of being upset would exponentially grow and I’d get angry (the sprint). The mental and physical process of anger was something I’ve learned to have control over (remember this is an organized race, not a run in the woods). I don’t like the feeling of anger, and even more so, I don’t want to be mean, which is why sometime I do literally “run” the anger out, and then of course, begin to cool down.

Then I started testosterone.  I started experiencing a lot of mood swings, which was expected, and found myself being more irritable a few days before my next shot. But anger was changing. Out went control and in came feeling. No warmup, no stretching, just straight to the sound of the trigger being pulled. It really feels like going from 0 to 80 in a heartbeat, and the way my body is physically experiencing anger if more full, more intense and more quickly. I’m not feeling more violent, or violent at all.  It’s more that the sensation of anger is more visceral, I am overwhelmed with feeling, and I want to fill the room with it. It feels like this comes from more of a need to get the energy out of me than to subject others to my “wrath,” even in these moments I’m usually smiling and laughing at myself as I try to explain to who I’m with what’s happening inside me. It feels ridiculous. The cool is still the same and I’m not angry longer than I was before. Perhaps I’m arguably angry less now because I feel it so much quicker, and then it passes. When I first started talking to people about starting testosterone, one of the frequent concerns was around if my personality would change. My response was that I’d still be me, but that I’d be a happier more confident version of me.  It’s on my mind that at some point, these novel experiences of emotions I’m encountering will either go away or become less novel, and part of who I am.


I feel like a small dragon (Shot 2, 5 Feb 2014)

It’s been two weeks since I started testosterone. Three days after my first shot, San Francisco hosted its first annual Mr. Transman SF. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of how lucky I am to be starting my transition in a city like San Francisco, on a day like this one;  my city is accepting me with open arms. This past September, Anthem Blue Cross of California released its first transgender health  plan benefits. Things are changing in California. I know how lucky I am.