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Wandering through the Paranormal | 2015 | Of Beast and Bars


I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. There were so many different ways to be beautiful.  

-Michael Cunningham

Lowercase T

I am as masculine as a California condor

The nurse calls with the results of my blood test. I was concerned about minor weight gain I could not shake, so I wondered if my steroidal allergy spray might be the culprit. My primary doctor thought, given a few other symptoms, that I perhaps had low testosterone. The tests confirm this, though they don't give details as to exactly how low my testosterone, is simply that I should see a urologist for further consultation.

One would think that, given that this was adjacent to what I suspected, these results would not make me unhappy. However, it does nothing for the panic of my body malfunctioning. I don't know how long I've lacked in testosterone. My symptoms, aside from some weight gain, are not that severe. I have low libido outside of foreplay and the actual act of sex. However, I married one of the cutest fairy creatures ever encountered and so sex is often on the table, metaphorically if not literally (for the mental well-being of future dinner guests). I find Amber enticing, however sex is not my top priority. Given the choice between having pizza and mocking a bad movie and having torrid sex, I might choose the movie and pizza.

I have no interest even in pornography-the fast food of sex-which is odd for an American man. Porn is like watching a cooking show: the food looks like it might be a joy to eat, but I don't get to taste it so I can't muster up an appetite for the imaginary and unattainable. And, like Hannibal, no matter how well lit it might be, there is a good chance that it is made of people who would have preferred not to have been involved.

The idea of going to a urologist for anything, especially at thirty-four, is jarring. The internet is not helpful in telling me exactly what might occur when one is further tested for low testosterone. It would be reassuring if I could instantly find first-person accounts to allay my fears of anyone putting their fingers inside of my ass. I can tell that, depending on the results of this test, yearly prostate exams will become a part of my future. The internet also notes that testosterone replacement therapy is nearly always intravenous or a gel. I like neither one of these because needles make me feel faint and bodily slime that is dangerous for women or children a dicey prospect.

Testosterone is essential for manliness for most people (or why would transmen place such an emphasis on getting it prescribed?). In a medical sense, this blood test has called my masculinity into question, which might sting except that I spent my adolescence cuddled up with girls who liked to play with my hair. I was a drama kid who transitioned into leveraging constant journaling into writing fantasy novels with brave, female protagonists. I've made out with more lesbians than some actual lesbians. I cry unashamedly over movies and books. The qualities I like best about myself-sensitivity, social awareness, introspection, linguistic quickness, empathy, affection, gentleness-tend to be ascribed to women more than men. I have been mistaken as homosexual more times than I can count, by straight and gay men as well as by women (whom, in my teens, I was delighted to demonstrably disabuse of that notion). I didn't see any cause to defend myself since I was not brought up to see being gay as inherently offensive. My blood has told my doctor nothing particularly original. I like being male-I certainly do not experience anything like gender dysphoria-but I prefer masculinity on my terms. Clever and constructive, not brutish and crass.

The next day, a different nurse calls me back. My doctor had not sent any information through, so she doesn't know why I called, only that I would like to see urologist. She asks if I would like an afternoon or day appointment. I joke that, if she can wait until July, I can do a day appointment. This is my fear talking and not my common sense. She sets up an appointment in a week. I only have eight days to worry. I asked her if she knows what a urologist appointment for a 34-year-old man possibly lacking in testosterone may entail. She assures me that she only does scheduling.

I want to have more control over my body. When my general practitioner suggested that I keep a food log, I got an app. Since I went into him with in Excel spreadsheet of my weekly weight, muscle mass, fat percentage, and bone density going back three years, this was no great change and gave me a sense of further power. That isn't enough. I still need to go to another doctor, maybe get another blood test. Maybe have a gloved stranger fondle my prostate. It's hard to know.

When Daniel sees me key my meal into my Kindle later, Amber is quick to divulge that I have been monitoring my food because of a weight change. She leaves out the lower testosterone hypothesis.

Daniel looks me over. "You're trying to gain weight?" he guesses.

"Lose. About ten pounds." However it is reassuring that this gravitational anomaly is more than invisible to him. I don't see it either. I do not feel ten pounds over my target. If I did, I might feel less concerned. Dieting involves implementing a series of specific rules and is thus like a game to my brain.

I worry that adding testosterone to my system will change me. I like who I am right now. I like my emotional softness, though I do not like my mood swings. I do not like how, rarely but still on occasion, I lie on my bed and have a hard time convincing myself to get up again. The internet suggests that testosterone replacement therapy might cure some of my issues. It might make me more energetic, though I feel like I have decent amount of energy. When I don't have decent amount of energy, I have caffeine. Caffeine is a more reliable drug any day than the testosterone gel. Some transmen report that, once they started their testosterone regime, their minds suddenly went into Tex Avery wolf overdrive whenever their preferred gender passed by on the street, which sounds exhausting. Whatever cocktail of hormones infuses my brain, I am intensely monogamous to Amber and indifferent to the theoretical charms of anyone else.

I want badly to be healthy, though. I spent a lot of my childhood and adolescence imagining that I had no allergies. Even when this meant I could barely breathe from pet dander or when I got a taste of real shellfish and had to lie down with what I now realize was anaphylactic shock, I couldn't accept that my body was other than blessed and perfect. My testosterone may not be so different. It's frightening to know that I may be embarking on something that will become a part of my forever. It's frightening to think that a hormone might be added to my system that I apparently lack and might change how I think, how I feel and react.

I fight against this onset of anxiety by deciding that I need a date night with Amber. We end up at the Saugerties First Friday, which is far less exciting than the Second Saturday in Beacon but a considerable improvement on moping at home. Eating tiny cupcakes and half-priced nachos is a sight better than waiting for a diagnosis.

The next day, my mother sends me a message, alerting me to the multifarious and more severe medical issues in my family. I decide this is as good a time as any to alert her to my own potential issue in hopes she will soothe me. She immediately says that she always thought of me as the daughter she never had, then blames my issue on the fact that I drink "fake sugar." I know from the extensive, panicky research on that there is no legitimate correlation between any artificial sweetener and a deficit in testosterone (and don't feel the need to link me to some Dr. Oz advertising, snake oil selling, seven exclamation points per sentence ridiculousness from anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists, thanks). I do not appreciate her victim-blaming, but I understand that this is how she has to think. This can't simply be one of those things that happens or a weird quirk of fate because that is something out of our control. I have to deserve this because I cut a corner. The gods will thus punish me with a lower libido, moodiness, and seven pounds I cannot shake.

On the day of the appointment, I am sick. I don't think that my sickness has anything to do with worry. I just deal with dirty children who have poor hygiene. Still, I'm glad to be little more rested when I go to this appointment. I don't want any sleeplessness affecting what I say that the doctor.

I grumped the whole way down, glaring at cars that are stuck in traffic with me. I suggest Amber that we should tie the results of this appointment where to go out to dinner. If I have something terminal, we should choose a nice restaurant to make the most of our last few months together.

Amber says, "No, we should choose a restaurant we really hate to punish you for leaving me."

"This seems fair. So, McDonald's?"

Shortly after arriving, I am ushered into the urologist's office to finish off my paperwork. The questions are about my symptoms. Off the long list, I check three. The rest seem inconvenient to awful, but they are not my concern.

I expect a heavily accented doctor, a bit grim in an Eastern European way. Instead, he is boisterous and loud. "I don't even know why you are here," he says, looking at his clipboard where there is handwritten information. "Your testosterone is 371. When was this taken?"

"About a week ago."

"No, time of day."

"Oh... around 4:30," I reply.

"4:30? That's ridiculous. You have normal testosterone, if they had bothered to take it in the morning like they are supposed to. Nothing to worry about. I don't know why they bothered to send you to me," he says, sounding jovially frustrated at the incompetence of his colleagues. "Do you think you need testosterone?"

"I don't know," I say honestly. "I had some weight gain I can't get rid of."

"You eat a lot of french fries?"

I shake my head. "Not really. I may after this appointment, out of relief."

"Do you have a lack of energy?"

"Not most of the time," I say. "I bike four or five times a week."

"For how long?"

I run my fingers through my hair, feeling nervous and a bit embarrassed. "Like five to seven miles," I admit.

"Are you one of those bastards who tries to run me over on the Rail Trail? You know, the Rail Trail is for walking, not you speed bikers."

I snicker. "I keep to the back roads in Red Hook and Rhinebeck."

"Sounds like this might be stress," he says. "Do you think you have stress in your life? What do you do?"

"I, uh..." I falter, because I know that, the moment I answer, he will diagnose all of my problems as stress. I am mostly relaxed when it comes to my job because I float through my days without much attachment. "I teach at a residential facility for adjudicated minors." His white eyebrows shoot up. "Like a reform school."

"That's more stressful than what I do," he assures me. For the rest of the session, he talks about the two inmates who recently escaped from a prison upstate. He doesn't need to consider my problems any longer, since I must be beyond stressed. He prescribes that I take a trip to a Caribbean island, assuring me that this is all I need. "I've only prescribed testosterone for one guy. One. Three hundred pounds, this liver was making estrogen! He had testicles like this." He barely opens a space between each of his curled thumb and forefingers. "That's someone who needs testosterone. He lost eighty pounds in a year once he was on it. Diet and exercise, too, of course."

I laugh, a bit uncomfortable at the proximity of the imaginary testicles to my face.

"Do you still want me to examine you?" the doctor asks ten minutes into our appointment.

"I prefer to avoid an examination, actually," I say. What would be the point?

I walk out to Amber, futzing with her phone in the waiting room. I pretend I have been given horrible news, but the nurse ruins my shtick when she asks if I need a follow up appointment.

"No," I assure her. "I think we're good."

I saw a future before me of monthly injections around which I would have to plan my life, personality changes, uncertainty. Instead, I find out that I am too healthy, too normal, to have to bother. However, it leaves me no explanation for my weight gain, my low libido, my mood swings. There is no magical solution, not external lack medical science can address. This is apparently just who I am.

Soon in Xenology: More timely entries?

last watched: Carnivale
reading: Our Sentence Is Up
listening: Sia

Wandering through the Paranormal | 2015 | Of Beast and Bars

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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