Dr. Selflove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make a Decision
Five hours ago, I had an appointment with my endocrinologist to decide on the dosage at which to start once I switch from Estradiol tablets to Estradiol Cypionate injections. Two years ago, I had only ever considered seeing an endocrinologist in the event my family’s predisposition for diabetes catches up to me. Now, 19 months into medical transition from male to woman, not only am I familiar with the multi-systemic effects of estradiol but I can pronounce the word correctly, too.
Hormone levels and dosages are simply one of a myriad of elements that I was unaware of prior to my transition, save for what I picked up from a couple of friends and self-congratulatory television programs. Having for years been unaware of my core wounds and true identity, embracing myself as transgender did not occur without fear or deliberation. I did not “come to” one day, declare myself a woman, and skip happily down the primrose path of pretty pink panties. In fact, it is a decision I still and might always question. But this does not lessen its necessity in determining that I have a future as more than a sad memory for those who would remember me when I’m gone.
When the gender fluidity of my 2016 began to give way to my tumultuous transition of 2017 (and beyond), I coexisted in elation and panic. I had been so sure that coming out as gay eight years earlier would be the only shock to both mine and my family’s systems. I admittedly got steadily worse after the first reveal, finding new heights of stress, lows of depression, and a smorgasbord of inconsequential phalluses. Sex muted pain, pain hindered growth, and self-sabotage reigned supreme. I never identified or understood “other” gay men and certainly never found the means to develop a sense of self outside of stereotypes and mental anguish. After a messy breakup left me nomadically crashing on couches in 2012, I was left to seriously examine the void that was my existence. With the help of a benevolent and loving uncle, I nursed myself back to square one and slowly approached the person sitting here writing this article today.
Transitioning didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to be content as a boy who wore makeup and was in touch with his “feminine side.” I had pissed around and ruined relationships of all sorts already, so upending what I had left severely lacked appeal. I had a couple of coworkers I didn’t know terribly well who served as easy practice in exploring the Second Coming(out). They loved this for me and encouraged my continued investigation, trepidatious though it were. I started to use my expression through clothing and makeup as superficial transportation into complexities I had never before contemplated. I would be remiss if I now described the thought process that carried me to certainty, as I don’t remember the logic involved in my coming out to people all over again.
I do, however, recall the conversation I had with my brother shortly after a spontaneous Facebook tell-all fueled by tipsy 30th birthday celebrations. He voiced his support and a genuine desire to see me find myself and a fulfillment in life. He also cautioned me to not look to transition as a savior. This was not to be used as a cure, rather, I should see this as a vehicle by which to arrive at a true self that far exceeded gender identity. He didn’t want me to dive into transition as a way to find myself, only to discover that I was merely attempting to escape when it was “too late” to turn back. I agreed with him wholeheartedly. I was also tempted to allow his words to scare me into deadlocked equivocation, endlessly caught between “THIS IS ME NOW” and “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Last April, despite the fear, I finally took the plunge in the form of a little blue tablet, a deep inhale, and a Goldilocks-sized “fuck it.” I had wrestled long enough and there was nothing left to do but act. Until that moment, a lot of my life’s decisions were made either in opposition to a perceived expectation of normalcy — imposed by no one other than myself — or in an anxious attempt to conform to said expectation. This decision was one of the first I had ever made purely for my own benefit, regardless of the potential downfall. I had arrived at the appointment with my then general practitioner having decided to only start with Spironolactone, the drug that would work to suppress my minimally male level of testosterone. I walked out with this as well as the ticket to ladyland. Or so I thought.
Yes, my brain responded within two weeks in a way that I had never expected and was keen on honing. Yes, I began to barrel through credit card funds to accrue clothing and cosmetics. I was like a teenager, going through what many deem a “second puberty” that sometimes felt more like an overdue quarter-life crisis. I met and fell in love with the love of my life, with whom I currently live in a different state and a new life. Once I had gone through my first year of getting acquainted with a very fragmented and complicated re-existence, I finally hit it.
This self was small, fragile, vulnerable, scared, and somewhat unformed. I existed in there, deep inside the shell and the walls, defense mechanisms and lonely habits. But I was there this whole time. And I do not mean that I “was always a woman” or have been “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” I never identified as a “man,” so I have had a difficult time with the common epithets used in and amongst the transgender community. In fact, my transition has not necessarily been one of gender, as much of who I already was lines up with my being a woman now.
I have come to regard my transition as one that involves much more than gender. I do not “feel” like a woman, I am a woman. I haven’t been learning how to talk, act, or think “like” a woman, I just do. In my early days as Aria, the trappings of transition looked much more like lingering habits and mannerisms from my years as my old persona. As a guy, I wore tight clothing, spoke exaggeratedly, was arrogant and overzealous, and tried far too hard to receive affirmation for my looks. This continued for a time once I started acting as Aria — more on the acting in a bit — with the additions of more traditionally “feminine” attributes and items such as dresses and female pronouns. During my aforementioned gender fluidity, I was working retail and would often present in full makeup with false lashes, women’s blouses that fit tightly, and heels that left me with crazy blisters. I was already practicing the early phase of being a girl well before I began taking hormones. The only thing that lacked was being seen as one, an aspect that continued my adamant outer expression for a while after I began to identify as “me.”
The act of Aria was one that preceded the embodiment. I had to try out for the part, if not for my judgment alone, before she was comfortably integrated as me. This might sound disingenuous, but just imagine what it feels like to have discovered who you truly are and then be expected to completely BE that person in totality immediately upon declaration. It is daunting, to say the least. Simultaneously, this act was one that I had previously based myself on as a guy. Having no inner development, I presented myself through my accomplishments: life in a city, a university degree, occasionally a relationship, a sense of humor, etc. Having always acted a part, I began my life as me by simply switching roles.
The act began to fade as I learned to accept pain. This is the part of the story where some might sound angry or resentful, regretting waiting for so long to transition or resigning themselves to the condition that is trans. But I had avoided pain for so long that I didn’t realize it was a primary component of my being. I had internalized my misery to the point that I was convinced I was supposed to be miserable, that that was just who I was. This is still a prevalent issue in my life today, one that I am consistently working through bit by incremental bit. I have not discovered pain in my transition, rather, I have accepted that it has played a major role in my life and might always have at least a minor part.
Pain is bleeding every time I shave my face that has been made super sensitive by hormones. Pain is feeling an unwanted appendage with every step I take in public, enacting a sense of utter fraudulence. Pain is reconciling the trauma I put myself through as a result of constant self-hatred before and even during my transition. Pain is knowing I belong to a small minority that is denigrated, objectified, pitied, and mocked. Pain is being called brave when I just want to be. Pain is starting over at 30, not in a new career or relationship, but in a new existence that could have been from the start. Pain is waking up and remembering that all of what I just mentioned continues to be a part of me every day.
But pain is only part of life. My life has drastically changed in two years. And my transition is largely to blame. Without transition, I would not have met my partner. I would not have finally left my home state instead of bitching about wanting to leave my home state. I would not have learned to cry when I’m sad instead of turning to rage and anxiety. I would not have been vulnerable, sharing every one of my darkest secrets and shames with someone I love. I would not have been able to learn healthy communication and break bad habits. I would not have shed my fear of rejection that caused me to fly off the handle at the slightest hint of conflict.
I would not be learning about my body and what all of the sensitive spots mean or how my systems function with each other. I would not be going to an endocrinologist and learning the bizarre ways I can manipulate my hormone levels to make my brain feel aligned with the rest of me. I would not be able to stop myself in the midst of a torrent of angry anti-self epithets to realize that even the worst moments of my current life are wondrously better than the perpetual darkness of before.
I would not be seeing my truth as one that lives far above and beyond my gender. I would not be able to say that “being a man” or “being a woman” matters much less than what so many others would have you believe. I would not be able to say that I own body, that my mind is vastly odd and capable, that my soul reaches into this life and pulls out infinity. I would not switch from writing factually to metaphorically in a matter of a few sentences.
I would not say that transitioning has been wonderful, nor would I say that it has been awful. There has been pain and joy, often all at once. I would not say that being a woman is the greatest gift I’ve been given, as being a woman is just another part of who I am. It’s great to be one, but it isn’t something I cling to or shout out. The real gift is being able to be myself, in all of my neurotically beautiful glory.
A gift I gave myself last April when I finally just said “fuck it” and made a decision.