…or: How I learned to stop worrying and love my pre-transition body. Or, well, not *love* – but like. Um – respect?
Well, actually, I never did learn how to do that – maybe ‘cope with’ would be better. But, in the spirit of end of the year lists, I thought I’d share some practical tips and hints, mostly culled from the perfect wisdom that is hindsight, on how to get through the years pre surgery and/or hormone treatment.
1. For the guys: despite the misleading picture accompanying this post, do yourself a favour and get a REAL binder. I know that bandages are cheap, widely available and produce the flattest possible result – but they also cut off circulation, impair breathing and can – if you bind as tightly as you might be tempted to – cause not only bruising, rashes and pain, but longterm scarring, muscle flattening and damage to the ribs. Trust me on this one – I used bandages off and on for ten years, and never once had the good sense to buy a real binder. Trying to sing with your chest wrapped up is a real struggle. So, don’t be as stupid as I was – TransGuys has a fabulous Binding 101 – read the reviews, work out what would suit you best, save up and get yourself something decent.
2. Another one for the guys: I can’t say ‘stop hunching your shoulders’ – I think it’s pretty near impossible when you’re so self-concious about what’s going on with your chest. But do take the time to properly stretch your shoulders, upper and lower back at least once a day. That chronic ache across your shoulder blades doesn’t make anything better.
3. Your body is not trying to hurt you. As old-school as the ‘wrong body’ narrative is, I think it comes close to explaining the supreme *wrongness*, the alien nature of our given bodies, or parts of our bodies. That dissonance can easily turn into a complete lack of identification with our bodies as part of ourselves. They turn into places where we feel trapped – these THINGS that don’t belong to us, that betray us every time we look in the mirror, look down, look at someone else looking at us. The anger and the despair that comes from that can be terrible and, for myself at least, it wasn’t truly eased until I’d undergone surgery. There are many, many reasons why the incidences of self-abuse (alcohol, drugs, cutting etc.) are so high in the trans community, but I think that this is probably one of them.
So, what to do? Support, and knowledge and, if you’re struggling with a serious problem (bulimia, for example) then seeking professional help is a good way forward. Sharing your frustration with other trans people – understanding your feelings as something natural, that will change, and can get better. But small things, also. Try being consciously kind to yourself. As much as it may need some work, your body is not a stranger, or an enemy. Corny, I know, but make a list of all the parts you actually appreciate – your eyes, or calves, or wrists, anything. Take long baths. Get a great haircut.
4. Linked to the last – it’s never too early to start working on a body that feels right. So, ignoring the joys of sloth – find an activity, a sport, a way of moving that makes you feel right. Whether you want to feel stronger, more graceful, more peaceful – more in control – there is something – and you get not only the joy of the activity itself, but physical changes that can really help. Lifting weights works for me. Dance, martial arts, yoga, cycling, jogging, hiking – it doesn’t matter. But find it, if possible.
5. Buy nice underwear. Just for yourself. It makes the day brighter.
6. Plan your post-surgery recovery kit. Obviously, the practical considerations come first – but, depending on the type and the number of surgeries you’re planning, you may be lying on your back for a fairly long time. Which obviously means books – lots and lots of books – and music – and DVDs. It’s like the best Christmas ever.
7. Keep looking forward. Sites like Transbucket are great for research – and also to remind yourself of what you have to look forward to, when it all seems like far too heavy a burden.
God knows it’s not easy, and this is just scratching the surface. But it does get better and hey – trangst is character building. Good luck.
As C.S. Lewis would say:
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.