Close Friends Ask a Trans Person About Gender and Transitioning
E: Can you remember the first time you didn’t think about gender?
To answer this question, I think I have to remember the first time I thought about gender — which was probably in Kindergarten when I had two friends who I knew from soccer, Katie and Georgia, and all three of us were familiar with what the term tomboy meant, and had found an identity we could embody (or at least I could, and it seemed like my two friends identified similarly too). So at that age my idea of gender was that “girls are typically like this” and “boys are typically like that” and if you are a tomboy you are a girl who is more boyish. I don’t think I would have defined myself as a boyish girl, though, but rather a boyish person. I think this is because at that age, I was linking “boyness” with the clothing and stereotypical interests/behaviors that I could observe were the ways our society shaped and recognized male-assigned people. Now I can’t use the term boyish to describe what I was identifying with, because being biologically male is not what dictates these traits at all (like the clothes you like, your sense of self and body, personality traits traditionally associated with gender), they are moreso just personality/identity traits I think, that people of any sex can identify with and express.
Before this, I don’t think I thought about gender too much. I knew about biological sex though, as I was very interested in biology and medical things as a young kid and so I knew I was different anatomically from my brothers in terms of primary sex characteristics. I was actually really ambivalent about the parts I had and the parts my brothers had. I was fine with having a vagina and I didn’t want a penis so that was that. I think I still feel like that now in regards to those primary sex characteristics.
At the earliest time, when biological sex and gender didn’t seem like a thing, was when I would take on the identity of another species, either by myself, or with my brothers. First I was a rooster, and then a blue poison dart frog, and then a fruit bat. These identities were very long-lived — each lasting about a year I think, and the bat was the longest. I literally wore that fleece costume through all seasons, to the extent that I got fevers from it in the summer. I loved being these other animals. I don’t think I had a name, a pronoun, gender identity, or biological sex when I was taking on an identity that was other than human, and it always felt so awesome. I loved the days when my brothers and I would pick species to fit whatever we were doing — it would always start with “hey want to play animals” and we would be harp seals and penguins when we were swimming, and servals, ibex and mountain goats in terrestrial places, and it was just a really imaginative and sustained experience of being something else. One thing I remember about these days is that when we were being animals together, I know we all felt really close to each other. We would sleep together in “dens” and go “hunting for food” together, and so I think that this absence of gender brought us even closer than we already were. Because when we were being human, even though we were very close, there were times when I would feel like I did have something that could be used to separate me from them, which was my biological sex/gender.
D: What made you take the physical steps towards transitioning?
The first time I can remember wanting to take physical steps towards transitioning, was before I knew there was even such a thing as being transgender. It was when I was starting to have breasts and when my hips were getting wider. I was so uncomfortable with it, so anxious about this thing that was happening that I couldn’t stop. I remember from the earliest times, being in the shower or standing in front of my mirror and feeling so strongly the urge to rip or cut my breasts off if I could, like the pain of doing that would even symbolize, in a way, how much despair I felt about going through female puberty instead of male puberty. Actually, I also remember I really distinct period of time when I really wished to get breast cancer, so that I could have a reason to get a double mastectomy. I remember thinking to myself that I was probably some anomaly of a person for wanting that, thinking I was weird I guess, and that the the body that I knew would feel right to me would be seen as so strange by everybody else (now I know this is not true at all, thanks to other trans/gender non-conforming people!). Same for my hips and the way that differences in male/female weight distribution makes you have a more female shaped body. I limited myself a lot in how much I ate to try to keep the weight distribution I had as a kid, which felt more neutral, and less feminine.
It is hard to describe the feeling that I label as transgender, it is something I can’t explain, it is just the inherent knowledge that the form of my body is that which is typical of the male sex. From the age of a kid, I think I saw myself growing up to be a young male anatomically, with a flat chest and broad shoulders, narrower hips, teenage male voice, and male weight distribution. It’s not that either one biological anatomy is better than another or any of those things people assume sometimes, it’s just that I think some people have a really strong sense or knowledge of what they are, and when their actual biology and development is different from that, then they can’t handle that dissonance. That is how I describe gender dysphoria, and how going through puberty felt for me. So I think that when I learned about the actual possibility of getting chest surgery and going on hormones that would change my body to a more male form, it just felt like absolutely what I had been wishing for, for so long. I couldn’t believe there was actually a way to describe what I was feeling. I finally found out that my frustration, and why I felt so down about my physical body, was validated by the transgender identity.
It’s just so unbelievable, when you are really painfully wishing for something, not knowing that it is even possible, and then you find out that not only is it possible, but it’s even a normal way to feel. I discovered it when I watched a youtube video about another female-to-male transgender person by watching Kye Allum’s video on coming out as male on the GWU D1 Women’s Basketball team, I just knew exactly what was going on in me and it felt like the biggest relief in the world. I didn’t feel weird at all anymore, I felt stoked and awesome! From then on I was desperately impatient to start doing the physical transition steps I wanted to do. Getting chest surgery was the thing I had absolutely no doubts about, and I was absolutely ecstatic the night before I got the surgery, I will never forget that night. Luckily my parents were really supportive of my decision to do that, and helped financially to cover what our insurance did not. I know I am really fortunate that that was able to happen.
Deciding to start testosterone was a little harder for me though, because I could see myself as a teenage male/more feminine/androgynous male, or more masculine/androgynous female, but not really completely male or female, or what my idea of a man or woman was. I wanted to stay in the middle somehow, but just achieve the specific physical changes I wanted. That is not how hormones work though, they sway you more to one binary or the other, so ultimately I decided that trying male hormones would help me learn if living without gender dysphoria is worth being perceived as a straight male. I can’t say that I like being perceived as a straight male. A lot of times I wish I was still perceived as a gay woman. But I function a thousand times better living without constantly being frustrated with my body and so that is why going on male hormones is so far worth it for me and making me a lot healthier.
The actual catalyst that made me take the physical steps I had been dreaming about for so long, was to finally come out to someone about being trans, and to find a counselor to learn about the transition process, and to come out to my family. So my friend Erika is really who helped me to talk through all of these feelings and decisions and come out as transgender to my family.