Sunday, April 13, 2014

I had my meeting with my surgeons.

Last week I went to the Slotervaart hospital in Amsterdam for 3 meetings.

The third one was with the anesthesiologist. He turned out to be a very nice guy who clearly enjoyed his job of making people as comfortable as possible. He told me not to worry and he would take good care of me. I'm getting an PCA which means as much as patient controlled pain medication after the surgery. I'm very happy about that because being dependent on whenever the nurses can find the time to listen to you and decide you might actually be right and either need more medication or not, is not exactly ideal. I have a high pain threshold but also get used to pain medication really quickly. So that's something that could go either way. Like this I will be in full control and will get what I need.

The second meeting was with the gynecologist. He's a bit of a quirky man but he's a professional alright. He told me what he is going to do. They will put air in my belly to make room to work. Then they will make 4 tiny incisions; one for a camera so they can see what they are doing, and the other 3 for tools. There's already a larger opening they can use to pull out that annoying bit of tissue. Then all they have to do is stitch it shut at the top and they are done. He told me a whole bunch of things that can happen after the surgery that might freak me out but I don't need to worry about. He also told me a few things that could happen that would mean I should call him. But in all cases I don't need to worry because if anything goes wrong they'll just fix it, no problem. Okay doc, what ever you say. I an 100% confident that he will indeed set things right.

Now the first meeting was the one I was nervous about. It was the surgeon that will fix my chest. In broad terms there are two ways of doing this. The big surgery and the small surgery. The big one means two large incisions below the breasts. With the small one they make circular incisions around the nipples. Clearly, the big one causes bigger scars then the small one. Most transmen are really set on getting the small on. It's a big deal. It's important because else you are mutilated for life with those huge ugly scars across your chest that will remind you for ever and always what you went through and will cause the whole world to ask what the hell happened to you. People had told me I should be able to get the small one. People told me it was important for me to get the small one. Everyone wanted to small one so of course I would want the small one as well. So when my surgeon took one look at me and said: no way, I was in shock. I had counted on getting the small one. After a while I realized I felt like I had lost some sort of competition. This confused me and later got me mad. This is why it took me a while to write this update. I wanted to figure out where this feeling came from.

Among transmen, or trans people in general really, there is this silent competition to be as passable as possible. I feel very conflicted about this. The problem is that if all transsexuals just disappear after their last surgery it makes it harder for the people who live further away from the norm to find a place in society. As a transsexual you stand out for a while during your transition. It's a big deal. It's heavy. It's hard. And also, it's very visible.You can't go into a cave and come out a few years later and go: tadaaa! It doesn't work like that. You are forced to do it in plain sight. This is why transsexuals get a lot of media attention. But once you are done, you are done, and you can pretend it never happened most of the time. You can go back to your ordinary life. Sure, some will still stand out but these days people can start transition during their teens and most of them are absolutely passable once they are done and sometimes even before then.

A lot of people who are transgender but are not transsexual don't have that luxury. They don't go though an awkward phase and then come out as themselves and can fit one of the boxes on every bloody form on the planet. A lot of them are somewhere in between. They always stand out. They can't just put on a shirt to cover the scars and pretend they're one of the guys. They need our support.

The other things is that there seems to be a shame culture happening here. Even though people are now coming out as trans on television and there are shows being made about trans people and all the media attention and people shouting that transsexuals should be accepted a lot of trans people still seem to be ashamed of the fact that they are trans. It's like being ashamed of being black, or of being ginger, or of being short, or of having blue eyes. It seems to me that a lot of transsexual people feel the need to be as passable as possible because they are afraid that people will still see them as less, as inferior, of not one of them. They are afraid of not fitting in, of being cast out. They want to hide part of who they are, part of their history, in order to secure a future.

I am not ashamed of being a transsexual, just like I'm not ashamed of being ginger and short. I'm not ashamed of having Indonesian ancestry even though no one sees it. I'm also not proud of it. I didn't do anything to be any of these things. These are the cards I got dealt. That's all. There is no shame in that. There is also no pride in that. It simply is what it is. So why did I freak out when she told me I was getting the big surgery? Because people had told me I should. Well, not directly, but they did make me feel that way. Personally I don't have a problem with a few extra scars. I have plenty already and they all have a story. This would just be another story, one that I'm not ashamed of. So that's why I got mad. My peers had, unintentionally, made me feel like I should be ashamed of who I am. This makes me sad and it worries me. I am able to take a good look at who I am and how I feel about myself and get past this. But not everyone can. There are a lot of trans people who are very vulnerable and who are unable to stand up for themselves. I can imagine some people would get very depressed hearing such news, maybe even suicidal. If they really feel like they should be ashamed of who they are and that they will be rejected by society if people find out there is something seriously wrong. It's all fine and dandy that we have those tv shows now and that there are so many people coming out publicly but there is still so much work to do.

I'm getting the big surgery. I am getting two scars on my chest that tell my story. I'm okay with that. I'm still waiting for the date but it should be before my birthday in late July. The surgeon really is a nice lady and she knows what she's doing. She is one of the best in the country. She saw how shocked I was and did her best to reassure me everything would be okay and she would do her best to minimize my scarring. In the mean time I am coming up with all kinds of ideas for tattoos in combination with scarifications for my torso. So I'm not worries at all anymore. Right now I'm just curious about the final result so I can start designing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Zen of painting.

Karel Appel once said: Ik worstel met de materie, soms wint de materie en soms win ik. I struggle with the material, sometimes it wins and sometimes I win. This is a statement that is true for most artists. I have done this for a long time as well. Trying to force the colors into a shape that I thought would fit better. I have found in my daily life that you have to pick your battles. I tried to force my mind into a shape that seemed to fit the world better but it turned out I need to reshape my body to fit my mind better. Most things actually know where they belong and human interference more often breaks a system rather then adding to it.

Recently I have decided to take a different approach to my paintings. The methods I use are still very similar but my view has changed quite a bit. I have given up the struggle. Instead I surrender to the material and allow it to guide me. I let the colors absorb me and let go of all dogmas and conventions. There is no should or must, there is only what is. For once I silence my mind and let intuition take over. It is liberating to say the least. Not only does it allow me to connect with my paintings on a more spiritual level, they are also more approachable for others. Too often people would ask me what my paintings mean and if I asked them to tell me what they thought they would always ask me of they for it right. There is no right or wrong in art. There is a connection or there isn't. Something causes an inner reaction for what ever reason there may be, or it doesn't. That's all there really is. And now people have the freedom to enjoy that and not worry about right or wrong. This blue painting is blue and what ever else you may see in it is yours to see and no one can take that away from you. So take that and enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fifty shades of wrong.

A friend of mine is lending me fifty shades of grey. For reasons unclear to me it is in Dutch. The good thing is that I can pretend that some things are just bad translation. Unfortunately that doesn't change the story line. It's very easy to read. It's like popcorn, hot air. You don't need to think about any of it so you're just flying through it. I was quite surprised at that. I'm not saying it's well written, it's just very readable. The story is very simple. Boy meets girl, the conquer an obstacle and live happily ever after. In this case the writer choose kink for the fluff to fill the pages. I really wish she had done her research right. She didn't. I'm hoping it's the translation that writes the Dutch word for submissive with a capital. Somehow I doubt it. And that is just the start. I'm not sure what she had in mind with mister Grey but for someone who is supposed to have 12 years of experience in kink he is extremely naive. Clearly he is not a Dominant or Master by nature if she can manipulate him so easily after such a long time in the scene. Nor is she a true submissive but she doesn't claim to be. She's a brat. She just happens to be a masochist but that doesn't make you a sub by definition. Error upon error upon error. Oh my indeed.

Why does this bother me? For the same reason why The Da Vinci Code bothers me. It's popular writers who don't do their research properly and send these idiotic ideas into the world without worrying about how it will effect people. Does stuff like this effect people? Yes, of course it does. Most people get most of their knowledge from the media. Including me. It's not just internet and TV. Books count just as much. People believe a lot of stuff they see or read, simply because it sounds convincing. Like the mermaid documentary on Animal Planet. A lot of people thought it was real. I wanted to believe it because mermaids are cool and the documentary was very well done. But that doesn't actually make it true.

It's the same with books like these. People think the writers did their research so they must know what they are talking about, right? If someone knows a tiny bit more then you do that doesn't mean they are experts. If someone can change the oil it doesn't mean they can fix the engine. But people think they do. This is just the most recent example of misconceptions that I found. For someone as deviant from the norm as I do I feel compelled to stand up for diversity in any way. This is one of the reasons why I've started working on my book. One of the topics I want to discuss there is love. As far as boy meets girl stories go Fifty Shades is rather cliche. In other words: it is normative. As someone who wants to do his research as well as possible I'm curious about how other people see this norm. I'm trying to gather as much information as possible to get a good picture. As far as love goes, or cultural norms for that matter, one of the best sources would be personal experiences. I was wondering if people would be willing to send me their stories, their experiences and their ideas about what love is, what the norm is and if that norm is correct. I know that's a lot to ask but I would be very grateful. You can post a comment if you want or send me a personal message on my Facebook page if you don't want it to be public. If you have any questions, go ahead and send me a message as well. This book will contain a lot of personal opinion but it should, most of all, be a book for all of you.

And for those who are curious: a fun bit of science behind love.

Monday, March 17, 2014

So what happens next?

It’s been a while since I posted my last blog. People have been asking me what my plans are for the future. Or more precise: what’s the next project? How about finishing my transition first? I have been forgetting that actually takes a lot of time and mental space as well. Now I do have time to think about these things a lot has been happening inside my head. Surgery is starting to get real as well. This week I have an appointment with a psychiatrist to get the last signature for my referral letter. Three weeks after that I am seeing my surgeons to discuss the options and my wants and needs. After that there is a waiting list of 4 to 6 weeks. So after 10 weeks at the most I will have had my surgery. The way time has flown by the past few months it feels like it could be tomorrow almost. I’m starting to get nervous in a way you do just before you go on a holiday. I’m trying not to expect too much. Someone asked me how I think I will look after the surgery. I have no idea. I don’t think about it because I can’t know until about a year after the surgery and I have completely healed and my hormones have settled etc. All I can do now is hope for the best and see what happens. It’s weird to be thinking about things like nipples. Most people take them for granted. They’re just there. But now I have to decide if I want my surgeon to do something with them or not. I’m not 100% sure yet. I’ll wait and see what she says. She’s the expert in the end. I don’t feel the need to have them reduced right now but they look quite different on my chest the way things are anyway so it’s hard to tell.

I have decided to have the hysterectomy. I’m not sure if I mentioned that before. There are several reasons for this:
I don’t plan on having kids anyway so I don’t need a uterus.
Hormone treatment increases cancer risks and I don’t really feel like getting cancer.
And, last but not least, the estrogen I’m still producing is counterproductive.

People seem to think that more testosterone means less estrogen and yes, if all is well your ovaries become less active. Not always though. People have been calling me miss again lately in stores. I noticed my body and face had been changing again the wrong way around. I used a bit of extra testosterone for about a week and now seem to be back on track again. In the meantime the extra hair did expand. My voice is also still slowly changing. So the testosterone is doing its work. But when the fat distribution makes my face look more feminine people still misgender me. It’s rather frustrating and I really can't wait to get rid of the estrogens so I can really start looking like myself. I’m getting closer but I know I’m still not there.

Another thing that happens is that people think I’m much younger then I am. I’m 35 and I usually don’t mind if people think I’m a bit younger but when someone thinks I’m 17 I really don’t know how to respond. This really happened two days ago. I’m still amazed. And of course this happens right at the moment when I start to be okay with being an adult. I know that sounds silly but that happens to all of us. We all feel like we are going to be young forever and then, one day, we wake up and we find we are supposed to be adults. We don’t know how that happens, but it does. Just like that. When you’re young you think it’s something that happens to other people and that they will know how to deal with it when the time comes. But I’m guessing there are quite a few people who don’t. Or at least, at first. I guess it’s about attitude, how you deal with things. I think I have grown quite a bit lately in that aspect. Even though I don’t have some sort of job anymore I feel more in control of my life. I finally have time to paint again and I have started to write a book. It feels great to be able to make my own schedule and do things at my own pace. I keep forgetting I don’t work well with deadlines and a packed calendar. I need space to breathe. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking responsibility for my own life. If that isn’t a grown up thing to do, I don’t know what is. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To count or not to count.

Last year this time around I was working as a group fitness instructor. I was preparing to get on the board of the local LGBT rights organization; the COC. We were a few weeks away from getting the keys to the new location for the gallery. Things were looking good.
Right now, I don't work at a gym any more. I don't work at the COC any more either. And at the end of the month we are turning in the keys to the gallery due to lack of funds. So things have changed quite a bit and not for the better it seems. Initially I felt like I had no control over the things that were happening. They were simply happening to me. I did my best but in the end I still failed.
One of the ways I cope with set backs like these is by focussing on something I actually can control. I focus on numbers and keep track of something measurable. Usually the thing I set my focus on is my bodyweight, my food intake and my exercise. I developed my first eating disorder when I was about 7 so this is nothing new. It's more like a default setting. Things go wrong? Start controlling your intake. This time I fell into that trap again. I'm pretty sure this will always be my weak point and that's okay. Everyone has one and I know mine very well. About 5 years ago I decided to stop trying to destroy myself and tried to turn things into something a bit more constructive. I still do. So I have spend a lot of time reading research and watching interviews and debates on nutrition. Scientists tend to focus on health, on finding guidelines that people can use to build their own optimal diet. The more attention you pay to something the more it grows and constantly reading about stuff that has health as the ultimate goal makes it easier to actually stick to that and not use the information for evil, as in self-destruction.

A funny thing is happening. Food has always been a tool but the emphasis is shifting more towards the goal. The goal used to be to get to a minimal weight while still 'functioning' (read not getting locked up in a hospital to get force fed). Back then I spend most of my time thinking about food and weight related things. It was a full time job. Then the goal became looking good, strong and healthy. And now the goal seems to shift again to actually being healthy and having the energy to do all the things I want to do. There is a huge difference between wanting to look good and healthy and wanting to be healthy and feel energetic. Wanting to look good is about how others see you. Wanting to be health is about something completely different. It's about how I treat myself, about finding myself worth the effort to take care of myself. The goal is also no longer focused on food or my body, but on what I can do with it. It's great to look great but if, at the end of the day, I don't have the energy to do the things I enjoy, what's the point? And that's the most important shift right there. My body itself becomes a tool, not a goal. Happy people always look prettier then unhappy people. They radiate. It appeals to other people. You can be as fit as a fiddle and still look awful when you're not happy. So that's the new goal: to do the things that make me happy and sharpen the tool that is my body so I can fully enjoy them.
Sounds fantastic! Does that mean I'm going to stop weighing my food and counting my nutrients? I don't think I'm ready for that. But being aware that food is a tool and there are other things in life that are more important really helps a lot. It makes it less obsessive and that gives me more space to breath, and to live. Maybe one day I will be able to let it go, mostly, but I will always be aware of what I eat and how it affects me. I don't think that's a bad thing. I just don't want it to take over my life any more.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Plot twist: Noodweer, Japan and paintings.

Four years ago Chris and I set up an exhibition for my artwork. By change we got our hands on a really nice space and asked 2 other artists to join in. After the first exhibition we were able to stay a bit longer and set up another one, and then another. Gallery Noodweer was born. Eventually the owner found someone who wanted to rent the space so we had to move on. But we'd had so much fun organizing this we decided to look for a new space and continue our work. And now are yet again forced to move out of the space we have, for the 4th time in as many years. After some debate we decided it is time to finish this project and move on. We had a great time. We learned a lot. Hopefully we inspired others as much as they inspired us. As much as we regret having to quit we came to the conclusion that, right now, in this economic climate, it is simply not possible to run a gallery in this set up. We have one final exhibition in February by Boukje van Iperen which I am really looking forward to. Her work is amazing and I'm glad we can finish with a bang.

So what happens to Noodweer? We need to take a look at what we want, what we want it to mean, what we want to do for people, and how we would want to achieve that. I'm not sure yet how this will take shape. It will take some time to re-evaluate everything that has happened and also to get over our loss. I'm sure Chris and I will collaborate again in the future but right now we need a bit of a breather.
This didn't just happen yesterday so I have had some time to think. I have been thinking a lot about that I want to do with my life in general lately. I had been making plans to go abroad for a while; move to Japan and see if I would have more luck there with my artwork. But then I realized it's hard to get visa so I started looking for easy ways to get one. And then I started looking at courses and job options and before I knew it all these things were no longer about art. Losing Noodweer made me realize that art really is the most important thing in my life and my main focus should really be on my art. I keep losing myself in distractions and I'm not getting anywhere with my career as an artist. I need to stop doing that. I would still love to go to Japan for a while. I love to travel anyway and I would really like to again. But it's not something I should pursue in a way that means sacrificing my art. I need to start taking my work seriously. If I don't, no one else will. Why is this so hard? Because it's got my blood, sweat and tears in it. It's my hopes and dream, my fears and nightmares. My soul. And having that rejected is the hardest thing there is. There is no way I can make it as an artist without going through a lot of rejection first and that part really, really sucks. I'm dreading that part. I know how hard it is going to be as I have tried it before and didn't make it. But this time I feel like I am ready and somehow the idea of succeeding is starting to get scary as well. What do I do then? I know it's way to early to start worrying about that. I still have a long way to go. It's time to take a deep breath and dive in.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Things are getting real.

Last night I helped a friend pick up a stove she had bought second hand. When we got there the guy selling it showed us where he had stored it and nodded at me: you take that side and we'll carry it together. There was no question of my female friend carrying it what so ever. This was a man's job. It didn't matter that my friend is probably stronger then that guy was, or that it was her stove. We were men and this is what we do.
Last week I helped out filming a Virtual Pump DVD. Me and that same friend are in the background with our barbells. It was quite an interesting experience. I haven't seen the final results yet and I have no idea how I look on camera but they did post a picture online of the V-Pump team. Of course they tagged me on facebook. An old friend of mine, who I haven't seen in ages, sent me a PM. At first she had just recognized my friend and hadn't really paid attention to the three guys in the picture. And then she noticed I was tagged and it was me. It seems I have changed so much that, at first glance, I don't look like my old girly self any more but really look like a regular guy.
And then there is the new gym I'm going to where I'm 'stealth' and no one knows I'm trans and no one bats an eye when I walk into the men's room.

When I started thinking about transition it was all very abstract. You have some idea of what it might be like but you're not sure. You see other people do it and think it sounds like a good idea. You listen to their experiences, watch people on the street, observe how they behave and everything. You think a lot. But that's all theory. You have no idea what it will feel like. You might think you do, but you don't. No one can tell you what it's like. It's different for everyone. At some point you just know you can't keep going the way you used to and something needs to change. So you take the plunge and you start your journey. And then it becomes a bit like having a baby. You have this long period of waiting, of growing and changing, before it becomes real. A lot of people might think that the surgery is like the birth. I'm expecting the same thing. But sometimes I notice that's not completely true. Unlike having a baby transition is something that happens more gradually. I know quite a few people now who have never known me as a girl. And some people don't even know I'm trans. Experiences like I just described make it real. Slowly you move from 'I think I should be a guy' to 'I'm going to become a guy' to 'I actually am a guy'. Theory becomes reality. It's no longer just in my head. I'm living it. I can feel myself shifting into a new state of being, closer to my true self. I used to really dislike myself but that feeling is slowly disappearing and being replaced by a new confidence I had never experienced before. This isn't just about becoming a man. This is about becoming myself, more then anything else. I am growing in ways I never thought possible. And this is just the beginning. Once I've had my surgery and changed my passport my transition may be finished but my journey will finally begin.