Fifty Shades of Gender podcast graphic with Ray

Episode 27

A conversation with Ray


31 min. Recorded on 16 December 2020.

Ray’s pronouns are he/him, and he identifies as a binary transgender man, who also happens to be gay. Find out what that means to Ray in this episode.

We also talk about how feminism includes everyone, why some men need reproductive health care, the difference between male and female banter, approaching the gender journey from a neurodivergent perspective, and the distinction between using labels as part of your identity versus part of your journey or experience.

CW: suicide, addiction

Terminology: FTM = Female To Male; MTF = Male To Female; trans-masc = trans-masculine; trans-fem = trans-feminine; SRS surgery = Sex Reassignment Surgery (more appropriately called Gender Confirming Surgery or Gender Affirming Surgery).

“While I am transgender, I don’t necessarily see that word as my identity. I see it as my journey…I’m just a gay man, and my gender is the same as a cis man’s; we just have a different experience.”

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TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]

Esther: Hello and welcome. What’s your name?

Ray: Hello. My name is Ray.

Esther: And how do you identify Ray?

Ray: I identify as a binary transgender man who also happens to be gay.

Esther: And what does that mean to you?

Ray: So for a lot of my life, I actually assumed that, that I was nonbinary. I have a lot of non binary friends and that experiences different from my own.

It took me kind of a while to figure out why I no longer was identifying with that label. And one day it just occurred to me that I felt like I had the same gender as a CIS man. And so I felt like maybe binary was a better term for me. And that was, that was a 10 year long journey. So that’s a quite awhile, but that’s where we’re at today.

Esther: Right. So how did you, I mean, what was that like, figuring out that you were well binary, then non binary, what, what sort of led up to.

Ray: It was kind of difficult being someone born female that was an inclusive feminist. Most of my life, I still held on to some ideas about how, you know, scary, maybe dangerous some men could be.

And I didn’t want to ever be that person or accidentally be that person. And so a lot of it, I think, was me holding onto an ideology that really could have, you know, encompassed me anyway. So I had to learn to be even more inclusive. As a feminist and kind of recognize that, you know, feminism includes trans men, feminism includes CIS men.

It includes trans women, non binary people that includes everyone. And so coming to that thought process really helped me realize I definitely wasn’t, you know, dealing with not dealing with, but I definitely wasn’t identifying as a nonbinary. I was, I was just kind of scared to let my true colors show.

Esther: Wow. What was it like finally embracing that it must have been like, not just the gender journey, but like a personal well personal development journey in itself.

Ray: Yeah. Yeah, it was a, it was interesting. I think that it was, like you said, it was a personal journey and I think it made me a stronger feminist at the end of the day.

But initially I was just holding back because I didn’t want to, you know be something that scared me. If anything, it just helps me be. You know, maybe a better man and a better person to the women and nonbinary people around me. But, you know, as you said, it took a while to get there and it was, it was jarring.

It was very jarring to say, just wake up one day and say, okay, well I’m a binary man. Where do I, where do I take that? How do I become a better ally for the people around me?

Esther: Yeah. Have you always known, like how, how did you experience your, your gender journey when you were younger or have you always known you were.

You know, you didn’t identify with being a woman or a girl, or how was that for you?

Ray: Yeah, I’ve actually known since I was about seven. My mother is a really trans-supportive individual, and I remember she educated me on what being transgender was at a very young age and how you should use people’s pronouns and just general respect.

I never applied it to myself though. I, you know, I was, I was listening to other trans people speak especially on this podcast actually, and someone I’m not sure who it was now, but someone put it really well when they said it’s just this. Feeling you’ve you’ve always had, but you couldn’t really put a name to it.

And so, you know, it took so long to find the words to apply to that feeling. But I’ve had that feeling pretty consistently since about seven. I think it started to really, kind of gain, you know, the idea of maybe being something to do with my gender, not lining up with my body. I think that began to kind of become clear to me around 13 or 14 when I got kind of into the, you know, the fan fiction scene.

And I began to realize, I wasn’t identifying with the authors who wrote straight romance. I was identifying more with authors who wrote gay and bisexual romance and how I just didn’t. I didn’t want to love another boy as, as a girl. And that was something that. Really became a, you know, a tangible, a real sentence that I thought just at 13.

Esther: Hm. I mean, what was the rest of adolescence like?

Ray: It was Rocky. It was difficult. I come from poverty and there is a lot of other things, interplaying mental health, you know, just the, the health of my little brother as he was going through different, you know, troubles and traumas. And so I had a lot of other things going on and I feel like a lot of the time I took that gender identity and I just, I gave it.

You know, whatever label felt like resonated at the time, which at the time was androgen. And I just kind of put it on the back burner because I had other things going on.

Esther: So at what stage did you start identifying with the term nonbinary?

Ray: I think that was about 15 or 16, actually. I took the term nonbinary and switched my label from androgen to agender transmasculine.

And so that was something that I, I was doing. And this was, this was 2009, 2010. So things were not nearly as inclusive, unfortunately. And there was a lot of kickback for me doing that. My mom was concerned, for instance, she wasn’t sure where it was coming from. And so she, she had her own concern. And my family is supportive now, but it took them a really long time to get on board with everything.

Esther: Yeah. It took them some getting used to, I suppose. Yeah. Yeah. Like it’s a journey for you and obviously also for them in a way.

Ray: Yeah, exactly. And I think it was it was definitely hard for all of us, but I think we do, we do just fine now, so that’s good. But yeah, I think it was about 16 when things started to.

I started to mess with those labels and decide maybe where I fit in. I even went back into the closet a number of times from 16 to 21, living as a woman instead just testing everything and making sure that I knew what I wanted.

Esther: So what kind of work do you do and how are people at work? Do they, do they know your, about your identity and your gender journey?

Ray: Yeah, yeah, they do. I am blessed to work at a college in a writing center. And so essentially I’m like a coach or tutor for students who need assistance and it’s, it’s really nice to be able to help my peers. On top of that, I just really, really love the staff there. They’re great people. And I feel like I can trust them with my identity.

I don’t always tell everyone I’m kind of, you know, back and forth on how stealth I would like to be. And so I pick and choose who I tell when it comes to peers that I’m helping or, you know, other people that come into the center, but my coworkers do know, and they are extremely supportive of me.

Esther: Oh, that’s, that’s really great. Yeah. It’s not, not everyone is so fortunate.

Ray: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve worked some places where I’ve had a lot of trouble. There’s been times where I’ve, I’ve worked at places where people will have had to speak to HR because of things they’ve said to me and just, you know, we have rights in Washington state under title nine, but not a lot of people know that.

And so they will push their limits if they don’t necessarily agree with your existence, as it is.

Esther: Hmm. So I was wondering about your transition. If you don’t mind me asking you about that

Ray: for sure.

Esther: At what stage did you decide to change your body to match your identity?

Ray: It’s kind of silly. I am, I’m very into Batman’s Robins. He has a number of them and some of them are women. And I also identify with them, but I got really into DC, kind of as a coping mechanism. And I just attached myself to the Robins. And I guess one day I was looking at a picture of one of the Robins in particular, his name is Tim Drake. And I thought to myself, well, I just, I want to look like that.

And so I tried to cosplay him and unfortunately I had someone comment, “oh, you look nothing like him.” And that just kind of fueled my fire. I thought that I’m going to, so it’s just a silly thing. Yeah. And how, you know, I joke, oh, it’s only because I wanted to look like a Robin, but in reality, I think that I’ve always used fandom and comics and that kind of thing as a coping mechanism.

And so I’ve learned about myself through it. And so, you know, I just decided one day, that’s what I wanted to do. And I ended up, I think I was probably 22. I ended up just going and getting in touch with the doctors locally, actually in my, in my small town, surprisingly, and being able to be on testosterone.

So that was I’m 25. I’ll be 26 in June. And I started in may and I can’t do math, but I think that’s around three or four years of teas. Yeah. Yeah.

Esther: Wow. And how has that affected you being on T?

Ray: It’s made me a lot happier. I, I definitely feel like my body is more my own. I don’t just feel like I’m piloting, you know, this meat suit I’ve been handed that wasn’t working for me.

It’s, it’s more like I wake up every day and I can go to the grocery store and I can talk to people. I’ve dealt with agoraphobia. Most of my life since turning 13, had a lot of trouble leaving the house alone or. At all sometimes. And now I can leave the house and speak to people because I know that I’m not going to be perceived as, as I, as I don’t see myself.

Esther: Hmm. Wow. Yeah. What’s the health care system like? I mean, do you get a lot of support if you want to transition over there?

Ray: So I can’t because of how the US is. I can’t speak for every state, but in Washington, at least while there is a lot of support and there is a lot of laws in place to protect us.

They do fall short when it comes to FTMs or trans masc, non binary people picking markers. Unfortunately we exist in this bubble where we’re going to need health care as a man or as a trans masc, non binary person. And then we’re also going to need health care as someone that was assigned female at birth.

And so, you know, dealing with that is, it can be funny. And sometimes it’s just downright frustrating. When I got my chest surgery, I was billed $60,000, even though it was supposed to be free for me on my insurance. And when I talked to billing I was terrified and billing said, oh no, we just had you listed as the wrong marker.

They fixed it. And then I was not billed so that kind of thing can happen a lot, especially when it comes to. Yeah. And us not being allowed in the military on top of that, it means that. As, and I’m not sure how this works for you know, MTFs or anyone that’s a trans Femi, but for FTMs, at least I do know that when we give our information to the military to show that we are transgender, they will mark us as male on everything.

And then we have to have paperwork ready and we have to have our entire health history ready to be able to go to school or vote that kind of thing. So you essentially. In some ways. I think a lot of us feel pressured to out ourselves, lest we not have the right thing on our licensing and on our birth certificate.

And that will sometimes remove healthcare options, like reproductive rights in certain clinics.

Esther: Wow. That must be so confusing.

Ray: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, it’s confusing. Sometimes it’s a little weird and you can get a kind of a kick out of it if you’ve been dealing with it a long time, but after, you know gosh, like four years of this it’s it’s exhausting.

Esther: So yeah.

So what do you feel should change? What would be really helpful if things got put in place to. It’d be more helpful in that way?

Ray: I think socially it would, it would definitely help if, if people just kept in mind that, you know, as it is, some men do need reproductive healthcare, I wouldn’t say, you know, necessarily isolate us or change your language.

That’s not my choice. And I know that some FTMs and trans masc individuals don’t want the language changed. I just keeping in mind that we exist and that we have, these struggles is important. And it’s definitely important for healthcare providers to keep that in mind as well. I’m already seeing this happen.

And as this happens, it looks like the paperwork is changing and things are getting better for us and we’re having better access. Yeah.

Esther: That’s good. Yeah. Like, as you were going through your gender journey, how did it affect your mental wellbeing?

Ray: It was kind of a toss up. I’d say that my mental wellbeing was affected by the journey.

As much as the journey affected that wellbeing. There was a lot of up and downs. I have survived a suicide attempt and I’m really grateful to be here and be able to speak to you and be able to advocate for, for mental health awareness. I think just the minute that I got doctors that cared and the minute that I got support from my partner and from my friends that really, really helped.

And my mental health just got a lot better. I was able to isolate what might be going on with me, what labels mental health wise, I might need to align with in order to get the kind of care I needed, but that didn’t really happen until I already had support from everyone around me.

Esther: Wow. Yeah.

Ray: I struggled a lot of the time with addiction as well.

And so half of my issue was just learning that when you, at least in my experience, when you numb things with alcohol, you’re still always going to have to deal with them. You’re just putting off when you have to. And that was something that was difficult for me to get through. I think for, you know, for the rest of my life, I’m still going to be learning and struggling through that.

But I’m at a place where I can say I’ve got a better relationship with alcohol and I feel like. It’s not controlling my life as much. And that can be really difficult, especially in this pandemic. We, you know, we have to be really self-aware and yeah, I’m in what was for a while, the third worst town in the United States for the pandemic.

And so we were very locked down and when you’re locked down and there’s nothing to do, you tend to pick up the bottle. Well, you know, where your mind goes. So that’s been something that I’ve been trying to be really aware of because it’s just, it’s not going to help me. And at the end of the day, I think I’d rather feel those feelings than keep pushing them off.

Esther: Yeah. I read the book by Glennon. Doyle is called Untamed and she had a bit of a revelation when someone told her that all feelings are for feeling and I got rescinded as well, like oh yeah. Cause I think we’re so conditioned to. You know, reject negative emotion and just push it away and, or ignore it or deny it, repress it, you know, all that kind of stuff.

It’s just not healthy.

Ray: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not. And sometimes, you know, it, it, it is painful. And I’ve mentioned before to people, you know, as a bipolar type 2 individual, those emotions. They are something I’m never quite sure where I’m at necessarily. So I’ve just recently found out that I have bipolar to begin with.

And so kind of learning my moods and learning my triggers. What might throw me into some sort of, you know, manic episode or what might make me have ups or downs has been difficult enough that I don’t need to be repressing things, you know, on top of it, I’d much rather have the whole map instead of just pieces of it.

Esther: Yeah, totally. So do you have a sense of completion now in your transition, like in, in your identity, would you say?

Ray: Yeah, I honestly, I didn’t think I would. Especially as someone that is a huge advocate for reproductive rights, I thought that, oh, I’m going to need to have, you know, more surgery and I’m going to need to do you know, this or that, like SRS surgery, that kind of thing.

Oh, and I don’t like that reassignment, “confirmation surgery.” There we go. But yeah, I, I thought I would, but after. After I just kind of sat myself down and I’d done the paperwork already to have bottom surgery get started. And after I sat myself down and talked to myself about it for a bit, I realized that that’s something I can do, but I don’t have to.

And I don’t like surgery. And part of me just would rather not deal with it. So, you know, that’s okay. And that doesn’t make me any less valid, you know, I’m, I’m allowed to decide on that whenever. And I still have a lot of time, so I. Redacted I think is the word I took. I took the paperwork out and just told my doctors, I just need some time.

And she said that would, that’s fine. Cause you know, at the end of the day, I think as far as my actual transition goes, that itself feels like it’s, it’s been accomplished. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and I’m living the life I intended to. And the rest is kind of just up for me to decide on my own from, you know, private life and things like that.

Esther: Yeah, absolutely. What’s something you wish. Cis-gender people knew.

Ray: That they don’t have to keep saying, sorry. I’ve met some remarkable, really, really kind CIS people who, when they’ve, mis-gendered me have just, you can tell it just really, really upsets them that they’ve done it. And I, I want to tell them it’s okay.

And saying, sorry, as much as you do, this is a very common issue among my friends. A lot of us are trans and, and non binary, and we hear this a lot and really just, you don’t have to say, sorry, more than once or twice, if you really. I really need to say it a second time. That’s okay. But if you do it too much, you tend to make it about yourself and now we’re comforting you.

And so it’s, you know, it’s one of those things where if you mess up, just apologize and move on. If, if a trans person has been living this life a long time, there’ll be understanding.

Esther: Yeah. I hear that from other people as well, actually like just, you know, say, sorry, thank you. And move on, you know?

Ray: Yeah, because I think half the time I’m feeling just as bad that they mis-gendered me for them as they are for me.

So it’s this kind of cycle of embarrassment of, oh, well, I really don’t want this person to feel bad anymore. We’ve we can wipe our hands of it. We’re good. So, you know, it’s, we’re all human. It gets awkward. It really does. That’s the best way to put it.

Esther: Is there anything you want to add or that you want to say.

In particular that you want people to know?

Ray: Yeah, I I think I might’ve touched on it a little earlier, but essentially while I am transgender, I don’t necessarily see that word as my identity. I see it as my, my journey and the, you know, the traveling I had to take to get to where I’m at, as far as how I identify I’m, I’m kind of, just to me, I’m just like a gay man and my gender is the same as as a CIS man.

So we just have a different experience. And so I know a lot of people take a lot of pride in that transgender identity label, and I think that’s amazing. But there’s also a lot of us who prefer to see it as, you know, a stage in our life and not as our identity marker necessarily. And so I kind of wanted to bring that forward and just suggest that for anyone that’s not aware, some of us actually do prefer not to use that necessarily as, as our identity label.

Esther: Hm. That’s really, really insightful actually. Cause I hadn’t thought of it that way. What can we do to be a good ally or to be better allies besides stop apologizing when we get your pronouns wrong?

Ray: I’d say just research, you know do your own research and don’t be scared to form your own opinions.

Just make sure that those are opinions and are not getting in the way of someone else’s truth and someone else’s ability to identify as they need to. But research form your own opinions have conversations with people. There are a lot of people that are willing to reach out and talk to you about their experience.

You know, listen to this podcast, just educate yourself where you can. You know and of course be aware, not, not all of us are going to want to have that conversation. Some of us have moved on and that’s something we don’t want to talk about, but there’s plenty of people that want to educate that have posted articles that have, you know, written countless pages of information on what it’s like to be trans, you know, what medical science we have behind trans and non-binary identities, that kind of thing.

And it’s just really important to sit down with Google and get really well acquainted with our journey, especially through the eyes of people that are transgender, that are posting things out there, like the, you know, the affirmation article.

Esther: What has surprised you most about transitioning?

Ray: Male dancer actually this is funny, but I just was not prepared for how cis men exist. There’s, there’s a lot of loneliness to it sometimes, but when you learn how to communicate in the way that a, you know, for all intensive purposes, non-toxic cis man, does you find little pockets of things that are affection, that you didn’t realize were affection.

And so male banter is one of those things. I’ve noticed CIS men and, and you know, of course, and trans men and non binary, trans masc people who are used to this tends to banter in like a particular way. One that for my social group, when I was living as a woman, we didn’t do that. And so I know there’s pockets of, of women who do this kind of thing, but I was never in like the gaming community or that kind of thing.

And so I’m learning that when someone is taking out, you know, a punch out of you, they’re doing it lovingly, that was sometimes. Difficult. I, my partner is cis and I would go home and say to him, “can you translate this interaction with me?” And he would say, yes, he likes you. So you’ve made a new friend.

Yeah. And so it’s, it’s fun to, to kind of learn also the head nod thing. Men don’t tend to smile at each other. They tend to head nod and that was always right. What am I, how do I, am I doing it right? Or do I just kind of look like I flinched? So those, those little social cues especially as a neurodivergent person were very difficult to navigate and to learn initially.

And they did shock me.

Esther: So you mentioned, neurodivergence so that there’s, there’s that element as well as your, I guess, your gender journey and coming to terms with everything. Yeah. So I’m sure that has its own challenges. I mean, how do you feel, do you feel like being neurodivergent has maybe been a positive thing in your, you know, gender journey or in any other way in your life?

Not that it’s a negative thing to begin with.

Ray: Yeah, of course. But I think that sometimes we can, you know, perceive it as negative because of how society treats it. I have had my ups and downs with it. And so for instance, I initially went at my transition. When I started my physical transition, I went at my gender logically and that’s not always a good idea.

So trying to figure everything out with math and with science and all these other things at the end of the day, it just, it made me more confused. And so when I just kind of started to say, I am who I am, and I feel how I feel that was when I felt better. On the other side, on the flip side of that, I do feel as though being neurodivergent gives me kind of an out, like a free pass to just say, I’m not going to worry about that social cue.

So that does kind of help me a little bit, but of course, that’s kind of taking a positive approach. And so I have made the joke before too, to one of my bosses, actually. I said, well, I just learned all of the female social cues, and now I’ve got to learn the male ones. What am I going to do? You know, that first, the first set took 10 years and we kind of giggled about it, but yeah.

You know, just keeping in mind that regardless of the social cues and regardless of the labels that we put on each other and that we deal with in this culture, we’re all human. And that’s largely the point of being a feminist. And so I try to be less hard on myself and just say, Hey, maybe I don’t want to learn that social cue or Hey, maybe I don’t want to banter today.

And that’s okay.

Esther: Yeah, it sounds like a lot of self-acceptance came with it.

Ray: I think so. I think so. Yeah. And just kind of learning that I’m not any less of a man. Yeah. Because I decided that I don’t want to play video games or something that’s cliche or stereotypical like that, you know? Cause we’re all we aren’t, we aren’t those boxes.

Esther: I think that’s great. I mean, there’s something that Sam said as well in episode 17, I believe it was about the difference in how men communicate and how women communicate. And I think that included nonverbal communication. So it’s interesting to hear you say that as well.

Ray: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s definitely different.

Like I said, it’s helped, it’s helped immensely to have a CIS male partner that can kind of translate for me, but he’s also neurodivergent and we’re not sure in what way, but he struggles with social cues and anxiety as well. And so sometimes we end the day after spending time. Some of our cis male friends, and both of us are just confused and we just accept it.

So, you know, it, it can, it’s difficult for CIS men that are neurodivergent as well. So it’s, it’s not just me. And that camaraderie definitely makes me feel more sane, you know, less, less, like I’m just gonna lose it, trying to keep track of everything.

Esther: Yeah. Do you find that people who are sort of more neurotypical.

Do you, I mean, do you talk to them about how you experience all that stuff and do they, do they understand?

Ray: I think so. Some of the benefits, and I’m saying that with sarcasm of living in the US is that yeah, unfortunately we do have an extremely high number of individuals that are in neurodivergent and I believe the term is neuro atypical.

So depression, anxiety autism, ADHD, all, all of us tend to be dealing with at least one of those things. So it’s easy to relate to each other, especially if we’re from the same, you know, two or three generations, but. When I have spoken to people who are very, I I’d say neuro-typical compared to me, it can be hard for them to understand why I don’t understand a joke or why, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t know I was supposed to speak there or I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to speak.

And so there are those times, but as far as my friends that I have that are neuro-typical, and I only have a few that identify that way, but they just seem willing to understand, especially since, you know, as I said, In, in America, most of us are, are neurodivergent.

Esther: Hm it’s. It’s kind of like with gender, like who’s really binary, like what is really binary.

It’s very stereotypical. There’s just so

Ray: and it’s just, you know, I guess the only reason I would struggle with that question is that. It’s usually only those that self identify as neuro-typical that I would call that. I think everyone around me, you know, regardless of age or regardless of whether or not they are LGBTQA plus, or, you know, any, any of these things whether they’re a minority or not, these people tend to still deal with something like anxiety, something like some form of.

There’s some form of mental health that they are kind of working through or working with. It’s like gender in that way. I think there’s many shades, many identities that way.

Esther: Is there anything you’d like to say before we wrap up?

Ray: Yeah. Drink water, wear a mask, just be safe out there. And you know, if you’re questioning yourself and you’re not sure who you are yet, you’ll get there one day and maybe one day you won’t be that thing anymore, either. It’s, it’s, it’s a long journey and you never have to feel like any label you choose has to be the one that you, you know, take to the end of your life. You can, you can always reopen that if you need to.

Esther: Beautiful. Thank you so much for talking to me about all this, right?

Ray: Yeah. And thank you for having me. This has been a great, a great conversation and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

About Ray

You can find Ray on Tumblr, where he showcases things he’s interested in and fanfiction he’s written:

What we discussed & useful links

  • Sam (episode 17 of the podcast)

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