In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Man in the Mirror
  • Jarek Steele (bio)

I searched the internet for a comprehensive list of things I'd need before flying to San Francisco for the beginning of the last phase of my transition from female to male—phalloplasty. After watching so many YouTube videos that I almost talked myself out of surgery, I found a list in a Facebook group. It's the way I cope with anxiety—plan for every single catastrophe known to man and mentally rehearse the moves through each of them.

Over and over and over.

On dark nights in my living room, staring into the glow of my laptop screen, I ordered $100 worth of bandages and assorted ointments and bought three extra-large pairs of sweatpants. The list included supplies I hadn't heard of that conflicted with things other lists recommended, so I researched every ointment. The last item under the heading "miscellaneous" was "one cheap hand mirror."

I expected this. I would need to see places I don't normally look. Places that, in their current configuration, were the source of much pain. Pain I couldn't really describe except to describe what would not be painful.

I was no stranger to the feminist movement—using hand mirrors to examine one's own vagina, taking control, looking at what was patriarchal taboo, owning one's own healthcare. One of my friends even used to deliver sperm in a cooler to women so they could self-inseminate. In theory, I was down.

In practice, though …

I got pregnant when I was 19. At the time I was thrilled because I was underweight, and for the previous five years I'd erased myself, vagina included, by obscuring traces of me behind a fog of vodka, weed, and whatever and [End Page 25] whomever else I could get my hands on. At 18 I was a connoisseur of Maalox flavors and was working on a beauty of an ulcer. I figured my body had stopped even trying. Finding out I was pregnant was like hearing it say, "not yet, motherfucker." I was not as ruined as I felt.

It was complicated.

I could rewrite history and say I knew I was a man and being pregnant was torture, but that would be a lie. What I knew then, without having met a trans person or even copping to my attraction to women in addition to my then-boyfriend, was that pregnancy gave me legitimacy. It justified my existence. It was also surreal. It felt like it was happening to someone else and I was watching that person, with those parts, do something normal.

Holding a hand mirror down there was absolutely out of the question. I was separate from that body. I wouldn't be looking at myself. No thank you.

Now, though, a mirror made sense. I was going to look at myself. I put it off, though. There were $10 models at Target, even more expensive choices at Walgreens. The mirror was a toss-off, and I had already spent a metric shit ton of money on every other part of this surgery, so I went to the dollar store and bought a six-inch purple plastic model with a barcode sticker glued tightly to the glass, along with a ten-foot charger for my phone, and other odds and ends that appeared under the heading "miscellaneous." I walked out having spent $11 total. This plastic minutia wrapped in a yellow plastic bag represented what I thought would be the least of my worries.

I started transitioning when my son, Cody, was ten. My partner Kris, 20 years my senior, was going through menopause. We all bumped blindly through our changes. We figured it out.

Of course there were layers and years and mistakes. I was (am) an imperfect parent. I saw my son every other weekend and every Wednesday. His dad was infinitely more stable, which was why I loved him in the first place.

In the short bursts of time Cody and I had together, I tried to cram all of my love into his heart. When I started to transition, I told him I would always be his...


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pp. 25-30
Launched on MUSE
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