I have been trying to get on testosterone for years now.
Dozens of obstacles can get in the way of getting hormone therapy. Usually, you are required some cocktail of doctor’s notes and phone calls to your insurance company before they will even consider sending you any of that good stuff.
I have been in therapy a long time. I have plenty of people who can vouch for my gender dysphoria and that I live as my transmasculine identity. My insurance is surprisingly liberal with their gender-affirmative coverage, and my “transness” was well documented by medical professionals.
The biggest two obstacles for me to getting hormones were my local Rite Aid and getting cancer.
I had scheduled a consultation appointment at Mt. Sinai’s transgender services in Manhattan in early December of 2019. By January of 2020, I was supposed to be rubbing testosterone gel all over my abdomen with rubber gloves and scheduling my top surgery. Once Covid restrictions hit, my appointment was canceled without any timeline to reschedule.
I figured my next best bet would be an endocrinologist. My partner had been begging me to get my hormone levels checked anyway. I have poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and a slew of other mental illnesses. A full hormone screening couldn’t hurt. Plus, a hormone doctor might be able to prescribe hormones, right?
Near the end of my first appointment, my new endocrinologist pressed her hands against the surface of my neck and said: “What’s that?”
Getting diagnosed with cancer definitely was the more emotionally impactful of what stood in my way, but the whole Rite Aid thing was really annoying.
First, they kept getting my name wrong. I asked one time if I could give them my new name instead of my dead name, and the woman was so confused I figured it would never be brought up again. For months afterward, they still give me trouble about having “two names in the system.”
Next, they called me to let me know that this location of Rite Aid did not carry my testosterone, nor were they able to order it.
“You could theoretically get it at another Rite Aid,” a snarky pharmacist said to me on the phone. “But we can’t transfer if for you, so. You’ll have to call your doctor anyway.”
“Thanks.” I hung up. I’ve hang up on Rite Aid more than I have ever hung up on anyone in my life.
Now, I have a delivery service sending me all of my medications. What with my antidepressants, two different thyroid hormone replacements, birth control pills, and now the testosterone and syringes, it is much easier to get it all from one place. They can communicate with my doctor’s office digitally and there won’t be anything to mix up. Plus, I hate leaving my house.
What am I feeling? I’m anxious. I have a huge fear of needles and I pass out frequently. I’m nervous. I wonder what my voice will sound like. I’m excited. I can’t wait to see my new jawline. Maybe I’ll grow more little beard hairs.
I don’t know whether to dance, scream, or do backflips. I’ll probably take an anxiety nap. I have been waiting years, and in some ways my entire life, for this day. I had no idea what day it would be, but it’s coming today.
Don’t worry. My partner said she has been learning how to do the stabbing.
Some of the queer discourse that I find on TikTok is so niche that I have to explain it before I can give my opinion on it.
Recently, scrolling through TikTok, I saw one of my mutuals asking about the meaning of a particular identity. They tagged “Skoliosexual” in their post description. I had never heard of it, and always wanting to be in-the-know on the latest queer terminology, I turned to old reliable.
Oddly enough, Google sent me to WebMD first. They describe skoliosexual (or scoliosexual) as follows:
Skoliosexuality, sometimes spelled scoliosexuality, is the attraction to people who are transgender or nonbinary. People who are transgender identify as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. They may identify as a man, a woman, or neither. People who don’t identify as either a man or a woman are nonbinary since their gender is neither of the two. People who are skoliosexual may or may not be attracted to cisgender people as well. A cisgender individual identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
I don’t take much issue with their definitions of trans and nonbinary, although they are extremely simplified. Being trans is hard to define in a single sentence, but “other than the gender they were assigned at birth” tracks. The reason that this sexuality has become a topic of discussion, however, is because some believe it may be inherently transphobic.
Skoliosexuality is distinct from pansexuality in that it’s more specific than pansexuality: instead of being attracted to people regardless of gender, skoliosexual people are attracted to others in part because of their gender. While a pansexual person is unlikely to care about a partner’s gender, a skoliosexual person is likely to be attracted to a partner because they identify as a gender that they were not assigned at birth.
While scrolling through the skoliosexual hashtag on TikTok, I noticed that quite a few cis people were giving their opinions on the sexuality. Many posed the question: Isn’t that just fetishizing trans people? Trans people are people!
I would like to state my opinion on this topic, while also recognizing I can’t speak for any trans person other than myself. Some trans people may be offended by this term, and some may not. But it is for the transgender and gender nonconforming communities to decide for themselves, how to feel about this word, and cisgender people should not be making claims about trans identities.
Since trans men are men and trans women are women, defining them based on being trans instead of their gender seems othering. Others point out that skoliosexual is a label that’s often used by people who fetishize transgender people in a potentially dehumanizing way. While not everyone who identifies as skoliosexual fetishizes trans people — and many skoliosexual people are trans — others dislike using this label because they want to avoid that negative connotation.
If a trans person feels fetishized, that is absolutely valid. The fetishization and objectification of trans people, specifically trans women, is extremely toxic. On the other hand, I do not believe that trans people are at fault for this toxicity. If they choose to make money off of the existence of this fetish, that is their right.
Transgender individuals do not live in a vacuum. We are subject to the conditions that society has laid out for us.
I am a queer person, and I don’t have much preference when it comes to sexual or romantic attraction. I like who I like. But many trans people, after years of heartbreak, have chosen to only date other trans people. In the community, we call this “T4T.” Are trans people transphobic or fetishizing their own community by only wanting to co-mingle? T4T dating can be safer for a multitude of reasons.
There are less awkward conversations regarding sexual intimacy. The person you are dating knows some of the struggles that you face. Another trans person might be more likely to relate to your feelings of gender euphoria (or dysphoria) better than a cisgender person would. I think that transgender people dating within the trans community is understandable, and I could see why they might prefer to identify as skoliosexual. That is in no way transphobic.
What about the cis? Are cis people allowed to identify this way?
I cannot personally allow anyone to do anything. My opinion, however, is that I am comfortable with people who are comfortable with trans people. I also believe that sexuality is not a choice.
For example, my nesting partner is a queer, cisgender woman. She presents in very feminine way, and she is very open about her queerness.
One of the things that she said to me when we first started dating stuck with me, and probably always will. She was describing to me that she is attracted to gender nonconformity (GNC). She likes trans people, nonbinary people, boys who wear makeup, or women in short hair cuts. She said to me: “Basically, if you fuck with gender, I fuck with you.”
I had never felt more validated or affirmed in my life.
Even though I identify as trans masculine and often call myself a trans “guy,” I will never be a man. I am on testosterone, and I hope to get top surgery, but those are not qualifiers of manhood. I want to be more masculine, but I don’t identify as a binary trans man. Finding a partner who could be totally accepting of that, and even encouraging, was bliss.
I am also of the opinion that sexuality and sexual identities are *descriptive, not *prescriptive. What I mean is, picking a label does not bar you from dating different sorts of people. A bisexual woman is not all of the sudden straight or gay when she enters a relationship. She is still bisexual.
Similarly, a person who identifies as skoliosexual is not necessarily saying they would never date a cisgender person. The label describes who they are most attracted to.
I know that when I was still identifying as a woman, it was very validating to me to use the term “lesbian.” I don’t use this much for myself anymore (queer just has such a nice ring to it), but it captured the androgynous picture in my head that I was doing for at the time. I was dating a heterosexual, cisgender man in college, and I told him: “You know, I’m a lesbian. You’re my last guy. If we don’t get married, I’ll be gay for the rest of my life.”
This didn’t cause him to question his own gender. Cishet men don’t usually do that. He never took offense to my identity; it was something that was really important to me. It didn’t lessen our relationship. Calling myself a “butch lesbian dating a man” was affirming my gender more than my relationship. A lesbian can date a man and be no less of a lesbian. You don’t have to identify as bisexual simply because you experience attraction to a man from time to time. If you don’t feel as though a label suits you, pick a new one.
That is how I feel about skoliosexual. If queer and trans people feel as though they need specific word to describe their dating patterns or attraction, that really doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel inherently sexualized by my partner simply because she prefers to date GNC’s. I feel seen.
The people whose feelings matter most are the two (or more) people in the relationship. I feel as though we don’t have a right to judge anyone just for their sexual identity.
Unless they identify as “Super-Straight.” That is inherently transphobic. But that is a discussion for another day.
The most difficult part of healing from narcissistic abuse is recognizing my own narcissistic fleas.
I spend so much time watching TikToks and YouTube videos about surviving narcissistic abuse; I fall easily into the jargon. Narcissistic traits are not inherently bad, and those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are not inherently bad people. I don’t demonize those with cluster-B disorders simply because people in my life have hurt me.
A neglected or abused child has no control. They never get the opportunity to relax. As this child grows into a survivor, they cling to control however they can. To end the cycle of abuse, I have to acknowledge the toxic manifestations of my need for control and actively dismantle them.
There are many advantages to studying how growing up alongside unfiltered and untreated narcissism can affect the way your brain functions. I’ve been learning what parts of my personality are really my own, and which were conditioned traits. I learned which anxieties were based on a trauma response.
Am I really afraid of having a schedule, or do I fear being controlled? Do I really feel guilty for taking a nap, or am I so used to being woken up with anger or annoyance that I avoid rest at all costs?
One of my favorite TikTok creators is TheSituationalTherapist. Many of his videos focus on generational trauma and the effects of child abuse. The way that he confronts parents who “discipline” their children with spankings makes me feel very seen. He is speaking out for the unheard child that exists in so many of us.
I watch self-improvement and trauma recovery content every day on YouTube. These channels have become a part of my daily routine, and they have helped me unpack the most complicated of emotions and trauma memories.
Dr. Ramani, psychologist, author, and YouTuber, puts out new videos every single day on her channel. I am watching and re-watching her constantly. In a recent video, she discussed how we are taught to “babysit a narcissist’s shame.” The fear of rage, manipulation, and gaslighting causes us to walk on eggshells around our abusers. We’re not allowed to make our needs known, share anything about ourselves, give constructive criticism, or create healthy boundaries.
What is the danger, though? What is it about criticism and boundaries that are so threatening and disregulating, not just to a narcissist, but to anyone?
Things we don’t want to hear can be triggering. Being asked to do things we don’t want to do can trigger that sense of inadequacy that tells us we aren’t doing enough. My lizard-brain tells me that not only am I not enough, but I will never be enough. I cannot do enough. There is no way to make up for lost time. I will never be able to catch up to my own wasted potential.
Every time I am asked to do something, this voice comes to me. Being told I’ve done something wrong or that I haven’t done enough is confusing. I feel as though I am doing my best, and the insinuation that I’m not is threatening to my sense of self. I know that this trait is rooted in my abuse. I have to sit with it, learn from it, and not lash out.
My entire childhood, I nursed my parents’ egos. My dad once said something that I will never forget:
“Everything you do, you either do it because that’s what your parents did, or because it’s not. But everything about you is tainted by their influence.”
This ideology is a little morbid and narcissistic in itself, but I agree somewhat. Picking up habits from your parents is unavoidable. I spent a lifetime adjusting my behavior to babysit their fragility. That realization does not make me lose hope. I can intentionally pick up on my own insecurities and call myself out for taking them out on others.
Another of my favorite YouTube therapists, Dr. Lisa Romano, said in a video:
“If you have an ego, and you have a brain that has been traumatized, you’re not always going to make the best decisions and act in the healthiest ways, and that’s not your fault.
Dr. Lisa Romano
The greatest part of healing from narcissistic abuse and growing into adulthood is learning how to witness my own inadequacies, give myself compassion, and learn to change them. As hard as it is to relive and heal trauma, I am glad that I have the freedom and the courage to do so.
My mother is one of those women who likes to put “inspirational” quotes all over her house.
When I talk about my mom at with friends, we laugh about her “Karen” tendencies. I am pretty sure she thinks “yt” is a slur.
She firmly believes that she is right about everything and is unwilling to even see evidence proving otherwise, and she is the epitome of putting “Live Laugh Love” or other meaningless language on her wall. As if putting enough flowery words together will change her behavior.
I can attest to the fact that these quotes do not inspire her to live her life differently. She still lacks empathy. But I don’t believe that is why she puts them up. They are not reminders for herself, but for everyone else.
She had to convince us that she was doing her best.
She also had a ton of references to the wicked witch of the west in her house, but I think that’s just a coincidence.
One quote that appeared on more than one mug or wall hanging was: “Home is where your mom is.” I thought it was so cute. My grandma had it at her house, too. Home is a safe place that you can always return to for a hug from your mom.
That sounds warm and comforting in theory. But in practice, I felt claustrophobic.
To start, home was not safe. I could not be myself there. I was so stifled that I learned to keep silent. My mother told me I “learned to speak” after my sister left for college. In reality, I was living with one less bully.
My home wasn’t even safe from physical violence. When I was only four, I watched my mother get pushed down the stairs by one of her boyfriends. Home is where my mom was abused, and where I was most often left alone.
When we went to my grandparents house, my grandma had the same quote on a magnet. “Home is where your mom is.”
This confused me. Logistically, how could both my mom and my grandma say this truthfully? My mom did not live with her mom. She was an adult with kids of her own. Were they both silently acknowledging that my mom never felt at home with me, and that she always wanted to be back here?
Would I grow up only to miss home for the rest of my life?
For most of my life, I did not have an identity of my own. I was an extension of my mother. I wasn’t allowed to have my own interests. Everything she liked, I liked. All the ideas and places and people that she hated, I hated too. I became a hateful person.
My dad told me once that he always worried that our relationship was codependent. Not only was he shaming a child for their dependence on their parent, but he was giving my mother a pass for being dependent on a kid. I drag the weight of her expectations everywhere I go.
Today, when I look through my own online content, I think about how my mom would feel about it.
For the most part, I think about how angry she would be. I complain about her in my stand-up and on Twitter. My TikTok is filled with jokes about childhood trauma, and the rest are thirst traps.
Everything I make is unapologetic about embracing who I am. God forbid she ever found my blog. Or my OnlyFans.
But I don’t live for my mom. Home is the central hub I return to while I’m out living my life. Home could be with my partner and roommate, in a house with fifteen closest friends, a small one-bedroom apartment, or the back of a van tricked out with pillows. Healing through narcissistic abuse has helped me learn that my home should be an extension of me, not a sanitized prison of my own making.
Home is not where my mom is. Home is wherever I am.
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When I sit down to write blogs like this, I am very glad I use a pseudonym and that my mother and sister don’t read my blog.
My sister and I had a conversation with our mother once about how we use the bathroom. The conversation had a joking tone, but the subject was pretty interesting and unfunny in retrospect.
The two of us were in high school and college. We were old enough to remember our childhood, and to look back on our mother’s parenting with a more critical eye. Our mom did not appreciate that.
“Do you wipe front-to-back?” my sister asked me. “Or back-to-front?”
The three of us sat at a corner table in a busy restaurant. We were sitting by a window, which made it easier to avoid eye contact.
“All my friends wipe front-to-back,” my sister said. She turned to me and asked: “Did you know that’s how you are supposed to do it?”
I wondered how her friend group got into this topic of conversation, but then I remembered my sister was a bit of a drunk.
“I had no idea,” I said with a grimace. “That’s pretty gross, when you think about it.”
My sister had frequently suffered from UTI’s as a teenager, and I always had yeast infections. Talking about our sexual organs and reproductive health was not very common for us. After months of a shameful itch, I eventually would share with my mother that I had a problem. She was always mad, for some reason.
Why hadn’t I told her sooner? Wasn’t I washing? The shame connected to anything sexual created a dangerous situation where I was terrified of being honest. Once, I had let it get so bad that my yeast infection progressed into a bacterial infection. My mother was furious, and she couldn’t understand how or why I kept it from her for so long.
“Crotch-rot,” my mom liked to call it.
“I don’t know where you learned to do it like that,” our mother said. “I didn’t teach you that way.”
“You had to,” my sister said. “How else would both have learned to wipe back-to-front?”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “You were the one to potty train us. You must have taught us wrong, or else we’d both be doing it right.”
My mom shook her head at me. We changed the subject.
I don’t remember being potty-trained. I assume most people don’t. But as a preschool teacher, I helped dozens of children learn to use the bathroom. Deconstructing the process and teaching it step-by-step gives you a new perspective on the most basic of human processes.
One morning, a mother brought her child into my class. Angrily, as she handed me a nap blanket and lunch box, she asked me:
“Why doesn’t my daughter know how to blow her nose? She is four years old. How could she not know that yet?”
Everything inside me wanted to ask: “well, have you ever taught her?”
I held my tongue and assured her that I would spend the next few days making nose-blowing top priority for my lesson plan.
Whether it is blowing your nose, brushing your teeth, or wiping your own ass, every habit that you cultivate over your lifetime is taught to you by someone. Good or bad, all of your habits come from somewhere.
Most of my habits I had to learn passively through observation. My mom didn’t sit down with me and show me how to adequately clean my teeth. She let me lock myself in the bathroom until I came out with my breath smelling of toothpaste.
Sometimes, when I sit with myself and my memories, I think about how much childhood neglect affected my future.
Emotional regulation was non-existent in my family. I was expected to calm myself down or I would be screamed at. I never learned to deal with executive disfunction. Getting out of bed every day was a given. I never assumed that one day I would just stop.
The most important part of healing from my childhood trauma has been to re-parent myself. I have to learn how to cope with my mental illnesses and find work-arounds to lack of motivation.
When, suddenly, nobody is behind you striking the whip, you stop moving forward. The freedom that came with escaping abuse came with a bitter laziness. I have been working my ass off my whole life. Don’t I deserve a break?
I do deserve a break. But I also deserve to propel myself forward. Just because I didn’t learn the skills I should have as a child, doesn’t mean that good coping skills are out of my reach.
After a lifetime without them, it just sounds like a ton of work.
If anything, this is a positive. I am a blank slate. I can make my morning routine, my work day, and my self-care look however I want. I can do the things that work best for me. I don’t have to live on the same schedule with the same expectations as everyone else.
Re-parenting myself allows me to be the exact parent that I needed. I can cultivate good habits, learn the best ways to cope, and take a little extra time in the morning to floss.
Like many morning people, I did not fall into this lifestyle by choice. My body wakes me whenever it wants. Sometimes that’s at 8:30, sometimes it’s at 4:30. I don’t get to decide.
I have had insomnia my whole life. Not for my entire adult life; for forever. I have night terrors, and I may wake up in a cold sweat or mid-panic attack. If I open my eyes and my service dog lying across my chest, I know the night was particularly rough.
On good days, the easy mornings, I poke my eyes open around six and I get up without any memory of being asleep. That is the best I can hope for.
Maybe it’s autism, maybe it’s all the trauma. Probably both.
Ever since I was a small child, I was up before the sun. I always woke up before my parents or my sister and would creep down my creaky stairs to get a snack. I would sit in front of the TV in the dark, usually with a box of Goldfish crackers, and wait for “Nick at Night” to turn back into “Nickelodeon” for early-morning cartoons.
I started getting into trouble for a bunch of different reasons. For starters, why wasn’t I still in bed? Secondly, I was not allowed to eat in the living room. And third, “Goldfish aren’t breakfast.”
I devised a plan. I didn’t want to be alone in the kitchen without the comfort of the TV, but I wanted my snack. So: I got a jump rope, shoved one end into the Goldfish carton, and left it outside of the living room. I held onto the other side of the rope for easy access. I would drag it to me for a handful of crackers and toss it back into the foyer. The perfect plan, really.
One day, apparently I got fancy and decided to put the remote in the box as well, so I could use my jump rope contraption to hold all my things. Or something.
That morning, when my mom started down the stairs, I got rid of my jump rope and the Goldfish box before she noticed, but I forgot the remote. My brain completely forgot about this memory for days, and our TV remote was lost without a trace. We had to keep getting up to change the channel or the volume.
When I was younger, memories would fall out of my head for my own safety. Now I know it to be purposeful dissociation, but back then, it was an unexplainable inconvenience.
Finally, when I wanted Goldfish badly enough, I found the remote. I stared at it, speechless, wondering if my mom would find this funny enough to not yell at me.
“What’s that?” I heard behind my back.
Luckily, this turned into a hilarious story we would revisit as a family. That one time I lost the remote for a few days. The scenario was so odd and illogical to my mother that it made her forget to punish me. I was spared this time as the forgetful idiot rather than the schemer.
Now, when I wake up early, I struggle to make myself a meal. I might have a handful of some dry cereal or a protein drink, but breakfast is a difficult concept for me. Eating too soon after I wake up makes me sick.
As an ex-childcare provider, this story has blaring red flags. Nowadays, I don’t find this story very funny.
If I, as a toddler, was regularly waking up hours before my mom, why didn’t she learn to wake up with me? Why was I afraid to wake up my own mother and ask her for food?
I was alone for hours nearly every morning. I was hungry. I learned to subsist on snacks. My mom wouldn’t change her schedule to accommodate me; she got up when she got up. Half the time she would be angry I wasn’t still in bed. A conversation about a healthy breakfast was out of the question.
Growing up, I blamed myself for waking up early and inconveniencing those around me. Feeling guilty for being conscious. Looking back, I have compassion for that kid.
In all of my years of being a preschool teacher, I heard countless parents talk about early mornings. Over time, I noticed that waking up absurdly early was actually pretty standard in parenting. Kids wake up, bright and early, cranky and starving. You don’t just get to press snooze.
There are dozens of coping strategies I would give out to these parents. How to get their child to sleep in for that extra half hour, how to get them excited about breakfast time, and how to get them ready for their day with some stretching or mindfulness.
Not once did a parent tell me that they let their kid wake up whenever and roam around the house alone for a couple hours. I was four or five. I wasn’t just hungry and lonely; I could have been hurt.
The depth of my trauma and neglect is unknowable. But the more I process, the more I learn about myself. My eating disorder was a natural response to neglect and food insecurity.
I can work backwards from that root cause, give myself a little understanding, and hopefully get something to eat.
One rainy day, I was on my way to class and I had forgotten my umbrella. On the 2 minute walk from my bus to the English building, the sprinkles turned into a total downpour for which I was completely unprepared. When I got to class, I immediately went to the bathroom to wring out my clothes and blast them with a hand dryer.
As any stressed out 18-year-old might, I called my mom. I was beside myself. Now, I had to sit through class soaking wet and freezing. How could I have forgotten an umbrella? How could I be so stupid?
My mother snapped at me to stop crying.
“You know, you can’t call me with this kind of stuff all the time. You really ruin my day.”
My sobs stopped instantly. I suppose I did call her to get me to stop crying. Not only was I stupid, I thought, but I was weak, too.
“You can’t keep getting this worked up over little things. I have to go. Just go to class and call me later.” Click.
I took off my pants in the bathroom and put them under the hand dryer. An umbrella became a permanent fixture on the side of my backpack for the rest of college. I carried that thing around without a cloud in the sky.
That was when I started going to therapy.
The emotional wounds my mother carried into adulthood made it nearly impossible for her to have any empathy for me. She simply didn’t my have the time or energy to care about my problems.
Generational trauma is not a mystical force that passes sorrow down through your bloodline. My mother abused me the was she was abused. She neglected me the way she felt she deserved to be neglected.
The shame that she piled on my shoulders, she must have assumed, was nothing compared to the boulders she was carrying herself. She needed to unload all of that dead weight somewhere.
So many of my childhood memories are trauma stories that aren’t even mine. My mom spent my childhood dumping her worst stories on me instead of going to therapy.
I do judge her for this. There are many reasons I don’t speak to my parents, but this is a big one. I am not the kind of survivor who forgives my abusers and says “they did their best; they were victims themselves.”
They had all the opportunities to heal that I had.
My mother recounted her trauma to me in the same dissociated manner you might tell a true crime story. These things just happen, especially to my mom.
If she slept until noon, her father would flip her mattress off its frame. She experienced her first sexual assault in high school. My dad moved in with her roommate for the entire summer before they got married. Her boyfriend threw her down the stairs in front of my eyes, and the only comfort waiting for her at the bottom was my four-year-old face asking her if she wanted me to kiss it better.
Every night, in my mind space, I take off a metaphorical backpack of trauma. I unload the luggage that weighs on my mind during the day. Half of the crap doesn’t belong to me, but I hold onto it anyway.
A large part of me feels strange about talking about my mother’s trauma. The same part that looks over my shoulder every time I sit down to blog. These wounds don’t belong to me, and I shouldn’t have to feel that shame. But I do. I don’t have a choice in that. I was handed down the aftermath of my family’s trauma like a pair of jeans that had gotten too small.
My mother couldn’t do her own healing, so I have to heal on her behalf. Add that to the list.
The secret to my drag is that I never use foundation. Ever.
Although, I guess it’s no secret. I am very open about my hatred for any and all liquid or powder foundation. I can put layer upon layer of face paint over my skin, but even a single swipe of concealer makes me feel nauseous.
I used to hate all makeup. Unless I was going to a wedding or prom, I would refuse to wear it.
I was always very pale. I am a white guy who will burn under any direct sunlight. I have no desire tan. Apart from the crippling gender dysphoria, I’m alright with how I look.
When I was around three- or four-years-old, my uncle asked my mom:
“What’s wrong with your kid? *he looks sick.”
Rather than gape at this 22 year old man and question why he cared about the complexion of a toddler, my mother started to put makeup on me before we saw family.
“You’re pale as a ghost,” she’d say. “You look sick. You just look so much better with a little makeup on.”
I could kick, scream, or cry, and my mom would still make sure I had on some blush or bronzer on when we went to Sunday dinner. I got the message very clearly: she was ashamed of me the way I was. How I look naturally was wrong.
My mother dictated everything about how I looked. My aesthetic, the cut of my shirt and shorts, and my hair were under her jurisdiction. I was a kawaii-punk, pastel-goth trans boy trapped in a cotton, floor-length skirt.
As YouTuber TheraminTrees once noted: it was as if I didn’t own my own body, but I was simply renting it from my parents.
When I moved out, I was finally able to express more autonomy. I came out of the closet. I stopped dressing like my mother. When I finally got myself into therapy, I realized how little say I had over my own body.
One question kept coming back to me: why would my mother, a married woman in her thirties with two children, care about the opinions of her 20-something younger brother?
Not only that, but why did he care what I looked like?
Slowly, memories started coming back to me. My uncle was overly interested in my appearance. If I were in a swimsuit or draped in a towel, he would whistle at me. He would catcall a four-year-old. I remember being disgusted and annoyed.
but I also took all of the blame. Why did I keep walking out in front of him if I didn’t want his attention? I was already conditioned into thinking that his harassment was my own fault. I carried that shame like it was my own.
My perspective of the how sexual abuse is defined has changed over time, and I have access to more of my memories than I used to.
From forced tickling, wrestling, throwing me in the pool, I was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused.
When I started calling into Sexual Incest Anonymous (SIA) meetings, I was given a website of their resources and definitions.
SIA defines incest as an act of power against a child that takes a sexual form. It is the violation and betrayal of the sexual innocence of a child. We define incest to include:
Suggestive or seductive talk or behavior directed at a child
Any unwanted, invasive touching, including kissing, wrestling & tickling
Showing a child pornography or nudity
Sexual fondling, oral sex, sodomy and/or intercourse
As a child, I have experienced nearly all of these things from different family members. Tickling to the point of crying, orgasm, or sensory overload is considered rape. As much as I wish this wasn’t true, that is what happened to me.
Once I could unpack the shame surrounding these memories, I realized that this was not my fault. I was abused. I was a victim. I am a survivor.
Now only was the abuse not my fault, but it was more overt that I had allowed myself to admit. My mother and grandparents witnessed hundreds of abusive encounters between me and my uncle, and did nothing.
They enabled him with their silence. My family would not stick up for me because it was easier for them to appease this adult child rather than confront him.
My mother even dressed me up for him. I wore bikinis since I was a baby, and yet made to feel like I was a slut just for existing in my own skin. I was somehow asking for this treatment by my outfit, but my mom chose all of my clothes.
I wasn’t even allowed to be pale if my uncle wouldn’t like it.
Body autonomy is more than letting your kid say “no” to a hug or letting them dye their hair. Children also have to be allowed to choose who they interact with. Forcing a child to love their family unconditionally and do anything for them opens them up to abuse.
Allowing ourselves and our children to have boundaries is essential to our sense of safety and self. If that means letting them get a nose ring, so be it.
Please feel free to check out the SIA website for these resources.
Near the start of January of 2020, before the world closed but after Christmas break had ended, I walked toward my job.
I took two trains and a bus to get here for only a half-a-day’s worth of hours, but I needed this job desperately. I was the head gymnastics coach at a preschool on the Upper East Side, and I was hanging on my a thread.
A man I had never seen before stood outside the building, handing out what looked like flyers. He handed me one, and said:
“The school is closing.”
“What?” I said. I took the paper. He didn’t answer.
Sure enough, the paper he was handing out was a letter informed me that the school hadn’t paid their rent in months and would be closing by the following Monday. All parents were to find replacement daycare for their children. Teachers and employees would have to find work elsewhere.
The school hadn’t had heat in the entire time I worked there, and I was already wearing two pairs of socks and two pairs of pants in the gym. I wasn’t surprised that the school was unable to stay afloat.
The rest of the day, I worked my job in a state of denial. They’d have to deal with this somehow, right? The school has been here for 45 years, and I just started 18 months ago. Though, they were a little late on my paychecks recently… over a week in some cases.
By Wednesday, our boss confirmed: I was to tell every child I had met, taught, and made a connection with, that I would never see them again after Friday.
Leaving a teaching job is always traumatic, but this was particularly jarring. We were told we could take whatever we wanted: books, cleaning products, office supplies. Someone got to all the laminating machines before I could even grab one.
When I had left my previous job, I had felt like I left a part of me behind. I was a preschool teacher in an Upper West Side Universal Pre-K program. I loved my clean and updated classroom, my students, and my coworkers. We were all a family who looked out for one another. I even brought on particular coworker with me when I moved.
The only problem with that school was the administration. The company was actually a chain of preschools and daycares. As though childcare were as simple as opening up a Taco Bell.
All of my bosses lived in different states. The entire IT department was in Israel. Even though I was praised by the Department of Education for my good work, I was constantly belittled by my supervisor. Nobody on our small staff was authorized to order more supplies. I was tired of going weeks at a time without paper towels.
Other jobs were different. There was paper towels, but definitely no IT department.
In the other schools I taught, they hardly even pretended to be well suited for children. This was what their parents could afford. They had to go to work.
Every day as a teacher, no matter where I taught, was traumatizing.
And I wasn’t only triggered by the physical abuse I experienced from the children. That was just a bonus.
The kids at wealthy schools had problems: Some had learning disabilities that their parents were too proud to see. Being affluent means having a disabled kid could be an inconvenience.
For two weeks straight I had to brush and braid a little girl’s hair every day because her parents had not given her a bath. Her hair was a matted mess filled with lint.
My social worker told me not to say anything.
The kids at poor schools had problems that were wholly different. Many students had learning disabilities. Their parents were either too busy to see it, or they simply didn’t have the time or means to do anything about it.
At one school, one of my students, my children, was brought in by an older cousin. She pulls me out of class for a minute, and whispers to me that his mother had a heroin overdose the night before, right in front of him.
“He has been walking around for the past day saying she’s dead, so if he tells you or any of his friends that his mom is dead… just remind him that she’s not. She’s fine, she’s in the hospital.”
I’ll never forget what she said next:
“You know what they say about overdoses. You don’t get three.”
This little boy was four and had a one-year-old little brother.
Every day at my job was traumatic, and some new awful thing was always bound fo occur. I had to experience first-hand the exact trauma and neglect that I had suffered as a child.
Much like therapists and parents, many of us become teachers to heal. We want to heal the wounds of our childhood vicariously through our kids.
As I mentioned, I loved my fellow teachers. I became particularly close friends with a coworker at my upper-west side school. It’s an emotional job, and you need allies.
When I left and she reached out saying she was getting fired, I was quick to help her get a position at my new school.
“What happened?” I asked her.
“I fell asleep during nap time,” she explained.
Sounds a little irresponsible, I thought immediately. But I couldn’t say I’ve never felt like I could doze off in that dark nap room filled with soft music and sleeping children.
After she got the interview, I found out that the story was a little more complicated than she had described. Turns out, she had been drinking on the job.
I told my supervisor, but they had all but decided to accept her already. They really needed the help.
In a panic, I told her that she needed to get this under control before she put any children in danger. How could she bring her own problems into her classroom? I thought.
One tumultuous years later, she was fired from the new school, too.
She texted me sporadically over the next few months, usually terrified over bills or divorce. I kept offering her my ear and my shoulder, but I didn’t have a home for her to go to. I couldn’t find her another job. She had to decide to heal on her own.
Around midnight, lying in a hospital bed after having my first cancer surgery, I got a text that due to some complications with her alcohol abuse, eating disorder, and severe seizures, she had died.
When I think about the stress of my job, I feel utter terror. I wish I could protect every kid I pass on the street. Any time I see a kid who is a little too old holding her dad’s hand, or I see a mother yelling in her little boy’s face, my brain kicks into fight or flight.
I can’t imagine the wounds my friend was trying to heal in herself, but I know how it feels to have your own trauma constantly re-triggered by your career.
I always thought: if I can be the savior of my inner child, I can be a place of solace for another. For ten years, that’s what I did. When the vaccine becomes widespread and the pandemic more manageable, maybe I will even go back.
The children of the world need trauma-informed care. Children deserve compassion. I hope that what we provide them at school is enough to keep them hanging on until they’re older. I hope that the cycle of abuse ends and we keep another traumatized teacher from an early grave.
I hated my picture taken as a child. The idea that I was not very photogenic, or even willing to have my picture taken, might be surprising to those of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I can spend hours in front of the camera now. As a child, the gazing black eye was frightening.
My mom took tons of pictures in her life. She fancies herself as quite the photographer. Which, so do I, so I suppose I should give her that one. She’s a photographer.
There are hundreds of pictures of my sister from before I was born. I had heard as a child that the first born gets the most pictures, and by the second child the parents get a little lazy.
Judging by today’s current Instagram-mom-brigade, that is not truly the case.
My mom also brought my sister and I to those tortured mall photographers every few months in matching outfits to document how unrelated we looked and highlight our differences the more we grew apart. I had straight, front bangs that both me and my cowlick hated.
Every time I got in front of a camera, my mom would launch into the normal hysterics.
“Smile! Smile for me! Say cheeeeese!”
As a child, I had a big-toothed smile. My cheekbones stuck out like little marshmallows were in my cheeks. My teeth were too big for my tiny mouth. They were spread so far apart that I could fit my tongue between almost all of them.
I was an odd looking child. But children are supposed to be a little odd looking. They haven’t grown into their nose or teeth yet.
For a period of time in my life, pictures were scarce. My parents always told me that my terrible two’s lasted until I was seven. I had a deadly blood disorder and was on steroids at only two-years-old, but I guess I was a little cranky. They didn’t take many pictures during that time, but apparently the steroids made me fat.
As a young teen, my mom would get a little more specific with her asks. If I didn’t raise my cheekbones so high when I smiles, widened my eyes a little, and closed my eyes until the very last second, she could get her shot.
Family vacation was always at the same beach, and always had the same theme. Drinking on the beach for a week, and taking our Christmas card photos. No matter how traumatic the trip had been, no matter how many times my mother yelled at me or shamed me on the trip, I had to act happy.
“Smile!” She would say.
I had different reactions to this command. Sometimes, if I were in a good mood, I’d smile. I’d put a mangled look on my face that I thought resembled happiness.
“Don’t smile so hard; relax your cheeks. Open your eyes, [Redacted.]”
Other times, if I woke up a little sad or was up all night with insomnia, I would raise the corners of my lips. I’d relax my face as much as possible and only smile with my mouth.
“Smile for REAL!” She’d say.
I didn’t know what my “real” smile looked like. I barely understood who I was.
When I look at picture of me today, my smile looks genuine. I, and everyone around me, can see the peace and gender euphoria on my face every time I take a good photo. I have a close friend who will let me know the times I look the most “in the zone.”
Now that I don’t have to perform as someone I’m not, I can feel free to be myself. I can play dress up and be whoever I want for a photo, and smile however I damn well please.
I am happy. Every day, I make a conscious effort to be myself, and be happy. Now, when I smile, it’s real.