Pain Care by Lukas Kofoed Reimann

I have to sit when I cook. I’m sitting now, against the kitchen wall on a red plastic stool, stirring my tomato sauce. The pasta bubbles calmly, and the kitchen window is foggy. I feel as if my legs have given up on me. My whole body has been giving up lately. It hurts when I’m standing. It hurts when I’m walking. It hurts in completely different places while I’m sitting here. Moving requires energy. As if what was supposed to bind my body together has become fragile and ready to give in at any moment.

I feel old. I feel like I’m performing my pain. I don’t want to turn my pain into a spectacle. But I’m tired of hiding it away.

I wish the pain would just exist. That it could be present without demanding anything of me. But as I sit here, I realize that I have to take it seriously. I must learn to listen to my pain. To understand what it has to say.

This is my effort to stop running away.

In 2015, a German doctor wrote the diagnosis of transsexuality (F64.0) into my medical record for the first time. I wanted hormones and my passport still showed an F. I felt lucky because I had escaped the waiting lists of Denmark, and was able to use my blue European health insurance card to talk to a physician who believed in bodily autonomy. The doctor asked me three short questions: How long had I been thinking about beginning hormones? Could I change my F to an M in Denmark? And could I continue my treatment in Denmark? I replied with half-truths.

Today F64.0 is still at the top of my general practitioner’s screen. We haven’t talked about it since the first time I was at their office, years after my first encounter with the diagnosis; long after I had decided I wouldn’t go back to Denmark to see if my lies could come true there as well. While the doctor records my long list of symptoms, I sneak a glance at the screen and see the F64.0 there—like a headline that affects every interpretation of my body.

At each new doctor’s office, I am given a questionnaire. I know the routine by now. One night before yet another appointment, I ask my friends about their experiences. Between “Have you heard about any physical therapists who are not transphobic?” and “I’ve booked an appointment with a gynecologist who seems promising,” we agree that it’s all just guesswork, and that every visit is built on the hope of a better result than the last.

If your gender is not easily readable, you have to constantly tell others about your reality. If the pain in your hips overshadows every joy of a dinner party, you have to ask for the softest chair there is. If you don’t want to talk about it—because you’re constantly thinking about it—it’s hard to ask others for anything.

There are things you have to tell others about. I know. There are things you can keep to yourself. I’ve learned that. I spend my time balancing one and the other. I won’t tell anyone anything. But then I get angry and grumpy when no one takes my hurt into consideration.

I’ll tell you who I am, but then I feel naked.

I think of Emma, whose new partner reminded her to take a break alone in the dark, even though they were on a date.

I think of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore lying exhausted in the grass: “Have you ever gone to a park with a group of friends, and then you’re so tired you lie in silence in the sun, trying to pass out until you gain enough energy to speak? I mean I’d always connected through speaking, but to connect through not-speaking, this felt like a different kind of camaraderie. I’d found a new group of friends who understood how to politicize queerness through disability. I mean it felt so soft. It felt so calm.”1

I think of the look that people get in their eyes when you tell them everything hurts. When you tell them there’s nothing to be done about it. When you shrug your shoulders and say it’s okay. “It’s okay.” You say it to yourself too, hoping it will be true if others believe it for you

As I write this, my shoulders and neck hurt. It moves into my jaw, which is tense, painful, and draws attention to itself. My elbows buzz. As I write this, I know I should take a break because my wrists are pinching. My little finger feels stiff. My upper arms feel like they’ve been hard at work already. My feet are cold, even though they’re on a heating pad.

When I say I can’t sit in front of a laptop for more than an hour or two a day without unbearable pain, everyone says I need to get myself a height-adjustable desk. As if that is the solution to my problems. As if the problem is that I’m not sitting ‘right’. As if the problem is my surroundings and not my body.

Too often, the problem is my surroundings and not my body.

(Read the full piece in SAND 26)

Luka Kofoed Reimann is a writer, scholar, and editor who lives in Berlin. His writing is often concerned with questions of identity and belonging and explores his experiences of transition and chronic pain in particular. He is a passionate reader of all kinds of trans* literature and continually hopes to empower others to tell their stories. In 2022, his text “Undiagnosed” was selected as one of the runners-up for the Berlin Writing Prize. Lately, his work has appeared in Danish in Trappe Tusind and English in Overcom Magazine.