by Joshua Bastian Cole

On my left arm, in outline, stands a lion rampant. I didn’t get this tattoo on my 26th birthday just because it’s cool (which it is). I got it to serve as my protector against all the crap life was throwing at me. For years, I’d been hoping, waiting, and actually looking for a partner, the perfect one, who would do that job. The lion isn’t my loss of hope, nor is it a temporary replacement, a filler until Mr Right shows up. He is more like my own inner lion, my internal protector drawn on the outside. He is there because I realised I’ll be just fine, that I can do all right by myself.

The truth is, though, that I wasn’t really fine. No, I wasn’t fine at all. I was unhappy with a lot of things in my life, particularly my job at the time, and all I had for support was a cartoon lion. So I had some crap to work through, which I did alone, again, just like every other major event of my life (including and especially my transition.)

This crap-working-through period lasted about four months and included going through three boys (one of whom was, unfortunately, my best friend), and a near-death experience related to alcohol poisoning at Camp Trans (and that is an entirely different story in itself.)

Upon my return from Camp Trans, I succumbed to the need for medicinal treatment for what many months previously had been diagnosed as depression and anxiety. Nobody told me that starting meds can, at first, make you worse or even create new symptoms. Weeks into the process, I read on the side of the bottle, something like:
Please consult doctor if you experience increased depression, suicidal thoughts, sadness, or fear.

Because I didn’t understand my drastic change of temperament was directly caused by the medicine’s affects on my brain chemistry, I scared off the third boy of the summer.

At the same time as starting meds, I also switched back to testosterone injections from the gel, upping the dose to 200mg every two weeks. I had never been on such a high dose in all my five years on T. That turned out to be too much, so we dropped my dose from 200 to 150.

Of course, by throwing hormones into the mix of new meds, my moods were a total mess! We changed my meds from Klonopin and Wellbutrin to Lexapro and Wellbutrin. During this chaos, I moved, all by myself, one town over. I also lost my full-time job (due to my inconstant and volatile moods), and thus my health insurance.

On top of all this (yes, there’s more,) my finances were just plain ridiculous, and that was the case before losing my full-time job. I went to a bankruptcy lawyer, and he told me to do nothing. This didn’t sound entirely credible, but it turned out to be true. I didn’t have the money to file bankruptcy, nd because I made so little money, nothing at all could really happen to me (other than my credit being utterly destroyed). I am “judgement proof.” They can’t get me. So, without an actual need to pay creditors, I became essentially stress-free and perfectly content in my part-time job (well ... as content as one can be in retail during the holidays.)

There was so much to deal with, and the Lexapro basically killed my libido (we have since halved the dose, by the way,) so I rarely thought about boys or the concept of finding a partner. I was focused on other things like reading the books I’ve always intended to read, writing more, and trying to do more performance.

A little over a year ago, an ex (who wasn’t an ex at the time,) asked me to describe my perfect partner.  He asked me off-handedly, and didn’t expect my lengthy response.  This was my description:

He is FTM ... transitioned. He’s into gay culture and metrosexuality. He lives out as trans but passes. He is comfortable with his body and isn't stone. A switch. We could fuck like men but own our trans IDs and bodies and acknowledge them but believe them to be male in fantasy. He’s non-Christian ... strong ... or has a strength of presence; I just need to feel safe, as though he can protect me from something, not necessarily a physical threat but ... when in his arms I'd feel like nothing could hurt me ... he's a barrier to all bad things ... he's ... skinny, but not too skinny so that I'd compare myself to him all the time ... someone who understands body image issues because he lived them but doesn't have an eating disorder currently. No addictions, drug-free, feminist. He has to like art and theatre, so he can go to plays with me and be able to talk about them with me without getting frustrated. Um ... just someone who ... I am comfortable with because I have so many insecurities. He’ll make me feel beautiful, and he'll make me cum every time, and it's okay for us to go eat candy and ice cream together sometimes and I won't feel like I'm being a pig. He'd tell me, a lot, that I'm beautiful ... he'd think about me, and do things that he knows I'd like, because he wouldn't have to ask me what I'd like. I think I'm saying too much ... but this is the perfect man.

Needless to say, the ex didn’t fit many of those requirements. These were a bunch of things I never really expected any real person I’d meet to actually be because they were more like a combination of all the best things I could like about someone. My perfect partner would be all of them. And I’m sure I could have thought of more, but it was just an off-the-cuff conversation and I was spouting out thoughts.

I’ve encountered a communication problem when dating transmen. I suppose it’s like the old “do these pants make my butt look big” question straight men have notoriously endured. Some guys will just say yes. On several occasions, when my feelings have been hurt by a partner’s will to tell the truth, I’ve been told I’m too sensitive.  I have told these people that they can, perhaps, rephrase things, so that it doesn’t come out so harshly. The response, more than once, has been, “That’s just how I am.” I’m expected to have thicker skin.

I find that unacceptable.

I don’t see how bluntness is a desired masculine trait, nor do I understand why sensitivity is considered unmanly. I am not effeminate or queeny. I am a very masculine person, and I am a femme. If you pick a fight with me, I won’t punch you in the face (the way some transmen might choose.) I will cry and feel sad that a disagreement is occurring.

I find it unnecessary to “suck it up” when my feelings are hurt. I don’t believe guys would talk to femme women the way they may talk to me. That is my femme experience as a man.

I’m expected to be “more of a man,” whatever that means. But why should that be expected of me? In some ways, because I am female-to-male, I feel pressured (from within the FTM community), to be almost a caricature of a man and to exaggerate iconic traditionally masculine behaviours. At first, many (including myself) do this in order to pass, but after passing becomes effortless, the attitude of machismo can still be expected. For some, it is a result of overcompensation – that even after medical transition, some still feel an inadequacy compared to assigned males. As a transsexual, this is something I can completely associate with.  But to many, any appearance of femininity, in any perceived way, can be considered a clue, the exposed skin amongst the dragon scales. It’s like a mistake or suddenly falling out of character. Some transmen left aspects of their women selves behind to become men, but I took these things with me. Those transmen that harass me for this don’t realise that you are actually allowed to hold onto things if you want to. I shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed. I’m not ashamed, but some try to tell me I should be.

But then again, I strive to be an entirely different kind of man – a sophisticated man who moves and speaks with elegance and grace, all in a masculine sphere. Perhaps the brutish dialogue is acceptable and even expected amongst the sub-culture of transmen who use that language. But there are other sub-cultures, such as the femme transmen, who sometimes go unnoticed.

We are a small world, but as in any form of communication, there are dialects We don’t all speak the same language. And that has nothing to do with masculinity.

This is an essay about hurt feelings, and in such an essay, there is no better subject to support the topic than boyfriends. I suppose my relationship with Erik has been that clichéd whirlwind. It has moved exceptionally fast, but I haven’t been worried because everything clicked so immediately that I never felt that I had to worry about getting hurt. Now, believe me, I tried to move slowly. I’ve had a fuck-on-the-first-date reputation for years that I’m trying to get rid of, and I worried that my work as a model in the erotica and porn industries would make anyone I date to expect me to be a certain type of person. At the dangerous end of 26, I’m ready for more than just fucking. What I stumbled upon was certainly more than that, and everything felt right for the first time in, well, ever, I guess.

I always thought it was just a saying (and a load of bollocks at that), the whole thing about “just when you stop looking, someone comes along.” Maybe anybody else in the world could have seen this as being a good time for Erik to show up, but not me. I thought I’d have a lot more time reading books and watching the goats I jog past near my house.

I was stout-heartedly determined to go slow with Erik because I could tell immediately that this was going to be good. He knew I did porn, and I wanted him to want to actually date me and not just for sex.

I did well, at first.

In one of our first conversations, Erik mentioned that he is a Cancer/Leo cusp, meaning he’s a caring protector. My lion. He also mentioned that when he’s seeing someone, he is only with that person. He puts a lot of energy into relationships, and he told me he was willing to put that energy into a relationship with me.

So ... I think I made it to the second date. Everything was just right, and he was right, and there were fireworks and all that. He initiated, and I don’t regret it.

The communication difference has arisen between us. It is just a difference that I, as a femme, sometimes have with some non-femme transguys. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty damn masculine. I even mind-blowingly pass as straight fairly often. But Erik is one of those guys that has always known he was a boy since the time he could form comprehensive thought. There is also a strong likelihood that he is actually intersex, and would be, in that case, physiologically, on the chromosomal level, male. Erik is just a guy, a dude, a gay dude, but a dude. In queer spaces, I can sometimes be recognised as a femme. I’m a guy, too, like Erik, but I’m very metro and I guess, let me come up with a good word for this ... how about light ... soft maybe. That does not mean weak. There’s just something quieter about me, understated. He’s a lion after all. Lions like to roar. He doesn’t like silence. Erik is a musician, and he’ll fill all silence with humming or tapping. I, on the other hand (along with my theatre degree), can say a lot non-verbally, but I also don’t mind just not saying anything sometimes. I observe.

Erik, alpha lion that he can be, has a brusque, blunt manner of speaking. It comes naturally to him. When I have encountered other transmen with this behaviour, this frankness, they have considered it being down-to-earth, being “real;” I consider it plain tactlessness. There is a difference between being honest and being rude. Somewhere along the line, this manner of communication has been affiliated with masculinity. To my dismay and embarrassment as another transman, some guys unflatteringly take it on out of insecurity. I’m not saying Erik has done this. Erik is a white American blonde-headed dude, and American dudes (unfortunately for all men) can talk like this.

The situation remains unresolved. Either I am too sensitive or I expect more from men. Does the job of being well-spoken rely on femmes?

All images and content copyright © Joshua Bastian Cole 2007. All Rights Reserved.