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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.
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Even now, 27 years later, assimilating into a narrow view of what “transgender” means is still an issue. In the essay “Mutilating Gender,” Dean Spade chronicles his attempts at getting a psychologist's letter to allow him to have chest reconstruction surgery. Once again, he could have easily lied about wanting hormones, wanting to live as a normatively gendered man, but he made a political choice not to do so. Spade writes:

The counselor at the L.A. Free Clinic decided I wasn't transsexual during the first (and only) session. When I told him what I wanted, and how I was starting counseling because I was trying to get some letters that I could give to a surgeon so that they would alter my chest, he said, “You should just go get breast reduction.” . . . To this counselor, my failure to conform to the transsexuality he was expecting required my immediate expulsion from that world of meaning at any cost. My desire couldn't be for SRS [Sex Reassignment Surgery] because I wasn't a transsexual, so it must be for cosmetic surgery, something normal  people get (324-325).

Spade goes on to discuss conversations he had with other FTMs regarding his counseling experiences. Through his conversations, he found that many could relate to his story and his identity. However, all he received from these people were more ways of lying and ways of getting around the system, which he politically refused to do. In assimilating myself into a standard “transsexual male” role, I was perpetuating this erasure of genderqueer people who wish to alter our bodies. I was feeding into the same narrow definition of FTM that I detest. Through this erasure, I was doing violence to my own body and, even more so, my identity.

Despite my later moral qualms regarding my strategies, I did get my letter diagnosing me with GID (Gender Identity Disorder) and qualifying me for hormone treatment. Over the summer of 2005, I injected my first shot of testosterone with the intentions of only taking it a shot at a time. If I was unhappy with what was happening to my body, I would quit that instant and never do another shot again. I started at a half dose in an attempt to slow down the physical changes, and I gradually increased the dosage over the following year. I began to feel present in my body in a way that I had never felt before. Like many other transmasculine people, I became fascinated with the changes and became aware of my appearance in a way that I had never experienced. After ignoring my body for so long, I was fascinated to watch my body fat distribution shift, my muscles strengthen, my shoulders grow broader, my stomach grow a “happy trail.” My voice began to drop noticeably within months, quickly shifting the perception of me from a pre-adolescent boy to at least the teenage range. My facial shape began to shift, and facial hair slowly began to grow in. My first adolescence had left me feeling betrayed, but everything this time around was new and fascinating. Through testosterone injections, I found a way to claim ownership of my body.

After moving to a new city last year, I had to find a new doctor to prescribe me testosterone. I was asked many of the same questions that I had been asked by my therapist when I was first trying to get a GID diagnosis. This time, however, I didn't feel as inclined to lie. Perhaps it was because I was confident that, since I had already been on testosterone for the past two years, there would be no reason for her to withhold it from me now. However, when I answered that I hadn't really begun questioning my gender until I was 20 years old, my doctor seemed shocked.

“You mean you haven't always felt like you were a boy?” she asked.

“No,” I answered honestly.

She asked several more pointed questions and was obviously uncomfortable with my answers. In the end, she reluctantly wrote me a prescription for one more vial. If I hadn't already been on testosterone for so long, I don't know if she would have given me the prescription. Through our dialogue, though, I can only hope that her idea of what it means to be transgender was called into question.

It is only by telling the truth and telling our stories that the medical industry will come to see that all trans people cannot be fit into a one-size-fits-all mold. People like Lou Sullivan and Dean Spade sacrificing their own desires as a political statement helped pave the way for others to not have to conform to a very narrow definition of FTM. Though I have already done damage with my past actions by lying to the medical industry, I still control how I portray myself to the medical industry in the present and future. Rather than doing what I need for personal gain, I am beginning to consider the wider implications of my actions for both myself and others.


Assimilation into manhood

The pressure to assimilate myself into the role of a “transsexual man” is hardly comparable to the larger pressure to assimilate into the role of a normatively gendered man. As a transmasculine individual, I am supposed to want nothing more than the ability to pass as a man and hide my entire female past. In his essay “Look! No, Don't!” Jamison Green observes:

We are not supposed to want attention as transsexuals; we are supposed to want to fit in as 'normal' men. We are supposed to pretend we never spent 15, 20, 30, 40 or more years in female bodies, pretend that the vestigial female parts some of us never lose were never there. In short, in order to be a good – or successful – transsexual person, one is not supposed to be a transsexual person at all (120).

In other words, if I was really transsexual, then I would do everything I could to pass as a man and erase or rewrite my entire past prior to starting to transition. And, as Green points out, the ideal situation is the unattainable: to have never been transsexual in the first place. I played the role of a transsexual man in order to gain medical access, and now I have reached a point where I can pass as a non-transsexual man. However, I find myself recoiling from fully doing so for several reasons... (continue reading)

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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