At the most basic level, an STP consists of a bowl and a funnel: you hold the end with the bowl to your vulva and pee into it, and the funnel directs the pee away from your body more or less as a penis would. (Even at this basic level, though, there are variations: the Freelax and the Pee Off are really just grooves.) Different models vary in shape and size of bowl and funnel, the angle at which the two are connected, material, color and overall design.
I have spent the past week hiking and climbing mountains in South Tyrol with a group, diligently working my way towards dying of skin cancer by getting another (few) sunburns and overtaxing my right knee badly enough on the descent on the second day that I had to miss the third and finish the last two limping.
Still, it was worth it. My day-to-day life happens within the concrete jungle of the city, walled in by houses, my field of view dissected by the (mostly) harsh straight lines of architecture, flat hard ground beneath my feet, and while I roll my eyes at anti-civilization sentiments, I do need to get out and away sometimes to remember that’s not all there is to the world.
When I was little (probably five or six; must have been at least five, because we had already moved out of the flat I had been born in), I had ballet classes. Here’s what I remember about them:
I had a plain pink tutu, sensibly made of cotton and machine-washable. Some of the other girls had tutus with the skirt part made of that meshy plastic stuff that feels really nice when you rub it between two fingers, and one had a tutu made of some stretchy material that glittered. I was jealous.
We once had a show for parents and such in which we danced a robo-dance kind of thing, all edgy, isolated movements. (In hindsight, it doesn’t seem very ballet-y. I don’t know why we had a robo-dance.) My grandparents came to watch and later said that I was the only one who had occasionally paused to listen to the music and get back into the rhythm. I was very proud of that (and still kind of am).
I don’t remember a lot of what we actually did in class. I only remember one exercise that had us curl up really small on the floor, imagining we were flower seeds, and then growing upwards veeeery sloooooowly. It was boring as hell.
Once, my grandmother walked me to ballet class, and we passed a traffic sign I recognized as prohiting cars from parking, and lots of cars were parked behind it, and I made some horribly embarrassing pseudo-adult comment how typical that was, and she asked me to read what it said beneath the sign. It said “end”. But it said “end” in German, which is “Ende”, and I thought it said “Ente”, which means duck. My grandmother did not realize I had read “duck” and considered the matter settled. I did not understand what this had to do with cars and was very confused about it for the rest of the walk. This is not really related to ballet class, I’m just still embarrassed about it twenty years later and think of it in shame every time I think back to that ballet class.
Writing yesterday’s post got me thinking about what it means to identify as something. (Not for the first time, but that’s how it always is with thinking about big issues: you do it a little at a time, and when you feel like you’ve travelled down all available paths, you let it rest for a while and return back later to find new angles and corners to explore.)
[Guess who once again did not start writing today’s blog post in the morning? Me!]
For a long time, I thought that everyone would choose to be male if they were given a choice, and the only reason anyone would ever say differently was because it was a wrong thing to want and therefore a shameful thing to admit. Whether because it was in accordance with God’s plan or because one’s body was part of some “true” self, both my religious upbringing and more secular worldviews strongly pushed the idea that genuine happiness and peace could only come from accepting one’s body (and also the gender assigned on its basis).
Once, when I was a teenager (maybe fourteen, or fifteen) I stood with a group of teenage girls, and one of them actually asked whether we would rather be men. One after the other shook her head, looking to all the world like they really, truly meant it, maybe even slightly puzzled, as if they’d never had even a second of doubt and longing about the question.
When they looked at me expectantly, I quickly bit my tongue and shook my head. I had learned quite a while ago that outing oneself as a freak was not a good idea, and now this desire – one I’d considered ubiquitous, if taboo – was one more thing making me one.
(Strangely, I never had the same issues with being attracted to women. Despite a staunchly heteronormative religious community, I had no trouble at all with accepting the idea that people could fall in love with others regardless of their gender, and when I wondered about my own attractions, I didn’t feel like they made me a freak in the slightest.)
It was not until I started reading blogs written by trans women years later that I started honestly considering that some people liked feminine-coded things not just despite their association with femininity, but in some cases and to some degree even because of it. That some people actually liked being female. That for some people, their femaleness was not something they had to grit their teeth to bear, but something they valued and wanted recognized and seen.
That someone could feel like maleness was a burden pressed upon them as much as I felt like femaleness was a burden pressed upon me.
It’s still not something I can genuinely understand without putting it through at least one layer of abstraction (by comparing it to my own feelings about gender, for example). And it’s not about the feminine-coded things themselves – I don’t have trouble understanding how people could like swooshy skirts, or dangling earrings, or colorfully painted nails, or eyes emphasized by eyeliner, or lips made shiny by gloss. I don’t have trouble understanding how someone could like feeling graceful, or being kind.
But the idea of myself as a woman in a swooshy skirt, rather than a man? A woman with artfully painted nails? A woman moving gracefully, or being kind?
Does not compute. Feels wrong, in an unnatural, stilted, awkward way, like trying to artificially construct an image of gracefulness or kindness or me in a swooshy skirt around a hollow core.
This is what I mean when I say I am male. There is a core part of me that clicks with maleness, and fails to do so with femaleness. All the frustratingly vague and uninformative definitions or explanations of what the term “gender identity” means are trying to get at this core, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a really good way to explain it.
Maybe try to frame it in a different way than by thinking about your gender – you might be so used to taking your gender for granted you can’t tell what it even is, or you might not have a very strong gender identity (or any gender identity at all). Imagine it’s you-but-not-you, imagine you’re wearing a mask that looks really very much like your face but is still off, imagine that feeling most people get sometimes when they leave their house that there’s something – some indefinable thing – they forgot, imagine a familiar music piece with the rhythm or the instruments or the tune just sounding wrong and strange without you being able to name what exactly is wrong. Maybe there’s some aspect of yourself you consider fundamental to who you are, a certain way of thinking, certain preferences, a certain way of viewing or interacting with the world: imagine one of those gone, or strangely foggy and murky and unreachable or hard to remember.
Does that make sense to anyone out there? I don’t know.
Even if it does, it might not make sense to you to that one of those fundamental aspects should be someone’s gender. It doesn’t make sense to me either. It seems weird that there should be an aspect of my identity that somehow naturally lines up with this very specific cultural concept.
On the other hand, there are parts of me I consider rather essential that don’t have words to describe them. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that this one happens to be one there’s a word for. (And it’s even arguable that there is a word for it – after all, maleness means quite different things to different people.)
When I had top surgery, my nipples were left untouched. The plastic surgeon had measured their width during the pre-examination, concluded that they were “perfectly good male nipples” already, and moved on to considering and discussing the rest of the surgery.
I was irrationally proud of my nipples for the rest of the day, and also half-laughing and half-crying about the irony of the whole nipple situation.
If I had posted a topless picture of myself on Facebook prior to my transition, it would have been removed for the “female” nipples. And yet a topless picture of myself after top surgery would contain the very same nipples, unchanged and untouched, and be allowed to stay.
And it’s not like the flesh around them was the true problem – I could have posted a picture of the whole boobs prior to top surgery or even hormones with nothing censored but the nipple and gotten away with it. Hell, in and around June 2015, there was a whole movement of women posting topless pictures with “male” nipples photoshopped over theirs – there’s not much to be found on how that turned out, and it seems like pictures with more subtle photoshops were removed and pictures with more obvious photoshops allowed to stay, but if I photoshopped my post-surgery, officially “male” nipples over my pre-surgery, officially “female” nipples, it would be the exact same nipple. (Hence the quotes. The only gendered thing about them is the gender of the person they belong to, and that is male and has been since before any kind of transition. I was reminded of the whole story today when my girlfriend sent me a link to this article about an Instagram account which posts close-ups of nipples without a gender label attached – so far, a few pictures have been removed by Instagram’s censorship algorithm, and – surprise, surprise – some of the censored nipples were attached to men.)
And the official designation is a whole different, equally ridiculous story: in Austria, legal gender can be changed without any surgeries.
I could have made myself a Facebook account in perfect alignment with my official name and gender before I ever even started HRT, posted a topless picture of myself, and given Facebook official, legal proof of my maleness. And then leaned back and enjoyed the chaos I’d caused.
I even thought about doing it, or posting a progression picture including pre- and post-surgery pictures at least (with the same set of nipples, naturally), but I don’t actually use my legal name on Facebook, really don’t want to (let alone give them official proof of my identity), and also feel quite uncomfortable with the notion of having topless pictures of myself on social media, let alone seeing them spread around.
Fortunately, other trans people are less inhibited: in September 2015, Courtney Demone started posting topless pictures of herself throughout hormone therapy on Facebook and Instagram, challenging them to decide when her chest (with largely unchanged nipples) was sufficiently female to fall prey to censorship.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what became of her project (occasionally distracted by pictures and videos of her extremely cute dog, which I had to share with you), but most of the content and sites associated with it have been removed (or repurposed) completely, and while she repeatedly mentions plans to write follow-up posts, it hasn’t happened so far. I did find this lengthy interview on YouTube, though – I’ll probably watch it tomorrow (for lack of time today), but according to the description, Facebook and Instagram started censoring her pictures a couple of months into the process – including her “before” pictures. Apparently, her nipples retroactively became female in their eyes. (Wonder how that would work for mine!)
(Also, did you know trans women can breastfeed? I did not!)
Update: she talks about how pictures of trans men are handled from 30:00 onwards, and also about an initiative by women who have had mastectomies – apparently, topless pictures of people with breasts (regardless of their gender) and women (regardless of whether they have breasts) get censored, although the initiative’s account was reinstated after public outrage.
Guess the next step is to get some non-women with ambiguous chests and possibly some cis men with gynecomastia for further exploration/messing with censors!