Your Name:

Your Email:

Friend's Name:

Friend's Email:

Creative Commons License
Powered by Movable Type




Elliot Long

By Elliot Long
Elliot Long is a radical queer vegan who hails from the outskirts of Wichita, KS. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Ohio University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from the University of Southern Maine. In addition to radical politics, Elliot is passionate about biking, public transportation, educating himself and others, and delicious vegan food.
This text will be replaced by the flash music player.

For years, assimilating myself into a binary gender category had been out of the question. I had been living in a gender ambiguous state to some degree since my freshman year of high school when I cut my hair boyishly short. While working as a cashier at a retail store, customers would make rude remarks and small children would constantly ask if I was a girl or a boy. When I started college, professors of my classes would stumble awkwardly as they tried to figure out how best to refer to me. The inevitable searches at airports would always lead to confusion of who should search me – the male security guard or the female security guard? And, of course, people would stop me in the bathroom to tell me I was in the wrong one (or at least double check the door for themselves to make sure they hadn't made the mistake). At first, this questioning of my gender from others confused me. I wasn't trying to look gender ambiguous; I just happened to like having short hair and wearing comfortable clothes. As it started to happen more often, I started to find it incredibly amusing. Eventually, their confusion began to resonate with me. I felt more comfortable when people couldn't determine my gender or when they thought I was male. Every time that I was read as not-female in someone's head, I saw it as a personal victory. I started trying to look even more masculine. I started binding my chest as flat as possible when I was a junior in college, and I began passing more often as a boy. A few months later, I started going by the name Elliot and asked people to use masculine pronouns when referring to me.

My main motivation in transitioning, though, was not about how other people perceived me or a desire to fit myself into a stereotypical binary male gender role; my goal was to become more comfortable with my perception of myself and to more closely align that with my physical body and presentation. While I knew the limits of physical transition, I was not determined to push myself “all the way” with surgeries and hormones. I knew that I was uncomfortable with my current self, and I wanted to explore the options of masculinizing my body. However, the medical establishment is not set up for experimenting with hormones and surgeries. In order to begin physically altering my body, I had to contend with the medical industry and the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care – the list of standard practices in the United States for working with transgender patients.

In order to get a prescription for testosterone, first I needed a psychologist's letter stating that I had been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), that I had been in therapy for at least three months, that I knew and understood the consequences of starting hormone treatment, and that I had no other mental illnesses that might be causing my “gender dysphoria.” In order to get that letter, I stretched truths. I began going to my university's therapist when transitioning seemed like nothing but a vague possibility, just so I could start the three-month clock for the therapy requirement.  While I was not entirely sure about whether or not I wanted chest surgery, I babbled on and on about how much I hated my body. I also had to submit to psychological testing to establish that I had no additional mental illnesses (as, clearly, I already had one in their minds).  In short, assimilation into the role of a transsexual man was required before I could take control over physically altering my body.

Even within the FTM community itself, there is an underlying pressure in transitioning: in order to really be transgender, a person has to change their name, dress a particular way in order to maximize the ability to pass, begin hormone therapy, then, finally, have chest reconstruction surgery. Genital surgery, because of the extremely high cost and poor results, is typically seen as optional rather than mandatory. I was sure that I wanted to change my name, but I felt uncertain about hormones and surgery. However, in order to prove myself, I felt that I should want these things, too.

While I was making up half-truths about my identity and my relation to my physical body, I was only thinking about my personal transition goals and not considering the wider implications of my actions. I said what I thought I needed to say in order to get that letter for testosterone. I was not considering how my actions were affecting my doctor's perception of all transgender people, especially the trans students who would be following me into that office in future years. The political implications of my actions didn't even enter into my realm of thought. When no one tells the truth and only feeds the medical industry what they want to hear, it's no wonder that doctors hesitate to offer services to someone who tells a different story for fear that they are not “trans enough”!

These choices about what to disclose to doctors have real consequences. When Lou Sullivan requested a phalloplasty in 1980 at the Gender Dysphoria Program in Palo Alto, he was denied on the basis of his sexual attraction to men. He could have easily lied about his sexual orientation by claiming to be a heterosexual man in order to be approved for surgery, but he chose not to as a political statement.  In explaining himself, he stated:

When I applied to your program, I knew I had an 80% chance of being rejected, but felt it was important to add my special circumstances to your list of statistics. . . . It is unfortunate that your program cannot see the merit of each individual, regardless of their sexual orientation. The general human population is made up of many sexual persuasions – it is incredible that your Program requires all transsexuals to be of one fabric. I had even considered lying to you about my sexual preference of men, as I knew it would surely keep me out of your Program, but I felt it important to be straightforward, possibly paving the way for other female-to-male with homosexual orientations – and we do exist. (Stryker 68)

Sullivan knew that telling the truth would prevent him from getting the surgery that he desired, but he did so as a conscious political decision. In doing so, he helped make it easier for queer FTMs in the future to be out about their sexual orientations. He helped broaden the definition of what it meant to be FTM beyond a strict set of criteria that everyone has to meet... (continue reading)

Navigate:  << Previous Page |  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  | Next Page >>


rei said:

Thank you sincerely for writing this Elliot. There needs to be more voices, louder voices, describing the lived experiences of gender diversity. I identify as genderqueer (hey that comes up as a typo!) but struggled with my own identity politics for years before finding a community who understood and embraced the importance of screwing with the gender binary. Before I met these people I didn't have the words to articulate who or what I was, I really just didn't know.

Because I think education and choice and just plain old exposure to new ideas are so important I'm working on developing a drama based sex ed program for youth centred around roleplay and improv and drag and all kinds of fun stuff to create a platform to discuss sex and bodies and relationships, and of course, gender. Your essay gave me a new injection of energy towards that end and I will borrow your reference list for some more of the same!

Again, thank you.

Posted at: October 30, 2008 8:58 AM

genderkid said:

Thanks for making me rethink transition. When I first read this, I wasn't sure about altering my body; I was afraid I'd become totally "male", something I didn't want to be.

You --and the other FTMs in this anthology-- succeeded in showing all the shades of color within the category "man".

Posted at: December 3, 2008 8:34 AM

Felix Garnet said:

Thank you so much, Elliot, for taking the time and trouble to write this. Your experience resonates with my own and I'm pleased to read some of my own ideas so clearly expressed! The very best in your journey, Felix. :-)

Posted at: February 6, 2009 9:53 PM

Sara said:

Hey I'm a male to female, I can't say I identify as a transsexual or anything, but it's certainly -part- of my identity. I confuse people as it is being a trans 'lesbian' in a relationship with a transwoman who has opted out of transitioning. I find that while I eventually want MtF surgery, I'm exploring my sexuality, I'm burdened with the stigma of being a "shemale" or some kind of sex object, and I find it hinders me in my own exploration of myself. I have, due to my preoperative state, a unique sexuality, that I, for the moment would like to embrace. Sometimes I feel like embracing that sexuality, leads me into becoming closer to the stereotype associated with transgendered women. Anyways I hope my comment is not too vulgar, I stumbled across this page by chance, and it helped me clarify my own thoughts.

Posted at: February 27, 2009 7:08 AM

Paige said:

Just LOVE this. I've been on T and transitioning to 'I know not where' for some months. This is exactly what I've been searching for in terms of peer support for really stepping outside of the binary. Thank you. Thank you. I feel as though I'm not alone in this decision to transition into myself, rather than some concept of myself.

Posted at: April 4, 2009 6:48 AM

Mr. Understanding said:

You're an excellent writer, Elliot.

I'm a gay man (funny how we all feel the need to identify ourselves when commenting on writings about identity) and I admit I have a difficult time understanding well transgender issues. Part of this comes from my difficulty with labels in general; the other from a genuine ignorance of the emotional and intellectual mechanics involved. While I was often taken for being a girl (until I was about 14), I didn't embrace the mix up as you eventually did. I think it drove me into a place where I don't like to think of people in terms of sex or gender. I use neutral pronouns as often as possible -- I often say "person" instead of man or woman -- and it puts me kind of at odds with the idea of working so hard to embrace a gender identity. I suppose I simply wish they weren't there to begin with. :)

But thanks for bringing me at least a little closer to understanding.

Posted at: April 14, 2009 10:11 PM

Anonymous said:

Who were your childhood heroes, Elliot--more women or more men?

I am desperately searching for answers, myself. But there's an answer I want more than any other. I want to be a man, and I can't articulate why (which is weird, 'cause I'm a wordy guy) but so much in my past, in my family and friends, even in my own is blocking me. But the more they block me the more desperately I want it. I wish some sci-fi machine existed that would transform you body and brain. Because some important part of me is male, maybe the central part, yet I know I don't fit the benjamin standards. I watched Sailor Moon after G-force and Birdman went off the air. But Somehow I just want to be truly, wholly a man. I always wanted to be the male hero. I have a lot of issues with how soft and round my body is. BTW, anyone know how to convince a therapist to give you testosterone?

Mom doesn't want to go there. She wants her daughter back, she treats me like an invading do I convince her that I suppressed half my person to be her little girl?

Sorry, needed to vent. I feel so angry at being feminized. I've learned to cry far too much.

Posted at: July 14, 2009 10:47 PM