Living in a Modified Body
I live in a modified body, sculpted by injectable hormones, which now seems like an indulgence in technological excess. Strange times we live in. I’m always going to wonder what might have been. What would my body be like now if I’d never done t? I devalued my own body, I became dissatisfied with it, I convinced myself that it wasn’t enough, didn’t speak clearly enough about what I was. Why, because it was too female? Because unchanged bodies are too normal, even though I was told many times that people thought my body was strange, was too “mannish” for a women’s body?
I thought I really wanted facial hair. Now I have it. I think I look alright with a beard, other people think so too. But has it really made me that much happier? No, not really. Was it worth spending all that money on t and going to doctors appointments? No, I don’t think so now. I shave it off every few days because I don’t want to pass as male anymore, so it’s more of an annoyance now. Was my wanting facial hair really all that different from people who get a nose job or other cosmetic surgery believing it will make them happier? Maybe only in that my desires find little social sanction compared to the latter.
I think people can do with their bodies what they want but some of what people choose to do is foolish and I include my own body modification in that category. I’m not sure how much happiness can actually come from body modification. It can help some trans people be treated as what they feel themselves to be and feel at home in themselves. If I’d found satisfaction living as a man I’d be pretty happy with my bodily changes. I still have some attachment to my modified body as it makes me more interesting to people and I like getting attention. It seems to set me apart but really it doesn’t because a lot of people change their bodies in this society. Body modification is normal. People dye their hair, paint their nails, put on make-up, work out and exercise, diet, get tattoos and piercings, change their hair style, shave their body hair, get surgery. Major industries are based on millions of people changing their bodies, especially women trying to fit standards of “femininity”. I thought I was differentiating myself from women by transitioning but in a sense I was acting out a common female experience of altering my body to adapt to society.
Like a lot of people, I fell for the idea that my body as it was wasn’t enough, that it could be enhanced. I read some queers saying that being able to play with flesh based purely on our personal desires was liberating. We didn’t need to justify it with dysphoria or saying we had a medical condition anymore. We could take hormones and have surgery purely to express ourselves, to create new selves. Doing so was supposed to enlarge what was possible, give us more power to shape our personal realities and challenge societal realities at the same time. We were multiplying sex and gender. The availability of hormones and surgery do offer new possibilities that weren’t there before. People now have the option to live in ways that were impossible only a hundred years or so ago. We have new ways of exerting power over ourselves but we do not have the same degree of power to assert ourselves upon the world. Queers still inhabit the margins. We can make up as many new sexes and genders as we want but for the most part only our comrades know they even exist or accept them as real.
This has several consequences. The lack of power in larger society can make body modification more attractive. We can try to make up for feeling out of control by taking control of our flesh and shaping it so as to have some experience of fixing reality. It can also lead to isolation as our attempts to express ourselves can only be heard by a few others versed in the same thought and culture. In the outside world I passed as male but among my queer friends I could be a gender mutant. Inside my collective house, I could take my shirt off and show off my body’s mixed characteristics but I can’t walk around outside topless with out getting arrested or facing harassment. It can also lead to disappointment. I am not the only person who found the effects of testosterone unsatisfying because I found passing as a man unsatisfying. My hopes of what t could do for me did not match the actual results. I also did not anticipate that I would be unhappy with manhood. I had idealized it and identified with it but living it proved disappointing.
Changing my body didn’t liberate me. It taught me a lot, made life a bit more interesting, but it didn’t give me what I was looking for, satisfaction and freedom. I’d been told in many ways that I was defective and had come to think of myself as imperfect. I was trying to improve some of my perceived defects by taking t. I was also looking for a way to be liberated from gender and patriarchy. Gender, the power structures that create it and the rules based on it have fucked with my life for a long time. I wanted out. I knew shit was fucked up, I was trying to find a way to make my life easier and happier. Taking t didn’t help that but it did help clarify the problem more. It’s social, it’s this whole culture. There’s nothing I can do as a single person that can get rid of it and I’m not going to see the end of it in my life time. If I actually want to change shit I need to find other people to work with, as many people as possible.
Changing my body was a sort of bittersweet initiation. It helped make me the adult I am now, brought me into my own genderweird womanhood, and forced me to change what I believe and question what I thought of as liberation. Turns out being able to manipulate my flesh doesn’t count for all that much while the world I live in remains unequal and the vast majority hold rigid views of gender.