Gender Reassignment

Gender Reassignment - Tiana

“My gender reassignment is not about my balls. What I wasn’t comfortable with was living as a man”.  

Tiana is fierce and speaks her mind unapologetically. Somehow, there is this assumption that trans people’s ultimate transformation is to match their gender identification with their physical genitals.  For some trans people, this might be the case. Danica is a perfect example. For her, matching her gender to her genitals was a very important part of the process. In Danica’s words, “I hate to say it, but it’s the icing on the cake!”
 
Society at large is obsessed with trans people’s genitals.  You are either male or female and nothing in-between.  Tiana, like so many other trans people, keep proving society wrong and insist that gender, biological sex and sexuality are on a spectrum.  Tiana loves her balls and penis, and quite rightly so as she considers herself a “top” (a person who engages in the penetrative role during sexual activity).  

The world is not black and white but ever-changing shades of gray.  The trans experience, is a diversity of experience.  That is why we cannot pigeon-hole Tiana OR Danica. Though they refer to themselves as trans women, their individual stories are unique, powerful and ultimately transcend convenient labelling. 
 
Though Tiana has had some plastic surgery, she is not currently on (nor has she ever been on) hormone therapy. Unlike Danica, Tiana is unwilling to take large doses of estrogen and change the chemical makeup of her body.  In her own words, “I want to save my liver.”  There are many side effects to being on estrogen hormone therapy.  These might include: deep vein thrombosis, the formation of a blood clot within a deep vein, pulmonary embolism, the blockage of an artery in the lungs, gallbladder disease and some forms of cancer.

Tiana’s natural body type (even before transitioning) is long and lean.  For Tiana, being an ectomorph was a blessing in disguise. Through plastic surgery, she was interested in “feminizing” her face, but not her body.  She continues to visit a  cosmetic clinic for general upkeep with botox and facial fillers.
 
“I view my body as feminine, even though I have balls.  My balls are not on public display.  Unless you are going to sleep with me, you really don’t know what’s going on down there”.

I am so impressed with Tiana’s honesty.  It’s refreshing and inspiring.  She is living her life the exact way she wants to live it.  Who could ask for anything more than a life lived to its fullest? 

Gender Reassignment vs Gender Confirmation

I recently had a conversation with my producing partner, Charlie David, about the use of words to empower minorities, particularly in the case of trans people.  We discussed the importance of using a vocabulary that is positive, helpful and more accurate. Instead of saying gender reassignment surgery, perhaps we should instead say gender “confirmation” surgery.  It is important to consider this etymology as it validates a person in gender transition.  “Gender Reassignment” suggests that a person is making a choice to switch genders. It’s not about choice; it’s about using surgery as a therapeutic tool to help trans people to be more comfortable with their gendered, chosen self; to reaffirm and confirm their true self.

 ~Nico Stagias, director Balls documentary

Drag Queens teach the art of Tucking

Donnarama

Tucking is the art of making your testicles “miraculously” disappear.  But just how does a drag queen make that happen?  Where do they go?

Drag queens and butch lesbians were at the forefront of the gay liberation movement at Stonewall.  Their queer visibility made them conscripted soldiers for a movement in which the majority of its citizenry were invisible/voiceless gay men and women who were mostly in the closet.  Who would have thought that sissies and bull dykes would come to our community’s rescue?  Our militant forefathers and foremothers had serious balls.  And quite frankly, it’s the visible and vocal queers of today that continue to challenge gender, sexuality and sex as our modern day queer warriors.

And that’s exactly what drag artist Barbie Jo Bontemps says in our documentary Balls, ”It takes a lot of balls to be a drag queen!” In the bigger picture, she is certainly echoing our queer herstory, but at that very moment she is specifically referring to the physical, testicular pains that drag queens must undergo to realize their gender illusion.  Tucking your balls is common practice for many a modern drag artist. Whether you are using tight underwear, a gaffe (pulling all your junk back with a sock) or duck tape for tucking, the end result is the same; your testicles “miraculously” disappear.  
 ucking BarbieJoBontemps
To make one’s testicles disappear, you are essentially pushing your balls back into your body’s natural cavities.  It’s kinda uncomfortable, but not overly painful.  Unlike Barbie, Donnarama is not overly enthusiastic about tucking, “I hate 3 things.  I hate shaving my face, shaving my back and TUCKING”!  It’s not easy being gorgeous, but sometimes a girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do. Interestingly, this idea of tucking, like wearing high heels or make-up, speaks to the discomfort that many women often endure to also realize the illusion of gender that has been imposed on them by the heterosexual cis-male gaze.
 Tucking 1
Back in my salad days, I used to do a lot of what I would call “clown” drag.  My goal was to look fun and vaguely girly.  For me, drag was a multi-layered tool to play with gender and gender expectations.  That said, I never tucked or gaffed, in fact, sometimes I wouldn’t even shave.  I liked to both shock and amuse my immediate audience. I was never trying to “pass” as a “real” woman.  Some drag queens refer to this as “fishy”, a term that I’m not particularly comfortable with. Part of this discomfort stems from an inherent misogyny of cis-men playing with female gender without any real ownership or consequence.  If things get too “real”, the drag queen can assume the privilege of being a cis-male, whereas women are systematically compromised without any escape.  They suffer physically, emotionally and economically because of their gender.  Perhaps it is women who have the “real” balls after all.
 Tucking Donnarama
Barbie and Donnarama offer a great counterpoint and levity in our documentary Balls.  Their playful, off-the-cuff banter help bridge the conversations around testicular health and men’s health in general, both physical and emotional. Because of how men are generally socialized, they are not having open, honest and vulnerable discussions about their own personal health and how to ask for help.  In its own small ways I hope Balls, with the help of Barbie and Donnarama, opens that door.

~ Nico Stagias, Director of Photography at Border2Border Entertainment

Grab your Balls and hold on!  Let’s discover everything you never knew about your nuts.

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Varicocele – a unique kind of testicle

Adam Graham varicocele

Like varicose veins in the legs, varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum.

Let’s be honest, we are body obsessed, even when it comes to our balls.  Balls “should” be oval shaped and smooth.  When they don’t conform to the norm, we worry, we question why, we keep quiet and hope no one notices.  “Let’s have a beer and forget about it”.
 
Like varicose veins in the legs, varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum. Often painful, varicocele might even cause infertility, as we discovered in our documentary, Balls, as in the case of our courageous documentary subject Adam.  

Adam Graham varicocele

After taking part in a medical study during his undergraduate degree, Adam donated some of his semen and found out that, in his own words, his “sperm was dead”.  Adam jokingly compares his left testicle to an “asteroid”, because it looks enlarged and misshapen.  Aside from infertility, other symptoms of testicular varicocele might include: an aching or dragging like pain, heaviness in the testicle, shrinking of the testicle and benign prostatic hyperplasia (noncancerous increase in size of the prostate).

Get to know your balls. Go step-by-step watching this NSFW testicular self-exam video with Johnny Rapid.


Adam considered surgery to remove the varicose veins in his scrotum, but decided against it because he is a gay man that is not interested in having children.  Though at times his varicocele is physically sensitive to touch or sexual play, he has lived with this condition for most of his adult life and doesn’t see the benefit of going under the knife.  He is also in a supportive relationship with his partner Philip who has no issue with Adam’s “misshapen” ball.  Philip loves Adam exactly as he is.  Adam is lucky.

As men, particularly gay men, we are obsessed with our physical presence.  In another episode of Balls we explore the use of anabolic steroids and how men physically transform their bodies through its use with often disastrous side effects.

Jeremy from I'm a Stripper.
Jeremy from I’m a Stripper.

We aspire to a physical ideal that is unattainable. We are constantly and unsuccessfully trying to transform and mutilate our bodies to fit a singular, perfect mold that only exists in some sadistic Greek god’s fantasy.   For more on this explore our documentary STUDlebrity.

I am no exception.  Though to date I have not been on a course of steroids nor have I had any testicular ailments that I am aware of, I did recently remove 12 moles from my torso.  Granted, some of these moles needed to be removed for health reasons, but the majority of them were removed strictly based on aesthetics.  

Nico Stagias - Director of PhotographyI have too many moles and they look ugly. I’ve struggled with my ugly moles all my life and finally decided to do something about it.  I figured, since I was removing 4 moles, why not remove another 8 unsightly, lumpy marks off my body.  While on the operating table and feeling the pull of my skin being sliced off, I started to panic and have regrets.

This didn’t feel good, emotionally and physically. Why am I putting myself though additional trauma for the sake of vanity? I’ve never had any part of my body removed, including my foreskin, of which I am very proud of (I have a lot of foreskin pride and always encourage parents not to mutilate their young baby boys). Now recovering from my minor surgery, in loo of my large moles, I have large unsightly scars in their stead.  Sadly, I’m no closer to this perfect/ flawless body.  In fact, I’m left humbled, a little embarrassed and further flawed.  I’m embarrassed to tell friends and family why I had this procedure done.  I think I’m sticking to the story of having been in a knife fight.  It will make me appear strong and courageous. 😉   So manly!
 
I guess I should have listened to my Greek mother.  She refers to my ugly moles as “beautiful olives”.  Either a mother’s love is blind, or she can see our true physical beauty, no matter how ugly we think we might be.  Vulnerability is beautiful.  Being different is beautiful.  Being flawed is beautiful.  Thanks Mom.  I’ll be sure to have a chat with you next time I’m considering the operation table for elective surgery. 

~ Nico Stagias, Balls director & cinematographer at Border2Border Entertainment.

Dive deeper into the Balls documentary with director Nico Stagias in this interview.

WATCH the unblurred, unbleeped, balls out version of the Balls documentary on Border2Border Entertainment.

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