4

I found a job and now summer vacation is ending

After nearly three months since being laid off from Tumblr, I’ll be starting my new job this week. I’m pretty excited about it, but before I go into that, I thought I’d write a bit about what my time off and job hunt have been like. I’ve been pretty quiet about this whole thing on social media compared to the way I am about most things, so there’s a bit to catch up on here.

The plan

My plan for my unemployed time was to take at least a few weeks, but probably closer to a month, before doing anything at all. I was going to decompress and relax. Maybe even, I don’t know, enjoy the time off????? I haven’t had more than two weeks off from working in about 14 years so I felt like I deserved to enjoy just a little bit of time.

After a few weeks, I was going to start applying for jobs and asking around for who might be working somewhere that’s hiring. But with six months of severance, I was going to take my time with things.

The reality

The reality was much different than planned. I actually wrote a 3,000 word blog post going into a lot of detail about it, but I decided to scrap it for something a bit different.

While I wanted to take the time off before doing anything, I also wanted to at least deal with my inbox first. The layoffs at Yahoo (who owned Tumblr prior to being acquired by Verizon) weren’t exactly a secret, even before they officially happened. So a lot of recruiters blasted out emails to people they found on Linkedin with Tumblr/Yahoo listed as their employer.

At minimum, I wanted to reply to a few of the non-gross sounding recruiters so their messages weren’t just sitting there forever. In addition to this, I had one recruiter I had been working with for a little bit before I was laid off. I wasn’t looking to get out of Tumblr ASAP, but I had started looking. I just didn’t have a strong motivation to get out because I loved Tumblr.

From here, things ramped up immediately. Before I even caught my breath, my schedule was filled with phone calls and tech screens at companies. This was in addition to trying to schedule plans with both friends I hadn’t seen in a while and former coworkers for catching up.

My schedule quickly became busier than when I was employed. I was on the go non-stop from waking up until late evening. It was exhausting, but also good. Any free time between scheduled stuff, I spent doing practice coding exercises online so I could be prepared for interviews.

Trying to schedule things was a whole new level of hell. Each company/recruiter would ask for 3-4 times I was available so they could schedule on their end, but there were points where I had a ton of things scheduled already and then had two or three companies I was waiting to hear back about, but had to hold multiple spots for until one was confirmed. A couple companies did make this easier, though, by using system that allows you to just pick a time from what they have available. This was super helpful! If your job entails scheduling with people, you should do this!

Trying to deal scheduling things when your calendar looks like this is hell.

My first five weeks of unemployment were the exact opposite of what I had planned for them to be. I could have decided to put all of this on hold, but I was interviewing with a few companies I wanted to work for, so I didn’t want to hold up those processes. Additionally, Tumblr/Yahoo wasn’t the only NYC tech company that had layoffs this summer. Etsy and SoundCloud, among others, also had layoffs. Typically, there are way more jobs in development than there are developers to fill them, but I knew there might be a bit more competition for the jobs I was looking for.

What are tech interviews like?

If you work in tech, you can skip this section, but for those who don’t, I figured I’d give a quick little overview of what it’s like to interview as a developer. Note that none of this is an endorsement of the process; I think the tech interview process is incredibly flawed.

Things start off probably the way they do for a lot of other jobs. You’ll have a call with a recruiter (or someone performing the role of a recruiter). This is just a quick screen where they ask a little about your work history and what you’re looking for, as well as tell you a bit about the role and the company. On one level, they’re just trying to get a quick feel for whether you might be a fit for their company and the role, but they’re also trying to sell you on working at their company. At a really small company, this might actually be with an engineer, but it’s separate from any of the technical interviewing.

And this is, of course, after any email or Linkedin correspondence you might have before. If you’re working with a third party recruiter, that conversation would also be before this call.

The second step could be one of two options, both are designed to suss out if you actually know how to code at all and to get a quick sense for whether or not you’re worth the time to bring in. This step could either be a take home coding exercise or a phone-based one. Some companies will give you a choice between the two, but most will just give you one or the other.

The phone-based exercise is typically you and an engineer on their end. The call might start out with a quick chat about their role, the role you’re interviewing for, and/or your past, but this is brief. Some interviews just get right into it. Your call is either via video chat or the phone, but will (almost) always have a shared screen for coding. The interviewer will ask you one or two questions and you’ll work through how to solve them. Sometimes, you’re expected to write code that will run and produce the desired results. Other, you’ll be writing actual code, but won’t have to actually run it. These calls are typically 45-60 minutes so it can be hard to solve the problem and produce bug-free code. Generally, you’re being evaluated on your approach to solving the problem and the efficiency of your solution. At the end, there is typically some time to ask questions about the company and the role.

Take home exercises are similar in idea, but a little different. Here, you’re given a problem or two to solve on your own time. You usually have a few days to a week. Then you submit your solution afterwards. In my experience, these are expected to take three or four hours, but I’ve done some that take longer. You’ll be expected to produce an actual working solution that is (relatively) bug-free. And because you have more time, you’re usually expected to write higher quality code than on a phone-based screen.

Between the two, I prefer the take home exercise and would opt for that when given the choice. They’re a little more involved and take longer, but I always feel like I can better show off my ability when someone isn’t actively watching me write code and I have a little bit of time to think. They’re also just wayyyyy less stressful, I think.

The final stage of a tech interview is the onsite portion. This can be between three and six hours and may or may not include lunch. Basically, it’s a long ass thing.

The onsite interview will consist of a number of different sessions. Anywhere from three to six, in my experience, but usually four. Each will be 45-60 minutes and with one or two interviewers (most of mine were with one). These sessions will include any mix of coding on an actual computer, writing code on a whiteboard, solving system architecture problems, having a sample of code you brought with you reviewed, reviewing a sample of code given to you, figuring out and fixing a breaking issue or code with a bug in it, and a more values-based subjective type of interview (what most non-technical interviews typically are). It’s common for multiple sessions to be of the coding on a whiteboard type. Here you’re typically evaluated on your approach to the problem and the efficiency of your solution.

The onsite portion of tech interviewing is exhausting and stressful.

Interviews

I went on a total of six onsite interviews since being laid off. The shortest was 3.5 hours and the longest was 6 hours. Two were 5.5 hours. 😴😴😴 And the first five of them were within a three week period. For the most part, I thought they all went pretty well on my end. There was one company I was really excited for and thought I would love working at until the interview which made me lose all interest in wanting to work there.

If I’m remembering correctly, I did eight take home and phone screen evaluations with seven different companies (one company wanted me to do two 🙄). Of those seven companies, all of them invited me in for onsite interviews. The seventh one, I canceled after accepting an offer, hence having done six and not seven.

Three of those eight were take home style evaluations. There was also a fourth that I started, but didn’t submit because of accepting an offer. For the most part, I actually sort of enjoyed working on these. They were fun little projects and they also gave me an opportunity to get more practice writing Go (the programming language I was teaching myself at the beginning of summer).

There were a few additional companies I talked to without actually having anything go anywhere. One didn’t seem to have any interest in pursuing things with me, which was fine by me because the person I talked to there sounded like a massive douche…


(I didn’t literally hang up, but mentally, I was done with that)

The rest of the companies I spoke to seemed interested, but got caught up with scheduling and timing issues or ended up filling the role before I would have gone in anyway.

In addition to all of the above, I had one onsite interview with one company and a take home evaluation with another before being laid off. The onsite interview did not go well at all. I was totally out of practice and rusty on interview-type stuff (which is usually nothing like what a developer actually does day-to-day). It was my first technical interview in three years. I also had gotten a bad vibe from the company beforehand and wasn’t super excited for the interview so that may have played into my performance as well.

Offers

In total, I got two offers. Because of the timing of the second one, I had about 3.5 hours to make a decision between the two. Company A had come the week before and was expiring. Company B, I was expecting immediately following the interview (I knew I nailed it), but the timing made things really close.

Choosing between the two was agonizing. Even though I had three and a half hours to make the decision, I did find out the night before (a few hours after the interview) that I would be getting an offer from Company B. I just didn’t know how much it would be for. This started my decision-making process, but it was hard to really make a decision without having the offer in front of me.

Between the two companies, I was really excited about them both and knew I couldn’t go wrong with either. Company A is a very stable, but smaller company that is profitable. Company B is a small startup that hasn’t yet launched (they’re targeting later this year), but has funding and should be good with money for a while. Their product was something that looked great and I knew I would be very excited and passionate about working on.

Both companies offered me working in languages I wanted to work in. Both are Go, the language I most was hoping to work with, and Company A is also Python, which I’d like to finally learn anyway. I felt like I could make a big impact at either company, but Company B would allow me to really own what I was working on and drive a lot of it. It would likely be much more challenging. Both companies came across as having awesome people that I’d love to work with.

So choosing suuuuuuucked. I was really back and forth on it. Luckily, they both were through the same third party recruiter so I was able to talk things through with her without her being biased over which direction I went. Danielle definitely made clear where she wanted me to go.

Company A was offering me more money, better healthcare that’s also trans-inclusive and 100% covered premiums, 401k (with employer match), commuter benefits and a better commute (literally one block from Tumblr HQ 🤣🤣🤣), a dog-friendly office (not that we have a dog, but I want to hang out with other people’s doggos!), and a few other small perks. Because Company B is a small startup, they couldn’t offer most of that and the offer was lower.

In the 3.5 hours I had, I asked Company B for more in the base salary, but they could only offer me a signing bonus making up the difference between the two offers. Of course, that only makes up the difference for my first year there. Between the two, Company A also offers a better work/life balance and no on-call rotation, while Company B isn’t at a stage to be able to offer that.

In the end, I had to make an actual adult decision. At 34, things like a 401k matter. If I was in my early 20s still, I would probably approach things differently and even be disappointed in myself for approaching this how I did, but 🤷‍♀️. Even though I only had a little bit of time, I decided to at least rough estimate the true difference between the two offers. I estimated what it would cost me out of pocket to make up for the 401k, the health and commuter benefits, the commute itself, and the other differences. In the end, I would be coming out about even with what I was pocketing at Tumblr, at best—a salary I felt was no longer where I should be.

After agonizing, I made a decision. Despite the above, I chose Company B and went with the role that would be more challenging and the product I would get to have the most impact on. That was at 2:52pm, with 8 minutes until my call with Company A to tell them my decision.

At 2:55pm, Danielle asked me “are you happy with your decision?” And, honestly, I couldn’t say yes. Something felt off. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t. I think in that moment, it really hit me the difference in what the work/life balance would be between the two and how much the benefits really mattered. I could have been fine with the work/life balance if it was only lower salary or worse benefits, but I couldn’t do it with both.

At 2:58pm, I messaged Danielle and said “I’m going with Company A. I think that’s the right decision.” Two minutes later, it was official!

So that was that!

Company A is Bitly!

Yup, Bitly! The link shortening company. I’m pretty excited for it! I got a really good vibe from everyone there and it’ll be nice to work for a company that is profitable. Plus, it’s the same short and easy commute as I had at Tumblr and just a block away so I can meet my favorite old coworkers for lunch.

I’m really excited to work at a company whose mascot is Chauncey McPufferson!

The company is small enough that I think I’ll get to have a pretty solid impact, but also stable. While I am in a place in my career and financially that I could have taken a risky position at a startup without too much worry, I think it’ll be nice to have have some stability in my workplace. As much as I loved Tumblr, it wasn’t really the most stable company to work for in the last two years because of Yahoo being up for sale and, eventually, selling to Verizon. And before Tumblr, I was at a company that made money, but had been acquired by a larger company and had been slowly but consistently changing with processes and such in flux for years.

I’m also excited to work in Go and Python. I’ve really been loving Go and I’m surprised I’ve gone this long without needing to learn Python. I think it’ll be a good skill to have for my career.

Additionally, I’ve been starting to realize just how bad it was the way I let Tumblr invade my whole life. I’ve always been a very big proponent of keeping a good work/life balance and had never let myself stray from that. It’s one thing to have friends from work whom you hang out with after hours and on the weekends, for sure. It’s another thing when you let your life start to revolve around that whole world and you’re constantly checking Slack all the time. Your job shouldn’t be your life. I made that mistake with Tumblr. It became everything and sucked up so much of my life. I don’t want to do that again. I want to work at a place that I really enjoy being at, but that is only part of my life, not the entire thing. While working after hours wasn’t a thing I did at Tumblr, I think Company B had a strong potential to try to suck me into doing stuff well beyond 40 hours/week.

Some other interviewing bits

In the end, both of my offers came from companies I got in the door at because of the recruiter I was working with before being laid off. She’s, honestly, fantastic. She was super nice and really made me feel like she cared about finding me the right fit. If anyone is looking for a job in tech in NYC, let me connect you with her!

Not everyone I worked with was like this, though. I worked with one recruiter who did just about everything he could to annoy me. I talked to a few companies through him and did one phone tech screen. That company wanted me to come in for an onsite interview, but that was the interview I canceled.

This recruiter constantly texted me about opportunities, which just like…no. Don’t do text me unless it’s urgent. And his texts were always like “do you have a few minutes to hop on a call?” Then the call would just be him telling me real quick about the company and asking me to email him some times I was free to schedule. Like, dude, just email me. Don’t text me. Don’t make me talk on the damn phone for something that’s better emailed. Eventually, I had to ask him to stop texting me. In addition to those two strikes, he also didn’t really listen to me with the companies he was trying to set me up with. One of the companies, in particular, I told him wasn’t interesting to me. They seemed cool, but it wasn’t a product I had any interest in working on. He set up a call anyway. And then, it turned out the role wasn’t even a senior level even though I told him I was only looking for senior roles. Still, he kept pushing me to interview there anyway. He was clearly more interested in filling roles than he was with fitting the right people with the right roles.

I know recruiters make money by filling openings, but he made me feel like nothing more than a product he was trying to move. He was otherwise a nice guy and we talked about cats a bunch, but when it came to business, it felt totally cold and impersonal.

I had two companies I expected to offers from give me the same reasoning for not moving forward. They both said they liked me a lot and thought I might be a good fit, but not for the roles they were currently hiring for. They each said they wanted me to connected back with them in a few months. The first company really irked me with this. It should have been super obvious from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be a fit for the role they were hiring for. Nothing in the recruiter call or technical phone screen should have indicated my background was right for that role. They shouldn’t have even brought me in for an onsite interview. Instead, they wasted 5.5 hours of my time. During the process, they made no indication to me that they weren’t hiring for a role I thought I’d be a fit for.

One last thing to sort of mention here, it’s weird to be interviewing for a new job when you’re, for lack of a better term, notable. By notable, I mean, if you Google me, not only am I the only Amelia Gapin, but the results aren’t just like my blog and Twitter or the typical things you get when you search most people. Because of the magazine, there’s all this other stuff that comes up when you search me. If you go beyond the first couple pages of search results, you’ll find a few other articles about me that aren’t related to the magazine. Some are other articles about me as a vocal trans athlete and some are about the startup I co-founded. Still, they’re things that likely stand out.

I always hate bringing up the magazine or doing anything that might come across as humble bragging or whatever it sounds like when you read this, but it was a thing. I expect companies and interviewers to Google people before interviewing them, but it’s weird when there’s actually something for them to find and all of it is just out there.

It came up in one interview when the CEO of the company mentioned he Googled me. He didn’t say it to particularly talk about the magazine, but instead to talk about what all of the results he found for me, in addition to the way I talk about things on my blog, say about me to him (it was a good thing). Still, it was weird. It’s one thing whe people read my blog or Twitter beforehand—at this point, everyone has some public-facing internet presence that can precede them. It’s another thing when there’s stuff about you.

And besides the magazine itself, I’m also walking into a interview with someone who likely already knows I’m trans before I get there. This would be the case anyway thanks to my openness on my blog and my Twitter, but it’s definitely a thing to consider. It means I might basically be “the trans one” to them. Not necessarily in those words, but that’s the thing about me that sticks out. I guess the good thing about this, however, is I likely have to worry less about getting a job offer and finding out my transness is going to be a thing there after starting. This would, in theory, have already played out.

ANYWAY, I’ll stop throwing words at you now and wrap this up here. I start at Bitly on Wednesday and I’m excited for it. I’m not really ready for my summer vacation to end and I absolutely hit a point where I no longer want to ever work again, but I’m excited for my new job!

1

Europe 2017 – Edinburgh

Unlike London, this was my first time in Edinburgh. I didn’t know a lot about the city before this trip, but I’d always heard amazing things about it.

One thing I definitely didn’t know was that during August there is a huge (like really huge) arts festival called Fringe. I had never even heard of it before my trip and only found out what it was the day before leaving London to head up to Edinburgh. What I found out after getting there was that Fringe is absolutely wild and intense. There are constantly dozens and dozens of shows happening at any moment and in all kinds of venues, many of which are makeshift venues like coffee shop basements and restaurants. And the shows are all over the map, they are musicals, improv, standup, poetry, comedy, one-person shows. All kinds of stuff! Fucking wild, I tell you!

Basics

I arrived by train after 10pm and was exhausted. I had made the most of the day in London before getting on the train and was ready to go to bed. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to find my Airbnb. It was very conveniently located in Old Town, but it was just down a weird two level street that I totally didn’t understand at all.

The streets were quite busy when I got in thanks to Fringe!

When I got to my Airbnb, my host was hanging out in the kitchen with one of the other guests, a German woman from Berlin named Claudia. She really wanted to go out and see some live music and have a beer. The two of them convinced me to go with them and off we went. I didn’t want to stay out long, but I figured it’d be a nice way to experience nightlife stuff, especially since my time in Edinburgh was limited.

We hit up a music venue with a Scottish ska band playing (yeah, ska) and grabbed some beers. From there, we went over to a standup show around the corner. This was a man and a woman each doing sets. The woman, Megan Shandley, was very funny. The guy was also funny until he made a transphobic joke and then I over him.

The ska band playing at Stramash the night I got in.

Getting around Edinburgh was very easy on foot. Everything I wanted to do was walking distance from my Airbnb. And it’s a very beautiful and old city to walk around so it was perfect.

I only had two full days in Edinburgh (aside from the unplanned late night my first night there). Had I known about Fringe, I would have probably wanted to stay a full week. At least. There were dozens of shows I wanted to see, but I could only do so many in my limited time there.

My Airbnb was kinda not amazing. I mean, it was located in a very good location for seeing stuff and the host was really nice, but it felt a bit dirty and the apartment reeked of a place where smokers lived for years and years. It served its purpose though.

Arthur's Seat from my Airbnb

My Airbnb did have this *amazing* view of Arthur’s Seat from the window in my room, though.

Running

I had two runs planned for Edinburgh, but thanks to being out late the night before, I missed the first one. Luckily, that was just a four-miler so it wasn’t too big of a deal. And this was pretty much the only planned run I entirely missed without making up throughout my whole trip.

The second planned run for Edinburgh was the one I was most worried about during the trip because it was a long run of 15 miles. I knew I had to get it done, though, so I made sure nothing stopped me. The day before, I went on Strava and joined an Edinburgh running group for women and asked if anyone would be interested in making a new friend and running with me. To my delight, someone actually did! I was really excited for this!

We met up for an afternoon long run. Edite and I ran about 11 of my 15 miles together. We started around Holyrood Park and ran around Arthur’s Seat while climbing the tough hill there. Then we made our way down to the beach, where I would have never thought to go on my own. It was a nice mix of scenery. After heading back from the beach, we made our way around another park before we split ways. I finished up with a couple laps around the park to round out my 15 while trying really hard not to shit my pants because my body decided it HAD to 💩 and this was going to be non-negotiable.

Edite and me at the end of our 11 miles together.

Overall, it was a really nice run besides the poop stuff and I was so happy to have a made a new friend for it!

Edinburgh running route

It was a great route!

Food

I think out of all the places on my trip, I had the most places to eat saved in Foursquare for Edinburgh. There were so many restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops I wanted to try.

My breakfast at Hemma.

My first real meal was breakfast at Hemma. It was superb and just what I needed after my hike of Arthur’s Seat. The food was great and so was the atmosphere. For an afternoon snack, I stopped at Shakeaway and got an amazing milkshake to enjoy while walking around the city. I followed that up with tea and a sandwich and scone from Forsythe’s Tea Room. The tea was good, but the food was pretty meh. To be honest, the experience was a little too kitschy old Scottish grandma for me. For dinner, I had a burger and fries from The Holyrood 9A and washed it down with a delicious beer.

This yummy burger from Holyrood 9A.

How cute is this afternoon tea?!

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The next morning, I started my day off with coffee and avocado toast from Brew Lab Coffee.

That evening I did a pub crawl and mostly just had a random sampling of bits of food throughout. The pub crawl was fun, though. I made some new friends and drank a ton of beer. I think we went to six pubs and nightclubs. Each one gave us a free shot and then had drink specials. By the end of the night, I was quite drunk. So much so that I was still drunk when I woke up the next morning for my flight to Berlin. Awesome. LOL.

The crawl started at The Inn on the Mile and then we went to Pilgram Bar, The Whistle Stop Barber Shop, Frankenstein, Sneaky Pete’s, and The Hive. Frankenstein was a bit more wild and crazy than I’m into these days, but the karaoke was at least entertaining to watch. The Hive and Sneaky Pete’s were more like nightclubs which is definitely not my thing, but I still had a good time dancing with my new friends and having some really interesting political conversations with people from all over there place. The Pilgrim Bar and Whistle Stop were both more my speed, though. I’d definitely go back to those places.

My avocado toast from Brew Lab.

A bit drunk at Frankenstein.

Activities

As I mentioned above, hit up a standup show my first night. The show was at Just the Tonic in one of their smaller rooms in the back. It honestly was just a cave, hence its name, The Cave. It was kinda neat though! The ska band I saw right before was at Stramash which is basically next door.

The morning of my first full day in Edinburgh, I slept in much later than planned. This was thanks to my late night. I had planned to run up Arthur’s Seat. However, that plan was made before I actually knew what Arthur’s Seat really was. It’s a very old dormant volcano! I ended up hiking up it instead and, to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t try to run. I don’t think I would have made it. There were some people I saw who did run up, but it was wet from the rain the night before and extremely slippery. Definitely didn’t feel like running would have been safe. Just hiking it felt super sketchy. On my way done, I chatted it up with an older couple. The woman lived in the UK for the last 30 years, but was originally from the US. She ended up being great company for the hike back down. The view from the top was truly beautiful, though! And I was also lucky enough to get up and down just before the crowds started coming out.

While I missed my run, the hike absolutely felt like it more than made up for the four miles I had planned.

Looking up at Arthur’s Seat from the beginning of the hike.

Check this view from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

Given my luck with banana peels, I'm going to avoid this one being that I'm at the top of a volcano.

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There's a castle back there, I promise

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Next up for the day was the free SANDEMANs walking tour. This was a fantastic tour of mostly Old Town, including Grassmarket, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Flodden Wall, and a bunch of other stops. I learned a ton about the history of Scotland and Edinburgh. The tour guide also pointed out some of the graves in Greyfriars Kirkyard that JK Rowling used as inspiration for Harry Potter. He pointed out the inspirations for Hogwarts as well. One thing the tour guides had been asked to stop doing was taking people to the grave of Tom Riddell, but he had no problem telling us where to find it after the tour.

The view of Edinburgh Castle from Grayfriars Kickyard.

Yeah, I rubbed David Hume’s toe. It was weird, but apparently it’s a thing?

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This owl!!

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This is Greyfriars Bobby. You should read about him. What a good boy!

The grave of Tom Riddell.

From the end of the tour, I made my way down to New Town to explore on my own. On my walk over that way, I walked around Edinburgh Castle and stopped for a few minutes to watch a street performer playing songs for a small crowd. He asked where I was from and I replied that I was from New York (easier than saying Jersey City). From there, he went into two great anti-Trump ballads for me. This was a recurring theme from my every city of my trip, Trump and the USA are a terrifying af joke.

I walked around West End and Multrees Walk. I also went up into the Scott Monument. This was really rad, but also a little scary because of how tight and steep the spiral staircases were. There was only one way up and down and it got a bit crowded at points where it was hard to pass people without being afraid you’d slip and tumble all the way down. Still, the views were great and every time I thought I was all the way up, there was another staircase to discover to go up even higher.

You wouldn't know from the outside, but the climb to the top of Scott's Monument is kinda wild

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Squishing castles

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After this, I was handed a flier for a small improv show happening nearby. I decided to check it out since I had some extra time. And I’ll just say this, it was bad! It was three dudes who were not good at improv at all, but it was at least entertainingly bad until they made three transphobic jokes in rapid succession.

Last up for the day was the SANDEMANs Dark Side Tour. This was a exploration of Edinburgh’s more gruesome past including murder, people being buried alive and coming back from the dead, grave robbing, torture, witches, hangings, body stealing, people being crushed to death by falling coffins, and all kinds of other morbid stuff. Personally, I loved the tour and thought our guide, Sarah, was amazing. She was animated and passionate and an amazing storyteller. This tour also made for a great companion to the free tour earlier in the day as it went into more detail for a few things that were only briefly mentioned.

I started my second day off with a nice long walk to Summerhall. On the way, a guy was out front of a cafe handing out fliers for his poetry reading, and because I wanted to take as best advantage of Fringe as I could, I stopped in to check it out. Unlike the improv show the day before, this was really good. The reading was in the basement of the cafe with just a handful of people, nice and intimate. The poet’s name was Ben Ray and not only was his poetry good, but his reading of it was light and entertaining.

From the poetry reading, I made my way to the start of another guided tour. This was a tour of Edinburgh Castle. The tour included the obvious history and a nice overview of things at the castle. I absolutely got more out of my time in the castle than I would have without a guided tour. Afterwards, I hung around a bit to explore before heading out to go meet my running partner for our run.

The inside of Edinburgh Castle.

After my run, but before the pub crawl, I stopped in for one more show. This was again at The Caves at Just the Tonic. This show was called Tracey Tracey and was a one woman tragi-comedy by Nicola Cross. This show was super weird, but highly entertaining with just a bit of crowd interaction. I enjoyed it a lot.

Final bits

For just two days in the city, I feel like I really packed a lot in. I was non-stop running from thing to thing and on the go without much rest. I really wish I had had more time to go to more Fringe shows. I ended the weekend there with probably three dozen fliers for shows, a good half of which I’d have liked to have seen.

I will absolutely have to go back for longer some tine in the future.

Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at or walked by. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom. And some, I checked in multiple times as I passed them more than once.

 

 

4

Europe 2017 – London

When I first went to London in 2009, I really loved it. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since so it was at the top of my list of destinations for this trip.

Basics

I stayed in London for two full days and two half days (one was like 3/4 of a day, tbh). It was three nights in my Airbnb in Pimlico. The Airbnb was a really nice place, definitely the nicest of my whole trip. The owner lived there and rented out three rooms on Airbnb.

Upon entering for the first time, I was immediately greeted by an incredibly friendly cat named Nala (not sure on the spelling). She came right up to me and immediately started rubbing on me and crying for attention. I knew this would be a good place to stay based solely on this cat. There was also a second cat that was a little less outgoing and needy. Nala, though, oh boy did Nala crave attention. She’d run up in front of you and block you from walking through the house until you pet her.

I already made a new friend! This little cutie came right up to me! 😻

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My room was a small one that was actually under the sidewalk. Though, this was the same level with the kitchen and the walk out to the backyard so it wasn’t really a basement room. The room was more than fine for my needs, though.

Also staying at the Airbnb was an Australian woman named Greta. She was there my entire stay and we had a few really nice conversations over tea while relaxing at the end of the day. Incidentally, we also overlapped time while in Reykjavik, but we didn’t end up meeting up—though, we did connect on Facebook.

The location of the Airbnb was pretty decent and relatively central to a lot of things in London, but did require taking the London Underground to get to a lot of places. Though, that really was a non-issue as the Underground is fantastic and makes NYC’s MTA look like ameteur hour. The Underground is clean, efficient, and runs frequently.

Running

While in London, I did two runs, which is what I had on the schedule, but they were for 7 and 5 miles and I, instead, did two 10k runs and shifted the days. It worked out in the end, but not exactly as planned.

The first run was along the River Thames from Pimlico up to Millenium Bridge, across the bridge, and then back. It was great weather for a run and there were a ton of other runners out. Many runners were out with backpacks while I was in London. It seems like run commuting is very popular there!

Running route along River Thames.

Nice easy route.

View from my run this morning

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My second run was a bit more of a sloppier route. I had mapped something out, but it was a bit hard to follow based on memory so I just when with the gist of the idea. This run was through St James Park, around the lake, past Buckingham Palace, over to Hyde Park, around the lake there, and then back. This run was a little earlier in the AM so it was a nice peaceful route without many tourists out.

Running route in St James Park and Hyde Park.

A little sloppy, but it worked.

Food

While the England isn’t exactly known for its food, I do love me some fish and chips. So right after I dropped my bag off at my Airbnb, I set out for fish and chips. I ended up at The Sherlock Holmes which was near the touristy area in Westminster, but it seemed like there were a few locals there and it wasn’t a complete tourist trap of a place. The fish and chips were good and so was the beer!

My second day, I had lunch at Itsu, which is like a sushi and noodle chain “fast food” type place. My soup was very flavorful! For dinner, I had curry at the Brick Lane Brasserie. There was no way I wasn’t going to get curry on Brick Lane! Because I had idea which of the many places there to pick and they all had similar ratings, I just picked one at random. It also helped that a tour guide I had earlier in the day said “it doesn’t matter, they’re all good. You can’t go wrong.” My food was spicy and delicious! I finished it off with hot chocolate from Dark Sugars, right up the block.

Delicious chicken phal!

Delicious chicken phal!

This got chocolate!

This got chocolate!

Breakfast the next day was a pulled pork and mac and cheese amazingness from Borough Market. I followed that up with a doughnut from another stand and then a late morning beer at the Southwark Tavern. The best part of this morning was spending some time with my friend and former Tumblr coworker, Malika!

Borough Market yummies

Fresh watermelon at Borough Market

Turnips!

For dinner, I had a delicious burger and fries from CASK Pub and Kitchen.

On my last morning in London, I had one goal and that was to make sure I didn’t leave the city without having a proper pie. Another former Tumblr coworker (who is English) had been stressing to me how good the pies are so I had to do it. I went back to Borough Market and hit up Pieminister for a steak pie. It was out of this world good. I mean, fuck, that thing was good. Pies are good.

This pie was SO good! I should have taken a photo of the inside too.

Lunch was at The Fence with Malika and one of her friends from when she studied abroad in London. We ate in this cute little shed in the backyard there. It was pretty neat!

For dinner, I just had a burrito from Benito’s Hat in King’s Cross Station. I was worried about not making it to the station in time for my train so I made that my first priority and then just got food from there.

Throughout my time in London, I drank a whole mess of flat whites. Regular coffee isn’t really a big thing there, everyone drinks espresso drinks. I love cappuccinos and lattes, but I decided I’d change things up a bit with some flat whites.

Activities

As you’ll see from these posts, I’m a big fan of taking walking tours to learn more about cities. They’re a great way to see a lot and learn a lot about the history and cutlure of a city. They tend to give you a lot of highlights and then you can go back later to explore more, if you want. Plus, I just like walking a lot.

In front of St Paul’s Cathedral

Out front of Westminster Abbey.

My first day there, I did the SANDEMANs free walking tour with John. He was very British in his sense of humor, which I enjoy a lot. This was a great and fun tour that took us all over Westminster and all of the things to see there.

That evening, I did a Jack the Ripper tour from London Walks. This was utterly fascinating. I learned so much about Jack the Ripper that I had no idea about before. This tour took us around to all of the places of importance to the Jack the Ripper story and provided a lot of context for each. When I was in London in 2009, I did a self-guided Jack the Ripper tour following a guide I had found online, but compared to this, that was a waste of time.

The following day, I did SANDEMANs Alternative Tour with Trevor. This tour was based almost entirely around exploring the street art in Shoreditch. It’s everywhere and there is so much of it! Trevor told us about some of the artists and told us about the culture. He also showed us an original Banksy. This tour ended at Brick Lane which went nicely into my dinner that night.

A Stik original.

Hands up don’t shoot

One other tour I did while in London was a Doctor Who walking tour! This was so good! We toured a bunch of filming locations and things from the show, mostly from new Who, but a little bit from classic Who as well. Our guide was Craig and he was fantastic and super nerdy about Doctor Who. I loved it! After the tour, I rushed on over to the police box in Earls Court before catching my train to round out my Doctor Who experience for the day.

Doctor Who walking tour guide

Craig was such a good tour guide!

Craig alerted us that this was actually used as a Dalek urinal during the filming of a Doctor Who episode! The actors would roll over it and pee into it because they were being kept on set too long without being able to use the bathroom.

I found the TARDIS!

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Aside from the guided tours, I did a lot on my own as well. I didn’t do Westminster Abbey or a few of the other more obvious tourist things since I’ve done them before. I mostly tried to stick with things I hadn’t done before. I walked through Old Spitalfields Market, explored the Churchill War Rooms, did one floor of the Imperial War Museum (I had limited time 😕), walked through a little bit of Tate Modern (I’d been there before so I just did a few rooms), found Hodge the Cat because cat, closed out the London Transport Museum, and walked through Piccadilly Circus.

At the London Transport Museum.

An old women’s only train car.

I found @malika.gif

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I got really excited by Hodge

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Overall, I really packed my time in London. I didn’t do much in the way of nightlife type stuff, but I did hit a few pubs and that’s what matters!

Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom.

Transgender symbol walk sign.

I like this walk sign! (I don’t know why this photo is showing sideways. The image file is properly rotated, but it’s not showing right in the post. Oh well.)

1

Europe 2017 – planning

As anyone who follows me on social media has been able to tell, I took a little trip recently. After I was laid off from my job, I knew I needed to take advantage of having a little bit of time and having received a generous severance package. So, enter a two-week solo trip to Europe!

My itinerary was London, Edinburgh, Berlin, and Reykjavik, in that order. Two cities I’ve been to, two I haven’t. And my first backpacking trip. I was super excited!

Planning

Planning was highly stressful and a lot of work. Normally, my wife and I travel together which means we can split some of the planning. She typically handles figuring out where we’ll eat. I typically handle travel and accommodations. Activities are a joint effort. Doing a solo trip meant it was all on me to figure out. Not only was it all on me, but I only planned the trip about five weeks ahead of time. And, of course, most of my time in those five weeks was taken up with job interviews and such. So there was a lot to plan with not much time to do it.

The first thing I did was pull up every list of half marathons in Europe in late-July and August. Because of course I’d be running a race on this trip. Of course! Because it’s summer, there weren’t many in the major cities.

I had a rough list of cities I was considering for this trip so was able to match up the races I found with the cities I wanted to travel to. This left me with either Berlin or Reykjavik, both on the same weekend. If I could have done both, I would have, but without at least a full day between them, it wouldn’t have been possible pull off without race day packet pick up.

I ended up going with the Reykjavik Half Marathon between the two. I enter the Berlin Marathon lottery every year so sooner or later, I’ll be running a race in Berlin anyway. (Spoiler: after the trip, I feel like I need to go back to Reykjavik to run the full marathon some time.)

With that decided, I knew Reykjavik would be the last leg of my trip. Given geography, it had to be either first or last and with the race being August 19th ending there was the only real option.

At this point, I opened up Kayak and Google Flights and just started trying out different flight options and moving cities and dates around to see what happened. Given that train travel costs don’t vary the way flights do, I knew it would be the flights that would decide things. This is how I ended up with my exact cities, dates, and order.

After finding a few flight itineraries that felt reasonable, it was time to pull up Airbnb. I didn’t want to do straight up hotels, but I also don’t feel comfortable with staying in hostels as a trans women. Having been to London and Berlin before, I already knew roughly where I wanted to stay in the city so it was easy to find a few options there. A few Google searches helped me figure out what parts of Edinburgh and Reykjavik to stay in. Edinburgh Airbnbs were surprisingly expensive, but I later found out why (look for my Edinburgh post for that).

Eventually, I found the right combo of everything that fit a reasonable amount of money to spend and started booking stuff. Once I started, I flew through the bookings and did it as quickly as possible to make sure nothing filled up while I was in the process of booking (which did happen for one of the Airbnbs I had picked).

With flights and accommodations done, I just had to add train travel from London to Edinburgh, but that was quick and easy. I now had four flights, one train ticket, and four Airbnbs booked.

Next, I focused on the whole backpacking thing. I’d never done this before, I’d always taken a regular suitcase traveling with me so I wanted to spend some time reading tips and advice for doing this successfully. The Savvy Backpacker was great for this!

With some research done, I started making purchases—many of which I agonized over which options to go with. I bought a new backpack that was just a bit bigger than the largest one I had. I also got a ton of packing cubes—holy shit, why have I never actually used these before, they’re a game changer! I also got a bunch of little things like a travel umbrella, a packable day backpack (I already had packable bags, but not a backpack), TSA locks (I usually don’t bother locking my suitcases because if someone wants in, they’ll get in, but the locks were more for when I’d be walking around with my bag on my back), and a travel towel (just in case, since I wouldn’t be in hotels). We travel a few times a year, but this was the first time I had to really think about each and every thing I was bringing with me.

I later figured out a much better way to pack things than this.

Finally, I started actually looking at what I’d be doing in each place. I’m terrible with this part of planning trips and always leave it to a few days before I go. In London and Berlin, there were some things I already knew I wanted to do, either because I liked them a lot previously or because I didn’t get to do them when I was there last. Still, I Googled for a lot of articles about traveling to all four cities and asked on Twitter and Facebook for recommendations. And I heavily scoured my friend Ashlea’s blog A Globe Well Traveled.

With lists of stuff to see, places to eat, and things to do, I got to work plotting where things were on the map and figuring out what I could logistically fit in. I booked all my tours ahead of time, and there were a lot of them), and added everything else to both Google saved places and Foursquare lists. I downloaded each city for offline use on Google Maps and Google Trips even though I knew I’d have data on my phone thanks to a T-Mobile plan that includes (very) slow international data for free.

I made rough itineraries for each day in my Google Calendar, but I didn’t want to get too serious about them because things never go according to plan and you don’t usually know how long most things will take. Tours and things that were booked in advance were easy to put on my calendar and I just filled in spaces between them with the things that seemed most interesting to me while keeping everything else on my list easily accessible while on the go.

Packing

Lastly, I had to make a meticulous packing list. I’m always a last-minute packer, but I make up for it with detailed packing lists so I can just grab stuff and throw it in a bag. Needing to pack as light as possible meant having to really think about every single item. I only brought stuff I knew I would need or wouldn’t make sense to buy while on go. I looked at weather forecasts and packed as much versatile clothing as possible. Layers that could be reused and combined (especially necessary for Iceland) were a big key. With the exception of one dress and one romper, all of my clothes were picked out so that anything would match with anything.

This part actually wouldn’t have been hard at all if not for needing my dilators, needing warmer layers and hiking shoes for Iceland, and being a runner. I knew I’d be able to do laundry in every Airbnb I booked so I packed with that in mind. I really only packed five-ish days of clothes (with extra underwear and socks). Running stuff, I packed the bare minimum with the plan of being able to wear each of my two pairs of shorts and two sports bras twice before washing. Still, needing walking, running, and hiking shoes is what killed me the most. The running shoes were obviously non-negotiable, considering I had 10 runs planned during my trip. And the glacier tour in Iceland required hiking shoes so those were non-negotiable as well. As for my walking shoes, I like to explore places on foot and it’s not abnormal for me to walk 10-15 miles a day while traveling. Good shoes are a must.

I did, in fact, run Mitte

I debated bringing my DSLR at all and, if so, which lens/lenses to bring. I have a Canon 6D which is more on the professional end of things and weighs a ton compared to smaller DSLRs that are more common. I decided I’d really hate myself if I didn’t bring it, but compromised by only bringing a 50mm lens, the smallest and lightest lens I own. Of course, the focus ring on my lens got jammed on the first leg of my trip and I couldn’t fix while on the go so I spent most of my trip lugging around a heavy camera that I couldn’t use.

I think that about covers planning stuff. I’ll be, hopefully, writing up posts recapping each city for next week!

6

Unemployed life

It’s been twelve days since I was laid off from my job at Tumblr and I’ve been doing my best to keep sane.

The first 48 hours after losing my job, I was was pretty upset and cried a lot. I let myself feel emotion and process, but I didn’t fall into depression. I was sad to lose a job at a company I loved so much with my favorite people, but I wasn’t depressed about it. I wrote a goodbye letter to my former coworkers, which was cathartic but tough. I didn’t feel guilty over my emotions.

After that initial 48 hours, I woke up ready for something new. I stopped being upset and looked forward with a huge smile on my face. Of course, some of this was helped by a conveniently timed trip for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, which helped keep me busy and was something to focus on.

I knew after that trip I’d need to be proactive about not falling into depression, though. If I allowed myself to sleep in and relax around the house all day every day, I’d fall into deep depression. This is something would happen regardless of my employment situation. I can be like that for a weekend at a time, but any more more than that tends to pull me down.

I wasn’t ready to start actively looking for a job instantly. I’m still not, to be honest. I did make sure to reply to emails immediately, however. I’ve had a lot of recruiters and friends of friends reaching out to me about jobs so I’ve replied to them and moved along with them to not have them just sitting there. But I’m not initiating much right now. For the most part, I want to take some time and enjoy life. My severance package was quite generous and allows me to put off a job search for a little bit.

In my ideal situation, I’d start a new job in September and take the summer to work on personal projects and travel a little. I’d also like to do some stuff around the apartment like reorganize the pantry and clean out the closets. There are always so many things I want to do and never have time for so now’s the time, right?

I’m mostly trying to keep a normal schedule each day. I get up at the same time I used to and try to leave the house around the same time as well. If I’m running, I still try to get up extra early to run in the morning. I mean, it’s summer so morning running is a must anyway. Instead of going to the office, I go to a coffee shop and work on stuff now. I make breakfast, lunch, and coffee dates with people. If it’s particularly nice out, I’ll work in the park.

My goal is to spend at least four hours a day working on stuff outside of the house. That should be enough to stave off the depression.

So far, it’s been pretty nice. I’ve gotten a lot of things done and felt really productive. I’ve also had a lot of fun meeting up with people and galavanting around the city.

I loved my job, truly, but I can’t control that Verizon decided to lay me off. What I can do, however, is take advantage of the time and the severance to have an amazing summer. I haven’t been unemployed in 15 years, since the summer after my first year of college, so it’s been a while since I’ve had this much free time. I’m not going to waste it.

6

One year post surgery!

This is the sixth post in a series about my experience with having bottom surgery. The other parts are: Are You Excited?, I Got Sliced All The Fuck Up!Recovery Update16 weeks post-surgery update, and Six Months.

As usual, proceed with caution. Total TMI-city ahead.


Holy crap! It’s been a year since my surgery! It feels like eternity and like it just yesterday at the same time.

I know I tend to get wordy af  on this blog, but I honestly don’t know how much there is to say about this that I haven’t said already. The last six months since my last update have been fairly uneventful in Vaginaville.

Back in early September (seven months post-op), I was finally able to start dilating once a day. This was about a month later than originally planned, but I had to wear for the granulation and tear inside to fully heal before I could step down from twice daily. It was a long time dealing with that hell. With that out of the way, dilating was a lot easier and less painful. I was slowly able to switch back to using my largest dilator for the whole twenty minutes. Over the next few months, it became a lot easier to get my dilators in, which cut down on the amount of time dilation takes. Now I can get set up, dilate, and clean up in just over a half hour.

The swelling has, of course, gone down a lot since six months ago, but it still looks and feels a lot more swollen than I’d expect at this point. More on this in just a second, though.

Peeing is still a mess. If it comes out in a stream, it shoots forward instead of down. Mostly it just sprays everywhere and my whole bottom gets a pee shower. Ew. The worst part of this is it means I have to sit on the seat to pee, no hovering over a gross toilet or in a porta-potty. Double ew.

Yesterday, I had my one-year followup appointment. My appointment was with a new PA in my surgeon’s office, but she came across as extremely knowledgeable, competent, and assuring. She told me everything has healed perfectly and it looks really great down there. I asked about the swelling and she said everything looks normal and most of that is still just scar tissue and gave me some stuff to put on it to help reduce that. She also told me the way urine comes out when I pee is “an unfortunate side-effect of the anatomy” and some people are just like that. Kind of a bummer, but I’m still just happy everything is completely healed properly.

When it comes to dilation, I’m in the clear to experiment with doing it less than daily. She told me it could just be twice a week, once every two weeks, or might still need to be daily. This is very individual and I’ll need to figure out what works for me. By early December, I had started to feel comfortable that I’d be okay to dilate less frequently, but I wanted to wait it out until my appointment before trying it. With the long healing process I had, I’d rather be safe than sorry. The only day I’ve missed in the last year was last Saturday because of the hecticness of the Women’s March and dilating the next day was no problem at all. So I’m hoping and looking forward to freeing up my mornings more for running before work with less rushing.

While I’m mentioning last Saturday’s Women’s March, I should also note that was the first time I tried to pop a squat outside to pee—look, it was crazy and the porta-potty lines were long, okay? I tried my best to squat down and angle myself as well as I could, but I still peed all over my jeans. It was not a good situation. Ugh.

Mostly, life has been back to normal. Beyond the peeing situation, I don’t have to worry much about things. Our Disney trip a few weeks ago was the first time I had to deal with dilating without a completely private place to hole up in, as we were sharing a hotel room with a friend. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be and I was able to make it work with minimum hassle.

I wear bikinis and leggings and running tights without any worry of anything anymore. I don’t have to worry about hiding anything. It’s a nice bit of freedom. I spend a lot of time thinking about how happy I am to have proper genitals. Putting on a pair of jeans that really just fits for the first time was an oddly amazing feeling. Things just sort of feel right. I feel much more like me. And I feel more like a woman. Genitals don’t make gender, but they can affect how at home your feel in your body and identity.

Last summer, I had my hormone levels checked. I had expected a small rise in my testosterone to a more normal female level. This did not happen, though. My level was exactly the same as it had been while on testosterone blockers prior to surgery. However, the ultimate outcome I had hoped for from that—better running performance—did happen. The side effects from Spironolactone (the blocker) are no longer a part of my life with the exception of still having to pee all the time.

Beyond all this, most of what else I have to share about my experience was included in my post about the Women’s March, so check that out. Otherwise, I think this will by my last update about my surgery. Ultimately, I feel happy and empowered beyond what I expected was possible.

Happy birthday, Vagina! ❤️

It’s amazing and empowering to be a transgender woman and feel comfortable in a bathing suit.

7

My experience as a trans woman at the Women’s March on Washington

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

I don’t know how much more room there is for takes on Saturday’s Women March (on Washington and elsewhere), as there have been plenty. Some of the best I’ve read have been from women of color—black and native, mostly—that have been thought-provoking and eye-opening. It’s interesting to read the different experiences and compare them to mine. It’s also important to listen to these experiences and adjust my feminism and activism to ensure inclusivity.

Where I was standing, I saw a number of trans-inclusive signs and Black Live Matter signs. There was a fair bit of intersectionality where I was, but this still was vastly outnumbered by the number of signs with uteruses on them. In general, the crowd was quite white. From what I could gather by looking around, most people here were new to protesting. I’m not an experienced protestor myself, but this wasn’t my first time.

While the organizers put together a diverse and inclusive lineup of speakers and performers, the crowd itself suffered from a lot of white feminism. I didn’t personally hear or witness anyone being actively malicious or saying anything problematic—though, I’ve seen a fair number of people who did—but it was also clear that inclusiveness and intersectionality were not concepts many of the people in attendance were familiar with or demonstrated. While this saddens me, it wasn’t the least bit surprising. A group of people this big is going to be far from ideal in many ways and problematic in more than a few.

What I want to touch on is my experience as a trans woman at a women’s march against a man who brags about sexual assault and grabbing women by the pussy.

I had only firmly decided on attending the march in DC a few weeks ago, after a friend of mine offered a place to park and sleeping arrangements for anyone whom I could fit in my car. So I loaded up my car with four coworkers and we made the drive down Friday night. I was prepared to make my voice heard and march. I wanted to be visible and take a stand as a woman, but I wanted to do so with my transness on display. I had planned to wear a rainbow headband and my “Real Live Trans Adult” shirt (which sadly stayed covered under my jacket the entire day).

On the way down, we tried to come up some things to write on the poster board we picked up at at Target on our way down. I wanted to make a sign that said “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “Trans Lives Matter” on the other. I also came up with “2017 not 1720” and “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We ended up getting down to my friends house just outside of DC nearly two hours after I had hoped and my one friend may have permanent bladder damage from holding his pee. We were exhausted and just went to bed instead of making our posters.

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

One side of my sign.

Come morning, I wrote my friend’s husband’s cell number on my arm in sharpie and pinned on my Planned Parenthood “don’t fuck with us, don’t fuck without us” button and got ready for some resisting. Making our signs was a last minute affair. I had asked my friend to make mine for me while I was getting dressed. She asked what I wanted on my sign and I quickly said “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We didn’t have time to be making multiple signs each so I went with that—and “2017 not 1720” on the back. To be honest, this was the tone I felt like I wanted to hit for the day. Generally, I would go for a something more serious and important to say, but that wasn’t the mood I felt. I felt sisterhood and solidarity. And for me, that’s what the day was ultimately about on a personal level.

Our resistance group

Our resistance group

Our group ended up being 10 people, I think. I’m probably forgetting someone here. Seven of us came from my friends house and the other three met up at the Metro. Of the ten of us, there were three men, six cis women, and one trans woman (me). Of the group, my sign was the only one that mentioned actual body parts. Ironic that it was the transgender woman who wrote “pussy” on her sign. For the record, our group’s best sign was my friend’s “Trump is obviously bad” sign.

Trump is obviously bad.

Trump is obviously bad.

Oh, and we were also handed “pussy power” pins by a couple random women when we got on the Metro. I proudly stuck mine on next to my aforementioned Planned Parenthood pin and the “Fuck Paul Ryan” pin I got from my friend.

The rally and march were a mostly fantastic experience, for me. I felt a part of the collective and never excluded. I felt empowered and I felt hopeful. I felt if that many people could show up to take a stand against this administration, that we might just have a shot at survival.

But!

Yes, there’s a but. The but is much the reason for this post in the first place.

For a trans woman, being in a crowd of women—or even just a small group—shouting about their pussies and uteruses can be a terribly exclusive experience. It’s an environment that says you’re not welcome because you don’t meet the prerequisites for membership. Even if you’re included as a woman on some level, language that equates womanhood to genitals can undo that. I’ve seen many trans women discussing this since Saturday’s march.

Before I continue, I want to be clear that what follows are my personal experience and feelings and they are mine alone. This should not be applied universally to all trans women.

Genitals have always been a tough subject for me. I rarely hated having a penis, but I certainly hated that I didn’t have a vagina. If those two things seem at odds with each other, think about it like this, what was difficult for me wasn’t what I had, it was what I didn’t have. I remember growing up wishing I had a literal detachable penis—even before the song came out.

When I transitioned, I felt different from other women because of my genitals, but my experience wasn’t one of exclusion. I attribute this to privilege and luck. I’m lucky enough to surround myself with inclusive and supportive women and live in one of the most progressive places in the country. Additionally, while I rarely try to hide my transness, I look enough like a cisgender woman that most other women seem to see me as one of them. I’m not seen or treated as an outsider. The only people who question that I’m a real woman are internet trolls.

This inclusion always eased my dysphoria around my genitals. It was there and I would feel it when I would look at other women or look at myself in the mirror, but it felt like an internal pressure rather than an external exclusion.

Last year, after years of going back and forth with myself about whether I should or even wanted to get surgery, I went ahead and just did it. Thanks to my privilege of having transgender inclusive health insurance, I was able to have a vagina. I’ve written much about this already and I’m due for a follow up as my vagina’s one year anniversary is coming up this weekend, but suffice to say that it’s been life-changing. It hasn’t fixed all that I struggle with, but it’s done a lot.

Now, this vagina did not come with a uterus. I do not have a period or menstrual cycle at all. I can’t get pregnant. But I do have a vagina and it’s done wonders for my internal feeling of adequacy as a woman. Despite gender not being defined by genitals, I feel like more of a woman. I want to note here that this is personal and how I feel about my body, it’s not something I would extend to anyone else.

It’s been a year with this vagina, but I’m still sort of obsessed with the idea that I have proper body parts now. I love my pussy because it is mine. However, when we talk about reproductive rights for women, I feel excluded because it’s really less a “woman’s issue” and more a “uterus-haver’s issue.” I wish we’d frame it a little better. Yet, at the same time, when we talk about people with vaginas, these feel like my people. I am a person with a vagina. I’m a vagina person now. When we heard those words “grab them by the pussy,” this didn’t feel abstract to me. I felt this personally. It could be my pussy that is being grabbed. This is a different viewpoint and framing than I previously had. My perspective changed when my anatomy changed.

So let’s get back to the march a little, shall we?

A lot of pink hats.

At the march, I proudly held my pussy sign up in the air. I was literally talking about my pussy. This was empowering as fuck to me. I could talk about my genitals and not be ashamed of them. I wasn’t that weird transsexual making jokes about her dick as a poor coping mechanism to hide how much she hated herself. I was a woman with a vagina proudly taking ownership of her vagina. This was a huge moment for me.

The pink pussy hats only made me feel excluded because I didn’t have one to wear myself.

As I looked around, I saw signs and shirts with uteruses on them and was reminded how much I wish I was a cis woman, that I was born put together properly. While the reality is I wouldn’t give up being trans for anything, I still struggle with the remaining ways in which my body is different. Women talking about their periods and uteruses is a reminder of that. But it’s a reminder that I can live with. My body is different, but I’m lucky to have people in my life who don’t make me feel excluded. I have a lot of privilege that allows me to feel included and only slightly different.

The reality for many trans women is different from this, though. Many—likely most—are excluded and treated as different. One group’s language of empowerment and reclamation can be the language of oppression to another. I don’t know where the exact line is between the two, especially given that it can vary from individual to individual. People with vaginas should be able to talk about their bodies and take ownership of them. However, at the same time, it is important to consider your overall message. Is your language equating your vagina to your womanhood? Does it exclude trans women? Does it exclude trans men? Does it exclude anyone? Does it ignore the oppression of women of color? Cis women, you are more than your vagina. Your existence goes beyond your vagina. Trump brags about grabbing women by the pussy and those of us with pussies should absolutely stand up and fight back against this, but we must remember that the fight is for equality and bodily autonomy for all women, trans people, and non-binary people.

7

The case of 2016

I’ve been putting off writing this all month, partially because I’ve been lazy and depressed since the election, but mostly because thinking about 2016 makes me feel weird and guilty. 2016 has been an awful hell year in almost every way imaginable. We lost celebrities and public figures who have inspired us and changed our lives. We lost scientific figures who made important discoveries. We elected Donald Trump as our next President after the worst election year pretty much any of us have been a live to see. North Carolina passed HB2. 2016 was a long year of terrible things and you couldn’t close your eyes for a second without something else terrible happening.

While all of this was happening in the world, 2016 was busy being one of the biggest years of my life, if not the biggest. I don’t know that I’d call it the best because it wasn’t at all easy, but it was certainly the most eventful and pivotal.

2016 started off with my first Dopey Challenge in Disney World. I’d previously done the Goofy Challenge three times so while it was just adding a 5k and 10k to the back-to-back half marathon and marathon weekend I’ve done before, it was still a fun challenge. Of the four Disney World marathons I’ve done, I think this one might have been the most fun. It was also my fastest time, not that I’ve ever raced a Disney marathon for time. Overall, how well this race went was a nice surprise considering it was following up a rough year of running in 2015.

Disney Marathon!

Look at all these medals!

Look at all these medals!

Not even three weeks after the Dopey Challenge, I underwent genital reconstruction surgery (or SRS or GCS or GRS or bottom surgery or any other of the dozens of terms trans people can’t agree on to call this surgery). This is a major surgery and I don’t think I could possibly overstate anything about how big of a deal it was. Of everything in my 33 years on this planet, the only thing more life-changing than this was transitioning itself. This was physically painful in ways I can’t describe and terrifying beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced.

About 90 minutes after waking up from surgery

While 11 months later, the swelling still hasn’t fully gone down, this surgery has already had a profoundly positive effect on my life. Recovery was hell and there were major points of depression and borderline regret for a while as I dealt with large amounts of granulation, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision. My body feels more like mine than it ever has before. My gender dysphoria isn’t gone entirely, but it has been greatly reduced. In addition to how it’s made me feel, it’s also made life easier in many regards. The simple act of picking out clothes to wear and getting dressed no longer requires thinking about how to hide my junk. I can put on running tights or wear leggings as pants without worry. My jeans fit better. I can wear a fucking bathing suit without epic levels of stress.

Of course, most of this year was made many times harder because of the recovery from this surgery. I also spent much of this year being more isolated and holed up at home because it, as well. My dilation schedule frequently meant making it an earlier and more sober night than I otherwise would have. This is something I’ve still not fully reverted back from. In a way, it seems like this is my new normal, that I’ve changed. I’m less interested in being out late and I’m less interested in being drunk or even buzzed than I used to be. I spend less time with friends. Despite this, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

Dealing with just the surgery recovery would have been enough to keep me busy, but that was only part of what I had going on in the first half of this year.

The non-profit startup I co-founded launched in May. MyTransHealth was a project I started in the fall of 2014 and worked hard to bring to life. Our launch was the culmination of a very successful Kickstarter campaign and thousands of hours of work I put in through 2015 and the first half of 2016 (I mean, we all put in a lot of work, but this is a post about my year). The final months of work for MyTransHealth were put in while juggling intense post-surgery granulation pain and being hopped up on painkillers, but I learned a lot about myself and my dedication to something I care about. It was a level of work I didn’t know I had in me. I learned I’m stronger than I thought I was. And, on top of that, I built something that I’m extremely proud of.

The flip side of MyTransHealth is that it also ruined a very good friendship of mine. It hurt to lose this friend and I’m still working through the feelings associated with that. And just as importantly as losing that friendship, I’m also no longer involved with MyTransHealth. Leaving the organization hurt just as much as losing the friendship did, but…well, it is what it is.

While the finishing touches to MyTransHealth were being put together, I was approached by Women’s Running to be on the friggin’ cover of their July issue. Some of you are aware that I was a finalist in their annual cover contest in 2015 and lost so it was amazing to have the opportunity to be on their cover outside of a contest. This was not an easy decision to make. Being a focus of the cover story on the issue, I know that made me a logical choice for the cover, but it was a lot of attention to invite on myself. I’m no a stranger to attention, but this was a whole new level for me. And it wasn’t just being on the cover, it was also being the first openly trans person on the cover of any fitness magazine. This added even more attention.

IT ME!!!!

As we all know, I did say yes. Less than a week after the launch of MyTransHealth, I had my photoshoot with them and that itself was its own experience. It was wonderful and the issue turned out great. I couldn’t have been more proud to see myself on the cover. While the first few days after the issue hit were an intense ride of media stories about me, things quickly settled down after a couple weeks and I got back to normal life. I was proud of the cover, but at the same time intense levels of attention make me extremely awkward. All I wanted was for no one to recognize me in public. Lucky for me, they didn’t. But the most amazing part was all of the people who reached out to me to tell me how important this was for them and the hope that it gave them. It’s weird to be called an inspiration and I’ve never wanted to be called a role model, but knowing I’ve had a positive effect on so many people’s lives is greatly important to me. I take this seriously and I know the responsibility that comes with it. I do my best to respect that and it’s something that has given me strength through the tough things in my life.

Whaaaaaa???

At over 1,200 words, that just about covers 2016…the first six months.

Come on, you already know I get a little wordy around these parts.

With the Women’s Running cover landing at the end of June, the first half of 2016 was pretty intense and wildly busy. Going into the second half, honestly, all I wanted was a little bit of a rest. I wanted to finish recovering from surgery and I wanted some relaxation. Most of all, I wanted to focus on training for my first marathon post-surgery.

For the most part, that’s how I spent summer and early fall, training for Chicago. I didn’t enter training in the shape I was hoping to be in, but I was within where I had expected to be after a major surgery. I knew just running a fall marathon at all wasn’t a given so I was happy to even be able to train. But training went beyond swimmingly. Much better than I could have imagined it’d go. I went from starting training with a “we’ll see how it goes, but it’d be super rad to snag a small PR” attitude to wrapping up with “fuck it, I’m going for a huge PR and Boston qualifying time.”

The race itself went better than I could have imagined and I ran a nearly flawless race. Not only did I get an 11-minute BQ, but I I also snagged a 16-minute PR. I ran more than a minute faster than my time goal for the last three years—the time I did everything to work towards for New Jersey Marathon 2014 and Grandma’s Marathon 2015 and failed to get. A sub-3:30 marathon had been my running goal since I started transition years ago and I finally got it. And even more importantly than that, after five and a half years of caring more about qualifying for Boston than pretty much anything else in my life, I did that too. I got that 🦄! This wasn’t just my most important running goal, it was one of my most important life goals period. And the truth is, it was possibly my biggest reason for going ahead with having surgery in the first place. To have that pay off so quickly was the nicest surprise I could have ever expected this year.

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

So that was the big stuff in 2016. And it’s a lot of big stuff. But 2016 was also the year I become comfortable enough with my body to run in just a sports bra and shorts or even just wear a bikini. It was my year of body positivity. And, despite not being able to run consistently for the first five months of the year, I still racked up 1,150 miles and scored a new half marathon PR. And my Twitter account got verified.

Running a new half marathon PR in just a sports bra!

Me and Tamar at the Tumblr beach trip!

It was quite the year, to say the least.

Anyway, I kept the second half of the year a lot more sane than the first—like I had hoped—but the reality about 2016 is that none of it has been sane. This has been the year from hell. I know years are mostly just arbitrary markers of time that humans use and we’ve collectively treated 2016 as a sentient being while, in reality, years are an utterly meaningless concept in the universe. But, here’s the thing, we use years as a way to mark time and group things together. People don’t die because of a year and, with the exception of the weather and astronomical events, things that do happen based on the calendar are human constructs. Sure. Absolutely. But we still live by the calendar. We plan by these numbers we assign to the Earth’s position around the Sun. It’s a natural way for use to group things and break our lives down into smaller subdivisions.

And as far as these arbitrary subdivisions go, the one labeled 2016 has been exceptionally difficult. I won’t deny there is, of course, some level of confirmation bias going on and every time something bad happens, it seems to confirm our feelings rather than simply existing in our minds as another unrelated event. Yet these things add up. And in the case of politics and the world outside of celebrity deaths and such, these things are frequently interconnected. They build on and influence each other.

Much of 2016 was dominated by the election. It was brutal and it put on display just how ugly our world can be. How divided humanity is. It’s terrifying, to be honest. 2016 has eroded our democracy and set forth a wrecking ball that will affect our lives for decades to come. Looking ahead to 2017, it’s hard to see a place for people like me. Many members of marginalized groups won’t survive because of what we’ve done this year. LGBT people, black people, Muslims, Jews, and women are all at major risk because of decisions made in 2016. Looking out beyond just 2017, it’s very difficult to see a way in which America’s hyperpartisanship can be healed. For many of us, it’s much easier to see a second American Civil War (this isn’t necessarily my personal prediction, but the way things look and feel).

Obviously, all of the things that have led us down this path towards major war sequels didn’t just come about in 2016. They’ve been there for a long time. Some lying dormant and some, such as racism, existing to various degrees for hundreds of years. But 2016 is when they all bubbled to the surface in ways humanity hasn’t seen in a (relatively) long time. Whether it’s World War III, Cold War II, or Civil War II, it seems quite likely that years—decades—from now we’ll look back on 2016 as being the turning point, the year that it all just started to go to shit.

Basically 2016

Now, that’s a bit of a tangent to go off on in a post that I wanted to write focused on my 2016, but it’s important. 2016 hasn’t been exclusively bad, but it has been a year of garbage all over the place. What I’ve been struggling with for months now is how to reconcile it all. 2016 has been an amazing year for me personally in so many ways, but it’s also been awful in the world. These two things absolutely don’t have to be mutually exclusive and can both be true, but it’s still difficult to come to terms with how to feel about 2016. At best, my feelings are complex and complicated. I am incredibly grateful, happy, and proud of these things from my personal life, but I am heartbroken, enraged, and disgusted by the world around us. These things in my personal life have opened doors for my future. I can now focus on new running goals. I can help more trans people get through their transitions. I can simply live my life more easily. Yet, at the same time, things in 2016 will mean many doors will close in 2017. I won’t be able to live my life as openly and safely as a trans person. There will be more transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny to deal with, in addition to the racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry (and fascism and white nationalism) that will become even more overt in our country and around the world. The progress we’ve made over the last eight years will be eroded away. It’s quite a dichotomy to try to reason about and accept.

Ultimately, I’m taking these positive and amazing things from my life in 2016 and walking away with my head held high because of them. They can’t be taken from me. And at the same time, I am moving forward with sadness for all the people we’ve lost this year who have had a positive effect on the world and changed it for the better. I am also going forward angry and charged for a new, but more difficult, fight for our rights and our future.

2017 will, almost without a doubt, be worse than 2016, but we don’t have to lie down and accept that quietly. We can stand up and keep on fighting. 2017 may be even worse than 2016, but that doesn’t mean this has to be a thing we’ll say every year going forward. We can put in the work to make this not being the darkest timeline, but just a dark spot in an otherwise brightening timeline. And along the way, we can accept that good and bad things can happen simultaneously. We can accept and enjoy the good while lamenting and fighting against the bad. Life and the world are weird like that and the balance between good and bad things isn’t a constant. It’s a pendulum that swings back and forth.

So, finally, thank you for the good things you gave me, 2016, but mostly fuck you.

PS: If you’re one of those people who come to my blog to leave antagonistic comments or you feel you have something you just have to say in contradiction to my feelings about politics, either specifically related to 2016 or more generally, don’t. Just move along.

12

Six months

This is the fifth post in a series about my experience with getting my junk rearranged. The other parts are: Are You Excited?, I Got Sliced All The Fuck Up!Recovery Update, and 16 weeks post-surgery update.

As usual, proceed with caution. Total TMI-city ahead.


Ain't nothing stopping this!

Ain’t nothing stopping this!

In some ways, I can’t believe it’s already been six months (and a few days) since my surgery. In other ways, it feels like it’s been eternity. I legit can’t remember what having a penis feels like and that’s pretty cool. I remember life with it, but what it actually feels like day in, day out is gone from my memory. Peeing standing up? Did I ever even do that? It’s like I haven’t!

Anyway, it’s been a couple months since my last update so here’s where I’m at…

I’ll start with the bad worst stuff first.

I’m still in pain. A lot of it. And it’s the fucking worst.

At this point, I fully expected to have zero pain left. I knew it’d take a full year for the swelling to go down, but I didn’t expect six months of pain. While I got lucky with how well the surgery itself went, it seems I’m pretty unlucky with how my body is healing.

Since my last update, I’ve been going to the doctor roughly every two weeks for granulation. I’m lucky that I’m close enough to my doctor that I can drive there when necessary, but it’s a two hour drive each way. A full trip ends up taking nearly five hours, which means missing most of a day of work…every two fucking weeks. Plus the cost of gas and like $10 worth of tolls. And getting probed in a vagina that’s already in pain is the damn ass pits. My doctor herself is much better at this, but many of my appointments are with the PA and she’s…not gentle with the speculum.

At my last two appointments—two weeks ago from today and yesterday—I was granulation-free. That sounds amazing and I want to scream “FINALLY!!!!” BUT I’m still a lot of pain when I dilate so it’s not really as big of a win as I wish it was.

Two weeks ago, the PA prescribed more Estrace cream (basically it’s an estrogen cream you shoot up your cooch…it’s weird). It’s supposed to soften things up inside and make dilating easier. Honestly, it’s hard to say if it’s helped or not, though, since I’ve still be in so much pain. The good news on this front is it’s not just some phantom pain that we won’t be able to figure out. At my appointment yesterday, I saw my doctor and she found a tear inside. It was a few inches long in exactly the place where I have most of the pain. She cauterized it so we’ll have to see how it heals. I have some pain in other places, but it’s more of the muscle soreness variety deeper inside and near the opening it’s consistent with scar tissue that still needs to finish healing from the granulation. I’m really hoping this is all the end of it though.

After having to dilate three times a day for an extra two months beyond what I was originally told, I was finally able to drop down to twice a day in the beginning of July—I’ll have to keep this schedule up until the beginning of September. Unfortunately, dilation still hurts like hell and is a struggle a lot of the time. At its worst, it’s excruciatingly painful. At its best, time consuming. The morning is always easier so I can generally get both the purple and the blue dilators in (the blue is the biggest one I have). It takes some time and hurts, but it’s doable. In the evening, it’s always much more difficult. I don’t even try getting the blue one in anymore. And even with just the purple, it takes me 20-30 minutes to slowly work it in. It’s not just that things are tight down there, but it’s that I have to be very gentle because of how much it hurts from everything else. Much of it is just that I’m a very tense person and I have trouble relaxing while dilating. Unfortunately, even the muscle relaxers I was given a while back don’t help with this. Making the problem worse is that the opening of my vagina is tight enough that it wipes most of the lube off the dilator as I slide in so I keep having to pull it out and add more. Then I end up with an ass crack full of lube to clean out later on.

On the plus side, dilation is almost the entirety of my remaining pain. The ambient pain during the rest of my day is 100% non-existent most days. Every once in a while I’ll have a day where I’m in some pain, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. Another plus is that I don’t have to wear pantyliners much anymore. I wear one at night, but that’s about it. I can probably credit my vagina’s tightness which keeps the lube out of my vagina instead of having it slowly oozing out of me over the course of the next few hours.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Okay, that’s enough about the pain, right? Let me talk a bit more about the schedule.

Not having to dilate in the middle of the day anymore is a huge win. It means I can actually go out for a whole day at a time. It means I don’t lose an hour in the middle of my work day. It means I don’t have to carry my dilators to and from work anymore. It’s freeing as hell.

However, dilating is still having a huge impact on my life.

In the morning, I lose an hour to it. That means everything else gets pushed back an hour. Where I used to get into work around 8:30, it’s now 9:15 to 9:45. This takes me from getting on a nice empty train at 8:06 to having to ride a train packed like a Rutgers frat house basement party. It smells just as bad, is just as hot, and has just as many creepy dudes. I try to get up earlier to account for it, but on mornings when I run before work, which is 3-4 days each week, I’m already getting up at 5:30am and don’t have it in me to go earlier than that. These mornings become a huge stressful rush.

In the evening, I have to make sure I leave time for dilating. If I go out after work or on the weekends, I need to either plan to come home an hour earlier or resign myself to going to bed an hour later than I would otherwise. I also find it’s even more of a struggle to dilate if I’ve had more than one drink or…done other things. So I don’t really go out and drink…or do other…much anymore. And I don’t even mean like getting drunk or anything like that. I don’t drink heavily too often, but even just having two beers at the bar with my friends is something I can’t do now without regretting it later in the evening.

In general, I just go out a lot less than I used to now because it’s such a burden to have to deal with. Even if you take the drinking out of of the equation, which generally is completely fine by me, the time aspect of it is enough to keep me at home. That hour makes a big difference when I have to then turn around and get up at 5:30 the next morning. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to deal with it. Until I no longer have to dilate in the evening, this is going to continue to suck. I miss going out with my friends. And I hate having two hours each day that are just lost. I can’t really be productive while I’m dilating. I can’t get work done or write or anything, really. I can read or watch TV, but that’s about it.

Next month when I go down to once a day, I’ll get back either my mornings or my evenings, depending on how I want to do it. Eventually, I’ll probably be able to work it out based on my schedule for the day. And I’m hoping that once this tear heals that’ll be it for the pain and I’ll be able to insert my dilators more quickly and easily.

Random Magikarp hanging out at Tumblr HQ

Random Magikarp hanging out at Tumblr HQ

Okay, I think that covers us for all the ways in which this shit totally fucking sucks. There are a lot of positives, though! Despite all of this, I really love having a vagina. Not in like a weird way, but just in that it feels like the right thing to have. My body feels much more like mine (I think I’ve said this in every post). When I’m not dealing with dilating, life is easier. I don’t have to think about my genitals or worry about it. I still feel different from everyone else around me, but a lot less so.

I’ve been riding this huge high of body positivity recently. I actually really enjoy wearing a bikini now, even in front of coworkers like I did a couple months ago during a big outing the Tumblr engineering team went on to Mohonk Mountain House. I actually find myself looking for excuses to wear one now. I want to go to the beach or the pool now. I haven’t actually had a chance to, but I want to!

The body positivity has also spread beyond just things directly related to my genitals. I’ve been running in just a sports bra and shorts a lot this summer. It’s just something that’s really nice to be able to do. It’s just this whole thing where my body is starting to feel closer to “right.” I still hate hate hate hate just how tiny and basically non-existent my tits are, but one thing at a time!

And speaking of running, I’m like six weeks or so into marathon training for Chicago in October and that’s been going pretty well. The biggest issue is just dealing with the time constraints of dilating and training.IMG_0130

And while still on the topic of the body positivity, the weight I lost from surgery, about 12 pounds, has stayed off! This was a really unexpected win, but it’s helped a lot with my positivity. I hate myself for letting this be a thing that affects how I feel about my body so much, but I’m still taking this as a win.

Welp, I think that’s about it for now? I feel like these posts are just a jumbled up mess of thoughts. It’s hard to encapsulate a couple months of stuff at a time. Perhaps if I didn’t wait so long between updates it’d be a lot easier to form coherent posts.

8

All about being on the cover of a magazine

tumblr_2016-Jun-13It’s been a week since it was announced that I’m the cover model for the July issue of Women’s Running and I’m still trying to gather my thoughts on all of it. I’ve been trying to sit down and write this for weeks now, since well before the news even broke, but I’ve struggled to fully grasp it all. Most of last week has been spent with my phone vibrating with notifications faster than I could even read them. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Google Alerts, and texts. It’s been distracting to say the least!

I won’t lie, being on the cover of a magazine is kinda cool. I can’t act like I don’t think it is, especially when, apparently, I’m making history by being the first openly transgender woman on the cover of a women’s fitness magazine. I’ve been told I’m even the first trans woman on the cover of any fitness magazine, but I don’t don’t know that’s actually true or not. Honestly, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me so I haven’t bothered to look into it.

A lot of people have asked me what it all feels like. My answer is usually just something about it being super surreal and totally weird. Sometimes, I make a joke about how this is just my 15 minutes of fame and it’ll all be over soon. While my friends and coworkers have asked me about it, most of the attention is online so when I step away from the computer or my phone I get to go back to being a normal person. I like that. No one has recognized me (yet) out on the streets or anything and I’m thankful for that. I don’t want to be recognized! Though, if you are reading this and you do recognize me, totally say hi! For real! I’m awkward, but friendly.

As cool as all of this is and as proud of it as I am, I was hesitant to say yes. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited, I was. It’s that being a trans woman isn’t exactly all unicorns and rainbows. As you’re probably aware, our country is currently in the midst of a big debate about whether or not people like me are even human and deserving of simple basic rights. You know, things like access to restrooms. For most cis people (cis just means “not transgender”), this is relatively new, but we’ve been dealing with this for forever. The only difference is now this is happening with a lot of media attention. This isn’t the post to go into detail about how hard this world makes it for people like me to exist, but trust me when I say it’s extremely dangerous to be transgender right now. And it’s even worse for transgender women of color than it is for those of us who are white.

When Women’s Running’s editor-in-chief, Jessica Sebor, emailed me to ask if I wanted to be on the cover, part of me wanted to immediately write back with a resounding FUCK YES, but I couldn’t. I knew I had to really think this through. I spoke with my wife about it, I reached out to a few friends, both trans and cis, for their thoughts, and I slept on it. I almost said no.

I’m no stranger to visibility. I live my life very visibly. I’m open about being trans and wear that on my sleeve. I’m proud of it because it’s part of what makes me me. Between a number of articles I’ve had written about me before in regards to being a trans athlete and/or the startup I co-founded, MyTransHealth, I’ve also had a fair bit of attention outside of my daily life. To be honest, most of it kind of makes me feel weird. I say yes to things I think could be a net positive for trans people, but I generally don’t like intense amounts of attention on me. When I’m with friends, I’m certainly an attention-grabber, but outside of small groups of people I’m comfortable with, I get very uncomfortable. I don’t even like when I have to get up and speak at my company’s weekly all-team meeting.

This visibility is totally different though. This isn’t just a small one-off article that few people will actually read. This is the cover of a fucking magazine—I mean, it’s not TIME or Sports Illustrated, but Women’s Running has a respectable readership level. And because I’m, apparently, making history, there is a lot of attention around the cover from various news sources. Huffington Post, People, Cosmopolitan, USA Today, Shape, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, Adweek, TIME, Today, NY Daily News, Jezebel, Pink News, New York Times, Hello Giggles, Pop Sugar, Business Insider, Perez Hilton, Greatist. Well, you get the idea. There’s been a lot. Plus, tweets seen by tens of millions of people. This is a lot.

I had to think about all of that. I knew there’d be attention and visibility, though, I didn’t quite expect this many news outlets to pick it up. This kind of attention isn’t just exhausting, but it’s dangerous. NYC is a hugely diverse city, but we have much more than our fair share of anti-trans violence. While most people will forget about me pretty quickly, I still risk being recognized by violent transphobes while out in the world. I have to endure an influx of internet bigots harassing me online and starting threads on Reddit and wherever else to talk about me. Over the past week, I’ve been called a man, it, freak, pedophile, and all kinds of other things thousands of times—yes, I broke the number one rule of the internet and read the comments. This is all par for the course for anyone like me who even dares as to so much as exist, but it’s greatly elevated over the normal level right now. While the reality of the last week has actually been much better than I expected it to be, I had to really think about this risk.

I also had to think beyond myself and about the rest of the trans community. Am I fueling unwanted visibility for trans people everywhere and giving into the cisgender voyeurism of trans lives? Am I making things harder for others, the way that Caitlyn Jenner has? Is another magazine cover really what trans people need? Ultimately, I would never want to do anything that makes things harder for others or sells out my community for a quick dose of fame.

And let’s not skip over the article itself. I wanted to know exactly what I was going to be on the cover of. I asked to read a draft of the feature before agreeing. I wanted to be sure the article was accurate and positive for trans people. Women’s Running, of course, had no issue with letting me read a draft ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect an issue here. Women’s Running has always been amazing with anything else I’ve worked with them on, but I had to be sure.

Finally, I had no desire to be “the face of transgender running.” Or even the face of anything. There are many others like me out there and I could never speak for them all. We’re all unique people. I do my best to be clear that when I talk about my experience, I’m speaking for myself. Still, I was already likely the most well-known transgender (woman) runner out there. Trust me, that’s not saying much. Mostly, it’s just because I’m a loudmouth on the internet and not because I’m special in any other way. I’m certainly not the fastest. I’m definitely not the most well-spoken. There are plenty of high school and college trans athletes who are more deserving than I am. And on the trans men side of things, let’s not forget we’ve got the amazing Chris Mosier kicking ass and making the US National Team for the duathlon. Really, I’m not all that special, I’m just a loudmouth.

Anyway, you’d think I’d have already figured most of this out after being a finalist for the Cover Runner Contest last fall. I entered because why not? I didn’t think it’d go anywhere. I was shocked when I was a finalist, but I still didn’t expect to win (and I didn’t). I never felt like I needed to actually face it as a reality.

Ultimately, I said yes to the dress cover, obviously. The shoot happened less than two weeks later at 5 freaking a.m. in Brooklyn (normally an hour from Jersey City by subway). I spent a few hours running 30ish feet at a camera while photographer James Farrell, said “one more time!” which turned out to mean “a hundred more times. We brought a few outfits with us, but I only ended up wearing two of them—I changed in a Starbucks bathroom.

I was really nervous to do the shoot. I’m not photogenic and I’m very particular about how I’m photographed. To be honest, though, it was a completely fun experience and everyone I worked with that day was super amazing. I didn’t want it to end! Not because I wanted to keep running laps in front of a camera, but because I was enjoying the time hanging out with the crew. And, yes, I got to keep the clothes!
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After the shoot, it was pretty quiet until the week before the magazine came out—the interview for the feature had been done well before I was asked to be on the cover. Since then, it’s been a total whirlwind. Women’s Running had me make a video to introduce myself and asked if I would take over their Instagram and Snapchat accounts for a day. I did Instagram the day the issue hit shelves and Snapchat this past weekend. And, of course, there have been a bunch of talking to writers for articles about the cover.

In the end, I know I made the right decision. With everything blowing out of control over the last few months about bathrooms, this feels like a bit of a win for trans people right now. Of course, the timing of this coming out right after the awful and hateful attack in Orlando was a coincidence, but many reached out to tell me that this news served as a much needed ray of light for them. My heart has been so heavy since last Sunday, but knowing I was at least part of something positive for the LGBT community last week means a lot to me.

In the last week, I’ve had so many people contact me to tell me what it’s meant to them to see someone like them on the cover of a magazine. Not someone who is already a celebrity, but someone who is an everyday person like they are. I certainly don’t want to be anyone’s role model, and I shouldn’t be either, but I wanted to be able to show other trans people what’s possible. I wanted to do something that would give some amount of hope to other trans people right now, especially those who are seriously doubting whether or not they should transition or can survive in this world as a trans person.

Lastly, I just want to hit one last point since I saw someone comment about this. The feature does discuss the fact that I have had surgery. I was never asked about this. This was information I volunteered because it was relevant to my answers during the interview. Savita was respectful and never asked anything inappropriate. Besides, it’s not like it isn’t public information at this point anyway. I’ve written 10,000 words about it here!

On a shelf

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