Two panelists talk with Karen about the expansive possibilities of realizing your own gender expression and how the journey can lead to somatic release and increased joy.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E24 | Gender Euphoria, Queer Magic
Ley David Elliette Cray: I grew up with a lot of dysphoria, but I did not know that it was that, because I didn't have the vocabulary. I didn't have the language, the lens, the framework to interpret it that way. So for me, the experience was like growing up with my shoes on the wrong feet. And it was it was uncomfortable. But I didn't know, because that's how I was told to put them on.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates. This week, I talk to two panelists about their experiences and insights into how to gain ease and freedom with one's gender expression. Keep listening. Do you want to learn easy and effective ways to talk and connect intimately with your partners? Check out my new free publication. It's called "Say It Better in Bed: 3 Proven Ways to Improve Intimate Communication." Whether you're in a long term relationship or hooking up, you will learn some really easy things to say, boosting your sexual communication skills. Go to the show notes, or karen-yates.com to download your free guide. Hey, folks. There is a fantastic conversation in store for you today, especially if you are interested in issues of gender, whether it be for yourself or people in your life. It took place as part of Wild & Sublime's monthly panel on Patreon, where we either field questions from our supporters or we cover a specific topic. And you can find more about our Patreon program in the show notes. For this conversation, I was interested in talking about somatic interventions for trans people when they are working with gender dysphoria. In other words, how to incorporate body awareness and wisdom as one moves toward gender freedom. The conversation took many interesting turns as I discovered some of my understanding of trans matters was based on the party line of conventional medicine and insurance companies, and not necessarily true. What I discovered from talking with our panelists was that when engaging with the medical establishment, trans folks, which can include people that are gender nonconforming, or GNC, such as nonbinary or gender fluid folks, are basically required, in many instances, to choose a gender or binary with which to conform, even if they wish to stay free of gender labels. You'll hear more about that in a moment. We also discuss gender dysphoria -- do all trans folk even experience it? And then how to find comfort in one's body while exploring changing identities and the extraordinary euphoria that can result. This was a very special, deep, and vulnerable conversation, and I can't wait for you to hear it. I'll be talking with Ley David Elliette Cray, PhD. She is -- and I have to read the whole thing -- author, sexuality counselor and BDSM educator, trans yoga instructor, queer mindfulness coach, and feral academic. And I'll also be speaking with an esteemed recurring panelist, Clark Hazel. They are an individual and couples therapist at Best Therapies. Enjoy. Hi, Ley.
Ley David Elliette Cray: Hey.
Karen Yates: Welcome, Clark.
Clark Hazel: Thanks, Karen.
Karen Yates: Let's start with a land acknowledgement. Lee, what native lands are you on?
Ley David Elliette Cray: I am coming in from Las Cruces, New Mexico, in which I have lived for about a month, and this is the occupied lands of the Manso people, and the Piro-Manso-Tiwa community.
Karen Yates: Thank you. Clark, how about you?
Clark Hazel: Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlits, Calumet, Clackamas, Chinook, Tolitan, Kalapuya, Molalla, and a few other tribes that lived along the Columbia River.
Karen Yates: Excellent. Thank you. And I am currently on the unceded lands of the Council of Three fFres: the Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Adawa nations. Colonially, this land is known as Chicago. And I always have to say that there were many, many tribal nations that were on this land before they were forcibly removed. So, we're going to be talking about being comfortable in one's body around one's gender expression, and what happens when there's a mismatch. And as I was getting ready for this chat tonight, one of the things I was reading is that the term 'gender dysphoria,' some people have problems with it, because it's seen as a diagnosis, and it's seen as perhaps... not necessarily problematic, but Ley and Clark, can you talk about what the conflict is around the label gender dysphoria?
Ley David Elliette Cray: Yeah, I can offer some thoughts on that. You know, so gender identity disorder used to be in the DSM. And what that did was it pathologize transgender identities, and meant that me being a transgender person was a mental illness on my part, something to be cured. And that's just wrong. So when we got the DSM-5, it was removed and replaced with the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which is this mismatch between your experienced gender, and the gender that you were assigned at birth, or the gender that you are typically regarded as in your social environment. And I think some of the conflict comes in a couple of different ways. One is, since it is in the DSM--
Karen Yates: And let me break in and say the DSM is what basically physicians, including psychiatrists use as diagnostic tools, correct?
Ley David Elliette Cray: Correct.
Karen Yates: It's a very large, very large book. You could basically hit someone over the head and they would be unconscious.
Ley David Elliette Cray: Yeah, you know, the DSM is not an unproblematic document. It has a history of colonialism; it's kind of essential to the history of contemporary colonialism. But treating gender dysphoria just as something pathological sort of overlooks a lot of the spectrum of experiences that we see, because there are what we might call sub-clinical levels of gender dysphoria, where it's, like, you're dysphoric. It's stress, but it's maybe not what would register as clinical levels of stress. And there's also this worry that we might end up conflating being trans with having gender dysphoria, which is to fall into this trap of what sometimes gets called transmedicalism.
Karen Yates: Can you explain that a little bit more?
Ley David Elliette Cray: Yeah -- this idea that the only valid way of being trans is if you experience gender dysphoria, and you see transition. You see people pushing this ideology both from within and without the trans community. But it really, I think, misunderstands the full richness of the experience of gender nonconformity. We see this a little bit with some of the recent victories, even. We're all celebrating that the ADA is now interpreted as covering trans people. But really what it's covering is gender dysphoria. So there is a little bit of problematic conflation, even in that victory. But we don't want to harp on it too much, because we want to celebrate the victory, right? These things are complicated.
Karen Yates: Clark, what are your thoughts on this?
Clark Hazel: I really enjoy supporting folks on their gender journey, whether that's providing like, WPATH letters, or you know, connecting trans nonbinary GNC folks with providers that are able to either get them support with hormones or medical transition in any way. I also take a lot of issue with WPATH standards. Also the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, all the barriers to accessing care, whether someone wants to explore those options, or what surgery would look like, or how that would impact their lives.
Karen Yates: I'm going to ask you -- what is WPATH?
Clark Hazel: It's professional standards for trans healthcare. And so, folks have come up with these guidelines and standards for trans people and the ways that they can access care, basically. Everything is so medicalized and impossible to navigate. And using gender dysphoria for the requirements to get approved for surgery -- a lot of folks are like, I do have dysphoria, you know, are saying, you know, I have it in specific ways, but it's not as bad. And having this narrative of like, I have to include this, so even if I don't really feel like that resonates, I need it so that I can get access to this care or to transition. And just how harmful it can be to folks that are like, I really don't have feelings of dysphoria, and then people are like, what is euphoria? But like, not highlighting all the joys and excitements and ways in which they don't fit into this medicalized box, or feeling that they have to pick a binary within being trans to access care. You know, especially with getting top surgery for nonbinary folks, all surgeons require that you're on testosterone for a certain amount of time, or HRT. And that's just another barrier to getting access to affirming care and feeling good and present in someone's body. And it's just another added layer, another way that we're pathologized, another way of being kept out, and also being held to this experience of transness that a lot of people have in their mind, of, you're a binary trans person, so you're coming out to me, you must be in this gender. And then all the language that accompanies WPATH letters, and the ways that you know, insurance companies have you go about getting affirming surgeries and transition is very much according to their standards, and the language that has to be used. And I feel like when I am doing WPATH letters, it's a double edged sword, right? I'm assisting someone and getting access to care, but in the same way, they feel like they have to regurgitate the story that the insurance wants, and diverting from what they actually feel, and like, their values and their body. I just feel gross every time I do a letter. It's just icky.
Karen Yates: I have to say, I really thought that gender dysphoria always accompanies the beginning of any sort of, like, gender exploration, or like, when someone feels, say, like, I know I'm a different gender inside, I know this, and I want to begin expressing it. I always thought that gender dysphoria is, like, the first thing that happens. I never even thought of gender euphoria, as you begin expressing self more fully, right, you begin expressing your full self to the world. And so, I'm sitting here just sort of rocked. Like no, I did not know. I thought this was part of the package of just basically, the oppressive nature of gender roles in society, that there's necessarily going to be a place of distress in one's body. So this is already -- we're already starting with this, I'm like, wow. Okay. So thank you for for illuminating me on this. I really appreciate that. And so... I have so many thoughts going on in my head right now. And I want to step back a moment and say, what are the spectrum of experiences for folks in early stages, besides dysphoria? What are other ways people just begin acknowledging that there is something inside of them that they heretofore have not been expressing?
Ley David Elliette Cray: You're gonna get as many answers there as you as you have people. It's so rich and varied. I can share a little bit about what showed up for me, both in terms of dysphoria and euphoria. For me, I grew up with a lot of dysphoria, but I did not know that it was that, because I didn't have the vocabulary. I didn't have the language, the lens, the framework to interpret it that way. So for me, the experience was like growing up with my shoes on the wrong feet. And it was uncomfortable. But I didn't know, because that's how I was told to put them on. And sometimes it felt like there were rocks in them. Sometimes it felt like there was glass in them. But then one day, I took them off, and I put them on the right feet, even though people told me that wasn't what I was supposed to do. And it was like, Oh, my goodness! The relief, it just felt so much better. And, you know, there, there was some euphoria, just from the relief. But then, you know, once I started really embracing my gender expression, the world, just -- some parts of it got scarier, but some parts of it got so much more magical. You know, queer magic is a thing. It's a beautiful thing, you know. And I like to equate -- the dysphoria is like the shoes, but for me, the euphoria, it's like, my experience with glasses. So when I was in college, I used to be a heavy drinker. And one of my gimmicks was after a bunch of drinks I'd steal people's glasses and put them on. And it was just, I don't know, a thing I did. But one day, I did that, and suddenly the world looked better. And I was like, oh, I need glasses! I had no idea. Because the world looked fine. I was good. I was like, this is vision. But then I put on these glasses that happened to be a prescription I needed, and everything was sharper, and I could see better. I was fine before, but now my quality of life went up. So that's my experience of euphoria.
Clark Hazel: I wish I could say that as succinctly and beautifully. Thank you so much. It was really well said. I mean, bringing it into my own experience as well, I can remember times where I felt a euphoria, like as an eight year old kid, very much into GI Joe and realizing that it was mostly like, [[ ginger and vbV, ]]. The flat chest. I don't want, you know, the abs, not because I couldn't -- I have the self discipline. But, whatever. But I had this gray shirt that I absolutely loved, as an eight year old without a chest. And I loved it. And I would I would just wear it all the time. And thinking back, of, wow, that was a moment that I felt euphoric. I can remember how I felt in frilly shirts, or shirts that would draw attention to my chest. But as a kid, that gray shirt is just always stuck in my mind as like, wow, that was like a moment in time where I felt good in my body, and like, happy with what I saw. Of course, I had a bowl cut that I wasn't super thrilled about. So, looking back I'm like, mmm, not as much euphoria. But that shirt, though. So that is definitely a moment. And now that I'm post-op, now I were a gray shirt, similar to the color I had as a young kiddo. And I'm like, Yes. Euphoria. That feels like trans joy. That feels good to me in my body. I just remember using the term dysphoria, right? I didn't know what that actually meant, but I know I did not feel good in skirts going to church, and I felt better in slacks, or or wearing more masc-presenting clothes, and just knowing that that does not feel good. And what I felt in my body was frustration, easily feeling agitated as a younger person, and even into my older teens, not having the vocabulary words around it, but just knowing that it feels like opposite action right there. I'm not being held to like my true values and what I feel good in. And having this gender performance, you know? This has been kind of forced on me, these gender roles as and AFAB person, and like, showing up in a certain way, and if I divert, there could be consequences, whether that's within the family, within society, being discriminated against. So, it very much felt like, Yes, this is giving me dysphoria. I don't feel good in my body, I notice that I feel agitated and just really depressed. A lot of clients will say, like, I don't feel good in my body. Sometimes I'll play around with makeup, and I feel better, and I feel happy, and I look gorgeous. And a lot of folks will come questioning, right? And that's a very real part of the transition process. Whether it's social, whether it's medical, even just beginning stages, folks are like, I know I tried this item, or someone called me by this name, and it felt good. And I'm actually getting goosebumps, like, even talking about this. It's just such a beautiful moment to be sitting with someone and then feeling courageous and in their body and investigating who they are, and saying -- you know, I always say this to clients: we have a roadmap laid out for us as AFAB/AMAB folks.
Karen Yates: And just to jump in -- AFAB: assigned female at birth; AMAB: assigned male at birth. But to get back to your awesome point -- you were saying to clients, you have a roadmap.
Clark Hazel: Laid out, and it's doing the opposite action of saying, I might actually get to choose my own adventure. Who am I? I am so excited and proud of you, that you're actually just thinking for yourself. We've been assigned all these roles and all of these things. And people are like, I've never gone to the doctor's just for myself; it has always been something I'm not, you know, I don't care about. I care about my body now. I care about who I am, what I look like, I want to start trying out new outfits. Or maybe it's trying out new kinks, now that they're excited about gender presentation, and, you know, trying different outfits. And people are, like, reinvigorated, and they're like, holy shit, I have to think for mysel!. I've never had to do this. I don't know what I like! And you're like, you're in it, you're going for it.
Karen Yates: You're bringing up something that just really strikes me, and it struck me as I was preparing and also, reading everyone's -- everyone who was showing up on the panel tonight, just, descriptors of self are so much -- I mean, you talked about the magic, Ley. Like, so much more magical, so much more expansive than folks, like, cis-normative folks -- this, you know, I call it gender fascism. It's like, it can deaden things quite a lot. And when you just said, Clark, that clients have to think for themselves. It's like diving down in the deepest parts of self, no matter who you are. It's like, most of us don't get the chance to do that. And it takes a great shock to the system, say, to be like, oh! Like, waking up to self and the truest aspects of self. And that is something that really strikes me about trans folk, gender fluid folks, is just this enormous power that comes from the ability to express and not conform to societal rules, conventions.
Ley David Elliette Cray: Some people will liken gender expression, which is how we communicate our gender identity to people around us, as a sort of language. And like languages of all sorts, they're culturally embedded. They change over time, they change based on where you live. And I don't know about you all, but anytime I've studied a language, the way I speak it is very stilted, and very artificial, because I'm speaking with perfect grammar, right? Because that's how we learn languages. Native speakers, fluent speakers, they cut corners, they use idiom, they use regional dialect, they even use poetry. And this is what I see going on with a lot of gender expression these days, is people reclaiming that sort of linguistic nature of that, and saying, we're going to speak this fluently, and in fact, we're going to be gender poets. And I find so much inspiration when I see people just living that.
Karen Yates: Gender poets. Wow. I'm getting goosebumps. We're all getting goosebumps. This call, we're getting goosebumps. Oh my gosh. So... it's so funny, I just want to ride this wave. But I do want to say, we do want to talk about the somatic component. That's why I've convened you here today. Dropping into the body to find self, or or to come back to self. You know, the thing that gets pushed away because it's not as we want it to be, but then easing back in to to the body. I want to ask you, Ley, first, since I know you teach yoga for trans youth, correct?
Ley David Elliette Cray: Trans people of all ages.
Karen Yates: Okay. So can you talk a little bit about that process, and what it's all about?
Ley David Elliette Cray: Yeah, absolutely, I'd be happy to. So I finally accepted myself as trans during my yoga deep study and teaching apprenticeship. I had known for years. But after some unsuccessful attempts at coming out, I went way back deep in the closet. But then I was going through my teacher training, and like you said earlier, I had the shock to my system. I had some physical trauma that really shook me up. And it was perfectly timed, because it was during this really reflective, grounding, extended deep study that gave me the perfect opportunity to be pulled from my body, and then reunited with it on my own terms. And then I was undeniably trans. That's also when I got sober. And some people will tell you that accepting yourself as trans radicalizes, you. And in my experience, that was very true, because the first thing I realized was, I need to start teaching trans yoga. Because yoga, as it's practiced in the West, is a very, very public, very exposed endeavor. And I knew I would never feel comfortable having gone to a yoga class expressing my gender in an authentic fashion. At least, for chunks of my life. I wouldn't be comfortable with that. So I went to the owner of the studio, and I was like, I want to teach a trans yoga class. Have it just for trans folk. And people showed up. And we built a community. And some of the feedback that I got was like, these are people who would never have gone to a yoga class otherwise, but they felt like they could, because they knew they'd be surrounded by people who, even if we all have different experiences, to some degree overlapped. Now, it's tricky for some people, because, you know, yoga is a very, very embodied practice. And when you are struggling with something like gender dysphoria, your body can become aversive. So teaching trans Yoga is not just teaching yoga to a bunch of trans people. You have to really think about the cues, you have to really think about the poses, you have to think about the theme of the class, because dropping into a body, or dropping into particular body parts, is not always accessible to folks. And if you treat it like it is, it can make the practice really offputting. It's the same thing with mindfulness. When I teach queer mindfulness classes, I know so many queer folk who struggle with medical trauma, and have gone through mental health systems that treated mindfulness as this cure-all. "Just breathe." And now it's a trigger. So when you're tailoring these embodied, experiential, contemplative, somatic practices to people facing these struggles, you really have to go in with a sort of creative edge, and tailor, reclaim, reinvent some aspects of the practices.
Karen Yates: Can you talk a little bit about queer mindfulness? And if breathing is a trigger, like, how would you then work with that? What would you say? Well, how would you lead a guided meditation or meditative breathing practice with that in mind?
Ley David Elliette Cray: I like to distinguish mindfulness from, say, meditation. Mindfulness is a state, it's a skill. Mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness of the contents of your mind and its relation to your body and your environment. Meditation is how we build that skill. And some meditations, some skill-buildings, are going to be inaccessible to others. So what I like to do is, when I'm working with, say, a mixed group, who are all unified under the queer umbrella -- which is a big umbrella, right? I foreground adaptations. You know, when I'm saying, Okay, we're gonna do some bilateral stimulation. Now, if you're someone who struggles with top dysphoria, you might want to grab a pillow to act as a buffer, so you're not touching your chest directly. Or you might, please feel free and welcome to tap your legs instead. And really foreground that sense of agency and validation. And let them know, this is your practice. I'm an instructor, but really, I'm a suggester. And that's another aspect where the queerness comes in. Because queering things as a verb, it's about breaking down boundaries. Queering is about questioning structures. And that includes these vertical structures of mindfulness teacher, mindfulness student. Let's queer that whole distinction. This is a horizontal endeavor. When we're in this queer mindfulness class, this is your practice. I'm here to help you, not to tell you how to be mindful.
Clark Hazel: I just think it's beautiful that you have been so intentional about the space that you're creating, you're co-creating with folks. And I love the adaptations and being mindful -- because anyone can say it's LGBT friendly, right? But to create a specific trans inclusive space and trans oriented, by a trans person. A lot of cis folks do not think it through, right? Yeah, like top dysphoria or bottom dysphoria, or being in a certain pose, that, you know, someone might have like you said, medical trauma. You know, they've been through these horrific mental health systems. I's just really beautiful to hear that there are spaces and folks being very intentional. And also, you know, it's empowering to folks to be able to choose what feels good to their body. And in that moment, it might change, right? Day to day dysphoria might impact us in different ways. And that might depend on whether they show up to a class or not, or if go to their work. Dusphoria can create a lot of barriers in so many different ways. ANd to hear that there are spaces created, that can be just a space for trans people, and you don't have to explain why you don't want to do a pose, or why you might show up differently, or maybe there's some frustration or hard emotions coming up. A lot of folks are understanding and accepting. And also like, people being in their bodies, either, you know, pre-medical transition -- also, you know, having to wear certain tighter clothing that might also bring more attention to the body. And like you said, different poses, they can just bring a lot of thought into like, do I really want to go through this today? Like, do I have the spoons to show up in the space and feel maybe uncomfortable in my body, being in these poses and wearing specific clothes that might be a little bit tighter. Like, do I have it in me? And that other folks are trans and understanding in that space with you might also just open more doors, and I really love to hear that.
Karen Yates: I'll return to my interview in a moment. If you would like a transcript of this conversation, or any interview we have done, you can find it on our website by navigating to that particular episode's page. Plus, once there, you can sign up for our twice-monthly newsletter that covers all things Wild & Sublime. Or peruse our lovely merchandise, look at images from our live show, and more. Go to wildandsublime.com. And now, the second half of my conversation with Ley David Elliette Cray and Clark Hazel. We talk about actively choosing one's expression, and how that can create a paradigm shift as one gets to know oneself better. Clark, how do you work with clients? Or what has been your own experience of easing your way in the world somatically?
Clark Hazel: A lot of us, myself included, folks are trying to figure out: what actually feels good to me? Whether it's outfits, whether it's going to spaces. I know I really struggle interacting with public sometimes. It's like, wow, is it really worth it to go out to Home Depot and be misgendered by folks, and, you know, feel like I need to be a little bit more masc-presenting? Do I need to pencil in my mustache a little bit more so that I don't get ma'amed? You know, there's a lot of intention into going out and being in your body. And sometimes it can be a bit much. The world can sometimes be harsh to us as trans folks, and finding spaces, finding clothes... A lot of folks will seek out trans therapists, trans spaces, because you don't have to explain. You might not share the exact experience. People don't share all the same experiences, but just knowing that there's a space, there's a person that also might share one of your identities, can be really healing. And being with trans people in the trans community can be really beautiful. And I just feel so much gratitude that I work and can pick the clients that I work with. And just being in spaces with other trans folks is really beautiful. And it feels good in my body. I know a lot of folks feel good in theirs. And I'm like, wow -- I don't have to explain my journey, I don't have to accentuate my trans coming-out story. And I can be honest and real and in my body, and talk about, like, what it feels like to masturbate, right? Like, bringing back into body -- what gives you pleasure? What do you enjoy? What's going to help you get through this, until either you're further along in your journey, or you're finding things are a bit more affirming? Or maybe it is getting surgery, right? That could be the possibility that might lessen dysphoria. But you know, really figuring out what works, what doesn't. And a lot of the times it's like, I tried this, did not like that. Maybe it's adding a Magic Wand into your life. Who knows? It works for me; it works for other trans folks. Maybe a Magic Wand is the answer. I don't know.
Ley David Elliette Cray: You know, this idea of discovering what feels good -- I realize that before I really leaned into my identity, I wasn't able to judge what felt good. I didn't really have reflective access to that in my own body. And accepting the gender identity opened the floodgates, because that led to questioning sexuality. You know, because cisnormativity -- this sort of cultural pressure that assumes that everyone is cisgender or they're defective in some way, or delusional -- that has its twin: heteronormativity. They're a package deal, almost all the time. So, you know, I was walking around most of my life in this, like, awkward, straight-boy suit. I didn't know what pleasure was. I thought I knew what pleasure was. And I thought I knew what pleasurable sensation felt like, but I did not. And once I started leaning into and affirming and exploring my gender, and then also my sexuality, it was like rediscovering pleasure for the first time. And if I could rewind it all, would I do it the same? I don't know. But I'll tell you, that process of discovery was nice!
Karen Yates: So, one of the things I want to talk about is getting back to this -- I'm always coming back -- let's talk more about this magic of... You know, there's folks, when I was writing to everyone about tonight, you know, I was talking about how there's some folks who say that they want to be expressing a different gender -- say, a more traditional gender role. And as they're on their journey, that is the goal, and that's where they're going to. But then there's this other aspect that we talked about at the beginning, of this immense, extraordinary ability to express anything and everything. Everything of the Self coming out. How do we -- and I'm also gonna say, for all of us -- how do we stay present to these vicissitudes, these deep-flowing rivers inside of us that are ever-changing, that are trying to take us by the hand, and asking us to dance and saying, 'Come out, come out, come out and play'? How do we stay present to that? In the face of the world? What do both of you have to say?
Ley David Elliette Cray: So, I go back here to the work of Buddhist thinker, Shunryu Suzuki, in his work, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." This idea of this kind of beautiful comfort in uncertainty and in not knowing. Because, as we know, we come to take ourselves to know things. We limit ourselves. The Taoist thinkers call this 'carving the block.' Whereas there's power in the uncarved block, because you haven't cut into it yet. You can do anything with it. But once you start carving it, there's a point where you're committed to what you're doing. Applying beginner's mind to our gender experience, and saying -- look, so I can rattle off and say, yeah, I'm a nonbinary trans woman, asexual, aromantic lesbrarian. I can give you the whole thing. Right? But that those are all tools. Those are all attempts at effing the ineffable. Sometimes we mistake those tools for rules that we have to adhere to; we forget that they work for us. And there's a freedom that comes with that -- this childlike, beginner's mind approach to, I mean, queerness, which is anything, it's everything. And finding comfort in that confusion, the chaos, or even the insecurity of it, if you can find that, is beautiful.
Clark Hazel: Like I said, I like to treat it as a choosing your own adventure and ability to get to know what you enjoy, and branching out and remembering that the world is your oyster. You can try things; you don't have to have everything figured out. You don't have to have a finish -- you know, this is what I would like at the end of my transition,. Transition will take turns. It will be exciting. Sometimes it will be hard, whether that's, you know, medical, social, what have you -- but even just that journey of acknowledging and being open and not closing doors, or allowing other people in your life to close doors on you, or allowing institutions or the barriers to close doors. And also just putting time aside to be intentional, of like, is this still working for me? Do I enjoy this journey that I'm on? And a lot of folks are like, wow, my life has greatly improved. Like, I've been introduced to a whole new community. I don't have to conform, right? I'm now questioning, is my life path the path I'm actually choosing, or has this been chosen for me and I'm just going along with it? Like I said, trans people are sacred. Queer people are sacred. It's beautiful to be able to be awake. And once you're awake, you can't go back. And a lot of people are like, am I even trans? And like, the fact that you're even questioning right now, that would lead me to say yes. Like, a lot of cis people are not like, 'Wow, am I cis enough? Like, is this polo and khakis really doing it for me?' A lot of folks are just like, No, I'm just going along. And you know, no hate to the trans folks that like polos -- like, aka I'm wearing a polo right now. So, uh... But having that genuine curiosity, continuing to investigate...
Ley David Elliette Cray: Clark, have you ever gone to amitrans.org?
Clark Hazel: Hello?
Ley David Elliette Cray: It is a white background with big black letters that just says, "Yes."
Karen Yates: [laughs]
Clark Hazel: Give me a Google search. I love it.
Ley David Elliette Cray: And then it gives you some resources for further exploration. But it's exactly what you were just talking about. If you're Googling "Am I trans?" That might tip you off!
Clark Hazel: And yet people are like, you know, that's a thinker right there. I really don't know. I'm like, friend. Friend! You're here. You're okay. It's okay. You're here.
Karen Yates: We have chatted for a while now. And, I mean, one of the things that's coming up for me, as both of you were talking, is how we, none of us, none of us, and I'm just going to put us all in the big humanity basket, understand the level of agency that we have. And so much of this is about -- I think, Clark, you said what has been handed to me, and what am I actively choosing, right? And that is so much a part of everything, when you begin walking whatever non-conforming path you are walking, is this idea of like, 'I'm choosing this now.' I am taking this and I am pulling it to me. And there is something so incredibly powerful when anybody starts doing that, no matter what the journey is, if it's a gender journey, if it is a sexual journey, a coming out type process of any sort. It's like waking up from the hypnosis, right? And I love just the metaphor you brought up at the beginning, Ley, of like, wearing two shoes that were like, left foot, right foot, wrong shoe, wrong foot. Like, that just perfectly encapsulates it. It's like, yeah, something's not quite right. But like, I bought these shoes, and everyone told me these are the way you wear the shoes. So... okay! I think a lot of times we just walk down the street, many of us just wearing mismatched shoes. Just had to say that. [laughs] I'm just very struck by our conversation, and the awareness.
Ley David Elliette Cray: A while ago, a friend of mine just sent me a text message out of the blue. And she's given me permission to share the text, because I share it frequently, right? So just blanket permission. What she said to me was, "Hey, have you ever noticed that once you start really embracing queer embodiment, you start to meet the most beautiful people in the world? And then you quickly realize that you yourself are one of them, too?" And like, maybe there have been more beautiful words strung together before? Maybe. But that's up there, you know? Because in my experience, it's absolutely true. The reconceptualization of beauty, the reclaiming of beauty, and the seeing it on your own terms, the allowance that comes with that -- it's striking.
Clark Hazel: Yeah, that is really well said. Reclaiming beauty, what that means. Also, as trans folks, we're constantly queering everything, right? And our own concept of, what does my journey look like? Who do I want to become? And also being happy with who you are becoming, and staying present? I think that's been sticking out to me a lot. It's like, being the in the present, feeling good in my body as a trans person, and how do I get to that state? As opposed to, what does that look like physically to me? A lot of folks, trans folks, have this end goal of what they'd like to look like, and bring it back into, like, how do I feel, as opposed to letting these gender norms, or binary beauty standards, what have you, infiltrate and create this. You know, now that you are transitioning, you have to look a certain way, or have a certain name, and bring it back to, like, how do you want to feel in your body as a trans person in this transition, as you're questioning, wherever you are on your path, and being present in that, and having that as a goal? Is it to feel happier? Is it to enjoy touch from a partner? Is it to enjoy touching yourself? Are there certain areas that you want to inhabit again, and just being open to that and focusing on that being a goal, as opposed to what the outside might look like?
Ley David Elliette Cray: And the reframing and reconceptualization of some of these things, it can be really jarring. It can also be really playful. So what I have in mind is, I work with a lot of clients who struggle -- they're like, I want to get this surgery done, but if I do, am I reinforcing the idea that in order to be a woman, I have to have these body parts? You know, for me, for example, I struggle a lot with vocal dysphoria, because I have a male-coded voice. Because, to reclaim a phrase, it's the irreversible damage I'm experiencing from the fact that I was not allowed gender-affirming care as a kid. Right? But what's helped me is thinking, my voice does sound like a woman's voice, because it's my voice, and I'm a woman. So there's this balance there. I often tell my clients, you don't have to earn your gender through a transition. You were born in a boy's body. It's just, some boys' bodies look like yours. It's a boy's body, because it's your body and you're a boy. But then there's this balance. We want to do that, but we also want to affirm people who are like, No, I really want bottom surgery. No, I really want top surgery. Right? So the reframes aren't cure-alls, to put a point on it. There's this kind of internal political struggle, a lot of times, with, is my transition already complete because I'm already valid in who I am? I don't have to earn it. But at the same time, I sure would like some other things to be different. Does that make me a sellout? Well, no...? I trail off, because I just don't know how to wrap up the thoughtl because it's so difficult.
Clark Hazel: Yeah, I mean, I run through that thought of, if I lived in a different society, and was not concerned, you know, if I say who I am, it's accepted, and I'm treated as who I say I am and how I feel in my body. Would I go through, you know, a medical transition? Would I feel, you know, the need to make different changes, right? And that's really hard to say. I know in my body I'm happier without a chest; that makes me feel really good. And also, like, I'm not a man. I am not a man. I do not want to be a cis man. It ain't me. Right? It doesn't have to be. But a lot of folks try to put you into these binary roles and a specific way of being in the world. And it's like, no, I can be expansive, I can have a surgery. But that doesn't mean I'm trying to be a certain way. And in many ways, we have to inhabit that. That thinking, or that path, to be able to access this care, or access feeling better in our bodies, or good in our bodies, or be able to cope with being in our body. I don't have an answer. It's just so difficult. And I don't want to judge people's decisions either which way.
Karen Yates: So I'd love to end with each of you offering just a thought for people as they continue their expansive journeys, whatever those journeys are. Something people can hold as they go forward.
Clark Hazel: Be open to possibilities. Be open to choosing your own adventure. You don't just because you've been told something your whole life doesn't mean they have to continue to stick with it. If you're questioning, find a safer space. Find a safe person in your life that you'd be willing to open up to. You know, open up to yourself. Be honest. Finding people that might also be open to the possibilities and hear you out, you know, seek out those folks. And just because you grew up with a value system doesn't mean you have to throw out all values; you can still keep the values that are still current and feel good and affirming. This is a journey -- it doesn't mean you have to upend everything. You get to process it in your own time, and there's no rush.
Ley David Elliette Cray: I love that, Clark. I guess my concluding thought will be to return to this notion of queer magic. So what is magic? Magic is using your will to transform the world around you. That's what magic is. Queer magic is living out loud and authentically, in a manner that erodes binaries around you. Because visibility is powerful. Mere exposure to queer people erodes negative attitudes toward queer people over time. So living out loud, for those of us who have the privilege to do it -- I want to acknowledge that, which is not everyone. But if we can live out loud, that changes the world that we live in. And that itself is literal magic. Some days that gets me going; some days that keeps me going.
Karen Yates: Thank you so much.
Ley David Elliette Cray: Thank you.
Clark Hazel: Thank you for having us, Karen. It's always a pleasure to see you.
Karen Yates: To learn more about Ley and Clark, and to get links to subjects mentioned in this interview, or to become part of our nifty Patreon supporters' program, go to the show notes. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com. Well, that's it folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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