Thursday, September 22, 2016

The First Big Hot Flash of Hormone Cessation and Adventures in Curing

Yesterday was some fascinating timing... as my testosterone dose has changed to .5cc every other week rather than .5cc every week, it was my new "shot day," but it also coincidentally happened to be the first really nasty hot flash.  This occurred right during a meeting, which I tell you was really fun.  When I got home and took my shot (I dreaded this, by the way), within about an hour I had what I called "wax face" at the beginning of my hormonal journey, in which my face was shiny and greasy looking but didn't actually feel wet or greasy.  This all went away fairly soon.

Based on suggestions from a forum I've been lurking about the subject of getting off hormones I'll be getting some Black Cohosh to see if it helps with the bizarre hormonal systems.  This decision had some bad timing because I just passed up on seriously discounted Black Cohosh at the supermarket a couple days ago that somebody got to before me (got packages of bolted Einkorn flour for dirt cheap, though!).

My thing right now has been curing meats, which so far has been hit or miss.  It's really hard to stuff small sausages (like hot sticks) with a manual meat grinder, so I'll probably find a different method using the attachments, sort of like a frosting bag or something like that.  My jerky press will work for some sizes, but not all of them.  The one hot stick I managed to fill was with meat that didn't have any pink curing salt (and yes, I use curing salt, get over it) in it, so it wound up being extremely unappealing.

I made a nice slab of bacon as well, using pork belly I bought at Costco.  I added some seasonings that seemed right, and kosher salt, and curing salt, but I was a little incompetent with the salting and wound up with something closer to salt pork than bacon.  It certainly doesn't taste bad, but it'll only be useful for things that already need more salt.  I could see crumbling it over a salad.

Tonight I'll be making another slab of bacon using a recipe closer to the amount of meat I have.  The base recipe for about a 2 pound slab will be two tablespoons salt, one teaspoon curing salt, a half cup of sugar, and then extra seasoning as I feel like it.  I'll vacuum seal it all together so the salt draws out water and makes a nice brine in the fridge.  I'll cure that for about seven days and then smoke it over whisky barrel chips, which I learned recently I love.

I'm also starting some corned beef brisket.  I've always wanted to try making this and I just started the brine yesterday.  I made my own corning spice based on a recipe that had one tablespoon each allspice berries, mustard seeds, coriander, red pepper flakes, cloves, and black peppercorn with two teaspoons powdered ginger, a half stick of cinnamon broken up, six bay leaves broken up, and nine cardamom pods.  The rest of the recipe is here.  I halved the recipe because my brisket is smaller.  That'll be sealed in a vacuum bag (without the vacuum, as it's a liquid) and kept in the refrigerator for about 10 days before I either cook or store it.

In addition I'm also making mead, banana vinegar, and an Egyptian style beer from the book Wild Fermentation.  Lots of projects going into the next season!

Happy Trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Re-Seasoning My Pagan Year

One of the fundamental things I've been trying to do with my spiritual practice is get out of the habit of oversymbolic ritual.  What I mean by this is that the way Paganism and Witchcraft are taught it's easy to learn bland facts about what we're supposed to do and believe without ever fully realizing that the symbols, tools, and observances we recognize are informed by mundane facts.  For instance, many Witches use small symbolic cauldrons on their altars, ignoring the fact that a cauldron is merely a cooking pot, and its magickal importance is directly attributable to the fact that it is a life-sustaining tool.  How many Pagans have ever used a cauldron for cooking?  We also associate West with Water, but rarely do we talk about why.  Well... associating West with Water makes sense when you live somewhere with the Atlantic ocean in that direction!  If I call Water from the West, I'm aiming in the direction furthest away from a substantial body of water... Lake Winnebago to the South, Lake Michigan to the East, Lake Superior to the North, nothing to the West!  (Full disclosure... I don't actually call elements from the directions, usually.)

For me it's rather a worthwhile goal to look into things like this in order to personalize your practice to one that is meaningful to you and your area in an intimate manner rather than just doing what a book tells you is traditional.  If we all worked like this, folks in the Southern Hemisphere would all be celebrating Yule in the middle of the summer!  So I've been trying to deeply personalize my observances, and while I was doing that I happened upon this video about why our seasons don't make any sense:

This video explains how our concept of "seasons" being situated between solstices and equinoxes is largely based on the climate of one particular area... these astronomical observances relate to how much light we get, but the changes in temperature may or may not be congruent with them at all.

When I went paleo and a lot of the grain-based stuff in Pagan Sabbats stopped applying to me, I started forming different views of those observances to compensate based on a simplified calendar of hunting and gathering (with colder months being the "hunting" and warmer months being the "gathering").  Although the solstices and equinoxes (being phenomena I definitely experience here as well as a good way to schedule time with other Pagans) factor into my practice, a more meaningful calendar happens to be based on when and what I hunt, gather, garden, fish, or collect.  These are not nicely divided seasons or singular dates, but overlapping observances of varying lengths based on things I actually do.

For instance, right now the leaves are just starting to turn, indicating that it is time to start collecting Shagbark Hickory nuts.  It is also approaching the middle of the two-month American Ginseng season.  Shortly after that is the nine day Whitetail Deer season.  This leads us to December and January, dedicated to foods that can be foraged all year like Crabapples, Rosehips, Pine and other Evergreens as well as the important art of stockpiling and preserving food.  Come spring, the melting of the snow will make way for beginning to harvest greens and roots like Dandelion and Burdock.  In March the licensing year for fishing starts.  In May, hunting for Morel mushrooms begins around Mother's Day.  June is the first month of direct-sow planting in my garden, with most of the summer having plentiful gathering as well as planting/harvesting.

I haven't quite worked out the exact dates and natural signals for this yet, but it is the general way I honor seasonal cycles within my practice nowadays.

Interspersed with these natural occurrences are observances related to astronomical events.  Full moons, new moons, eclipses, meteor showers, solstices, equinoxes, the rising of particular constellations and stars (such as Sirius and Orion), all factor in.

Of course, this is in addition to using and throwing out ideas and symbolism based on how personally meaningful it is.  I already mentioned the use of a cauldron in food magick rather than as just a symbolic vessel to burn paper in.  It also includes how I view and use ritual blades (throwing out that blasted "never cut with a ritual blade" nonsense was great), how I use brooms/besoms, and so forth.

This isn't exactly an instructional guide, but I hope that for anybody who feels particularly alienated from the way modern Paganism is put together this serves as inspiration that it really doesn't need to be that way.  Our spiritual practices were not handed to us whole cloth, they were developed over millennia based on actual mundane experiences.

Until next time, Happy Trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Testosterone Cessation: Planning for Change

Today is the day I start weaning myself off of the hormones.  Most of the trans men I have talked to have actually gone off of it cold turkey... but they also largely stopped because they ran out of money and not out of choice, hence why they'd end so abruptly.  Since I hate giving myself shots so damn much, rather than giving myself half-injections at a normal rate of once every seven days I will be giving myself full injections at once every 14 days until the bottle is complete.  It will probably still be a rough ride, but less rough than if I just flat out stopped.

Based on the fact that I have gone up to three weeks without hormones before, it will take a while before anything really weird happens to me.  After three weeks cold turkey my main problems were hot flash and mild/manageable dizziness which went away pretty quickly after starting hormones again.

Warning for anybody reading... the rest of this talks about periods, and rather graphically so.

One of the concerns I'll need to deal with is how to deal with menstruation once that starts again.  This is something I have been mentally planning for for months now, but I haven't actually done anything yet.

So here's the problem:  I am aware that back before testosterone my periods were somewhat irregular, but I generally saw them coming due to bodily factors I don't really understand.  I couldn't plan on it coming exactly once every 28 days, but I could sort of sense or feel a day or so before it came that it was on its way, so I was able to apply a pad in time or, later, keep my menstrual cup with me (something I usually did anyway).  Since I'm a stealth trans man who has a job with lengthy hours, I need to come up with a plan for how to deal with it, because there is just no telling when I'll bleed next.

First, since I don't know how much I'll bleed or if I'll remember how it feels (or even if it will feel the same) I'll rely on and be grateful for the fact that I habitually wear black pants at work.  I'll also keep a couple extra pairs of briefs in my bag along with a method of transporting out bloodied ones if that happens.

I'll be making a set of cloth pads that are made to fit in boxer briefs.  There are a few more options on the market for menstruating trans men and other people with periods who don't wear panties, but I don't like most of them, and regular pads aren't made to fit in this kind of underwear.  I have an idea to make snappable modified briefs with pads made for their size which I'll be attempting to make once I get the supplies.  They will be thinner, because they're just backup.

I used to use a DivaCup, but that was so long ago that it's probably hanging out at my mom's house somewhere and I don't want to be digging around there like "Hey, mom, I'm planning on getting my period again and need this thing I left at your house five years ago."  These are much less pricy than they used to be, and I'll be getting them, but I'm slightly worried that I won't be able to wear them right away though due to changes in the vagina as I can't handle a lot of penetration at all since hormones, one of the reasons I'm stopping them.  It may take a while for it to return to a state where it can handle a cup.  So I'll have it on hand, but will also be making the pads.

I know a lot of trans guys wind up getting abladed or some other surgery to stop their periods... I don't think that it'll be necessary unless I choose to get a hysterectomy (while keeping the ovaries) later.  For now I'll just stick to the natural menstrual health regimen I was doing before hormones.

More updates as they come!

Happy trails,

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Grilled "Butterfly" Chicken

With the last days of warmth dwindling down I've started to grill a lot more.  I love grilling and, in fact, any sort of open-fire cooking... it feels more primal than cooking on an electric or induction range, and it imparts flavors you just don't get easily in other methods.

One of my latest grilling adventures was a whole organic chicken I found for half off at Festival Foods.  Festival is one of the few places locally that has a really good selection of organic and grassfed meats, and when they've been there a while they wind up in the discount section.  I am a big fan of this section.

So I look up grilling whole chickens, and find that the best way to do it is to butterfly it so you don't wind up with chicken that's raw in the middle and overcooked on the outside.  I admittedly butchered the hell out of it, as I have no idea what I am doing and did not think to watch a video on the subject.  I basically butterflied it in the wrong direction.  I think.  But this managed to get the chicken flat enough to cook properly, so success in that department.

I used a chimney starter full of lump charcoal, which I set on one side of the grill only.  I actually hadn't heard of a chimney starter until very recently and I gotta say... best investment if you grill a lot you could make.  It's probably already paid for itself in lighter fluid.  I use lump charcoal so that I can compost the ashes afterward.  I also soaked some mesquite chips and put them on to create tasty smoke.

Anyway, I started by putting the chicken on the non-charcoal side.  I checked it around every 7-10 minutes until all the pink was gone, then transferred it to the charcoal side to get the skin crispier.  Meanwhile I also cooked corn and mushrooms.  In the end it was a very attractive dish, even if I did butterfly it backwards.

Some other things I have grilled in the past week or so include ample steak (a cowboy rib-eye that took three days to eat, a regular rib-eye, a thick New York strip steak, and a rack of pork ribs I cooked for four hours today over mesquite smoke).  Whether I drag the pictures of these off my phone or camera in the next couple of days I don't know, but I have been eating fairly well lately, so maybe.

Anyway, until next time, happy trails!
-- Setkheni-itw

Friday, September 9, 2016

Testosterone Cessation: Introduction and Injection Anxiety

For several months now (finalizing in the end of July) I've been mulling over the thought of going off of testosterone replacement therapy, which I've been on for about four and a half years as part of a gender transition program.  This is not, I feel the need to insist, because I have any plans to "detransition" back to being a woman.  I'm very happy being a man, and without my rounds and rounds of hormone therapy I would not be as comfortable in my skin or as confident as I am.  I went on hormones after many years of socially transitioning without them, and the difference is staggering and overwhelmingly positive.  I got health problems from it, but many of these were probably going to happen anyway (like hypertension, which I have had since I was a teenager) or easy to treat (like secondary polycythaemia).  These are frustrating and definitely were part of my decision, but if it were just a matter of these I would probably still continue.  That said, my reasons for stopping are a mix of philosophical, medical, spiritual, financial, and mental-health reasons.

A warning that this next paragraph has some detailed descriptions of awful injection experiences.  Giving myself injections is a chore that I absolutely dread.  The only thing that motivates me to inject myself at all is putting it on the game Habitica, which I play with my best friends, and it becomes less and less of a motivator as time goes by.  One thing that transgender men such as myself don't talk about so much is the fact that administering hormones tends to get much, much worse over time.  The first shot is often very easy... it slides through the skin like a hot knife through butter.  You marvel over how easy it is, how painless it is, and think "Yeah, I could do this forever."  Then the physical changes start coming.  Your skin gets tougher.  Your muscle gets more dense.  Suddenly you have to make actual effort to stick the needle through that top layer of skin.  Getting it through the muscle starts feeling like cutting steak with a dull knife.  You start injecting in the same place more often than you should, trying to find reliable areas to shoot that don't leave you frustrated and anxious, leading to hard spots within the muscle it's impossible for the needle to get through.  You have a panic attack thinking you injected into an artery because blood spurts out when you remove the needle one time.  You bruise.  Maybe you get an infection at some point.  It doesn't always hurt, but the expectation of "will it or will it not hurt terribly today" makes giving yourself a shot a nightmare.  You start putting it off.  You say "oh gosh, it's so late in the night, I'll just do it tomorrow."  You put off refilling a prescription just because it gives you an excuse to avoid sticking yourself for another couple days.  And while I'm certainly not saying all trans men go through this, quite a large number of us do.  This is one of the reasons subcutaneous injections (which involve smaller needles and much less depth) are so popular now.

So I chugged through that because although the injections sucked, the physical transformation itself is awesome.  In a little under five years I've managed to grow a great beard and handlebar moustache and my voice is in a male-read range.  These are the two physical effects that matter to me, and they are unlikely to go away.  Everything else--the fat redistribution, the lack of menstruation, the extra muscle, a number of emotional side effects--do not mean very much to me, and in the latter case are a large burden.  And every time I sit there with a needle contemplating sticking it in my leg, I re-affirm to myself that testosterone was worth it for the amount of time I've been on it, but is not worth continuing.

There has been a huge hit on my health.  I gained a lot of weight that can't be explained by muscle growth, and a lot of fat in the belly rather than less-harmful areas.  I have secondary polycythaemia, meaning my body makes too many red blood cells, putting me at risk for heart attack and stroke.  My high blood pressure has shot up to the point of needing to take medications.  The secondary polycythaemia, in particular, is difficult for me to manage as a queer person, since the treatment is to go donate blood, something I am often ineligible for.

One thing I'm curious about is whether or not testosterone will bring back any anxiety.  There's a very commonly held idea in the trans community that being estrogen-dependent as a man or testosterone-dependent as a woman is inherently anxiety-inducing, which has been used as ammunition against people who consider hormone therapy unnecessary or cosmetic.  But is it, really?  I have had some extreme spots of anxiety after hormones, mostly due to financial stress.  How much of my pre-testosterone anxiety was merely due to not being read as a man?  I won't know the whole truth here until I'm an estrogen-dependent man again, but I suspect that the answer is "a lot."  When I do dwell on this sort of thing, I just remind myself that I can always start testosterone again, as many trans men have done.

This is the first part in a series regarding my current cessation from testosterone, what that means culturally for me, and what my plans are for it.  In the coming weeks (and longer) I'll be talking about the following subjects:

  • Whether or not transsexualism as we know it is a medical phenomenon and whether that's a bad thing as well as other cultural stuff about the trans community.
  • Plans for dealing with the pitfalls and quirks of living in an estrogen-dependent body with a functioning uterus.
  • Why I'm not moving toward "natural transition."
  • What physical and emotional effects I'm going through as they happen.
  • Whatever else I happen to feel like writing about.
Until then, happy trails,