From the time I was born, my body was a place of incongruity, contradiction, and confusion. As a transgender person our bodies are almost always enemies. These living vessels dictate how others perceive us, how we are treated, and what social and political structures we are given access to. In most cases, our trans bodies contradict who we feel to be internally
I always thought of myself as a boy and later as a man, but this body would not let me forget my origin–determined female at birth. While other girls rejoiced at the opportunity to develop into a woman through rituals such as wearing a bra and attending school functions adorned in dresses, I detested these things.
My body and I began to be at greater odds.
I first met a transgender person when I was eighteen. This particular woman carried herself with such poise and determination; she was nothing like I had seen on daytime TV. She wanted to be a medical doctor and I wanted to embody her journey–take it as my own and live an authentic life.
I started a process to reclaim my body, a body that had seemingly “gone rogue” in my late teens. My body, the top half once indistinguishable from my male counterparts, had created mounds of fat and flesh on my chest. My hips widened and my figure reflected that of a young woman, a woman that I did not recognized and had no interest in getting to know. I did countless hours of therapy, started testosterone injections and almost instantly began to recognize and love my body in ways that I did not think were possible.
Fast forward more than a decade.
I’m 33 years old. It’s 2015, and I am celebrating my 15th year post-transition. I am healthy emotionally, physically, and intellectually. I married my wife in 2009 and am in the final year of my PhD in sociology. Although I am an environmental sociologist, I frequently publish in the field of transgender studies.
Recently, I’ve been sick with the flu. I’ve had an ear infection, been very tired, and I’m having trouble remembering basic daily tasks. I went to the doctor, and they told me that I had an ear infection. They do some routine bloodwork. I’m not worried. It’s not fun to be sick, but my body has already shown me how amazing it can be.
Then my doctor comes back with something more. In addition to an ear infection, my kidney numbers are abnormal–really abnormal.
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At first I was shocked. Perhaps more devastating than the initial diagnosis was the reaction from doctors who knew little about kidney disease in transgender patients. Immediately, I was taken off my regular regimen of testosterone.
I protested, but to no avail. So, at one of the hardest moments of my life, I was not only facing kidney disease but I was forced to occupy a body betraying me–hastily changing back into its female form. It was horribly painful both physically and mentally. Much like how I hated my body as a child, again I hated my body as an adult, but in guttural intensity.
A frustrating part of being a transgender individual and seeking health care is that there are few providers who have worked with or have an interest in working with transgender patients. Like most transgender people, I have had my fair share of challenging interactions with medical staff–from flat-out being refused routine medical care to more subtle forms of discrimination. For example, I was initially denied testosterone from my health care provider even though I had a therapist letter. The doctor’s reasoning? They told me I was “too pretty of a girl to become a boy…I mean look at your figure. You are small, petite, with blond hair and blue eyes.”
Prior to transition, I saw my body as inconsistent, but now when I seek care this body that I so diligently reclaimed is seen as indecipherable, and often discussed as the cause of any minor or major medical issue that might arise. Within the last year, I have had three different kidney doctors. Some of this is logistics, but a good part of this is because trans-competency is extremely important and hard to find. Like anyone, I want my body treated with respect and dignity.
There are few times when I mention a medical issue that the provider doesn’t immediately ask me how it might relate to my transition. When I was diagnosed with kidney disease people immediately assumed that my diagnosis was related to my transition, that my desire to change my body–to reclaim it–destroyed it. Not only is this unsound logic, but it also speaks to something greater about our understanding and recognition of transgender bodies. First, most men do not get kidney disease. I (as a transgender man) take hormones to synthetically achieve the appearance and chemistry of a cisman. The testosterone that I take is no different than what most men produce and what some cismen take to regulate their hormones. Testosterone does not cause kidney disease or all men (trans and otherwise) would have or develop it. Second, testosterone goes through the liver and not the kidneys. Third, society’s preoccupation with trans bodies and the idea that because we have changed them, they are open for discussion, debate, and disclosure is insensitive and concerning.
The capacity of the body to heal, change, transform and adapt is beautiful. As a trans man, I’ve fought for my body, for the removal and reconstruction of rogue flesh. I’ve battled gatekeepers for synthetic hormones and insurance companies who attempted to deny me coverage. I’ve challenged doctors and gone to war for this body. This is yet another fight. Yet, as I write this, I am proud and happy with this body. At least now, in this challenging time, I can face the uncertainty and confusion as myself, as the man I have envisioned and constructed. This body, my body is amazing.
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But at some point even amazing bodies fail and when they do being transgender can be an additional complication. It is extremely difficult for anyone to navigate challenging health issues, but for transgender people, this hurdle is made even more challenging. Not only do health care professionals lack training on the complexities of transgender experience and bodies, they often lack training on body diversity, body positivity and body awareness.
Luckily, I am fortunate to live in a large city where I can access healthcare from providers who are competent in transgender care, but as my story demonstrates this was not always the case. Using my own experience as a transgender man, researcher, advocate and public speaker I continue to work with various organizations and health communities to initiate conversations about trans competency and care. It is my sincere hope that as the visibility of transgender people increases the avenues though access to general and specialized care to maintain and acknowledge the complexities of our bodies will continue to grow.
This journey through kidney disease as a transgender man is profoundly challenging. I am currently looking for a donor and raising money for the process. If you would like to help by donating, or are interested in following my story please visit my website. I am also eager to hear from others who have had kidney disease, specifically those who are transgender or gender creative. Follow my process please visit my website at www.akidneyforcam.weebly.com.