When I finally admitted to myself that I was transgender I felt both liberated and relieved, but also terrified and alone. I felt as if I was in a lighthouse surrounded by storms that would engulf me at any moment, but I also knew that I needed to self-actualize and begin medically transitioning. Coming out to family and friends was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things I’ve decided to do in life so far, even though the response I got was mostly positive, and many friends embraced me enthusiastically. My identity came as little surprise to those who knew me best. However, I underestimated how sensitive I would be to how family and longtime family friends viewed my transness, and I figured that it couldn’t be much more awkward than when I came out as a lesbian.
The first few months of taking hormones felt like purgatory. I was constantly scanning my body for the slightest changes, such as my voice deepening or my jawline becoming more pronounced. I looked forward to my weekly shots of testosterone because they were a concrete reminder that I was changing, that I was transforming. It took me about six months to begin passing as male to most people, but I was well into a year on hormone replacement therapy before I began passing to just about everyone.
I cringe at the moments when men would ask me questions like “what are you?”, or when they’d yell at me on the street. I had some frightening and uncomfortable encounters in men’s restrooms on multiple occasions, and even had a teenage boy try to push me against a wall one time. That day, I left work early, telling my boss that I felt sick. In the beginning of my transition, I had felt deeply detached from body, and I oftentimes wished I were invisible so that nobody could tell that I wasn’t a man.
One of the most awkward things I had to do when I first began transitioning was tell everyone I knew that I’d like them to use male pronouns for me. Luckily (and I mean very luckily), I have an androgynous name, so I never had to go through the excruciating process of getting people used to calling me something completely different and correcting them when they slip up. However, for my partner and for older family members, switching to male pronouns has proved to be a real hurdle, one that continues today. I have empathy for them.
When you’ve known somebody for many years, or for their entire life for that matter, as one gender, it must feel strange and forced to begin seeing them as the opposite. Changing our language feels unnatural, and I have tried my best to have patience with people when they slip up. It doesn’t change how painful it is when they do, though. Many times I have privately cried when people have called me by female pronouns, something I’ve always felt embarrassed by. Why should I care how others see me? Why don’t I have the confidence to brush these moments off?
Because I live across the country from my family, I have only seen them a few times since I started transitioning. Each time has felt extremely awkward, as I feel that my transness is the elephant in the room. Everyone has to remember to call me by my preferred pronouns, everyone has to try to adjust to how dramatically different I look now.
When I was in Florida visiting my family for Christmas last year, I was too ashamed to go swimming for fear that I would make my older family members uncomfortable with my shirt off, even though I’ve had top surgery. I have always felt at home in the water, and had been on the swim team as a teenager. It was a flashback to when I was a little kid and I would swim without my shirt on constantly, and I’d be told by my family that I needed to cover up my chest because I was a girl. I felt deep shame for wanting to swim freely, as I only felt comfortable in boy’s swimwear. I was surprised to find out how deeply that shame was entrenched in me.
I feel that accepting the fact that I can’t go back in time and change my chromosomes has helped me to be happy with who I am. I can only change my gender, but never my sex. My body is something that must be worked on to get it to where I feel comfortable, it is an ever changing work of art. Every two weeks I shoot up hormones into my stomach, which is something I’m not sure I’ll ever get fully used to. I have had top surgery, and I have worked on my upper body strength to masculinize my body even more. Two years into my transition, and I am definitely a thousand times more comfortable with my physique than I was since I began puberty.
I hope that there will come a day where I will no longer be embarrassed to be trans. I hope that I will overcome my insecurities, and can brush off the crumbs left behind from growing up in the South. Sometimes I wish I had just been born male so that I didn’t have to go through so many awkward experiences and so much hassle to change my body, but I am also glad that I had the female experience so that I can appreciate the struggle that women go through everyday with living in a patriarchy, and that I can use my newfound male privilege to advocate for women’s rights. No, I wasn’t “born in the wrong body”, because that would assume that there is somehow someone who decides which body you get, which seems absurd to me. Someday soon, I will be confident about being a trans man.