I have uttered this mantra countless times since I transitioned from female to male more than twenty years ago. Nothing prepared me for the degree of self-loathing I would feel post transition. Pre-transition disgust seemed understandable. But after the hormones took effect and I obtained my court ordered name change and legally altered all my important documents, I should still hate myself and my body?
Call me surprised, to say the least. Hormones should have provided the salvation I sought. But they didn’t, and I felt like a failure, alone. My body had failed me, again. Happiness could be found in costly surgeries with sometimes poor outcomes. Yes, I would have a something like a penis but I would also have multiple revisions and permanent scarring at the sight where doctors harvested tissue for the graft. The cost made me balk, too.
Even with a phalloplasty I would have felt like a failure and an imposter. My genitalia would have still been wrong. Without too much effort I decided to forego surgery. It wasn’t right for me. Others have made that choice, and I congratulate them heartily for doing what they believe best for their bodies.
Sans phalloplasty I faced an ongoing confrontation with a very wrong body. I wanted to have sex with women, in particular ways, ways that seemed impossible without a penis. Dildos helped. There was always a moment, though, when everything stopped to put on the strap, cinch it up, adjust, re-cinch, that just killed my sexy mood. I became a novice actor in my first audition, sweating under the lights, forgetting my lines, laughed at by people sitting in the darkened seats.
I made a confession, of sorts, of my shame. Nothing direct but my words contained enough detail for my friend, a high-femme, sex worker, to smile at me.
“Are you kidding me? What you have is so sexy. Think about it. You’re a man with a hard-on that never fails. Ever.”
“Love the body you have. Not the one you want.” A life-saving incantation, one I’ve repeated so often I’ve come to believe it. Learning to work with what I have — to see my “loss” as a “win” since I really do have a hard-on that never fails, ever — has been an ongoing gift I give myself, some days a dozen times or more. I must. The alternatives feel too bleak and depressing, always chasing a perfect body, a body existing only in my mind, a dangerous place, best visited with other people.
Through these same people I have found redemption. My lover, of course. She has loved me with a steadfast ardor that still takes my breath away. Friends, too, in their own ways reflect back to me a vision of myself I find attractive and one I can live with everyday. Whether they think about it or not, they love the body I have. So why shouldn’t I?
The work of greater bodily acceptance has gotten easier as I have grown older. At 53, having been on hormones for more than two decades, I can honestly say that, should anything heartbreaking befall my lover, I could, one day, date again. Date with confidence and joie de vivre. But what’s cool now is that I bring this self-acceptance to my love today.
I don’t need to wait to express my self-acceptance. Tomorrow may never come and now seems as a good a time as any to share my sense of self-sexiness. The world needs more of this kind of work to be done. Self-sexiness defies age, race, class, ability and any other junk tossed our way.
The pursuit of greater self-acceptance has taught me that most of us hate our bodies. Why wouldn’t we? Too fat or too thin, too dark or too swarthy, we labor under definitions of beauty — only skin deep and narrowly defined — designed to make us feel like we have no right to live.
Revolutions, I’ve also learned, actually begin in the mirror. I might effect a change of government or social policy through collective action. When I do this work hating my body, sloth and gluttony wait for me at home and in my bed. Envy consumes me. Monsters stare back at me from the mirror.
Love the body I have, not the one I want. No greater work exists.
This piece first appeared at onescene.