Transgender Memoir Writer
After more than ten years on testosterone, and of being a trans health activist, the categories of memoir and health writing blur. I can rattle off many of the most common effects of transitioning from female to male. Despite all of my research, in every category, there are those features of my person, from the sound of my voice to the secret rumblings of my heart, that alter or remain the same in some completely unexpected way. I wrote in “Journey Home: My Life as a Transgender Man” for Role/Reboot:
Testosterone made my hands grow so that my life lines cracked open. I’d been told my heart disease risk would rise to meet that of other men’s, but I hadn’t expected such a visible sign.
The single question that I—and I think most trans people who agree to talk about their lives—get in some form or another is “What is the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity?” My essay, “Grew Up as Girls, Married as Men” on The Good Men Project, which first appeared on this blog as “My big, gay marriage,” is where I’ve answered this question best.
Why transition from female to male, to become a gay married couple? It’s a question that both Kevin and I took years to learn to answer this succinctly. We transitioned to match our bodies to our feelings of already being men. Our sexual orientation is who we are attracted to. We married for love.
Two of my essays have appeared in Lambda Literary Award nominated anthologies: “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family & Themselves” (2014: Transgress Press, First ed.) and “Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men” (2014: Bisexual Resource Center).
From September 2011 to June 2013, I was a frequent contributor and editor of The Good Men Project Magazine. While Senior Editor, and then Managing Editor, of the GMP, I created The Good Life, a lifestyle magazine within The Good Men Project Magazine with weekly staff writers, features on everything from microwave cuisine to prison reform, and a weekly themed series based on open calls for submissions. I worked with hundreds of writers, published an average of three articles a day on the GMP, most of them on The Good Life, and promoted them on social media. The most popular articles I published got well over ten thousand page views; The Good Life averaged around 8K page views per day.
The Good Men Project, founded in 2009, has been called a more thoughtful rejoinder to lad mags by The Atlantic Wire. On my LinkedIn profile, you can read recommendations from my publisher and others with whom I worked closely on The Good Men Project. At the GMP I’ve been honored to work with tremendous writers who have let me know how much they appreciate the ways I improve and promote their work. Here are some of the compliments I’ve received from publishers, editors, and writers with whom I’ve worked:
“Justin makes me a better writer”
“one of the most useful reviews I’ve ever received”
“We were talking about you… the word “great” came up a lot…. just about every writer that has ever worked with you says what a great editor you are.”
“I’ve appreciated your honest and direct and minimalistic approach!”
In 2001, I co-founded Trans-Health, a quarterly online journal of health and fitness for transgender people. You can see the original issues in PDF format here on One in Six Trans Men. The layout, original web design, news coverage, and promotion were all mine. The original domain is still live, and continues to be a resource to the transgender community. As Rev. Chunn writes:
I just encountered Trans-Health.com. It seems to be the best kept secret on the web! And that’s surely a shame, because it is AWESOMELY EXCELLENT. —(The Rev.) Rikki Marie Chunn, Pastor, New American Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA
Health and Lifestyle Writer
Healthy food and lifestyle choices are a social justice issue.
Bodies that aren’t valued by society, are usually not valued by their owners. Trans-Health was created for people who are marginalized, isolated from their own bodies, to empower them with information they could use to make healthier choices. I believe in Health at Every Size (HAES). I hope to continue to change attitudes toward the bodies of oppressed people, including those who are queer, trans, fat, disabled, mentally ill, sex positive, elderly, poor, and people of color. I wrote in “Fat Is the New Gay“:
In a capitalist society, neither the gay body, which does not produce more workers with its sexual activity, nor the fat body, which is seen through the capitalist lens as comparatively inefficient, are valued.
My article, “Why Americans Are So Fat,” suggests environmental factors that correlate with obesity are the appropriate targets for change, not individual willpower. This article was positively reviewed in a podcast, “Low Carb Conversations.”
In a piece of creative nonfiction that I wrote for a series in which men are invited to imagine a day in the life of a woman, the theme is the injustice of equality. “The Lactation Lounge” is about a day in the life of a warehouse worker. For a month, I temped in a clothing distribution warehouse while continuing to nurse my son, who was three months old. It remains one of the most heartbreaking times of my life.
You fall asleep together like this, sometimes, especially at night when you wake, anticipating his cry before it breaks from his throat. Last night, without remembering or thinking, you lifted him in the darkness and brought him into the bed with you, between yourself and your sleeping husband. One hand unhooked the nursing bra cover as the other guided your son’s tiny head to the revealed nipple. Only in retrospect do you realize that you have achieved black belt status as a bra-opener.
My foray into Mafia history was motivated by gratitude. Who suffered for the life I enjoy? This study took a number of directions, not all of them related to the Mafia. One path was genealogy: these were the people I was made from. In the process of learning the names of my ancestors, where and how they lived, I discovered clues leading to not just one, but many Mafia relations from Corleone, some of whom emigrated around the same time as my family.
For a long time, I have pursued this interest without fully understanding why it’s important to me. Some of my smart, progressive, compassionate friends enjoy professional wrestling, and I imagine that many of the people close to me see my interest in the Mafia as being similarly inexplicable. It doesn’t fit into our shared tribal identity as comfortably as my interests in foodways or queer identity.
What has been so thrilling about studying Mafia history has been taking the axiom that “the personal is political” has been such a fruitful way to understand what human hearts have made. As often as Mafia writers state that the family is at the center of the Mafia, few illustrate this fact as well as it has been revealed to me through genealogical research.
I’ve written about Mafia genealogy and history on my other WordPress blog, Mafia Genealogy, and elsewhere. I’m writing my first book on the Mafia families of Corleone.
Other areas of expertise include:
Men and Families
Feature image credit: Guilliaume Paumier/Flickr