I ugly cried watching Veneno. Ug. Ly. Cried. Also laughed my guts out. Hissed — hisssssed!!! at Cristina’s mother and family and all the other cis cunts who fucked with her and straight up I would cut without a second thought.
When Pose came out, that was the first time since Paris is Burning I’d seen myself in some recognisable way, and known it was us in front and behind the camera. It was America though and similar worlds, yeah, but very different ones too.
Veneno though … this was real. Truth. Painful, angry, joyful, hilarious, terrifying, spiteful, sad, beautiful truth. I love seeing us on screen. Old us who did it hard, survived, loud and foul-mouthed and cackling. Young us who have so many more possibilities for lives without harshness and exile, yet still know those all the same. If we are trans, if we are trans femmes, trans women — transsexuals, transvestites, the old words you don’t use anymore and we grew up with — this is our life. This is our world.
One year ago, June 13th 2019, I went into an operating theatre in Marbella, Spain and came out half a day later. Or so. I still think I’m missing a few additional hours there. As I write this, one year ago I was there. This is the photo I took after having my face peeled off. A facial peel (thanks, Onyx for that accurate and true description. I laughed.). Tubes all over the place, and no idea how the getting through of those hours and following days in Spain and then back in Berlin in a heatwave would become months and now a year.
And it was a year before, also. A year of smashing 60–70 hour weeks, moving house in that, keeping up with training, just not thinking about it all, hardcore endurance and eyes on the finish line. Finish lines. Fourth attempt at making that cash. Going at it so hard this time ’cos I knew I could do it if I used all of myself up. Making that final 2,000€ payment which coincided with getting fired, not really caring ’cos I’d stacked up 22,000€ in 2/3 of a year and got to not give a shit about worrying how I’d make cash those next three months up to the flight to Spain. Just keeping eyes on being there on June 13th. Making that flight. Sitting in my hospital room playing the game of telling myself seriously, “You can always stop here. You don’t have to do this.” Me laughing, nah fuck nah, fucking bring the anaesthetic. I am fearless in these moments.
Hair grew back. Hair fell out. Hair grew back. Feeling came back. Swelling went down. Scar settled down. Face looked like me. Looked like who I’d have been if I hadn’t had to go the long, hard way ’round. Scar is still a bit lumpy and indented. Scalp and forehead still get tight every few days and need plenty of massaging. Hair is still growing back, me and my slow, delicate curly hair, all grey now ’cos I haven’t dyed it for a year. Most of the second half of last year just recovering from the previous year, trying to align myself. Most of this year dealing with the poverty of having that very necessary, non-optional pause. Wrote most of a novel in those months.
It was Ramadan that led to the job where I worked out almost immediately I could smash this fucker finally. It was Ramadan that finished a week before I flew to Spain. It was Ramadan that almost marks one year out, three weeks earlier now, sliding those couple of weeks away from the date. Still, it always felt to me like all this moved around that month of fasting, “It’s a big offering you’re making,” said Onyx. Not expecting anything in return for it, but still.
There are two questions we ask ourselves which come with being trans; both of them come from an immediately preceding question: “So what are you gonna do about it?” The first one is, “Hormones. Yes?” We might reply, “Nah,” or not be able to or allowed to reply, “Fuck yes!” but once we understand our selfhoods being framed in the context of ‘trans’ that’s our first question and answer and waypoint. The second is, “Surgery?” Being trans, living trans, especially in the last thirty years or so means having realistic conversations with ourselves and others about having major surgery. Surgeries. It’s part of the deal. We might never be able to afford it or be able to undergo such intensely physically demanding processes or even want it, but once we’re aware of who we are and what possibilities exist, we always come to this question. For cis people, normal life experience makes major surgery only something scary and grave, meaning illness or injury, or maybe ‘cosmetic’, ‘elective’, superficial and frivolous and spoken about in the way even cishet women depreciate femininity. For us, we have a very different relationship with the process. Scary, yeah, expensive and fucking huge commitment of time and energy and self before and after, yeah, but every time I’ve woken up from surgery for this, I’ve been smiling.
Life-changing and No Regerts.
There’s a heap of sadness and joy bound into all this. Sadness at how growing up I never had the family support to have had an easier time of it. And still don’t, and just accept it as something permanently missing. Sadness that even now I’m always dialled up ’cos cis people — especially white cis women — refuse to do the work, refuse to care and it’s like being back in the ’80s and ’90s with all that radical feminist and lesbian separatist absolute hate of us, wanting to literally erase us from the world entirely. Sadness every time I see a sister murdered, and far, far too often she’s Black and far, far too often her death is a literal execution, an erasing from existence.
Joy. ’Cos we are so fucking beautiful and we live in a universe cis people can’t even imagine. We are so close to gods and goddesses and deities and spirits, we walk hand-in-hand with them, with the land and water and sky of this Earth and always have and always will. I love all my sisters and brothers and siblings and niblings and aunties and uncles and elders and Muthas — especially Muthas, who saw me when I was a young, very fucked up child and who burn brighter in my life the older I get. And especially those who needed to do hormones and have surgery to live their truth. This is the hardest path, the most dangerous one, we all lost so much to go this way. Even the rare ones who had the love and support of their parents and family who put their selves and bodies and lives between the world and their children and fought. Even those ones lost so much.
Crossdresser, transvestite, transsexual, transgender, trans with or without the * or -, trans woman, trans feminine, tranny, t-girl, shemale, chick with a dick, sex change, shim, heshe, it. Not even a word, just laughter and “It’s a man!” and a fist in the mouth. Homelessness, poverty, fucked mental health. I’ve paid to survive this long, far more than that 22,000€ I’m a year out from and what it gave me.
Donate & protect Indigenous and Black trans femme futures ✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿
Cis people, queer or straight, I expect this of you: Do the work. Educate yourselves. Donate. Find community-based organisations in your city and country who explicitly, primarily support Black and Indigenous and Brown and Migrant trans femmes and commit to protecting our futures.
And if you think by my highlighting of trans femmes and trans women I’m forgetting about, ignoring, making invisible, erasing trans mascs and trans men, non-binary people and anyone else not totally cis? You’re not paying attention. And if you think as a cis person, queer or straight, this doesn’t affect you? Again, you’re not paying attention.
I thought it was nine, and if I’m forgetting where I’m up to, obviously I’m well into recovery. I’ve been like a nana driving along in first wondering why I can’t go faster and it’s not because I don’t know how to drive, it’s because it’s a fucking automatic and it’s stuck in Limp Mode (that’s a thing, yes it is). Which I try to accept, but fuck me it’s trying. Some days are good — some hours are good, and then I go back to sleep, or deal with weird tension pressure tingling numbness swelling low grade discomfort that wears at a bitch. And then there’s the pimples and other skin fuckery, which I also accept as my face’s pretty natural reaction to be half pulled off. But no pretending it isn’t distressing as fuck.
And then there was today, a Friday at the end of a week that was a real struggle in keeping any energy. It was sunny, 25° and feeling hotter, which I know from the last five weeks of riding complicates things. So I kept it simple, just make it through four laps, that’s all I had to do; three even, if I felt shit. I was concentrating on keeping my elbows bent, and breathing through my nose, right back in low energy Ramadan training there.. The bent elbows thing, particularly when they approach 90° is for me a constant movement of pushing forward, down or pulling back with my hands, so my arms are supporting much of my weight, and hovering, so I’m holding my position with back and hamstrings, as well as moving forward and back on my saddle. It’s constant work. The result of this is also I am more aerodynamic, and put down more power more easily. So I ended up feeling rather good.
Rather good as in maintaining 30km/h+ for 2/3 of each lap. Very unexpected, that. And feeling solid. It’s the first ride since surgery where I actually had energy and could push a bit. Gentle pushing, but consistent and way above where I’ve been until now, and for a duration, and repeatable. Slowly getting there. Slow time all the way.
I was doing laps of Tempelhoferfeld this morning and had a realisation I’d definitely gone over another hump in post-surgery recovery, ’cos I was back to my usual getting way too excited and loudly, “Yes, bitch! Eight weeks! Fucking nailed it!” carrying on. Which is the first time I’ve felt this good since having my face peeled off on June 13th.
Last week I managed training on five days: three shorter and lighter than usual rides, and two of a mix of core, Pilates, stretching. The week previous to that, I’d ridden twice early in the week and felt like I’d been ambitious in even that — the “six weeks until you can resume training” thing is real. Mid-last week, I felt frankly fucking horrible, like dirty anaesthetic was leeching out or some other vileness. Maybe the lack of endurance training for 6 weeks was churning stuff up. The surgery itself was also unimpressed with me. This week though, tiredness and soreness is very much from doing the work.
Not the full work, and still a long way to go, but getting work done nonetheless. I can neither push into all-out efforts, nor maintain a long endurance effort. Doing hard, core training with weights is also out, as is most of yoga, and anything upside down is not worth the scummy feeling. I’m not going to beat myself up for this though, I tend to recover slowly from surgery, or rather, I seem to take my time, and there’s more than enough I can do with is directly beneficial to rehab and recovery.
I also, for me, put on a bit of weight these last eight weeks. Plenty of not training and plenty of post-op eating (so fucking hungry, I swear I was in overdrive). Which on one side was difficult for me, feeling my muscles lose the density they have when they’re being used all the time. And putting on some fat is a new physicality for me — all of which is relative, as I have a default weight I end up on when I’m training heavily, irrespective of how much I eat. This is not about self fat-shaming, rather about how my physiology swings from skin and bones if I’m training heavily and stressed, to where I’m at now, which is one of the longest periods I haven’t trained for in many years — the not-training is what’s been difficult. On the other side, I really fucking love it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t been this curvy before and I am down with this shit. Which I’ve always known, it’s just for my physiology thrashing hard and being curvy are a ‘pick one’ reality, and I go with the former ’cos stupid is as stupid does.
So, like I’ve already said to someone who’s probably going to read this, I’m torn. I like where physically I’m at right now, and I know ramping up training (with two big rides coming up) will strip this off. I have no solution for this, so I’m going to eat chocolate. Also to celebrate eight weeks and still 110% No Regerts!
I’m going to try and retrospectively publish the posts of Marbella on the days I took the pictures, though sometimes a post is multiple days. It’s sort of a memory mapped to dates to fill in the absences.
Another early rise, though not as early as the flight that brought me here. Eleven nights in Marbella, and 21,000€ including the taxi from the airport. One new-ish top third of a face, recovery periods of days, weeks, fortnights, six weeks, months out to a year. Slow, slow, slow. Slow time. I look like me, but me that I recognise more. I feel like me, when I close my eyes and touch my forehead. Already a year just to get to here, already the fourth attempt on top of a lifetime of turning off hoping so I could ride out the disappointment of those previous failed attempts and the ocean of need to do this that preceded all of them.
Finally fucking did it. Finally fucking was able to do it. Alhamdulillah.
The locals in Marbella old town all have ceramic planters, tubs, window boxes and baskets full of flowers, succulents, spiky dry climate greenery, monstrous tree-sized explosions of magenta and pink, palms, ferns, trees, shrubs, vines and climbers. Also banyan fig and magnolias. Very deeply lush and fecund and herbaceous.