WEAR AND TEAR ON THE BODY
The last time I was in the New Inquiry, several years ago, I was being interviewed. I was visibly sick. I was in an abusive “community” that had destroyed my health with regular, sustained emotional abuse and neglect. Sleep-deprived, unable to take care of myself, my body was tearing itself apart.
I have recently been reading a piece titled Hot Allostatic Load, written by a woman named Porpentine. I pore over the document repeatedly, relating new fragments of it to myself each time. Originally, it was shared with me by a trans woman, and now I am continuing the cycle myself.
Hot Allostatic Load is about disposability as a trans woman. It’s about PTSD, abuse, victimization, neglect, ignorance, pain, helplessness, healing, and the difficulty of doing so. It’s about being trash, and knowing it. It’s about people watching you suffer, and choosing to make it worse. I am able to abstract the effects of Porpentine’s experience beyond her specific sources.
I am a sick girl. I am also young. I don’t know if I have a chronic illness, I’ve thought for some time now it’s possible I have IBD, or some similar condition, the symptoms match. I have had no access to healthcare for years, and I have no way to know. I make bloody messes in the toilet from time to time. I pull out handfuls of hair on a daily basis. I’m wrinkly, scarred, and already going gray. For years, my concerns have been completely dismissed by anyone with the power to do anything about them, and exclusively legitimized by those with none.
I get sideways glances when I refuse to eat in public, not knowing what it will do to my insides. I think about being stuck somewhere, boxed into the men’s room looking like a queer, but never quite like a woman. I am afraid to exist and perform the most basic of bodily functions.
I have been broken, and punished for breaking.
The worst thing is not having other survivors to commiserate with. I can think of people who went through similar situations and were defended, re-integrated. Their stories are paraded through feminist spaces, saturated through social media, and every time I’m exposed to them, I feel less safe, not more. This enhances my feelings of dehumanization: “Why was I not worth protecting in the exact same situation? I must not be human like them”.
Men, and male-coded spaces terrify me, and I know that I do not align with them. Asserting that is horrifying. Most of the people who have hurt me were men, and I feel I will always be considered one myself. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, a predator, an impostor, a faggot playing dress-up. These are narratives I have internalized.
Men have hit me, strangled me, degraded me, raped me, manipulated me, used me, and otherwise treated me like a disposable object. I have been encouraged to commit suicide by men for simply existing. Men have assaulted me, and men have passively watched me be assaulted. Women are guilty, to a lesser degree, of many of the same things.
Cisgender women have treated me with more kindness and considerably less violence, on average. I surround myself with women to the best of my ability, because I feel it gives me a position of relative safety. Regardless, many cis women have still interrogated me about my gender, invalidated my dysphoria, and passively watched me be abused. Most of my friends are transfeminine, and I find cis women largely difficult to understand and relate to.
Trans women are some of the most virulent transphobes who exist. Nobody has ever articulated that I am irredeemably masculine in such a way as passing, stealthed trans women. They make a sport of socially isolating and invalidating trans women with less privilege. It is easy to gain privilege by taking it from someone else.
Trans men bother me in a way that I believe to be problematic. I listen to trans men talk about their dysphoria, and I cannot help but believe my forced masculinization to be incomparable to any degree of feminization brought on by female puberty. Testosterone is a one way street. Estrogen is gentle. I see trans men transition and gain privilege, directly upgrade their lives by assimilating into the patriarchy. I went to high school with trans men. They were not attacked to anywhere near the same degree.
The trans woman's transition is exclusively a surrendering of privilege. Unilaterally, it makes your life harder and more painful. I have been asked about my genitals more than I have been asked for my name. I have had my identity inspected and picked apart by people who don't even know Judith Butler. I have had great trouble finding employment. Every time a cis person tells me about a trans person they know, it's a trans man they work alongside, with no issues.
Many of my transfeminine friends are either on or seeking disability.
People crave community so badly that it constitutes a kind of linguistic virus. Everything in this world apparently has a community attached to it, no matter how fragmented or varied the reality is.
The vast majority of people in my life are other trans women. It feels like living in a leper colony. We are untouchable to anyone but one another. Within our own communities, we further victimize and isolate women who are already at the lowest position in society. I've watched communities fracture into pieces as the abusers and stealthmoders sort themselves out from the proud.
Many of us are sick. All of us are mentally ill, with no exceptions. Most of us have been abused. It is not uncommon to check every box. Trans women are almost never privileged enough to be able to offer safety and comfort to their sisters. We suffer alone, together, in a way that cis society contributes to both intentionally and unknowingly.
The relationships trans women have with each other are unique, in the sense that they equally have potential to be especially damaging or especially healing. Trans women have helped me with things in ways a cis person would never be capable of. Trans women have hurt me in ways a cis person would never be capable of. Often, because we are isolated within our own communities (either because of self-segregation, or because we have no other option), we are exposed to both extremes.
Without intimate knowledge of trans history, jargon, and attitudes, there is no way to tell which groups are toxic. It’s easy to join a community of transmedicalists, not knowing any better, and be groomed for hate. I have watched this happen in front of me. We seek familiarity because cis society has treated us so poorly, and this can be fatal. Communities turn into toxic feedback loops, where the most mentally ill people you can imagine feed off of eachother. Eventually, these communities self-destruct in disastrous ways.
In the better communities we share medical advice, because the systems in place have failed us. We teach each other basic skills. We listen and understand in ways nobody else is capable of. We beg for scraps, and we give what we can. Across the board, we speak language so heavily sprinkled with cultured neologisms that our conversations are incomprehensible to outsiders.
The culture I participated in until recently was a very toxic one, and it is a culture completely owned by transfems. We categorize ourselves into groups, “youngshit passoid”, “twinkhon”, “ogremoder”, etc. These terms were invented by trans women, solely to harm trans women. They’re used to motivate repression and inflict suffering. Often, people assign these terms to themselves.
4chan did just as much damage to my head as any abuser ever did.
I was, in effect, beaten until I had brain damage, over a long period of time. Unlike some other survivors of trauma, I was unable to heal because I was never separated from the source of the danger. I was never given the chance to vent, to express myself, to tell my side of the story—but I had to keep working, harder than ever, while being constantly exposed to violence.
I was recently made to beg for safety by someone I feel I should have been able to rely on. There is a certain amount of entitlement in that position, I’m sure. However, the reality is that they understood the threat of violence, and they understand trans suicide rates. There have been four crises in my immediate community very recently. Additionally, a friend of a friend was just murdered by her father, not far from where I live. She was 19.
Nobody seems to care. Especially not the people with the power to actually do anything about it. If I were cis, college-educated, or already established in my career (read: privileged enough to not absolutely need to ask for safety), this wouldn’t even be a question. “Sure, stay with us for a while”, I’m certain. My status as a victim, the fact that I am abused and traumatized, the fact that I am underprivileged, physically and mentally ill, it all makes me more likely to have to beg for safety from people who can easily provide it. Someone who does not have the same dire needs would not be met with anywhere near the same level of scrutiny.
I was called immature. I’m barely an adult. I’ve just for the first time secured gainful employment in a gatekept profession. I was able to break through the glass ceiling due to a mixture of incredible luck and skill. I have taken care of myself to the absolute best of my ability. I have been alone and abused since I was a child. Considering the circumstances of my life, and this outcome, it is an absolute miracle that I am as well-adjusted and mature as I am. Not that I’ll win any awards for that.
This very recently gained employment, my one shot at an escape, has been repeatedly threatened by my abuser. He intentionally triggers me, screams at me, insults me, my work, and my boss. He uses slurs. He makes threats. He takes out his frustration on objects, because he is no longer strong enough to harm me himself. Everyone else involved sees this as acceptable. Again, nobody seems to care. I resort to diazepam and butalbital. I do not want to.
I am disposable. I deserve to be victimized. I should show more respect. I keep a noose in a drawer.
I wake up feeling burnt. Damaged. Corroded. I crawl up from an insane, nauseating, unreal pit and slowly come back to the world. I have constant headaches. By the end of the day my neck and left arm are aching from nervous tics. I forget things rapidly. Triggers leave me exhausted or panicking at inconvenient times, sometimes for days or weeks. My hair fell out in handfuls. I still have a nervous tic of running my hands through my hair to pull out loose strands.
I have been told on numerous occasions by different people that it’s scary to wake me up. I lay awake for hours, sometimes for no reason at all, sometimes for any number of reasons. When I finally collapse from exhaustion, I enter a near comatose state that is impossible to rouse me from. I wake up in a haze, have conversations I don’t remember, and collapse back into my cocoon. I mumble and murmur.
When I finally do genuinely wake, I am met with pain–in my teeth, in my back, in my bowels. This pain is different from a stomach ache. I feel inflammation and pulsating warmth, shooting pains in my lower right abdomen. I stumble to the toilet nearly zombified, and unload vile liquid shit, every morning like clockwork. Eventually, I feel my consciousness starting to return, usually sometime halfway through the day. I feel I am never at more than 40% mental capacity, at most.
In my highest-energy states, I am prone to anxiety and panic attacks. I sometimes curl up in a ball and shake. Somehow, I have hardly cried since I was a teenager. For a long time, I relied on unscheduled Russian sedatives. At times I have used barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and opioids. I will do anything to avoid reliving my trauma, and anything can trigger it. I once lost an entire day, because I was reminded of something when I saw a letter “A” in a shade of purple. I never know when something is going to set me off. My abuser likes to yell, because he knows what it does to me.
I suffer from paranoid delusions. I believe people want to hurt me. I believe cars are filled with people waiting to grab me. I have at times believed people were coming to kill me. I have lived in a state of threat response and threat avoidance since I was a child. I do not believe that I have ever genuinely, consciously felt safety.
As a teenager, I relied extremely heavily on an amphetamine prescription to work through school. If I still had health insurance, I would continue this course. I am not built for capitalism. I am not built to be a productive agent in a society that at best sees me as disposable, and at worst wants me dead. There is no way for me to perform anywhere near where I would like to without pharmaceuticals.
Amphetamine, albuterol, adalimumab, alprazolam, estrogen, lamotrigine, prednisone, and trazodone, are all likely in my future. Many of them are already in my past and present. This is pathetic and thoroughly depressing.
Even if I drink multiple cups of water before bed I wake up with severe dehydration. An interesting side effect of being a trans fem on hormones is that spironolactone (an antiandrogen) is a diuretic, so the dehydrating effects of stress are added to the dehydration of my gender, tipping it over to agonizing extremes, the unspoken tax of pursuing both gender and a career. The amount of water in my body is political.
My first experience with being openly trans in a medical context was negative and invalidating. I believe now that my parents strategized to find a therapist that would invalidate my identity. I later came out to my psychiatrist, after being a patient of his for multiple years. He was surprisingly supportive - I believe him to be an outlier. Shortly after, I lost my health insurance.
Most doctors that provide HRT in the United States strictly adhere to a set of rules called the WPATH guidelines. These guidelines are outdated, and largely written by cisgender people. Generally, these guidelines direct doctors to prescribe an old and undesirable anti-androgen called spironolactone, in combination with a low dose of either transdermal estrogen, or oral estrogen pills. The lived experience of trans women will tell you, this protocol is largely dissatisfying and not maximally effective. There are doctors who know better - but they are not common. In other countries, girls are often subjected to a significant amount of delay and gatekeeping before they are even offered HRT.
I never had the privilege to seek HRT in an official capacity. In the beginning, I used imported gray-market pharmaceutical pills. A year in, I switched to injecting what we affectionately call bathtub estrogen. I now believe that the "Ukrainian Bathtub Special" is drastically preferable to anything a doctor will give me.
DIY HRT gives you access to alternative forms of estrogen with more stable blood concentration curves, alternative anti-androgens, or the option to forgo an anti-androgen altogether. DIY gives you the ability to take progesterone on your own schedule, if you choose to. Doctors tend to watch levels like a hawk, telling trans women they will die if they ever dare to go above menopausal levels of estrogen, but don’t think twice about prescribing considerably more dangerous hormonal birth control to aging cis women who smoke.
None of this is to say DIY HRT is perfectly safe, or that aging cis women who smoke should not have access to birth control. It is to say, we are capable of informing ourselves and making educated decisions about the medicines and procedures we deem essential for our transition.
When I am finally able to return to doctors, I will be visibly transgender. No legal name or gender change, definitely not passing, but visibly feminized beyond the ability to deny it. I fear how this will affect my treatment. I fear how admitting to DIY HRT - out of absolute necessity - will affect my treatment.
I imagine I will be permanently marked as an injection drug user for taking the best alternative to suicide.
One of the most common tools of exclusion is through mobbing, which is rarely talked about because unlike rape, murder, etc, it’s not easy to pin it on a single person (or scapegoat). Mobbing is emotional abuse practiced by a group of people, usually peers, over a period of time, through methods such as gaslighting, rumor-mongering, and ostracism. It’s most documented in workplace or academic environments (i.e. key points of capitalist tension) but is thoroughly institutionalized into feminist, queer, and radical spaces as well.
High school was miserable. I knew I was trans before it even started, and by the time I got there, masculinization had begun. I came out to a small handful of people, which was mostly well received. They were all women. I came out to one man, who immediately told everyone in my small town.
I did not return to a physical high school. I was sexually assaulted, which was not a first or a last, but this time I had an audience. Nobody did anything to stop it. I was pushed into a closet, and told to stay there. I never told my parents, because I was afraid they would make it worse.
Before I left, one of the girls I told painted my nails in the class we had together. She snuck a bow in my hair when I wasn’t looking. This was a very sweet gesture that I thoroughly enjoyed. I believe she was the only one who genuinely saw me the way I wanted to be seen. Every girl I had romances with knew I was trans. I was always coerced into a masculine position.
Every relationship I had prior to the one I am in currently was while I was in high school. I was always expected to be the pursuer - to give gifts on valentine’s, to be the one to initiate, to take an active position compared to my partner’s passive position. I resented this. They knew my name and never used it. What are pronouns? I refused to be assertive.
A large part of my dysphoria has to do with gender roles - it’s reactionary bullshit - but I want to be a girl in every backwards, regressive, misogynistic sense of the word. I was stripped of that as an adolescent, by people who knew.
My first puberty was a nightmare—faced with the opportunity to make my second one a healthy, healing experience, I was instead abused and broken.
I came out to my father during the annual physical I received before each year of school, going into 10th grade. I was talking about a trans woman who I view as a sister. He said something mean about her I can’t remember, and I impulsively told him I was trans. I am glad I did it in a doctor's office. He did not skip a beat before calling me a pig. My mother told me I would never be pretty when I got home. He took my nail polish. Violence at home escalated.
Moving forward, he regularly threatened to shave my head in my sleep. My hair was the only thing I had to like about myself. He would invent reasons I couldn’t be trans, and he tried to gaslight me about it for years. He would say threatening, disgusting things about trans women. He told me I couldn’t be a girl, because I liked girls. I went through his search history once, and I found the term “shemale”. Sometimes I wonder if that started after I came out, or if he hates me because he had been fetishizing trans women for some time before.
With no parental support, and the constant threat of inspection and mail seizure, I had no way to medically transition. I didn’t start until I was 20, and I was only able to because of a string of generous donations from trans women, and a green anarchist who I believe fell in love with me. He was too old for me and a man. I was already in love with a woman my age. I think he knew this. He stopped talking to me after he bought me hormones.
Later, after the damage had been done, my mother began to feign support. I explained to her binary and nonbinary trans identities. I explained to her I consider myself a woman, and a lesbian, with no qualifications. She insisted I was nonbinary, because she will never be able to see me as a woman. She insisted on doing things I told her made me uncomfortable. She would guilt me and make my transition about her.
My mother gifted me makeup and pressured me to use it, knowing how shameful I found the process. I missed out on an early period of female socialization, where it is expected that you will experiment, and suck, with makeup. I now feel like a child as an adult, and it causes the most crushing existential dysphoria. I can’t help but think about the things I missed out on. The social experiences I never had. The skills I never learned. She still misgenders me. She still deadnames me.
The best thing I can say about my father is that he never molested me. The best thing I can say about my mother is that she fed me benzos.
I walked along the beach of the island and saw for the first time how PTSD had numbed and corroded every perception I’d had since that August, this debilitating disease. I finally felt the brightness of the air in my lungs, the color of the sand and the waves. It was so beautiful. I just wanted to experience all the things that had been stolen from me.
I finally found work, and I live in fear of losing it, but it seems to be going mostly well. If this continues, I will be completely free from everyone hurting me in the next couple months. My healthcare kicks in soon. I will be able to see doctors and find a therapist again. I will resume medication. I will get better, or die trying.
I have removed myself from toxic communities, and cut out the people I’m able to where I am now. I’m still being abused, but I know it is coming to an end, and I am starting to heal. For two decades I have been held captive and denied everything I needed. I cannot wait to disappear.
I will go full time. I will get laser and electrolysis. I might get an orchiectomy. I am going fucking goth. I’m going to see a speech pathologist. I will lock myself in the bathroom and learn how to do makeup.
I have a wonderful partner, a cis woman, who I plan to marry in the next few years. We have plans to get an apartment together. We’re going to learn how to drive. We want cats.
I will be free. I will be happy. I will be a girl.
When it was really bad, I wrote: “Build the shittiest thing possible. Build out of trash because all I have is trash. Trash materials, trash bodies, trash brain syndrome. Build in the gaps between storms of chronic pain. Build inside the storms. Move a single inch and call it a victory. Mold my sexuality toward immobility. Lie here leaking water from my eyes like a statue covered in melting frost. Zero affect. Build like moss grows. Build like crystals harden. Give up. Make your art the merest displacement of molecules at your slightest quiver. Don’t build in spite of the body and fail on their terms, build with the body. Immaculate is boring and impossible. Health based aesthetic.”
I like to call myself roachfuck, it’s one of the many names I use. I am impossible to kill and obscene. I live in the dark. I am trash. I live among trash. I compulsively groom myself. I am disgusting and detestable. I survive on the scraps left by the people around me. There have been many failed attempts to exterminate me. I have been called a burden, a pest, a parasite.
You can't kill me.