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Five years in transition

Does it get better?

The author rocking a jacket and colorful tie in September 2013, the month after they came out as transgender. Photo by Ziggy Tomcich.

Five years ago today, I announced my new name and non-binary gender identity to the world. While there have been many milestones in my gender transition, my nameday is the most significant, as its timing and execution were entirely under my own control. The medical and legal interventions would come later, but neither of those impacted or represented who I was inside — a revelation that took me until middle age to discover.

Choosing a new name was of great importance and significance to me. I wanted a name that was both gender-neutral and personally meaningful. Unlike many trans people, I changed my entire name — first, middle, and last:

Pax is Latin for peace.

Ahimsa is Sanskrit for “do no harm”.

Gethen is a fictional planet of androgynes from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book The Left Hand of Darkness.

I would have made Ahimsa my first name, but I knew it would be difficult to spell and pronounce. I didn’t think Pax would be problematic in either of those respects, but soon found that unless I enunciate very clearly, people often think I’m saying “Max” or “Pat”. I’ve taken to immediately spelling the name and flashing a peace sign so that people get it.

It took some time for folks to get used to my new name, of course. But five years on, the only people who intentionally deadname me are those who are bent on harassing me, like the sociopath who stalked me online for months.

One of my regrets was not insisting on “singular they” pronouns from the start of my transition. At first I tried to make it easier on friends and acquaintances by saying that no change in pronouns was necessary, but hinted that I didn’t really want to be referred to as “she” anymore. I soon learned that people would not stop calling me “she” unless I insisted on it.

So a few weeks after my transition announcement, I started requesting “they”, but said “he” (and associated terms like Sir/Mister) was also acceptable. I’m still saying that today, but especially now that (thanks to growing a beard) I virtually never hear “she” anymore, I’ve confirmed to myself that I really, strongly prefer “they”. I’ve just found it too exhausting to enforce, especially during encounters with strangers, given widespread ignorance of non-binary gender and frequent, infuriating insistence that I’m being “ungrammatical”.

Since I first announced my transition, the peace of mind I’ve gained from living a more authentic life has been offset by the challenges I’ve faced living in a society that is hostile to trans and non-binary people. While I’ve had a much smoother ride than many other trans folks, not a day has gone by that I haven’t found myself dwelling on gender issues. My awareness of oppression of other marginalized people, as well as our fellow animals, has also been heightened during this time, making the world feel like an overwhelmingly violent, unsafe place.

As a result of this awareness and these feelings, I’ve grown increasingly withdrawn, spending the vast majority of my time in the relative safety of my home. Though hormone therapy has evened out my moods, the depression I’ve suffered from for decades has not lifted. My unsatisfactory history with therapists and anti-depressant drugs has made me reluctant to pursue those options further at this time.

My transitioned life hasn’t been all doom and gloom, certainly. I’ve learned so much about gender from so many incredible people who have undergone vastly more difficult journeys. I’ve passed on my knowledge and experiences in writing and presentations, educating others about gender diversity.

But I would really prefer to just forget about gender altogether, and live my life without constantly being reminded of the artificial binaries enforced by society. Even among many non-binary trans people I see binary assumptions, such as assuming no transmasculine person would want to have visible breasts.

Regardless, I don’t actually have the choice to shed my perceived gender any more than I have the choice to shed my brown skin. Many of the folks who insist that we’re all “just human” don’t seem to appreciate that in the U.S., the standard for “human” is a straight cis white male. Everyone else is “other”.

When planning to write this post, I had intended to be more optimistic. One part of why I’m particularly down today is that’s I’ve just had yet another doctor’s visit to address my hormone issues. I’m likely facing surgery at this point. Though the results should be worth it (absent complications), I’m not looking forward to the procedure.

While the “born in the wrong body” narrative does not describe many trans people accurately, I really do feel I was never meant to have a uterus, ovaries, vagina, and vulva. Independent of any social progress toward welcoming gender diversity, my physical dysphoria will remain a problem as long as I’m reminded of those parts.

Will I be feeling better in another five years? Only time will tell. I’m glad I have an outlet to share my stories, as trans and non-binary people are so little understood. Allies can help by sharing these stories and amplifying our voices. For me, that would be a great nameday present.