Nov 9 • 41M

Arizona Equals MJ

A conversation about recovery from gender affirming surgery and the joy of queer community with movement specialist MJ Jupitus

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Equality Arizona
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.

As results continue to come in from yesterday’s election, we’ll have updates in this newsletter and on social media. While we wait to find out the future we can expect for our state, enjoy this interview with movement specialist MJ Jupitus about community care and the complex joy of gender affirming surgery.

Links & Context

Full Episode Transcript

00;00;00;15 - 00;00;30;02

Jeanne

From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the interim executive director at Equality Arizona and the host of this podcast. Each week on the show, I talk with a queer person living in Arizona about the map of their life. In this episode, talking with MJ, we actually ran into a literal mapping issue trying to meet up to record the conversation.

00;00;30;02 - 00;00;53;03

Jeanne

And I left a little bit of that in because it bridged nicely into the conversation. My guest today, MJ, is a fairly recent transplant to Arizona, but has been able to make some pretty great community ties in the year that they've lived here. You'll hear them mention their wife, Jess, a few times, who works at the Tempe Public Library.

00;00;53;17 - 00;01;16;29

Jeanne

We don't really include that context up front, so I felt like it'd be good to mention that here. MJ's own career as a queer movement specialist brought us to some really wonderful conversations about gender affirming surgery and the recovery process after that. This is an experience we were both able to talk about personally, and it was really meaningful for me to have that conversation.

00;01;18;02 - 00;01;47;17

Jeanne

I also felt like it was really interesting to talk with a British trans person to get their perspective on the political trajectory of their home country, which has unfortunately seen the rise of a pretty dangerous anti-trans movement. These people sometimes describe themselves as gender critical, but another term that's used frequently to describe them is TERF — T-E-R-F — which is short for transgender exclusionary radical feminist.

00;01;47;17 - 00;02;20;13

Jeanne

And we say that word without actually explaining it, so I'm including that explanation here, upfront. And for one final note before we start the episode, I ran into a few audio issues with this recording, and I've done my best to correct those, but it's not perfect. Also, this episode is being published the day after Election Day, but I'm recording this the Monday before, which means whenever you're listening to this, you definitely know more than I do right now.

00;02;21;17 - 00;02;54;29

Jeanne

You can find more up to date information from us on our website, social media, or through our newsletter: equalityarizona.substack.com, which is the same place we publish this podcast. And with that, let's get into the interview.

00;02;56;29 - 00;02;58;28

MJ

Hi, I'm MJ, my pronouns are they/them.

00;02;59;17 - 00;03;01;18

Jeanne

Thanks for meeting me. Thanks for being on the show today.

00;03;01;19 - 00;03;03;14

MJ

Of course Jeanne, I'm so sorry about the timing.

00;03;03;21 - 00;03;10;11

Jeanne

Oh, no worries at all. I think for whatever reason, the maps just don't work super well in this area.

00;03;10;12 - 00;03;19;16

MJ

Yeah, it sent me to, like I said, just past 22nd. Definitely, not here. [laughter] Not even on Camelback. I was on like Highland for a while as well.

00;03;19;20 - 00;03;21;04

Jeanne

Oh, my gosh. Wow.

00;03;21;04 - 00;03;23;03

MJ

And I was like, it definitely said Camelback. I’m not in the right place.

00;03;24;06 - 00;03;25;13

Jeanne

Do you live in this area?

00;03;25;18 - 00;03;41;28

MJ

Live in Tempe and have only lived in Tempe for a little while now. So I was explaining to them I don't even have the confidence to, like, drive around to try to figure it out. I’m just like, no, I'm just fully lost.

00;03;41;28 - 00;03;43;06

Jeanne

Yeah. So how long have you been in Tempe then?

00;03;43;06 - 00;03;46;23

MJ

Been in Tempe for I guess nearly a year now. But it still feels like months.

00;03;47;03 - 00;03;48;17

Jeanne

That's still really recent.

00;03;48;18 - 00;03;52;03

MJ

Yeah, yeah, but we moved here for Jess’s work with the library.

00;03;52;10 - 00;04;01;13

Jeanne

Okay, that makes sense. How did you feel about moving to Arizona? I think, you know, for a lot of people, unless they have a reason, maybe that's not their first inclination.

00;04;01;13 - 00;04;19;10

MJ

Yeah, definitely not my first choice. But like, so more than happy to, like, support Jess. This job has been phenomenal for her. She loves it. And Tempe itself as a city is lovely and nice and has its pros. But leaving California was hard.

00;04;19;22 - 00;04;29;22

Jeanne

Yeah, I think, you know, I love Tempe. I grew up in Tempe, but California has a lot more opportunity in a lot of cases depending on what you're trying to do.

00;04;29;23 - 00;04;30;10

MJ

Absolutely.

00;04;30;19 - 00;04;35;24

Jeanne

Leaving California for you, I imagine you had to leave some things behind. How long were you there for?

00;04;36;00 - 00;05;03;00

MJ

So I was in California, I think like 5 to 6 years. Like it kind of crossed that five-and-a-half-years line. So, yeah, I, so I originally got to California from England for school. To UC Davis for a year abroad. I was like, Oh, I very much want to live in California. I also met Jess, fell in love, had a great like long distance romance and agreed that I'd move to the States to live here. California here.

00;05;03;00 - 00;05;26;08

MJ

So, yeah, I was there for about five, six years. Yeah, I definitely left, you know, friends and community. In a way, I feel like I left also some resources as a queer trans person. But we have family here, Jess's family is here. And I'm starting to build community here with organizations like yours! So, it's working out.

00;05;26;19 - 00;05;31;17

Jeanne

What were some of those resources that you feel like you haven't been able to supplement here?

00;05;31;18 - 00;05;44;08

MJ

Absolutely. I feel like I guess I would call it like more convenient access to gender confirmation surgery. Like, I know it's available in Arizona, but it definitely felt like an easier process in California.

00;05;45;21 - 00;05;52;18

Jeanne

Can you walk me through what you're seeing as the difference between like, very easy in California, very obscure, maybe, in Arizona?

00;05;52;18 - 00;06;18;29

MJ

Absolutely. So I had surgery in California. That process was going to my doctor, explaining that that was the surgery that I needed, them referring me to a gender mental health specialist within that insurance. This is all within the insurance system of Kaiser. And then that therapist going, yes you have gender dysphoria, you need top surgery.

00;06;19;23 - 00;06;34;00

MJ

And then that was it. It was — there was only one surgeon in the area I was in; he then ended up moving.

Jeanne

Oh gosh.

MJ

And that was very unexpected. Well, pandemic happened. I should put that first.

00;06;34;03 - 00;06;37;05

Jeanne

So this is all during the pandemic or kind of overlapping the beginning?

00;06;37;05 - 00;06;42;00

MJ

The beginning of 2020, so January. My 2020 resolution was, I'm going to get top surgery.

00;06;42;01 - 00;06;42;25

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;06;42;25 - 00;07;13;27

MJ

And I started it in January. Got to meeting my surgeon I think in — it must have been before the lockdown but that also seems really quick. I do think it was before lockdown. And then the issue was that the waitlist got lengthened because everything locked down for that period of time. So I was supposed to have surgery in September of 2020, but because of everything, it got pushed back to more like November time.

00;07;14;05 - 00;07;14;17

Jeanne

Okay.

00;07;15;01 - 00;07;27;27

MJ

And my surgeon left the area in September. He did his last surgery and then was like, bye. I found out through a friend who, he had been their top surgeon. I never directly heard from the insurance.

00;07;27;27 - 00;07;28;29

Jeanne

You never got notified?

00;07;29;25 - 00;07;54;24

MJ

No. I will say that was not an ideal part of the insurance process but, everything else up until then — quick, efficient, great. And so then it was a waiting game. I'd call the insurance back regularly. Is there a surgeon? No? Okay. I'd call back like a couple weeks later. Is there a surgeon now? No? But I kept doing it until one day they called me and said there was a surgeon in Santa Rosa.

00;07;55;10 - 00;08;21;03

MJ

I got in contact with that department and they offered me a surgery in two weeks. So I went from like, I had about six months from from kind of early March to September plan, to nothing for the foreseeable future to, get it in two weeks. So I ended up having top surgery December of 2020. And then here I got a revision done here. Very common for top surgery.

Jeanne

Yeah, very common.

00;08;21;26 - 00;08;36;14

MJ

And so that process was not at all covered by insurance. So difference number one, they wouldn't cover it. Still a fairly quick process, but by no means accessible.

00;08;36;29 - 00;08;57;12

Jeanne

So I had surgery here in Arizona and what really resonated with me from your story is that very last minute the date fell through.

MJ

Yeah!

Jeanne

And, now what am I going to do? And what you're describing is that you were doing everything in network so they could refer you, they could connect you — still very unsettling and everything, but.

00;08;57;12 - 00;09;14;23

Jeanne

For me, it was like, Oh, I don't have all the letters I need. And most of the people who can do this aren't even, they don't even take insurance. I have to get a list from my surgeon of people who might be able to meet with me. And I have to do this in enough time so that it doesn't —

00;09;14;28 - 00;09;15;14

MJ

Expire.

00;09;15;17 - 00;09;19;07

Jeanne

Expire and everything.

MJ

It's ridiculous

Jeanne

Crazy situation.

00;09;19;07 - 00;09;21;09

MJ

Yeah. I'm sorry that happened. That's so stressful.

00;09;21;28 - 00;09;25;25

Jeanne

At least it wasn't during the pandemic!

00;09;25;25 - 00;09;44;19

MJ

Yeah, it worked out? No, it did work out. It was, actually they said, they were like, this ward was never used for any COVID situations. It was just shut down when it wasn't, when they weren't doing surgery. So they're like, it's strangely one of the safest wards we have for surgeries during the pandemic. And I was like, Great, fine,

Jeanne

Perfect.

MJ

Happy about it.

00;09;45;07 - 00;10;02;24

MJ

Yeah. Yep. No, it's — so it, I understand to a degree. I'm sure it's not people's fault, things fall through. I'm sure my surgeon left for a reason.

Jeanne

Sure.

MJ

But it, it feels personal. I don't know if yours felt personal, but I'm like this means everything to me and you've just taken it away.

00;10;02;25 - 00;10;23;07

Jeanne

It felt very, very personal. There was a unique situation in my case that made it feel even more personal. But, you know, something I wonder about is making a move like that during the pandemic. The pandemic changes how you relate to the place you're in, like so many people relocated because they realized, I can just do this job from a cheaper housing market.

00;10;23;07 - 00;10;26;08

Jeanne

Did you have any kind of similar experience to that?

00;10;27;16 - 00;10;56;10

MJ

Yeah, I think it was interesting because my wife, Jess, started looking for a new job pretty much like, then. Like, March 2020 a job had come up in San Diego that she was really interested in. She was like, How do you feel about Diego? And I was like, I feel like it's expensive. But through the entire — through all of 2020, until she got offered the job here in 2021.

00;10;57;06 - 00;11;21;01

MJ

Yeah, she was, she was looking for work. I think she felt she was done with that area of California and definitely looking for that next step in her career. And I don't by any means like resent her for that. She's brilliant what she does and deserves to be like top of it I think. But it was, it was strange to be, you know, shut at home.

00;11;21;01 - 00;11;30;28

MJ

A home that I was very happy and content in, on the verge of being ripped away from it. But during a time where everything was different anyway, so like.

00;11;31;17 - 00;11;32;08

Jeanne

Exactly.

00;11;32;08 - 00;11;39;19

MJ

It felt not as probably impactful if it had been without a pandemic. But then the pandemic stress on top of the potential move stress

00;11;40;02 - 00;11;40;18

Jeanne

Right.

00;11;41;18 - 00;11;52;13

MJ

I wouldn't want to put anyone else through that. But if anyone like decided to up and leave where they were for convenience, like, absolutely, like Arizona is so much cheaper than California.

00;11;54;04 - 00;12;06;27

Jeanne

It still is. Yeah. Despite — I think I read that Phoenix has had the most, the highest rate of inflation of any city in the country, which is still so much cheaper than California.

MJ

Still so much cheaper than California.

00;12;06;27 - 00;12;13;28

MJ

Yeah, it's challenging. You're like, That's not good. It's better than what I had before, so, it's a conflicting feeling there.

00;12;14;02 - 00;12;25;16

Jeanne

And so if you've been here for a little less than a year or about a year, I would assume that means probably a lot of the lockdown restrictions were mostly lifted when you first moved here.

00;12;25;19 - 00;12;27;05

MJ

Yeah.

00;12;27;05 - 00;12;31;20

Jeanne

What was that, what — I mean, was it different in California compared to Arizona around that time?

00;12;32;29 - 00;12;57;12

MJ

I think so. I also think I think a lot shifted in California, coincidentally, after we left as well. We came to Arizona — so, it was November of 2021 and no one was masking in stores. And that was weird for me because where we were at least inside, grocery shopping, majority of people were still wearing masks. So to come to this environment,

00;12;57;12 - 00;13;17;06

MJ

And like no one was, I was like, it's different. It's different, they have a different attitude to it. And I think only a couple of weeks, if not a month later, all mask mandates got dropped. So before it was people just not doing it. And then it was like, you have permission to not do it. And they were like, Great, we weren't doing it anyway.

00;13;17;07 - 00;13;18;06

Jeanne

Yeah, I was already doing that.

00;13;18;06 - 00;13;41;02

MJ

Yeah. Yeah. So it definitely like — it's challenging. I have a complicated relationship with California, in that I feel like: I loved it, I think I would move back if somebody gave a golden opportunity of like we've bought your house, your mortgage is covered, don't worry about the cost. I'd be like, great. I don't think it's as liberal haven as it is portrayed to be.

00;13;41;23 - 00;13;43;28

Jeanne

Yeah. I think that's probably true.

00;13;43;28 - 00;13;44;23

MJ

Right. So.

00;13;44;25 - 00;13;47;18

Jeanne

But of course, Arizona isn't very liberal.

00;13;47;23 - 00;13;47;29

MJ

No, no, very different

00;13;48;09 - 00;13;51;06

Jeanne

Although maybe it's the flip side. It's not as much of a conservative hellscape.

00;13;51;12 - 00;13;52;19

MJ

As people think.

00;13;52;19 - 00;13;52;28

Jeanne

As people think it is.

00;13;53;07 - 00;14;04;22

MJ

Yeah, absolutely. So, Tempe, come in to Phoenix and have been to Tucson. And at least those three areas I feel like have amazing resources that I didn't expect.

00;14;05;10 - 00;14;12;07

Jeanne

Yeah, well, Tucson is beautiful. And I think it also has one of the larger, more organized trans communities.

00;14;12;11 - 00;14;37;03

MJ

I've heard that, yeah, I have heard that. No, yeah, I really enjoyed Tucson. Yeah. Just in comparison. So we were in Sacramento, now in Tempe. Them as cities? Not that different politically — from my very, minuscule, not super involved perspectives, but you know Sacramento is the capital of California. You'd expect to be a bit more liberal than other parts.

00;14;37;03 - 00;14;44;17

MJ

But there were tons of non-liberal attitudes there as well.

00;14;44;17 - 00;14;51;24

Jeanne

And then coming here at that point in November of 2021, I guess the weather's nice, so that's not too much of a shock, right?

00;14;52;09 - 00;14;58;15

MJ

Yeah, the weather's lovely. But growing up in England, even having lived in California for five years, it's hot.

00;14;58;24 - 00;15;01;03

Jeanne

Yeah.

MJ

It's hot.

Jeanne

Oh, no no no, it's very bad.

00;15;01;09 - 00;15;13;26

MJ

So even the winter to me, like Arizona winter, at least this part of Arizona, winter is very much like gorgeous English summer.

00;15;13;26 - 00;15;14;29

Jeanne

Yes, that's what I've heard, yeah.

00;15;14;29 - 00;15;28;08

MJ

Yeah, so. So to me, everyone's like in coats and wrapped up and I'm like, I'm still quite hot. It's still, it's still very much shorts and t-shirt weather. But having just done summer here, that was a lot. That was the lot.

00;15;28;23 - 00;15;30;18

Jeanne

Was that a regret moment for you?

00;15;31;17 - 00;15;39;05

MJ

No, because we have air conditioning, thank Whoever is responsible for that. But yeah, god without that, like.

00;15;39;25 - 00;15;43;17

Jeanne

Oh, right. Yeah. It's really the only reason we can have a city here, is air conditioning.

00;15;44;05 - 00;15;56;06

MJ

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It, it is bafflingly hot to me. I mean, England had that heatwave for like two days this summer around these temperatures.

00;15;56;09 - 00;15;58;10

Jeanne

I remember seeing that in the news.

00;15;58;11 - 00;16;09;10

MJ

The country fell apart. We're not made for that kind of heat. So it's so interesting now to live where that heat is like the average, the norm. And then compare it to what I grew up in and just — so different.

00;16;09;25 - 00;16;28;27

Jeanne

Yeah. This is maybe a little far afield, but thinking about England, there's been a really kind of insurgent TERF movement there. Do you ever, does that enter into your life, in your experience? Is that something that you think about when you think about home?

00;16;29;22 - 00;16;49;21

MJ

Yeah, I definitely think the England I left is not the England of today, 100%. Jess and I have this conversation semi-regularly about — because I moved, I moved here officially like visa, green card, getting it all, very end of 2015. We all remember what happened in 2016.

00;16;49;23 - 00;16;50;10

Jeanne

Right, Brexit.

00;16;50;10 - 00;17;29;14

MJ

So — Brexit and Trump

Jeanne

And Trump.

MJ

So I think if Brexit hadn't happen, I think Jess and I would have had a serious conversation about moving to the UK instead.

Jeanne

That makes sense.

MJ

But Brexit did happen and England has tripled down on Brexit at every possible vote. I don't understand. I'm not — very against it, it's destroying the country. And so yeah, I have this really conflicting relationship now where I'm not patriotic in that way and especially not from an American standpoint, where it's a very big part of the American identity. It's not so much in, in at least my experience, I think.

00;17;29;29 - 00;18;03;20

MJ

But I'm definitely disappointed in my country as a whole. The politics that are like dominating the country and I definitely every now and again when I'm like, oh, would I move back? Would we move back? And I think in this current state, no, and I think there'd have to be a big political change for me to consider it again the way it maybe would again if Brexit and policies weren't happening

00;18;03;20 - 00;18;08;25

Jeanne

Yeah and it feels like those are related, the kind of isolationism and the transphobia and.

00;18;09;08 - 00;18;27;28

MJ

Yeah. 100%. It's similar: Brexit and Trump I feel gave voices like, yeah no you can say these things and hurt these people and do this. It's allowed. Here's a law to make it allowed. Aah! Ow! So yeah no absolutely I completely agree with you. I think that they're linked.

00;18;28;28 - 00;18;46;25

Jeanne

That's not an experience I really can relate to very much because I've been in Arizona my whole life. So there's no like, is Arizona? Cause there's nowhere to go back to. It's just here. And I've traveled a lot and I've thought, oh, could I live here? Could I live there? And maybe. But partly it's like, is it better anywhere else?

00;18;46;25 - 00;19;08;12

Jeanne

Like, what's going to make the difference for me as a trans person with the way things are headed, kind of just on a broad cultural level. I think, you know, another experience I had, despite the fact that I've lived here my whole life, is that when I started to figure out my gender stuff and that I was queer, I did not know where the community was.

00;19;08;27 - 00;19;24;19

Jeanne

I just did not know where to find that. I grew up in Tempe, not in like downtown Tempe. And I think partly just it wasn't actually around me. I had to seek it out. Did it take you time to find that here or were you able to find that faster?

00;19;25;01 - 00;20;12;27

MJ

I was able to find that faster for one reason, and one reason only. We know them, we love them: Brick Road Coffee. Without Brick Road — I tell Gabe and Jesse this so much — without Brick Road my experience would be completely and utterly different: so much more isolated, so much more alone, and I think way less okay. I'm lucky to have, moving here, having brick road, having Gabe and Jesse, their employees, the programs they put together, the LGBT book club run with the Tempe Library, the Dungeons & Dragons Nights, the open mic nights, and just such community focus that they have and frankly, giving me a reason to leave the house.

00;20;13;08 - 00;20;44;04

MJ

Going to get a great iced coffee, from a small business that I'm over 100% okay with supporting. I don't have to second guess, like what is my money going to? Which terrible billionaire am I actually putting money in the pocket of? I'm like, no, I'm just supporting two phenomenal community members and their business which is so like, community made, community focused and yeah so, I found community here but only because of Brick Road and that there was a place for the community, I think to, to start coming to.

00;20;44;07 - 00;20;47;19

Jeanne

And I think that they had just opened at that time.

00;20;47;25 - 00;21;08;11

MJ

Yeah so they, they did their like grand opening I believe in early January. They'd done a very soft opening I think from October, but I think they'd either just started their social media — like Jess sent me a screenshot of their Instagram or something like, the day it was posted and I was like, Oh, yeah I'll go get a coffee. I can, I can leave the house.

00;21;09;10 - 00;21;35;05

MJ

Sure! And I went and it was just Kayla, that was one of my favorite baristas there, got an iced oat milk latte, because I'm queer, what else am I going to get? And, and that was it. Like I thought it was a good place. And then we, I can't remember how, but I think Jess got involved with Gabe and Jesse via the library and met them, and it like just spiraled out.

00;21;35;05 - 00;21;51;07

MJ

Yeah, meeting actually, like you said, meeting community members. But I 100% agree with you, where if Brick Road hadn't been there, I think I would have had a very similar experience to you in that like, I wouldn't know where to go, how to find community, just what to do.

00;21;51;07 - 00;21;53;28

Jeanne

Google searches don't actually connect you to people, so it's —

00;21;53;28 - 00;22;07;00

MJ

No! You get those like pop up ads that it's like, Hot moms in your area, and I just want like, Friendly, anxious queers willing to hang out. And I would click that so quickly.

00;22;07;00 - 00;22;10;25

Jeanne

Yeah, That would be such a funny ad, oh my god.

00;22;11;17 - 00;22;16;10

MJ

Right? Like, totally anxious queer wants to talk about their special interest with you, and I'm like, Yes, I will.

00;22;16;18 - 00;22;19;26

Jeanne

That would also be a good podcast, I think.

00;22;19;26 - 00;22;23;07

MJ

Oh, absolutely. Yes.

Jeanne

Yeah absolutely.

00;22;23;07 - 00;22;27;23

Jeanne

You've mentioned a couple of times, oh, this gives me a reason to get out of the house. Do you work at home?

00;22;27;27 - 00;22;49;23

MJ

I do! I work for myself. Trying to be — no not trying to be an entrepreneur. Yeah, I've worked as, well, I also wouldn't say, like I've run my own business, but I have for yeah, five, six years now. Yeah. I call myself a movement specialist because I don't feel what I do is quite personal training, but I cannot call it physical therapy.

00;22;49;23 - 00;23;15;12

MJ

I didn't go to school for physical therapy. So I feel like I'm in this in-between space where my focus is much more pain management based than like fitness. Again, not really physical therapy. And so my main areas of work are preparing for and recovering from gender affirming surgery because it's a lot to do, to make that an easier process for yourself and your body and there aren't resources, so.

00;23;17;04 - 00;23;18;04

Jeanne

Yeah, that's true.

00;23;18;09 - 00;23;50;13

MJ

Yeah. I wanted to fill that gap, so to speak. So preparing for and recovering from gender affirming surgery, pain management. I work a lot with folks with chronic pain, chronic illnesses, chronic conditions, or like situational pain, injuries, things like that. And as well, an overall, building relationship with one's body. I think especially for queer folks, especially trans folks, that relationship can be challenging actually figuring out your body.

00;23;50;28 - 00;24;14;16

MJ

And I know I put my body through a lot. So yeah, just trying to help people be kinder, softer. I talk about on my Instagram a lot, soft trans bodies and from the attitude of both like physical softness — because I feel like so much trans representation is like incredibly built, muscled trans men — and again, there's nothing wrong with that.

00;24;14;17 - 00;24;35;24

Jeanne

Sure.

MJ

Great, but I think when that's the majority of the representation you see, and that's not your body, that's not your experience, like, that's not like mine, there's something wrong [inaudible]. So I put out soft trans bodies wanting to show like, bodies can be soft and it's great and also the implication of like: be softer to yourself. We're so hard on ourselves.

00;24;36;19 - 00;24;49;07

Jeanne

I think sometimes on a very physical level we throw ourselves under the wheel, right? Just this body has caused me nothing but grief and I'm going to just —

MJ

Punish it.

Jeanne

— punish it, essentially. Yeah.

00;24;49;18 - 00;24;49;26

MJ

100%.

00;24;50;23 - 00;25;15;20

Jeanne

And then, you know, going through surgery, preparing for surgery, I mean, just the the physical toll of preparing for surgery is something people don't really talk about very much. And then recovering is a whole pain situation for sure. You have limited mobility. I had like a three-night hospital stay and then came home and really just spent a lot of time in bed.

00;25;15;20 - 00;25;29;09

Jeanne

But then the thing was I couldn't really be comfortable in bed without a whole complicated pillow set up. And I didn't want to be on pain medicine, but I did for like the first week.

00;25;29;28 - 00;25;30;02

MJ

Yeah, same.

00;25;30;12 - 00;25;51;19

Jeanne

And it's just, it's so much. Like you can read about it and you can get the materials from your surgeon, and then you actually go through it. And I think I pushed myself like too fast and — to, to get through the recovery process. And I don't know that that was great for me, like just psychologically. I think physically it ended up being okay in the long run.

00;25;51;19 - 00;25;54;17

Jeanne

But overall, not, not the best decision.

00;25;55;01 - 00;26;00;28

MJ

Yeah, you're in this weird space where, mentally, maybe the happiest I've ever been.

00;26;01;21 - 00;26;02;00

Jeanne

Mm hmm. Yeah.

00;26;02;07 - 00;26;27;07

MJ

Even, even that first week where it's so uncomfortable, like you're still wearing a binder, because you've got to, like, keep everything together, and it's so uncomfortable. I want to be careful about using the word painful, but it is painful, but sometimes just unbearably uncomfortable, over like pain-pain. But mentally, just like, wow. Like, do not regret, would do however many times.

00;26;28;01 - 00;26;56;10

MJ

If I kept having to go back in time, I'd make this decision every time. But your body doesn't know that. Or you're like, again, a lot of my work really dials down to, like, looking at the brain, looking at hormone responses, nervous system responses especially I think the queer folks have a lot of trauma. And that impacts the nervous system and that impacts the body, the brain and all of it.

00;26;56;10 - 00;27;27;18

MJ

So as much as there's this emotional joy, all goodness, from a mental slash physical standpoint, your body has been harmed. And I know that that's kind of, that might sound like, bleak, but again, very kind of like medically: it is, it's been harmed. It's been impacted physically. And so your brain not only — I think it swaps. I think, for a lot of our lives — at least my perspective.

00;27;27;18 - 00;27;57;07

MJ

I shouldn't speak for the community, but I didn't feel emotionally safe in my body and I got top surgery and then for that — a longer period of time than again I think we're given to recover — my brain didn't feel physically safe in my body. It had been harmed, it's recovering from a significant (I'm doing air quotes) injury but you know again kind of very — stepping back, surgery is an injury, it is a harm to the body.

00;27;58;04 - 00;28;00;05

Jeanne

Yeah, in like a really literal way.

00;28;00;05 - 00;28;26;26

MJ

Yeah. Yes, yes, exactly. So from that very literal standpoint and again, just how the brain is reacting to what has happened to the body, I think recovery definitely needs to be much more guided through. So many more, so many more options and support in any surgery. Of course I'm biased to gender confirmation surgery because it it is lifesaving. I know. Isn't this the debate?

00;28;27;05 - 00;28;30;09

MJ

"It's not a life saving surgery." And I'm like, it is.

00;28;30;12 - 00;28;34;27

Jeanne

It is. But also I think it's important, even if it, even if it weren't. Yeah.

00;28;35;00 - 00;28;36;20

MJ

Even if it wasn't, yeah, I think that's a great point.

00;28;38;06 - 00;28;56;23

Jeanne

I think historically a lot of that care around surgery was just a community thing. People who would be there for each other before and after surgery. During the pandemic, that was not as much of an option. I have a good friend — well, you just met them, they took your photo, but —

00;28;57;01 - 00;28;57;08

MJ

It's great! Thank you again.

00;28;57;27 - 00;29;23;10

Jeanne

But my friend Tate got surgery during the pandemic and couldn't have anyone in the surgery center with them. Recovery was very strange because I got to be around a bit during recovery, but it was very much a choice to say, okay, well, I'm — this is going to be the the social risk I take, is to be here, and I'm not going to be in other places. I think this was right around the same time, like December 2020.

00;29;23;24 - 00;29;38;02

Jeanne

So it's something that I think really changes that. And being in a place like Arizona, where sometimes the community isn't as developed, you don't always have that community support to lean onto. So it sounds like the work you're doing is…

00;29;39;09 - 00;30;05;27

MJ

Yeah, yeah. Trying to provide that in my own way, definitely. Through like, again, the work that I do, the services I offer. Just trying to bridge that gap a little bit, especially for what I feel is a really uneducated part of it. I feel like at least in my experience, I wonder if yours will be similar like, okay, you have the surgery, recover for 4 to 6 weeks and then you're fine — from the like medical standpoint.

00;30;06;07 - 00;30;41;15

MJ

It's like, yeah, it's a 4 to 6 week recovery and then you can do everything you did before, like you're, you're medically recovered. And it's like, I've barely moved for a month. I've been restricting, you know, my arm use for this length of time. I've been even more hunched over because of the discomfort. I've not slept well. There's an impact on, like, digestion from the anesthesia and things like that that's going to mess with other other hormones in the body, like there is so much more than just waiting till the stitches aren't going to burst.

00;30;41;26 - 00;30;45;22

Jeanne

Right, some arbitrary deadline. It's not really the end of it.

00;30;45;27 - 00;30;46;21

MJ

100%.

00;30;46;22 - 00;30;49;00

Jeanne

And your nerves have to stitch back together.

00;30;49;09 - 00;31;13;18

MJ

Right? There's so much going on in the body and they really don't go into that with you. They don't talk to you about that. I'm lucky I had that knowledge just based on my job, my education, and I like learning about the body, which is why I wanted to late bridge that gap. So I offer like one on one training for folks to like work with them in preparation and recovering from surgery.

00;31;13;18 - 00;31;25;26

MJ

But one of the things I'm most passionate about is that kind of like, what I would deem the recovery period, which is that 4 to 6 weeks period of time that you're still kind of under medical recovery.

00;31;25;26 - 00;31;26;07

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;31;26;24 - 00;31;37;23

MJ

Because that is the most limited. I think that's the most uncomfortable period of time. Like you said, I think a lot of people push themselves through that period of time a little faster to get to where they want to be.

00;31;37;29 - 00;31;42;12

Jeanne

For a lot of that period of time you're just, or I was actively bleeding, right? So.

00;31;42;14 - 00;32;04;14

MJ

Right? Drains. It's not, it's not, you're not like, I'm not sure if well is the right word, but you are like very actively recovering. But I feel like it's, it's very much like, oh, just don't do much. Take your pain medication, you'll be fine. It's like, my back really hurts. Like, mm. And it's like, no. Where are the resources?

00;32;04;14 - 00;32;26;13

MJ

Where's the information? Like, where is that, that like you said, that community care of like, okay this mobilization doesn't require any arm use. It's going to target your lower back. It's going to help you like release a little bit of that aggravation. Doing square breathing's going to kick in your parasympathetic nervous system, help keep your body calm, relaxed, feel safer in this very threatened environment your brain is existing in.

00;32;26;25 - 00;32;49;00

MJ

And again, that's going to help with recovery; that is going to make it go faster without doing, you know. And just finding all that information, like here's a gentle shoulder mobilization that again, doesn't require any lifting, moving of the arms again is just going to relieve that upper back pain from being so hunched over from being crowded over yourself for that period of time.

00;32;49;28 - 00;33;16;21

MJ

And so an online, not sure what to call it, resource. Let's call it a resource. Movement Genius reached out to me and we created a series together for top surgery recovery specifically for those first four weeks, because once an individual is cleared for movement I'm happy to kind of again kind of work with them one-on-one, work on a program for them, like a map for them to build a little bit more personally into what their body needs to feel and move better.

00;33;17;06 - 00;33;42;20

MJ

Post-surgery. But I feel like that one to four weeks, I feel like you should be prioritizing, kind of like definitely resting. I don't think, I don't know if your brain fog was bad? Mine was terrible. I was, just yeah. Completely fogged up for that kind of, well because of the pain medication, because of the discomfort. So I don't think I don't think it's an ideal time to be like, let's do an hour Zoom session.

00;33;42;20 - 00;33;43;17

Jeanne

Right, no, not at all.

00;33;43;17 - 00;33;49;21

MJ

But, if you've got like a ten minute video you can play, follow along with, that's way more accessible. So that's why we decided to do that.

00;33;49;21 - 00;34;12;24

Jeanne

But my experience is, like you were saying earlier, like if I look back at like, selfies I have or pictures of me over the past five years or whatever, the first time I see like real smiles — it's such a cliche — but it really is like at that moment, like the day after my surgery. And it's ridiculous. But, you know, I can I can think about that.

00;34;12;24 - 00;34;35;13

Jeanne

And I think that the easy thing to project on to that is like, here's the moment where I felt great. I did not feel great. I felt awful. And it impacted my relationships. It was, none of it was easy for me. It was a very stressful time, even though I was so happy to get the surgery. And that's something that I think really can easily be overlooked.

00;34;35;13 - 00;35;05;29

Jeanne

Of like, you are going through a traumatic moment, even though it's something that's getting you past other trauma you have. Right? And that's I don't know. I've never really totally put it together that way. But I mean, if I had had better resources to prepare for that process, I think that probably would have helped me to just exist in myself and in community more peacefully.

00;35;06;14 - 00;35;36;29

MJ

I absolutely [inaudible] have Jess to be able to take the time off work that she did. And she had, she was like, she cared for me the whole first week. You know that very — well, not everyone has drains. I did have drains, but like, they're there. They're there, they're hanging around, it's uncomfortable. And so having a support system for that first week — I get people messaging me like, oh, I don't have anyone, what do I do?

00;35;37;00 - 00;35;59;25

MJ

I'm like, Find someone. And I don't say it that blatantly, but that's what I want to say. I want to be like, You really shouldn't go through this alone. And to think of the amount of people that have to go through that situation on their own is heartbreaking. And so I feel like the more resources we put out there, that's only going to help, I think.

00;36;00;06 - 00;36;14;21

Jeanne

And going through it alone sometimes doesn't mean actually alone, but I mean going through it if you have queer people, other queer people with you, or other trans people with you, is a very different experience than just having some kind of support network.

00;36;15;11 - 00;36;16;08

MJ

Absolutely. Yes. That's a great point.

00;36;17;20 - 00;36;35;28

Jeanne

I think before we wrap up, I'd really like to ask, now that you've been in Tempe for a year, you have this really amazing set of connections through Brick Road, through the movement work that you do. What do you see as kind of like your immediate community future in Arizona?

00;36;37;10 - 00;37;12;05

MJ

I'd love to put more… yeah, to put more movement resources out there. I see your organization does like, bike nights and runs, and I love that. And I've been trying to like, find the time to like join because I think that's such an incredible thing. Again I kind of harken back to what we talked about before, is queer people and trans people really don't get a chance to feel joy through our bodies a lot, especially via movement.

00;37;12;10 - 00;37;35;06

MJ

Again, I think there is a lot of like restriction, hiding, making ourselves small, don't draw attention. And also like in the relationships with our bodies on size and shape and all these things and the discomfort in body. Like I still don't like running, I'm never going to be a runner but going for a little jog after top surgery, I was like, Oh, it's because they were bouncing.

00;37;35;16 - 00;37;58;14

MJ

That's why I hated it. They don't do that anymore because they're not there. This is not nearly as bad. I still don't like it. Still not a runner. But just like, oh, piece connected. That's why it was so uncomfortable. And so I think, yeah, providing more resources, more movement opportunity for folks to be like, one, you're safe here.

00;37;58;22 - 00;38;25;13

MJ

As safe as one environment can be for queer folks. And two, like, you know, go through things safely. You can get just frankly like more education on the body and how it works and ways to, again, treat it softly. Treat it kindly, treat yourself kindly because again, so much not only — you nailed it earlier — do we punish our bodies for existing as trans folks,

00;38;25;22 - 00;38;49;17

MJ

But that's the narrative of the world, isn't it? Like push through the pain, grind, all these things. And I hate it. I hate it so much because it is, it's very aggressive and it is very negative. It's this idea that that's morally superior? To be able to, like, work so hard you hurt yourself, but you can then like keep going?

00;38;49;21 - 00;38;58;07

MJ

I personally don't. That's a —

Jeanne

No…

MJ

No. Right? It seems logical when we say it, but people still do it. It gets very sucked in.

00;38;58;07 - 00;39;00;16

Jeanne

It's very easy to buy into it.

00;39;00;16 - 00;39;24;02

MJ

100%. It's what we've been fed, at least my entire life. I'm a kid of the 90 like my whole life, just this narrative of like, push push push, go go go. And so, yeah, an opportunity to, like, slow down sounds maybe a bit cheesy, but like connect with your body rather than disconnect. Like be present via movement rather than using movement as an escape.

00;39;24;02 - 00;40;03;14

MJ

The amount of times growing up that I used movement to get out of my body? Too many. Led to bad things. But again, I think that's quite a common experience for a lot of folks, so yeah, I think that's that's true. I'd love to see myself and Arizona, Tempe wherever it is come together in that like, our great and accessible joyful spaces for queer folks. Like, only queer folks actually, that's actually safer for us.

00;40;03;17 - 00;40;42;04

Jeanne

Oh gosh that's that is a really beautiful idea I think.

MJ

One day.

Jeanne

Well, thanks for talking with me today. We should talk more about that actually.

MJ

Great!

Jeanne

I really enjoyed that conversation and MJ and I ended up talking for like another 20 minutes afterward about Queer People Fit and their own movement work. And I loved it; I got a lot of really great ideas, which is actually a great opportunity to plug our upcoming event on Tuesday, November 15th, where we'll be taking an evening walk around an accessible trail at South Mountain Park.

00;40;42;22 - 00;40;54;25

Jeanne

You can find out more about that at equalityarizona.org/events. I want to thank MJ again for being my guest this week and I want to thank all of you for listening.