Update

Oh moley, it has been about 8 months since I have posted last. A few people have asked me why I haven’t, and although it’s a lame excuse, it has been quite the busy year (to say the least!). Those of you who know me know that I keep myself busy–all the time. I really don’t like having too much down time, and always feel like I could be doing something better with my time, whether that’s volunteering or tutoring or learning something new.  Since I have wonderful benefits through my employer that makes courses essentially free, I have been working towards finishing a second B.S. in Biochemistry with a minor in Religious Studies.  On top of that, I have a new job (that I love), started a group for college students living with type 1 diabetes, took up some new volunteering positions, still teach and tutor for test prep, and then studied for and retook the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) myself.

The past year has been so incredibly wonderful, and I feel so blessed. I celebrated two years on testosterone this past May, set a date for my wedding, landed a new job that I love, and achieved incredible academic success. 

In may, I spoke for over an hour with the nicest, most supportive Director of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs at one of the Ivy League medical schools. She told me that everything about my application was perfect except one thing… my score on the Physical Sciences section of the MCAT.  She mentioned that if I could just bring that score up a little bit, I’d be competitive at every single medical school in the U.S.  While the score I originally had was certainly good enough for your non-Ivy league medical schools, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to at least TRY to bring it up. If I hadn’t tried, I would have wondered “what if” for the rest of my life. So I did. I studied day and night and did thousands of problems and essentially lived a live that revolved around physics.

My scores finally came out last Tuesday, and when I checked my scores and saw that I scored in the 96th (well 95.9 “th”) percentile on the MCAT, I felt like I was going to collapse. Almost a week later, it still feels unreal. I remember the moment I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I was five, and I was living in the middle of nowhere in rural Upstate New York. My idea of getting into trouble was using my mom’s premium paint to redecorate the outhouse in our backyard. My journey from there to where I am today has been filled with challenges that, in the moment, felt like they would never end. While there were plenty of times I succeeded during my journey,  there have also been plenty of times that I failed and felt like giving up. When I looked at my scores, and saw that I had done better than even my “best case scenario,” all of those moments came rushing back, and all I could do was cry.  This is all I have ever wanted for myself, and I feel like I am right on the cusp of achieving my life-long dream. Please keep your fingers crossed for me during this application season!

I’m hoping to update more often again, but bug me about an update if I don’t!

The Moment of Truth

I am sure I am not the only one tossing and turning tonight, given that it is past midnight and it is now officially Election Day. My heart is heavy with anticipation and worry and all I can do is let go and trust in the process, which isn’t easy, given that voter fraud in this election is a real concern.

As I try to fall asleep and prepare for the surgery I have in the morning, I can’t help to think back to what happened to Tray, my husband, roughly a year ago. As some of you remember, Tray suffered severe complications after surgery. He was on the strongest pain medications the hospital could give, and at the highest dosages, and he was still screaming at the top of his lungs. The only relief he got was when they finally just gave him so many medications he couldn’t remain conscious. As if seeing him in so much pain didn’t crush my heart enough, I remember when a doctor walked in and told me that Tray needed emergency surgery or he’d lose both legs and both kidneys. As his medical Power of Attorney, signing the consent forms was the easy part. The hardest part was when they woke Tray up just enough for me to tell him. I just held his hand and told him that the doctors figured out the problem and that he needed emergency surgery on both legs. He looked at me with years streaming down his face and just said: “Please don’t let me die.”

Thankfully, after three surgeries in under a week, Tray began to heal. He had to learn to walk again, and crossed every obstacle like a champ.

For any spouse that has had to watch their loved one suffer, and wasn’t able to do anything to “fix” them–you know this: in those moments, all you can do is be there. Every time he opened his eyes, I was there holding his hand. With all of the things he had to worry about, being alone was never one of them.

In the past four years, President Obama made an executive order that all hospitals receiving federal funds must allow visitation for same-sex couples. In the past few weeks, Mitt Romney announced that he thought hospital visitation was a “privilege” and not a right for same-sex couples and that hospitals should not be obligated to allow visitation for spouses/partners of same-sex couples. If he is elected, he intends to reverse this order. My heart hurts thinking of what that would have meant for me and my husband just one year ago.

Mitt Romney also said that “it’s not right” that same-sex couples are parenting children and that he will work to write marriage discrimination into the US constitution. Given that whoever is elected today will likely appoint a couple of Supreme Court justices, the consequences of this election are real. Rights for LGBTQ individuals are one of the biggest civil rights battles of our time, and I strongly believe that it is a battle that will be won in the courts. That becomes impossible with Supreme Court justices appointed by Romney.

I hope that by this time tomorrow, I am rejoicing in a country that decided to move forward, and not backwards. Mitt Romney is racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist, so unless you’re a wealthy, heterosexual white Christian man, there’s a good chance his election would bring you back a solid 50-100 years. Please don’t let that happen.

It is nights like this that I appreciate the beauty I have in my life and my husbands snoring sounds more like music than a dying animal. It is nights like this when I am reminded of how I am a second class citizen in America, that I hold on tightly to what I have.

And I leave with my favorite quote from the week:

“I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, “My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.” It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you “disagree” with your candidate on these issues.”

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To my Nana

I will have to admit that I totally teared watching the tribute to Ted Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention on television tonight. I remembered when my Nana, after I ran for class treasurer in high school, said that I “scared my grandmotha” (in her Boston accent) and I better not go into politics because the Kennedy curse would have me killed. (What a way to scare a 14-year old, right? Don’t participate in your extracurricular activity, you’ll be killed! No wonder I have nightmares at night).

As my grandmother grew older and older, I appreciated her much more. She became HYSTERICAL. I couldn’t go more than five minutes without laughing when I was around her. After my grandfather died, she became this kick-boxing, bilingual, lean-mean-sassy-machine. While we didn’t agree upon everything toward the end of her life, when she suddenly became incredibly religious (and not in the good way), I loved her dearly. She was my Nana.

Before she passed, we got to finish our conversation about politics and about our heritage. Since it wasn’t often spoken about in our family, and I could sense there was some bitterness around the issue, I wanted to ask her about her previous comments she had made years before. “What did she mean about the Kennedy curse?” I asked myself. “Did she mean that I was actually related to the Kennedys?”

When we finally got to continue our conversation, en route to the last family reunion I got to spend with her, it was life-changing. She didn’t want to talk about it too much, but did hatch out the details for me.  I found out that I am indeed very distantly related to the Kennedys (like 5th cousins or something like that). JFK’s grandmother (Mary Augusta Hickey) is my great (great-great-great-great) grandmother. In a practical sense, it’s like.. under 5-10% of shared DNA… but that didn’t matter to me.

Identifying deeply with my Irish roots, this was huge. As one of my friends Mary in college put it, “Some Irish Catholic people have a picture of JFK on the mantle, right next to Mother Mary!” Or as my sister would put it “Damn, he’s hot!”

All kidding aside, the meaning behind this new revelation had nothing to do with the fact that the family is famous. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could count on one hand the number of people I have told. After all, I don’t talk to them, I’ve never met them, and I don’t know them. At all. All of the meaning is held in my heart, and in my heart alone. On that day, my Nana solidified what I already knew, and what she told me she already knew… that fighting for what is right and what is just is inherent for me. It’s in my blood. It is who I am. When my Nana told me, in our last year together, the summer before my senior year of high school, that she knew I was stubborn “in a good way,” and that I had great things ahead of me in my life, it meant so much to me.

As I have grown up and become the man I am today, I have often pondered what both of my grandmothers would think of who I have become. My dad’s mom, my Grandma, without a doubt would love me in the truest sense of the word. I always knew that from my first memory of her, to when she passed when I was eight. From the first moment I remember with her, she looked at me as if I was perfect, flaws and all.

Throughout my transition, however, when I thought about my Nana, I got caught up. In some of the last memories I have with her, after she “found Jesus” (a very mean Jesus that I’m convinced was hiding in her pantry along with the salt-free/sugar-free life), she said some very unfriendly things about gay people. While my Nana’s beliefs towards the end of her life became a little … uncharacteristic of her usual self, I know in my heart that she would be proud of me today, because I stand up for what I believe in, even when it isn’t popular or favorable.

I believe in civil rights. I believe that is absurd that, in this election, we are fighting battles for women’s rights that we all assumed were already decided upon a solid 50 years ago. I believe in the equality of all people, regardless of religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, veteran status, etc.

Most importantly, I believe that human rights come first, above all other issues and all other things.

If you think women should be forced to undergo medically unnecessary procedures against their will that involve shoving a large wand up someone’s vagina, I’m sorry, but you won’t get my vote.

If you believe the love that I share with my partner is less than someone else’s, I’m sorry, but again, you won’t get my vote.

If you believe that healthcare is a privilege of the wealthy, and not an inalienable human right, once again, you won’t get my vote.

And if you believe that “freedom of religion” means “freedom of Christians to force their beliefs on others,” once again, you won’t get my vote.

My Nana knew that, and I felt her presence as I watched the the tribute to Ted Kennedy tonight. I was crying and laughing at the same time tonight when the DNC tribute to Ted Kennedy showed a debate between Romney and Kennedy from the early 1990s and Kennedy said, “I am pro-choice. Mitt Romney is multiple choice.” It is days like this that I take a moment and say, “Well Nana, I may not be a politician yet, but I am an advocate and an activist… What can I say? I stand up for what I believe in. It’s in my blood. You’re the one that told me that.”

“If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” Hillel the Elder, Pirkei Avot

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Real people, Real lives.

Many people have asked me where my post-op post is, and I apologize for not having posted sooner. Honestly, surgery went so flawlessly that I almost forget that I am still in the healing process! I ended up with an incision that went almost the entire way around my body (at the level of my hips). It is healing well, and there’s a killer scar, but hey, unless in the comfort of my home, I always have pants on, so that doesn’t really mater. My chest looks fabulous, and is still a little swollen, but then again, my chest pre-op was, as my surgeon put it, the smallest chest he’s ever done. Since there was so much chopping and sewing during my surgery (which took almost 7 hours), my swelling isn’t expected to fully subside for another 1.5 months. After a long day, I still have a considerable amount of pain, but on most days, I feel perfectly fine.

I have also been avoiding posting because, although surgery went well, and I am thankful for the numerous ways in which I have been privileged in this process, there has been this overarching feeling of gay/trans-related depression looming over my head that wasn’t present before surgery. I haven’t slept well in weeks, and I’m certainly not interested in associating with many people. It took me a while to realize where this “yuck” is coming from, as it felt like it was completely from left field. After all, I certainly don’t have a problem with my identities. As my partner put it to a coworker: “Oh, trust me, he’s OUT.” In fact, just this week, I taught my partner to do what I call “the fabulous finger” which is my sassiest gay man move. So, yes, I am out and fabulous and don’t have a problem with it.

So what’s the deal? Why the sudden LGBTQ-associated depression?

The problem isn’t me, it’s everyone else. (Minus the fabulous folks). You try turning on the television every day and hearing that you’re unnatural, worthless, dirty, or some other form of “disgusting.” You try hearing the constant babbling and news stories from some right-wing nut job stealing religion to claim that gays should be put in a fence and killed off or, just this past week, that children of gay parents should be abducted and taken to heterosexual households, because leaving a child with same-sex parents is equivalent to “child abuse.” It’s constant. It’s everywhere.  What does that mean for many LGBTQ people?

For me, it means resentment. I’m sorry, but your (figurative ‘you’) debate of economic policies seems frighteningly trivial when we consider that my personal safety and well-being is at stake. And I’m sorry, Ann Romney, if your discussion of “hardships,” from the woman who has never worked a day in her life, falls on deaf ears. It must be so difficult for you. To me,  this trivial babble is the equivalent of saying “Hilter’s a douche bag who persecuted entire groups of people, but hey, I would have voted for him because his economic policies were best suited for me.”

It is impossible for a privileged heterosexual and cisgender individual to fully wrap their head around this or try to imagine what it would be like to be in the shoes of an LGBTQ individual this election year, simply because you know that what is happening to “us” wouldn’t happen to “you.” Sit and meditate on it for me, though. Imagine what it would be like to hear, day in and day out, that everything and everyone that matters in life should be taken from you–your children, equal access to a job, your relationship, your livelihood.  Imagine knowing that in your lifetime, you have a 1 in 4 chance of being assaulted or even murdered simply because of who you are. Finally, imagine carrying all of that with you everywhere you go. If that wasn’t enough, imagine knowing that many of your family or friends vote to seal all of these hardships for you. Your heart shatters.

Even for the most vocal and angriest of activists (<cough> Billy Bradford <cough>), I am sure there are days where, despite one’s positive attitude and resolve to change the world, “go get ’em” becomes “this blows.” For me, that’s a whole lot of what I am feeling right now. It’s an odd feeling for me because I never had a hard coming out process (the first time as gay or the second time as trans), but everyone has their days (or months), and I’m no exception.

 

 

 

 

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Martin Neimoller

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Education for the Ignorant

I am extremely happy that I have received so much positive feedback about my last post. Thank you all for your emails, comments, and messages telling me how much sharing my story and my feelings has helped you. I am also somehow honored that I have officially received my very first hate mail. I seem to have irritated someone enough for them to take the time out of their day to comment with ignorant, hateful, and hurtful messages!

Before continuing with other posts, I want to take some time to educate the one individual who replied with a very negative and hurtful comment, and remind my readers of a few things.

1.) If you don’t like me or my blog, you certainly do not have to read it. No one is making you. Thus, if you have nothing but negative comments to make, why are you spending your time reading my blog?

2.) Oh man, the ignorance is out the wazoo! I would like to take the skills I learned as an RA and turn this moment into an educational moment, for this anonymous poster that stated two main things about my previous post:

– That my current size somehow means that it’s both unlikely that I truly had an eating disorder and even more, unlikely that an eating disorder would have caused harm to my body and

– That the word beautiful only applies to appearance. (They found it “lame” that I only remembered an individual my their “beautiful appearance”).

I was going to avoid addressing hate mail on my blog, but everyone I forwarded the hateful comment to laughed at the commenter’s ignorance and said I should utilize this moment, which is ripe with educational opportunities.

To address the notion that overweight individuals can’t or don’t have eating disorders:  Out of the main eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorders-not otherwise specified, and binge eating disorder), only one lists weight as a diagnostic criteria—anorexia nervosa (American Academy of Eating Disorders, n.d.).In fact, many individuals are surprised to know that roughly a third of people awaiting bariatric surgery (you know, surgeries commonly suggested to those that are “morbidly” obese) have diagnosable eating disorders, including bulimia nervosa (Dahl et al., 2010). Bulimia is a disorder known to cause electrolyte imbalances that can lead to irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and death (National Eating Disorders Association, 2012).  I, like many other overweight individuals, thought that I was immune to consequences of an eating disorder and that health problems only occurred among “those” people that were incredibly thin—until my heart entered a rhythm called fibrillation, a rapid, unsynchronized, and irregular beating of the heart.

Finally, I’m pretty sure I don’t need to address the concept that the word “beautiful” can refer to many things other an appearance. In all actuality, if that is not something someone can understand, any attempts at education seem futile. Seriously, people, before you engage me in a debate regarding the definition of a word, do yourself a favor—look the word up in a dictionary.  One of the odd things about the English language is that things have multiple definitions and connotations.  One word can mean many things, and on the flip side, one concept can often be described with many different words!

Thank you for providing me with a wonderful opportunity to do some education. My very first hate message has turned out to be quite an honor!

 

And finally, because I don’t make statements unfounded by science:

American Academy of Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Diagnoses of eating disorders. Retrieved from http://www.aedweb.org/Eating_Disorder_Diagnoses.htm

Dahl, J.K., Eriksen, L., Vedul-Kjelsas, E., Strommen, M., Kulseng, B., Marvik, R., & Holen, A. (2010). Prevalence of all relevant eating disorders in patients waiting for bariatric surgery: A comparison between patients with and without eating disorders. Eating and Weight Disorders, 15(4), e247-55.

National Eating Disorders Association. (2012). Health concerns. Retrieved from http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-resources/general-information.php#health-concerns

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“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back, so shake him off.”

The past few months have been incredibly trying for me. Those of you who know me, however, know that I always say that growth always happens outside of your comfort zone, so that means that the past few months have also brought an immense amount of personal growth. My pain and hurt only contributes to the empathy that I am able to feel for others. It will undoubtedly make me a better partner, friend, brother, and eventually, health care provider.

I will have to make a series of posts to address everything, as most importantly, each issue deserves to stand on its own. However, I’ll start with a post that I’ve been wanting to write for almost two weeks, but just have been unable to find the right words.

Over a year ago, I grew closer to a colleague when she shared with me that her sister was struggling with an eating disorder. After having seen the depths of a disorder I call “a cancer of the soul,” I feel an almost instant connection with anyone who has or is going through the same thing… a connection built out of a shared experience, of knowing what it’s like to be in the midst of such an all-consuming and destructive disorder. I came to know her through her sister, who also happens to be one of the most inspiring, touching, and beautiful individuals I have had the honor of crossing paths with.

Well, two weeks ago, I learned that my colleague’s sister passed away. She was a young, vibrant, and beautiful woman, dead in her early 20s. The second the words made their way to my brain, tears flowed from the corner of my eyes. In that moment, as I stood there and absorbed the news, my mind flashed back to the moment where I, at 19, was sitting in my doctor’s office, and she told me that she thought I’d be dead in a month–three tops. That deep ache returned to my heart, as if I had travelled back in time, and was feeling the hurt and pain of the young woman I was then. It hit me: that could have been me. Most importantly, it should have been me, and everyone thought it would be.

After hearing the news, everything has felt a little empty–like something is missing. That day, I stood near the lake in my town, closed my eyes, and just… was. I focused on the feeling of the breeze hitting my face, the warmth of the sun on my skin. I focused on the beauty that I am privileged to experience. I won’t even pretend that recovery wasn’t, and still isn’t, the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, but these past two weeks have reminded me of something I often forget–not everyone makes it out the other side.

The world has lost a beautiful young woman, and my heart has hurt for not just her family, but for her. She will never have the opportunity to experience the incredibly beautiful ups and downs of life that I can today. My life since recovery has blossomed. Everyone I meet asks me the same question: “How do you do it?”  “It” usually refers to something like simultaneously working three jobs, being a full-time graduate student, being a campus activist, volunteering regularly, and still having enough heart left after all of that to devote to my family, friends, and of course, my rock–my handsome, inspiring fiancée. While I usually just shrug my shoulders, all I can think is “Why wouldn’t I do it?” Years of my life were lost to an eating disorder. If I have gained anything from recovery, it’s an enormous appreciation for everything in life, even things that are incredibly difficult. I want to learn, to love, and to live as much as possible. So most of all, my heart has hurt that she won’t get to experience the growth, love, and beauty that I have experienced on the other side of a very personal, very deep, and all-consuming hell.

A few years ago, I entered this abstract thing we call “recovery,” and never looked back. Who would want to? I destroyed my success and my dreams, and most importantly, I destroyed my body, a body that will never be the same.  If you took a cross-section of my heart, you’d see a maze of scars where a surgeon did his best to stop the awkward beating of my heart. My immune system is on alert, attacking mundane food particles, and even my own body… I’d be on alert if I thought my body was self-destructing, too. As my mentor describes it, “I carry with me the sense that I’ve seen way more than a person my age should have.”

Recovering from an eating disorder is incredibly difficult. Some people compare it to recovery from alcoholism or a drug addiction, but honestly, I’d argue that it’s harder. Imagine telling an alcoholic that they have to drink at least three times a day, but not too much nor too little, but that not drinking too much or too little in and of itself can also be an issue, so they shouldn’t drink too much nor too little except for the times when it’s normal to drink too much or too little. Sound confusing? Sound nearly impossible? Welcome to my life, and to the lives of millions of other Americans. This seemingly impossible task is often a life-long process of healing, and its daunting nature may be why eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness. Not something people usually expect, like schizophrenia, but eating disorders. All over the world, people are dying because they’re starving themselves, bingeing, or purging.

Phew. Sound like a lot? It is. I am pretty sure I’ve felt almost every emotion possible in the past two weeks. I have been sad about the life that was lost, and that my friend has lost her sister and best friend. I have been thankful that I have had this opportunity to reflect on my journey and how interconnected we all are. But most of all, I have been angry. I am so angry that, despite research that suggests that factors such as fitness are much more important than weight in determining health, our society is so weight-focused. The diet industry is one of the biggest in our nation–grossing over 60 BILLION dollars a year, meanwhile rates of obesity and eating disorders (which are really one in the same) continue to increase. We are focusing on weight, and not health, and the proportion of people who are either starving themselves to death or bingeing themselves into oblivion is skyrocketing. It’s clear that our 60 billion dollar diet industry is incredibly ineffective, yet we continue to promote the same ol’ advice and hear the same ol’ story.

So, in the past few weeks, I’ve had to decrease my TV exposure. Every time I hear Jennifer Hudson sing about how much stronger she is because she’s lost weight, I feel the sudden urge to put my fist through the TV and punch her in the face. Yes, it’s something I feel that strongly about. However, I’m fairly certain my partner would be a little (okay, very) upset if I destroyed our gorgeous flat screen TV.

How about we focus on listening to our bodies? It may completely shock you, especially in a society where we are told we must always control and never trust our bodies, that we are–gasp–born with cues that tell us when we’re physically hungry. Yes, I know, shocking!

Take a minute to listen to your body. Check in with yourself. Are you hungry? Anything hurting? How are you feeling?

It may take a while to become a good listener, because most people have been “trained” to defy these signals from a very young age (you know, because we’re so strong and valuable and filled with so much fabulous willpower if we skip a meal or snack when our body is hungry). I promise, though, that if you keep listening, your body telling you something. It is telling you that it appreciates when you fuel it with foods that give it the nutrients and energy it needs to be strong and feel well. It is telling you that it appreciates when you exercise and strengthen its muscles and bones. It is telling you that it appreciates when you take time to relax and to get a full night’s sleep. It is telling you that it appreciates when you care for its soul by loving, laughing, and living life to the fullest. Most of all, it is telling you that it appreciates when you listen.

Listen more, judge less. It could save your life… or at least give you years back that you’re losing to all the time you spend judging yourself.

 

“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.”

Max Ehrmann

 
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Why, yes, I have been living under a rock.. Or, well, under my desk!

I know it’s been a crazy long time since I have updated you all! A lot of things have happened in the past few months, and I’ve been so incredibly busy. I’m pretty sure I haven’t had a day off in 2 months.

The hectic times started out with a medical school interview at the University of Arizona. I’m still waiting to hear back, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m not so confident about how things are going to go this time around, so it looks like I may be going back to the drawing board, retaking the MCAT, and trying for Plan B.

I’ve also started teaching MCAT Prep (well, just the Biology section) as a second side job. It’s been a blast so far, but it does mean that I’m working two jobs, going to school full-time, trying to maintain my other extracurricular obligations, some sense of a life, and oh, my sanity. I might need that.

Other than that, I’m nearing the end of my masters program, so I’ve been working feverishly on my project for my practicum, which is a program proposal for a program to address the needs of students with chronic illnesses at ASU. I’m really stoked about it, particularly because I’m a data nerd and my review of the community assessment data has allowed me to find some really scary data about students with chronic illnesses. I’ll let you all know how my project turns out. I’m almost done with the actual proposal, and then I’ll be presenting it to ASU Wellness and hopefully implementing it before I graduate in the summer.

Outside of all of my obligations, my personal life has also been both rocky and stressful. First and foremost, I’m prepping for two really big surgeries this summer, so I’m both becoming nervous and stressed, as I’m trying to plan my life and work schedules around these upcoming events. Both surgeries are immensely important, however, and I’m excited about what they mean for me. This upcoming Monday, I’ll pick the date for my panniculectomy, a surgery to remove excess skin from weight loss. This procedure has a lot of emotional implications for me, particularly because, as some of you know, the method that I utilized to lose weight was not healthy. In fact, the weight made me unhealthy. Puts a kink in many of your paradigms, right? I engaged in disordered eating, lost weight extremely quickly, and as a result of both the means and the rapidity, developed cardiac problems, a crazy immune system, and well, who knows what else. Like many others dealing with an eating disorder, I thought “those” bad things I heard about couldn’t happen to me. I thought that someone who was morbidly obese couldn’t develop the same problems from starvation as someone who was underweight. I was wrong. And just like those horror stories you hear about, usually during some eating disorders awareness week, I developed severe arrhythmia’s.  My heart rate would go from 30 to 250 and back again, all within minutes, and I eventually needed a cardiac ablation. My extra skin is a reminder of all of this–a daily reminder of the terrible crap I did to my body as a way of coping with the cards life dealt me at the time. I’m sure every ounce of terrible pain during my post-op recovery (which lasts a solid 2-3 months total) will also serve a reminder.

One of the biggest things that I’ve been working on with my team is how to handle the inevitable comments I’m going to receive after losing 30-40 pounds of skin. I’m essentially going to walk out of surgery down about 4 pants sizes. I, unlike most people I meet, am not of the paradigm that weight is directly associated with health. After all, if you read the research, it’s not. The factors that really impact health are all confounding factors in most research. Health is most certainly, however, associated with healthy lifestyle behaviors–a healthy diet (which can <gasp> also include your favorite chocolate cake), healthy levels of activity, and a healthy mind. The thing I’m least looking forward to are the inevitable comments about how <yet another gasp> “You look SO wonderful!” They’re irritating and they’re triggering. So, please, if you know me–Don’t tell me I look good after walking out of surgery. I’m sure I’ll feel better because, well, I’m getting rid of an enormous deformity, but I don’t want to hear comments that imply weight loss is directly associated with looking good or being healthy.

The second procedure, which is big mentally, but relatively minor, is my top surgery. I’m extremely excited to get rid of my boobs, which just, kind of like the extra skin, make me feel dissociated and separated from my body. Anyone who has seen me of late knows that I most certainly do not look like a woman. I know I will feel a lot more comfortable and confident in my life when the surgery is over. I’m lucky in that I’m very small-chested, so my surgery will literally just involve lipsuctioning out my breast tissue and waiting for the skin to snap back. Hoping that process goes smoothly, but if the skin doesn’t stretch back, I’ll just need a minor revision later on.

Last but not least, to end this extremely long post, I’ve been feeling rather isolated from the LGBTQ community in the area lately, and that’s a huge bummer. When I first moved here, I tried to spread my wings and get involved in off-campus events, because I think college students tend to get comfortable in their little campus bubble and forget that there is a whole world outside of their campus. When I tried to get other students to do the same, however, I always got the same response–“The LGBTQ community here is really cliquey.”

I always thought that it was completely false, until well, I found myself on the outside of that clique, and I can honestly say, “Man, the LGBTQ community here is really cliquey.” Some stuff went down in the past two months or so, and I’ve been left feeling really isolated and alienated. People who I thought were my friends clearly weren’t, and that totally blows, especially since I’ll likely find myself staying here for at least a couple more years. Totally a bummer, and has left me feeling down.

Otherwise, life has been great, but just busy, as I stated before. I’ll try to keep you in the loop about all of these changes and not go another two months or so without posting. I hope you all are doing well!

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Keeping me on my toes!

Oh boy, has life kept me busy! School has officially started again, which means I am both teaching and taking classes (and doing research and a practicum and drinking way too much coffee). I am officially taking the last of the academic courses I have for my MPH, which is a weird feeling. Where did the past two years ago, and how am I getting my masters in just 6 months?  I also have another exciting update, and that is… drumroll please… I have scheduled my first medical school interview of the season for February 11th.  Wish me luck, everyone!

Things with my transition are going well as usual. My consult for my top surgery in on February 6th, and every time I think about it, I get nervous! I am realizing that, while I can pass very easily with the use of your average athletic compression shirt, at the end of the day, how I feel about my body impacts my life greatly and creates a large amount of mental disconnect.

I’ve been feeling rather drained and down for the past week or two, and I am glad I have both the top surgery consult and medical school interview to look forward to.  I have severe food allergies and was accidentally exposed to an allergen last Saturday night and went into anaphylaxis. My diastolic blood pressure dropped to under 40 (VERY low) and I could not breathe. My partner used emergency epinephrine to open my airway. After a long hospital stay, I was sent home with prednisone, which is a wonderful drug, but a NIGHTMARE for anyone with type 1 diabetes. The prednisone completely eliminated my allergic reaction, but now I have been battling a blood sugar roller coaster all week. I’ve had lows in the 30s and highs in the 400s (“okay” blood sugars for me are 80-150/160). High blood sugars make you dehydrated and physically exhausted, and I have been ready for a nap by 10AM). The good news is that I took my last dose of prednisone yesterday, and it tends to impact my blood sugars for 24-48 hours, so I am hoping that after taking time to recharge this weekend, I will be back to normal again!

For more good diabetes news, I have officially received (and began using) my Dexcom Seven Plus Continuous Glucose Monitoring System, and it’s been spectacular! There’s a tiny wire inserted under my skin (the width of two hairs), and through that, the Dexcom measures my glucose levels every five minutes–200+ measurements a day. It allows me to see high and low blood sugars coming WAY before I feel symptoms, and take action to correct them before they even happen. Crazy how much technology has progressed!

What a "Dexcom" Screen looks like

I also should be receiving my Animas One Touch Ping insulin pump soon (I am currently using a different pump made by Medtronic). The best part–the software is Mac compatible! My pump and sensor right now have software that is only Windows compatible, so I can’t download information from them myself. I’m going to set up my computer to run Windows through a Macro, but it’ll be awesome to just “plug and go!”

I also fit in time to go out to lunch with my best friend Nikole last week, which was so desperately needed. Nikole and I have been best friends for about 13 years now, and lived next door to each other in New Jersey during middle and high school. She moved to Arizona a few months ago, and now lives in the next town over. How ironic, right? Despite becoming best friends when I was “Allison,” Nikole still knows me better than I know myself. Before Nikole moved here a few months ago, I was becoming homesick for the first time since I moved to AZ two years ago. Other than my partner, I didn’t have anyone here who really knew me.  It’s not that I was purposefully distancing myself from others, but in my few years here, I’ve been doing a lot of personal reflection and growth. I have spent the past two years getting to know myself, which didn’t leave me as much energy for interpersonal relationships. It has been refreshing and simply amazing to be able to get coffee or lunch or just hang out with an old friend, who seems to know “Alex” just as well as she knew “Allison.”

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Block out time in your schedule for this update!

It has been a while since I updated, and I have a ton of updates for you all!

The last time I posted was just before my partner Tray’s top surgery. You can click his name to get the full update, but, there was a lot of good and a lot of bad.

1.) The good news: his chest look simply amazing. I would recommend that anyone who is looking to have top surgery considers Dr. Meltzer. Tray had very large breasts prior to surgery (larger than a DD) and his chest looks perfect now. No dog ears, no odd nipple placement. Click here to go to his website for more information. The staff was so helpful, kind, and went out of their way to make everything as stress free as possible for our family. There are pictures of Tray’s chest on his blog, which you can find at www.journeytomeftm.wordpress.com.

2.) The bad news: Tray had very serious complications. The issues had nothing to do with anything any of the doctors did, so no worries if you are considering top surgery. (Trust me, I have the medical knowledge to know if it was!). No one knows why, but Tray developed compartment syndrome in both legs. Compartment syndrome is, however, something that individuals usually develop from severe traumas (falls from buildings, being crushed in an accident, etc), so it took days to diagnose correctly. No one expected someone to wake up from chest surgery and have trauma in both legs.

He screamed and screamed for over 48 hours and no one could figure out what was wrong. After over 24 hours of being in pain that was untouched by IV Dilaudid, one of the strongest pain killers out there, he looked at me and said, “Please don’t let me die.” My heart broke, and all I could do was promise him that I wouldn’t and that it would all be okay.

He was finally moved via ambulance from the Surgery Center to Scottsdale Osborn Hospital, which has a Level 1 Trauma Center. The orthopedic trauma surgeon ordered an MRI of both legs, and it was determined that Tray did indeed have compartment syndrome, and needed emergency surgery to prevent the loss of both legs and both kidneys. The doctors had Tray so drugged up in an effort to keep him sleeping and in as little pain as possible, so he was delirious and didn’t even understand what was going on. After speaking to the doctor, I went in to explain to him what was happening. I didn’t want him to stress more and decided to just tell him, very simply, that they figured out what was wrong with him and that he would need a couple more surgeries to fix it. I told him that he was being so brave and that I was so proud of him, and that he would not be alone through any of it. He just nodded his head and drifted off again.

The surgery that he needed is called a fasciotomy (Warning/Disclaimer: if you decide to Wikipedia it, it’s gruesome). The good news was that it fixed the problem almost immediately. The bad news was that a total of three surgeries were needed to fix the legs. So, yes, my poor guy had four surgeries in a week, and each time, I was a wreck! Here a few photos from the process, but, for a larger more in-depth update about what happened, visit Tray’s blog; he posted a very detailed run-down of the ordeal!

First, here’s a link to the YouTube video of the first time he walked. Yes, I cried while I video taped it. The first time he stood, after almost losing both legs, was very emotional for both me and Tray’s mom! Click here for the video: Tray standing for the first time.

These are wound-vacs, or vacuums that sucked fluid out of Tray's legs, which, after the first surgery, remained open for almost five days. Wikipedia fasciotomy if you'd like to learn more!

This is one of Tray's legs after the three surgeries were complete and his legs were closed. He had 44 staples in one leg and 40 in the other!

Tray is now on his way to a full recovery and is still in physical therapy for range of motion and strength deficits in his ankles. He is almost there, though! No one knows why this happened, but a couple of theories exist. First, Tray has had shin splints his entire life that were so bad that, after strenuous activity, he was physically unable to bend his ankles. Shin splints, particularly of this severity, are called exertional compartment syndrome, a milder form of compartment syndrome that occurs only with physical activity. These shin splints are unresponsive to any conservative treatment (icing, physical therapy, etc.) and basically occur because the muscles in the leg swell or are too large for the fascia, or sheath, that surround them. I “diagnosed” Tray with this a few months ago after hearing about his lifetime of terrible shin splints, and told him he should really see an orthopedic surgeon to get it fixed. After this ordeal, the doctor asked about if Tray had ever had anything like this, and officially diagnosed Tray with exertional compartment syndrome. (Pat on the back to me for diagnosing it before!). It is possible that the intermittent compression devices that are used during surgery to prevent blood clots exacerbated Tray’s exertional compartment syndrome, causing acute compartment syndrome, which is a medical emergency. The silver lining of this whole ordeal is that the surgery will fix the exertional compartment syndrome, and for the first time in his life, he will never have shin splints again. Woohoo!

I need to, as a final note on the ordeal, make a shout out to my mother-in-law, Harriet, who was there through all of the surgeries, and for weeks afterwards while Tray was recovering. I couldn’t have done any of it without her. When you are going through something so emotionally, mentally, and physically draining, it is the little things that make a huge difference… Someone there to give you a hug, going home and finding that the laundry is already done and folded, that your gas tank is already full, that the mail has been checked and the cats have been fed. I look back to the day where Tray made me promise that I wouldn’t let him die, and if I had to, after that, go home and worry about something like doing laundry, I would have collapsed.  Harriet provided the mental, emotional, and physical energy that I needed when I was so drained, and I am forever thankful for that.

 

Does that sound like a lot for a month? Well, it’s not even the only update! After this whole situation, last week, I became a victim of a fraudulent scheme ran through ASU’s Student Employment Website.  The situation is still a part of a police investigation, so I’ll save the details until I am sure I can discuss it all, but the end result is that all of my money (and then some) was stolen. Both my checkings and savings accounts were wiped out. But thats not the worst of it: The situation created a negative balance of $1,400, which was then taken from my partner’s savings account, by Bank of America, to cover the overdraft on my account. Due to the nature of the fraud and transactions, this money cannot be recovered by my bank.  My only hope in ever recovering the money is if the individual is caught by the police and I sue. However, it is likely that this individual is taking money from dozens, if not hundreds, of other individuals, and would never be able to pay all of the money back to their victims, especially if they end up in prison.

Don’t worry, though, I saved my final two updates, which are positive, for last.

First, I have officially finished ALL of my secondary applications for medical school. I sent the last one off to The University of Colorado yesterday, so now I sit and wait to hear back. Most of mine were in months ago, but with everything that happened, two had to wait, and I finished them yesterday.

And drumroll please…. the final update is… that I have scheduled a consult with Dr. Meltzer for my top surgery. The appointment is on Monday, February 6th. I’m already getting nervous about it, and I have over a month to wait. My surgery should be much less involved and less expensive than Tray’s because… well, I have very small boobs. At the end of the day, however, I can’t live my life fully with them still here, and they create an enormous amount of body dysmorphia. In addition, we live in Arizona, which you all know is incredibly hot. Like I’m talking regularly over 120 in the summer. Since I do still have boobs, this means I’m wearing some kind of compression device or shirt year-round, which can actually be dangerous in AZ in the extreme temperatures. If it’s 120 outside, it feels like 140 under tight compression clothing.

Phew. That was a long update! That is all for now, my friends. I am working feverishly to finish up one last paper for my Health Economics class, which I had to take an “Incomplete” in due to everything that happened. After that, I will be off to Las Vegas for New Years, which is a present from my mother in law, Harriet. Tray and I will be able to sit back and relax for the first time in… I don’t even know how long. Trust me, it’s much needed!!

 

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As many of you know, today marks International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Today is the day where we sit and reflect all of those lost to senseless violence against transgender individuals, and it is also the day where my heart feels the heaviest. As a transgender man, words cannot begin to explain the feeling one walks around with, knowing about the extreme violence perpetrated against transgender individuals around the world, always wondering if something like that will happen to you.

Today, I hope you will reflect and remember those we have lost to this violence. I also hope, however, that you will take the time to evaluate and ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to support a healthy environment for transgender or otherwise gender-variant individuals.

Today also has a lot of meaning for me because tomorrow is the day where my partner begins the first step in his journey–top surgery. Even talking about it makes my eyes well up… I am so proud of him and the strength and courage he has shown along his journey, even in the face of all of the senseless discrimination, hate, and bigotry in the world. I am so excited for what this means for him, and what it means for our relationship. 

So, on this day, I ask you, once again, to remember those in the transgender community who we have lost. Progress is coming in our society, even if it is not as fast as we all would like. For others however, acceptance wasn’t even a possibility. These individuals are the ones who have stood before us and have shown such strength and courage; this is what has forged the path for our acceptance.

I also want to take this day to thank each and every individual who continues to be true to themselves and their identity, even while knowing the hate that still exists. Your journey is so important and takes an enormous amount of courage, no matter where you are in your process. Even if it is not the right time or place for you to be out, your courage is still enormous.

Continue to be true to yourself and all that you are, and continue to honor those lost because they chose to do the same–not just today, but every day.

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As many of you …

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