Trans Visibility: The Digest
Earlier this year, I participated in a month-long challenge to post a series of personal essays about my experience being trans. I wrote them originally as Facebook notes, then tried to create a Medium Series, but their length kind of broke the format. I’m compiling them here, in hopes someone else can benefit from my story. Everything after this paragraph is as it was written originally.
Prompts taken from this Tumblr post. Inspiration to participate from my friend Alex, who has a habit of making me write things.
This is mainly an excuse for me to create a canonical chronicle (god, what a DJ name) of my transition, but that’s mainly an excuse for this being disgustingly, self-indulgently long.
Day 1: Make yourself known. Tell the world your name, age, and how you identify. Post a picture of yourself.
My name’s Adam, and I’m a native Southern Californian living in San Diego for the past 7 years. I’m 31, at least for another week. I identify as transfeminine, queer, and gay. (That means I’m a queer lady who likes queer ladies.) My pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’.
Day 2: Talk about your process of discovery and realization. How did you come to understand yourself to be trans?
“You’re not a boy, you’re an Adam!” — every girl I was ever friends with
I was 28, most of the way through a summer trip to Europe and the first time I’d ever traveled alone for more than a few days.
I spent most of the time in Aachen, a small city in western Germany, where a professor friend had generously helped me establish a home base at the local university. I rented a flat, spent my days inside the department with a grad student whose research I was interested in, went drinking with the locals at night, and backpacked to different countries on the weekends. It was The Life.
I ultimately credit traveling for my realization. I firmly believe that unbeknownst to us, the people and places in our lives silently and benignly emanate patterns of their perceptions, residual representations shaped by ideas of who we are and thus, who we should be. It’s why we often feel like we have to change towns to make a fresh start, even as people make the same trip in reverse for the same reason. And it’s why travel can make us feel like our cutting-edge selves, at least as far as the limitations of living out of a backpack allow.
I honestly can’t tell you the exact series of thoughts, or their wording, that made me acknowledge my own gender variance. It felt like it just happened one day, in one moment. Thinking back, and most likely inserting many convenient falsehoods, this is my best guess:
Near the end of the trip, from this place of both freedom and stability, I was reflecting on the life I was about to return to. I was almost a year out of a long relationship, which I had jumped into right after an even longer relationship. I was affirmably single for the first time in my life, and determined to stay that way for at least a while. I wanted a chance to unpack my baggage before hopping on another flight. I wanted to throw myself against every wall and see what stuck.
It was a non-stop adventure. I had gotten heavily into music festivals, finding them the perfect venue for my loves of socializing, of nature, of psychedelics, and my new focus on self-discovery and expression. I had started dressing up as what I called a “dappercat”: blending a cat mask with a vest and tie, partially to subvert the anything-but-normativity culture at such gatherings, but also creating a fun character that could roam freely, drop silently into groups, wander out of conversations at a moment’s notice, or stick around and quip sarcastically.
Why do I like doing that? I thought. Well, the cat mask provided me with both a way to instigate shenanigans, and a safe buffer from them. (Masks are empowering in that regard.) The formal attire was less a declaration of maleness, and more a way to look both above and in control of my surroundings, coolly removed from the grungy kids in Baja pullovers and fuzzy coats. Despite the gendered aspects of the clothing, the playful trickster-spirit it allowed me to evoke was something much more androgynous.
It’s not like I didn’t know about gender variance. I had been jerking off to trans porn for over a decade, the unfavorable reactions of my girlfriends over the years making me sure it was a shameful paraphilia. Trans was something other people were, transitioning was something other people did. I just had a weird fetish thing, probably.
It’s really funny how long we can go without questioning something.
But once I had provided myself with the thought that maaaybe gender was a slider, and maaaybe that slider was something I could control for me, the last keystone crumbled and the straining dam collapsed.
That would explain…
Pieces of long-forgotten errata started clicking into place, like a magic door assembling itself from scraps of rubbish.
Always sitting to pee as a kid, because I didn’t like touching my genitals. That time as a teen I found a box of old stockings and bras in the closet, put them on, and got off, robotically replacing them afterwards with no clue why I did it. The overtly feminine gestures that I only reigned in after bullying from the neighborhood kids. How every best friend I’d ever had save for one had been a girl. All the goddamn shemale* porn.
Each of these things, individually, meant next to nothing, despite bothering me for years, but here was suddenly a unified theory that made a disturbing amount of sense.
Do I want to be a feminine boy… or a masculine girl?
Ironically, I had just started to love my body. I finally looked good, after being a pudgy, pale homeschooled kid, then a young adult fat from depression in an abusive relationship, then a college kid on a slacker diet of food-court lunches, Monster and all-nighters.
But in my year of freedom, I had been running, dancing, hiking, climbing, walking — and it showed. Part of that self-love process was accepting that I was never going to be like other men, whose heads and hands seemed incomprehensibly larger than mine and whose values diverged from mine on almost every axis, save for the few sensitive guys I befriended in college. Sensitivity was strength, I’d decided, especially after my lifelong comfort around women started paying dividends in the dating world. Beta male, indeed.
And that was the crux of it: my masculine form, I realized later, was only valuable to me insomuch as it allowed me to possess femininity, to have access to soft skin and breasts, to become entwined with a woman until our individual selves disappeared in a blur of codependency. Making myself stay single had inadvertently prevented me from doing that anymore, though I still spent way more time going on dates than doing most other things.
I never let myself be alone. I existed only in relation to others. I derived no sense of power from my body that felt intrinsic.
I went home that night and shaved off my beard, without fully understanding why. I spent the next day on /r/asktransgender, typing up my life story.
But it would still be over a year before I started calling myself trans.
* Shemale, tranny, and similar terms are highly offensive slurs, and used only by other trans people in the context of reclamation, or referring to the industries and cultures that market us as sensationalized and expendable commodities.
March 3 and 4
I hope to get caught up after one more twofer, and start doing one a day like I should, unless this length isn’t too back-breaking to read. Sorry if it is.
Day 3: Talk about coming out. Are you out? Who did you come out to first? How did people in your life react?
I feel as if I’m constantly in the process of coming out. For all the ways life kicks me like a tin can down a country road, I have a tremendous number of privileges: I’m extraverted, well-spoken, and white, and I see part of my responsibility to be a spokesperson for my vulnerable intersections whenever I have the emotional capacity for it.
Sometimes it’s explicit: naming myself as trans to share an aspect of my lived experience, or ripping the bandaid off with a new acquaintance to collapse the queer quantum waveform and observe how close we can be, how much I can trust them in the future.
Sometimes it’s implicit: choosing to present as femme while I’m still male-passing, wearing makeup, compensating for a layer or two with a padded bra, or foregoing a layer knowing it’ll make my chest more noticeable (theoretically, at least; most people are oblivious).
Sometimes it’s minor: answering a few questions from a curious Lyft driver or networking contact, doing my part to demystify our existence and become The One Trans Person that person can put an actual face to.
Sometimes it’s major: catching up with a friend from the past, or starting a new relationship, and having to tell the story again from the beginning.
At one point it all felt major. When I first got (as I call it) walloped by the gender trout, I still had a few weeks left in Europe, and at least a week left in Aachen. In my time there, I’d developed an amorous friendship with a local; our relationship had developed slow by traveler standards, but fast by most others, and I was staying over several nights a week.
The first time I saw her sans beard, she raised an eyebrow, and I offered no real explanation. But it was clear that something bigger had changed by the pall of awkwardness that descended over our physical interactions.
For two nights straight, each time we attempted any sort of intimacy, my head became clouded by a visceral sense of dishonesty. I felt like I was somehow misrepresenting myself, though I couldn’t begin to describe in what way. I became hyper-aware of all of our movements, and began to detect a glimmer of scripted scaffold about them: you put your hand there because of who they are to you, and you to them. They put their hand there because of who you are to them, and they to you. You, as you, position yourself just so; they, as them, respond.
And the script felt wrong, not only in that there was one, but how it was cast, and that was as far as I could wrap my head around it at the time.
(As might be clear: I did not, at the time, identify as a feminist.)
She eventually asked me what was wrong, and became, as I spilled my guts in shame, the first person to whom I confided in full detail my sudden distrust in my physicality, and the revelations I had been considering.
We’re friends still, and she has a wonderful long-term partner now, and I love her dearly for not only just, but especially, this moment:
True to her character, and counter to my fear-twisted expectations, she listened compassionately. Then she assured me that not only was it understandable to question your gender identity, it was a thing she thought everyone should do, just to be certain. It blew my mind.
(As might be clear: she’s a lot smarter than I am.)
I somehow made it through the rest of Europe, background-processing all the while. I came out to my best friend from the States when we met up in Amsterdam, but kept details light, and he was supportive, if not also mildly befuddled. (I love you; thank you.)
We then both headed to Edinburgh, to see my other best friend — and the original impetus for the whole trip — but my extreme admiration for her (and the same fear that kicked up before, but times a hundred) made me hold my tongue for at least another year. (I love you; I’m sorry.)
At the end of it all, I wound up in Copenhagen, my port of entry and exit; my trip come full circle. I had one day left, a couchsurf lined up for the evening, and a lot on my mind.
So I did what anyone reasonable would do: canceled the couchsurf, ate three tabs of acid and decided to walk until my flight in the morning.
A lot of things happened that night. But a moment stands out, long after everything had closed, lost in churning thought as I completed mile who-knows-what down one of the city’s many lengthy shopping streets.
Is this even something I could do? How?
Staring into the windows along the expanse of dark storefronts, I could almost see my blurry reflection transfigured into the form of a punk-ish young woman, with dark clothes and short purple hair, matching my stride step for step, head down, hands in pockets. I felt a sense of power and confidence from her; a template for what I could be if we somehow just decided to switch places.
Acid’s a really strong drug, kids.
In one of the first coffee shops to open with the sunrise, as I regained my bearings and wits, I scribbled in a notebook:
I can’t believe I’m about to write this: I think I may be transgender.
Day 4: Talk about transition. Do you want to? What kind of progress have you made? How has the process affected your day to day life? Do you feel your transition is complete?
As soon as I got back to the States, I did a few things:
- I told my therapist what had been going on.
- I dyed my hair purple.
- I ordered hormones off the internet.
I also made a new Facebook, for reasons I couldn’t fully articulate. I had an inkling that I might want to experiment with my name or gender, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing so on an account that had 1,300 friends with varying degrees of closeness, and varying likelihoods of acceptance.
I initially added only the 80 or so folks I was most comfortable with, and decided only to add people going forward if they met some criteria that equated to “chill”, until I was confident my networks were already growing organically in the ways I wanted. (If you’re friends with me on Facebook, it’s likely on that account.)
I also stopped doing all substances, because I knew I was about to ask my body some really tough questions, and I wanted to hear its responses.
I then began the closest thing I could approximate to a scientific process, proceeding cautiously in steps:
- I shaved my body hair.
- I painted my nails.
- I bought some women’s clothes.
After each step, I’d stare in the mirror and ask myself, does this feel right? — usually to silence — and then, does it feel not-wrong?, to which I often felt a silent stirring.
Do I want to keep going? — Yes, I think so.
I became surer and surer, even as I remained scared shitless of walking outside with nail polish on, that I was on the right track.
A few things happened next:
- I started taking hormones.
- My therapist told me to hold off.
- I hated my therapist for a little bit.
He was right, of course; I’d experienced some life upheaval directly prior to coming back, and didn’t have the housing or financial stability required to seriously figure out if I wanted to medically transition. Probably. I guess.
Actually, you know what? I wound up being right, and regardless of what would have been safest, I’m angry at myself for not getting that kind of a head start. And that’s just my thing to deal with.
A few things happened next:
- I got a new therapist.
- He told me to hold off on hormones too, but encouraged me to keep experimenting.
- I started using ‘queer’ as a kind of shield identity to hold me while I figured out something better.
We now interrupt this transition to inform you that the author has fallen in love with a straight girl, and wants to be her boyfriend really really bad. So he stays a boy, learning in the process that he’s polyamorous, and when they break up, ten months later, he’s hell-bent on getting this figured out once and for all.
My new therapist was a gender specialist, and we had a wonderful repartee. Under his counsel, I kept expanding what I considered to be my feminine expression, while considering hormones a last resort.
Someone has since pointed out to me that this was a form of gatekeeping — who says one needs to express in feminine ways to want to transition? — and while I don’t disagree, I still think the process was helpful. After awhile, I had done everything but take hormones, and when I stared into the mirror I saw the effeminate, emotionally liberated queer guy that part of me had always wanted to be.
And it still wasn’t enough. I got that doubt out of the way forever. So I told my therapist that I was starting estrogen now, thank you, and I hoped for his support. And he gave it.
A few things happened next:
- I started dating two wonderful people who wanted relationships completely unlike my former primary.
- They were into my queerness, not into me in spite of it. This makes every difference in the world.
We now interrupt this transition to inform you that the author has gotten called away to Germany for the summer to care for a sick woman as a favor to the friend who enabled them to visit Germany the previous summer. Coincidentally, Germany has among the strongest laws against receiving gray market prescription drugs, and no internet site will ship there. They return a few months later, keenly aware of how much they had been looking forward to taking those pills.
Nothing can stop me at this point. In October ’15, I started hormone therapy full-time, at a dose of 6mg estrogen and 200mg spironolactone per day. Within a couple weeks, I started to feel tender buds under my nipples, and my skin started to soften. It was finally happening.
I eventually realized that ‘queer’ was far more than a shield; it was a coat of arms. I wasn’t just a girl, I was a queer girl, and it added all the missing pieces to my self-perception.
2016 started as the best year of my life. I had a stable home, a semi-stable job, fantastic partners, and a growing community. My boobs started exploding, I could see physical changes daily, and I got prescribed all my hormones legally and for free via Medi-Cal. I switched to injections, and also started on Wellbutrin, which relieved chronic fatigue I’d been unknowingly dealing with my entire life, and enabling me to take on increased responsibility at work.
I could honestly not remember ever having been so happy.
A few things happened next:
- I started to go sterile, as happens between 6–10 months on estrogen. No big.
- My Wellbutrin stopped working, without warning.
We now interrupt this transition to inform you that the author has made the very difficult decision to bank sperm for the potential of having a child in the future, before her reproductive system shuts down entirely. This will require her to stop taking hormones for at least three months, and perhaps longer while she saves up the storage fees. In the meantime, her body will slowly start to de-transition.
- Fascism happened.
Day 5: Talk about dysphoria. Do you experience dysphoria? How does it affect you? What things do you do to cope with it?
Imagine, for a moment, that you were born with a migraine. There hasn’t been a single moment of your life where your head didn’t throb, lividly, with dazzling hot starbursts of pain — and thus, quite reasonably, you assume this simply to be part and parcel of the human experience.
Now, you know what headaches are; you even have some friends who experience them, and you feel bad that they suffer so. It seems like a really debilitating thing. And maybe sometimes your head doesn’t feel so great, but really, most of the time it feels pretty normal. You’re lucky like that.
And then one day, in a place you’re housesitting for a friend, while you’re looking for something unrelated, you stumble across a bottle of Advil. You’re alone, and this might be the first time you’ve held a bottle like this particular one with no one else around. And before you really know what’s going on or why it’s happening, you’ve stripped off the cap and tipped two pills into your hand, into your mouth, washed them down.
And suddenly, in your head, there is silence.
You slowly approach a mirror, gliding like a demigod, feet only barely grazing the ground.
There is lightness.
You trace the outlines of your temples with your fingers. You run your hand over your forehead. You lie your palm flat against the back of your skull, and press your fingernails into your scalp, the half-moon indentations finally isolated enough to be felt. It’s like you’re seeing yourself, feeling yourself, for the first time. And while you don’t know the nature of this sensation, you feel it clearly to be, not a thing descended, but a thing lifted.
There is…. absence.
And time passes, lost in the vortex of the mirror.
And slowly, the migraine returns.
This time, the first shockwave behind your eyes brings you to your knees. Your hungry, selfish, greedy body has already decided that, now that it knows another way, only absence will do from here on out; and every nuance of the old familiar pain — when did you start calling it pain? — is now visceral, as stark and novel as its relief was a moment ago.
As you pull yourself to your feet, questions arise in your mind before being scattered like sand (was it always this hard to think?):
How long has this been holding you back?
Is that why you’ve been such a big drinker?
…Dear God, what could you have accomplished?
* * *
I feel my dysphoria like a hive of angry bees, living between my sternum and solar plexus. Not stinging, just… being angry. Tight. It’s less the cause, and more the symptom of being in a damaging or damaged headspace. Seeing myself as I’m supposed to be (whatever that means) — whether in my head, in my heart, or in a mirror — makes them dissipate.
Hormones help, obviously, by making it easier to do all those things. When I was on estrogen the first time, when everything was sparkly and nothing was bad, I could check that area and find it miraculously clear as a bell. And then after I decided to take a break, to regain my damn gametes, it crept back in, along with everything else I had worked so hard to get rid of. And now that I’m back on — it’s been a few months — a stray few bees still catch in my throat on occasion, but by and large things are better again.
It’s clear to me now how much of my self-medicating behavior before, during, and after college was due to unconscious attempts to silence that sensation, as was my complete inability to be by myself for longer than a few hours. People, things, sensations all got stuffed into its gaping maw. And once it quieted down, the rest of me could start to eat, too.
I wouldn’t say the mirror and I are quite friends yet, especially depending on my mood, but we’re very close frenemies. More than perhaps some trans people, I think I enjoy both the comings and goings of my transition, appreciating many parts of me that were shaped by testosterone as well as the ones that are giving way to estrogen. Yet, had I half a chance, I’d rub the former away with an eraser and nary a second thought.
We just put the best spin on things we can.
March 6–16 (condensed)
Catching up on each question in a few paragraphs each:
Day 6: Talk about relationships. Do you have anyone special in your life? Have your relationships been affected by your being trans?
I’ve identified as polyamorous for over two years now, prior to which I was mostly just doing serial monogamy very poorly. I currently have five partnerships of varying commitment levels and geographic proximities, a consistent and lovely FWB, some flirtationships, and a few comets who swing by every once in awhile. I also consider two of my best friends to be something akin to queerplatonic partners.
Besides my amazingly supportive friendships, my relationships have been absolutely essential to my transition. Very little makes more of a positive difference than people who celebrate your body’s uniqueness with you, patiently help you explore its changing nature, hold your hand through the rough rides of medication and bureaucracy, assuage and allay your fears and anxieties, and — most importantly — let you steal shit from their closets.
Day 7: Talk about children. Do you have any? Do you want to be a parent? Do you face any challenges to your desire or lack of desire for children? How have you worked against those challenges?
Being a parent was a thing I had just assumed I’d be, the same way so many of us assumed we’d get married and buy houses and make median income. When I started to shed other normative expectations, I thought that had fallen away with them, but once I started to go sterile (as starts to happen 6–8 months into testosterone blockers) a voice bubbled up from deep inside to inform me how devastated I’d be if I lost the chance to reproduce forever.
So, as I mentioned previously, I took a time-out from transitioning (and suffered a bit of detransition) to save up for fertility banking, which I completed last October. Nothing is certain in this life, absolutely nothing, but I find myself contemplating a biological child with a partner in the next two years. I’d say it scares me, but what really scares me is how little it scares me.
Day 8: Talk about support. Who in your life has helped you? Have medical and mental health providers served your needs? Have lawmakers in your jurisdiction worked to protect you?
While I’m sure it’s screwed many people over, Medi-Cal has been very, very good to me, and I’ve been getting all my hormones for free for over a year. Prior to that, I was ordering them out-of-pocket off the gray pharmaceutical market, and I suspect my barging into the doctors office already on the stuff I was asking for (in addition, you know, to copious amounts of privilege) made acquiring official prescriptions a good deal easier.
It took me several tries at the Family Health Centers clinic to find a doctor who knew more than me — it sounds arrogant, but when you’ve been very invested in research about hormones for a year and a half straight, you pick up a few things — but I eventually did, and he’s been my best biomedical ally to date. If you need a doctor who understands and cares about the trans population, go see Dr. Michael Schmerber at FHC Hillcrest. I mean it.
Day 9: Talk about community. How are you treated by your local community? Do you participate in any online communities? How have they reacted to you being trans?
I have several community intersections: tech, design, and entrepreneurship are all spheres I’ve found myself in over the past couple years, and for the most part they’ve been pretty understanding. It’s only recent that I’ve gotten confidence to present femme on a more consistent basis, and with few exceptions, no one’s batted an eye. They still may not always gender me correctly, but I can be patient with it. I want to give a special shoutout to folks from sandiego.js and Startup San Diego for being more awesome than I’d hoped for.
Other than that, the communities I spend the most time in are the local polyamory communities I’ve helped build, and I’m exceedingly fortunate that they turned out very queer-friendly. When I host a meetup or attend events by other community members, I feel comfortable being my cutting-edge self in terms of presentation and pronouns, and I could count the hiccups on one hand. I’m really, really blessed.
Day 10: Talk about employment and your career. What do you do to support yourself? Are you in a traditionally gendered field or occupation? How have your co-workers reacted to your being trans?
Skipping this question! Talking about work/career makes me anxious.
Day 11: Talk about expression and presentation. Do you present as your identified gender? Do you use cosmetics? Do you use scented products? Do you wear jewelry or other accessories? Which rack do most of your clothes come off of? Do you take any special measures with regard to body, facial, or head hair? Have you faced any particular challenges related to your gender expression or presentation?
Once I learned how to check, I realized I feel about 70–80% femme, and 20–30% masc or non-binary. That is to say, even were I born a cis girl, I’d probably spend a good amount of time in t-shirts, jeans, vests, ties, and flannels. (I’m a lesbian too, let me remind you.) The funny thing about presenting is that when you’re trying to hit what you perceive as some gendered energy ratio, and your body makes up most of that proportion to society, your clothing and other affectations have to adjust to fill the difference.
That is to say, I wear less makeup these days, because I feel less “need” for it. When I do, I just throw on lipstick and foundation. I shave my chest, belly, neck, and face daily, and let my leg hair wax and wane as I see fit. I’m more likely to wear a t-shirt with lipstick and a dress without, unless I’m hosting, in which case I often go full femme. I’ve also been dressing in more black. I shop from every rack in the thrift store these days, and it feels freeing to wander between worlds with nary a care, though the majority of the time I get something from ladies section.
Day 12: Talk about other trans people in your life. Have you met any other trans people? Do you have any trans friends? How have you helped each other?
Oh, goodness, I feel like the majority of my friends are gender-non-conforming in some way — and I know there was a time when that was untrue, but I don’t really care to think of it. We constantly affirm and validate one another, defend each others’ pronouns to the public, and trade tips on hormones, legal matters, and just staying alive and healthy.
Some trans people have had more of an impact and influence on me than others. Mickey, Kara, Alex, Claire, Kat, EJ, and Invictus: thank you.
Day 13: Talk about music, art, writing, and other forms of creativity. What do you create? Do you include trans themes in your creations? Does your creativity help you with any trans issues?
Um, hi! I’ve been trying to take my writing more seriously lately — entirely non-fiction essays, though I’d be interested in changing that soon — and I feel like it’s hard to not write about trans topics. I’m not much of a creator of other forms of art, unless you count designing community events an art (I do), and in that case it’s still hella queer.
I don’t write poetry often, but when I do, it’s almost all about gender. It’s been remarkably cathartic, to know you’ve captured a complex feeling as well as you could at the time. What I have written is on this Medium publication, along with some other works I found compelling.
Day 14: Talk about traditional media. Have you been influenced by trans themes in the media? Have you had to correct misinformation about trans people that others got from the media?
To be honest, I don’t watch many shows about/with trans people. I haven’t seen an episode of Transparent, I Am Cait, I Am Jazz, or even Sense8 (though the last one I’m actually interested in remedying). I applaud Orange is the New Black for featuring a trans character and not having her be a laughing stock, but there are enough other problematic parts of that show to keep it from feeling like a full-on win. (Black trans women are among the very most brutally victimized by society, and if you’re not doing right by Black folks, you are contributing to the persecution of trans folks, in my book.)
If I’m ever influenced by a trans theme in the media, it’s most likely to say something against it. I think it’s getting better, but I don’t think it’s there yet.
Day 15: Talk about social media and online gaming. How have people reacted to your being trans online?
Again, more positively than I could possibly have imagined. Part of this is because I ruthlessly cull my friend lists to exclude transphobes, with whom I interact only on the odd blog comments section or friend’s Facebook wall. I don’t really do online gaming these days.
Day 16: Be a voice of encouragement. Let’s take a moment to encourage people who are suffering in the closet to take steps to improve their life. Fight fear with love!
Look: you can do this. If you think you might be trans, talk to a doctor and get the ball started. Don’t hem and haw about hormones; start a low dose for two months and see if you like it. You can spend years in indecisive limbo. Starting the process, even if you’re not 100% certain, will tell you everything you need to know about whether or not you want this.
Simply having doubts isn’t a reason not to move forward. For me, it often felt like dragging myself, kicking and screaming. And even now, I sometimes have to snap myself out of some extremely unhelpful thoughts. The thoughts may never stop, but you get way better at shutting them up over time.
Oh, and, cis people don’t fret about their gender all that much. They just don’t. The best ones do question themselves, especially if they have lots of queer friends, but not like we do. Trust your instincts.
My PMs are always open. Please, come to me if you want to talk.
I love you. ❤
Day 17: Talk with pride. Why are you proud to be trans? How do you show the world your pride?
Oh, lovely, a chance to be positive!
Yes, it’s true that being trans is something I’d never wish on my worst enemy. But, for me, at least, it’s also something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
8 Things I Love About Being Trans
8. How incredible is it to experience the world from two wildly different societal perspectives, when the vast majority of the world only gets to do it from one? Books, movies, and entire relationship advice empires have been predicated on “the two genders” being essential, opposite, and inscrutable to one another, and yet here we are, doing cartwheels over the boundary lines. It’s no wonder the trans community secretly calls cis people muggles. (Whoops, I wasn’t s’pose’d to say tha’…)
7. You get to learn which perceived gender differences are accountable to hormones, and which are mostly socialized. For comparison, for me, T makes me randomly horny, makes orgasming seem like a big deal, makes it easier to gain muscle and lose weight, and makes it quite a bit harder to cry. (Like, tears physically don’t want to come out.) E, on the other hand, makes my sex drive much more voluntary, makes me enjoy the “journey” more than the “destination”, makes it harder to gain muscle and lose weight, opens the floodgates on crying, and cranks emotional intensity up to 11. That’s a lot, but that’s about it. The rest, as far as I can tell, is up to nurture.*
6. Second Puberty — while admittedly tough to handle along with an adult’s usual stressors — is a pretty magical process that a part of yourself can’t help but admire. It’s wild to think that buried in your genetic code is a recipe to turn you into a different-looking, different-feeling version of yourself — and the hormones you’re taking are whispering its secrets to the surface, quietly competent body remaking its own form even while limited by the previous round of construction. Puberty is wasted on adolescents.
5. Science fiction and popular science frequently posit and explore A Future Where Humans Transform Themselves, where an advanced understanding of technology precipitates a Cambrian explosion of bodily autonomy writ through customized physical forms. Techno-fetishism and hyper-individualistic libertarianism of the modern transhumanist movement aside, medically-transitioning transgender people are living in that future today — except our process reshapes not just our bodies, but our brains, emotions, and senses. Pretty fucking cyberpunk.
4. Seeing just how flimsily gender is constructed feels like pulling the curtain up on a huge charade, and can give you a certain fearlessness when it comes to gendered norms. I wander between racks in clothing stores now, idly cherry-picking between gendered items as suits my fancy, where before I used to furtively scurry through the dress section, face red, and squirrel away my finds to a register without making eye contact. While I admire folks who’ve obtained a laissez-faire attitude towards gender without being trans, for me, the process was essential.
3. Specific to myself, putting down male gender roles has felt really really good. I often pay on dates, but I don’t have to; nor do I have to feel like shit when a lady pays for me. At fairs, I don’t have to embarrass myself at rigged games of skill to win giant stuffed toys, or get on rides that I hate, to prove my masculinity and uphold my worth as a boyfriend. I don’t have to be the first person to message on dating apps, and I don’t have to take the lead during sex. Again, it’s not a thing one needs to be trans to discover, but it’s what it did for me.
2. Multiple orgasms.
1. Most importantly, I just… like myself now. When someone asks me how I am, “good!” escapes my lips more often than not, when I used to think that such a feeling was a thing reserved for special occasions, and that most of the time, it was normal to feel just kind of okay. When I check my chest for those buzzing bees of dysphoria, all that responds is the ring of a bell, clear and filled with emptiness, and I know that I’m capable at that moment of being my best self. I may not be the bravest, but I’m brave; I’m not cutting-edge, but I’m still a pioneer; and I may not literally be magical, but damned if I won’t shine bright enough that I might as well be.
* My views don’t represent every trans person. I’m just me, and while I try to speak from a place of universality as often as possible, no two people’s gendered experience is the same.
March 18–31 (semi-condensed)
(Day 30 asks you not to post, and Day 31 asks you to simply make yourself visible.)
Day 18: Talk about privilege. What privileges do you benefit from? What special challenges do you struggle against? Has your experience of privilege changed as a result of your being trans or transitioning?
Even though I’m answering this question late, this feels somewhat timely, given the recent and fervent discourse in both trans and mainstream circles surrounding the concept of male privilege as applied to trans women.
Let’s get something out of the way now: I AM privileged. Very. I’m white; I’m able bodied; English is my first language; I was born in a liberal state, with a good social support net; I was raised by parents who loved me; I had a computer as a child; I’m extroverted, and find networking easy; I have a very American name; and despite my self-sabotaging tendencies, I’ve leveraged my millennial entitlement into an uncompromising attitude regarding my own self-worth. All this has benefited me greatly when seeking therapy, medication, validation, and support.
The question of male privilege is harder to answer. Again, make no mistake: I’ve never claimed, nor will I claim, that trans women and cis women are exactly the same. Equals, absolutely, both deserving of liberation and empowerment. But equal does not have to mean equivalent. I generally subscribe to the arguments of people much smarter than myself, who invoke concepts of pseudoprivilege, of passing privilege, and point out how the concept of gendered privilege itself does not map well onto the experiences of trans folks.
There was a period of time, in the interminable stretch between waking up and coming out, that I considered not transitioning solely so I could retain my privilege. Not because of the personal benefits, mind you — though I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a concern — but out of a hope that maybe if I took one for the team and stayed a dude, my feminist activism and patriarchy-smashing would be all the more effective. There’s a part of me that wants to feel guilty for transitioning anyway, but it’s mostly drowned out by the part of me that knows that a) you can’t be a very effective activist if you’re dead and b) living this experience has taught me what to fight for.
All I can really say about myself in regards to maleness is that I spent a lifetime feeling inadequate next to most men, small, alien, a Jane Goodall somewhat bemused that the primates under her study have adopted her as one of their own, somehow. Yet, while I eventually determined that I was different from most men, and while my close friendships with women afforded me an understanding of their nature that was lacking from many men, my societally gendered perspective did in fact limit me from fully grasping the complexities of their lived experience.
I don’t think I need to have an answer here, because the whole matter is still a thing I’m sorting through. More than most of these responses, I look forward to revisiting this one in a year and seeing how my experiences have since colored my ideas.
Day 19: Talk about the future. How are you planning to spend TDOV? How about the rest of the year? Do you have long term plans?
I’m sitting on a plane flying over parts of North America I’ve never touched, heading for a week in Mexico City with my partner Mariyama. We have only the loosest outline of our trip thus far, besides a network of friendly couches and the perennial list of museums, restaurants, day hikes: the most you can ever truly prepare to experience a city you’ve never been to. Most will undoubtedly go unvisited; we will undoubtedly make memories nonetheless.
Part of my travel prep these days, as essential as packing, is research. Last night I googled: mexico city homophobia. I could try to look up specifically how trans-friendly the city is, but what I’m really wanting to know is how I’ll fare being perceived as a feminine male, as I am most places. It looks like they recently passed some gay marriage laws, which is rad, but it also looks like there was some opposition protest, which is to be expected. How much of the population feels that way? It’s a huge city, and I’ll probably be fine. Probably.
(POSTSCRIPT: I feel silly; everyone has been fantastic, and in fact I think I’ve gotten gendered female here more than I do in the States. I don’t think this precludes the need for caution, however.)
Traveling While Queer has been part of my life for a solid couple years now, and it’s comprised of a myriad of questions, each of which must be accounted for. How do I want to present on this trip? How welcoming of gender variance is the culture? Will I have the energy to hold up an emotional shield if I present femme? Will I have the energy to refrain from presenting femme for extended periods? Will I be spending time with anyone very conservative? Will I be spending any time in queer-friendly spaces? Do I have room to pack boy clothes AND girl clothes? Is the weight of this makeup bag worth the comfort of having it with me? And where do I put these damn heels?
This is a microcosm of the decision tree that must be navigated most times I go outside, though the energy required by certain things decreases with time and practice. Once upon a time, I was barely able to circle my block wearing nail polish; once upon a time, lipstick took everything I had; once upon a time, I clung to my partner Jenny when I broke new ground by wearing a dress to the mall. (And squealed when a Chipotle employee indulged me with a ‘have a good night, ladies.’) As my body changes, so does my style, and I’m continually finding new things that stretch my comfort zone. (She writes, looking down at her chest, lace edges of a bra peeking out from under the scooped neck of a camisole. When did I become okay with this?)
Oh, right, long-term plans. Honestly, I’m happy considering this year a re-do of 2016, when I felt like I had everything lined up for success. I mean, I’d prefer it without the whole ‘plunging into a dystopia’ thing this time, but I’ll settle for not having to detransition over the summer again. We’ll see how that goes.
Day 20: Talk about deadnaming and misgendering. Has this ever happened to you? How did you deal with it? How did it affect you?
It’s a part of daily life, and reckoning with it is one of the largest determinants of success among the contradiction in terms called polite society. Strangely, it helps sometimes if you never tell people your pronouns in the first place: it’s harder to really be upset that way. Negligence hurts more than ignorance, 10 times out of 10. But increasingly, tiny amounts of strength have been finding their way into my interactions these days, and I’ve been gently correcting people I intend to work with long-term. I’m still not going to feel truly comfortable with someone until I don’t have to anymore, but I get that it’s (usually) not intentional.
I would describe being misgendered like being hit in the face with an invisible, weightless snowball. It doesn’t hurt, per se — unless it’s from someone really close — but it’s also impossible to ignore. Immediately, a series of emergent mental mechanisms leap in to triage: it’s fine, they know, they care, unlearning gender socialization is hard. If I’m in a good place, it stops there. If I’m not, it keeps going: of course it’s hard, you scarcely believe what you’re doing is legitimate yourself, it’s a wonder anyone at all agrees with this circus you’re dragging the world into. And so on, and so forth.
Really, it’s the reason engaging with trans-hostile feminists pains us so: most everyone struggles to silence their looping mental litany of dryly condescending invalidation, but not everyone has it plucked from the deepest recesses of their minds and given names, voices, platforms, books, spaces. It drains me in an instant, and Jesus, I’m not even a person of color.
As regards names: I’m fortunate(?) that my name still feels solidly my name, and no attempts to rename myself have stuck or resonated for more than a few days. I’m aware that a masculine-gendered name like Adam sets people up to view me as male, and I’m trying to decide how much I care about that. Idealism and pragmatism forever at war. I think I’ve found a way to provide a feminine-sounding name to society while keeping my current identity, but I don’t feel like sharing quite as yet.
Day 21: Talk about transphobia. Have you experienced discrimination? Have you been the target of hate speech or slurs? Have you been a victim of abuse or violence?
I received my first real dose of street harassment about a week ago, walking the 30 minutes from my neighborhood to downtown, which takes one solidly through the ring of tents and carts that represents the city’s cutting-edge efforts to truly and impressively mismanage homelessness.
I have made this walk many times. But that day, within a span of ten minutes, I was verbally assaulted by at least three distinct groups of people, and arrived at my destination severely shaken. It says something that my first thoughts were, “what do you expect, you chose to go outside wearing…” before I stopped that train HARD. (For what it’s worth: “what I was wearing” involved a cami, jacket, shorts, and sandals. Hardly scandalous.)
My second feeling was anger, not at any of the folks involved — I’ll kick the ass of anyone who tries to invoke any kind of essentialism here — but at a world that has now decided to make me choose between crossing streets early to put me out of reach of groups of people, or striding forward with confidence in my beliefs against pre-judgement. Looking rude, sexist, maybe racist, or potentially stupidly putting myself at risk. Idealism and pragmatism forever at war.
No woman I’ve told this story to has done anything but nod knowingly.
Day 22: Talk about something funny. Has anything humorous or ironic ever happened to you because you were trans? Have you used humor to help make people more comfortable with your being trans?
I think humor is essential. Not only in a “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” sense (actually, you’ll do both, often) but also as a way of normalizing our experiences. So much of our mainstream exposure is very hand-to-forehead, what-miserable-wretches-are-we, and pointing out all the lighthearted and silly bits of being trans draws our community closer and adds dimensionality to how the world perceives us. Plus, for our own mental health, trying to get your head out of the subjective angst a little and acknowledge how hilariously absurd this whole process is can help a lot in recontextualizing our struggle.
What lighthearted bits? I mean, they’re different for everyone, but for me most of it comes from encountering just how mile-high yet paper-thin societal gender norms tend to be. This can lead to amusing interactions (at least, amusing under certain perspectives), like the double-takes at the door sign when someone walks into the men’s room to see me putting on makeup, or the looks of pure bewilderment when someone is trying to figure out what the fuck I am, like the gender equivalent of the blue-and-white dress.
This isn’t a very funny essay, I’ll give you that, but follow me on social media and you’ll see how much I consider this all just one big joke.
Day 23: Talk about gender roles. Do you feel that you conform to a gender role? Do you feel that your conformity or lack of conformity to gender roles helps you or hurts you?
One thing that delayed my transition a little — and indeed, something that stymies many would-be transes — is that while somewhat feminine for a guy, I’m not all that feminine as a girl. While I can’t tell until I get there, I have a feeling that my end-game for transition is a very queer girl who’s thought a bit about transitioning to a guy and decided nah, that’s okay.
While this was something of an impediment to understanding that I wanted to transition at all, I think it’s been a huge help during the process itself. I frequently display both servitude and leadership, arrogance and submissiveness, snark and sass and sunshine and sparkles, and enjoy being difficult to quantify from the perspective of any traditional gender role.
I’ve been jokingly calling this “queer privilege”, but there’s an aspect of truth to it: it’s harder to be disappointed with being complicated if your goal is merely to be a somewhat different kind of complicated.
Day 24: Talk about misogyny and toxic masculinity. Do these affect you in your daily life? Are the social pressures you experience typical for your identified gender?
I think in some ways I currently benefit more from continuing to be gendered male than I suffer from asserting my femininity. That is to say, I don’t think I experience significant amounts of toxic masculinity OR misogyny, though I’m sure that’s about to change. An old friend recently noted that compared to my old Facebook profile, where I was exclusively known as male, compliments on pictures posted on my newer one focus far more on my body and features than pictures on the older. I’m sure a small part of this is due to the validation it’s known I receive from those physical compliments, but I hadn’t considered it through a feminist lens until she brought it up, and I think she’s probably right.
I’ve never been particularly career-focused, and I’m not used to being taken seriously in business pretty much ever, so I haven’t noticed the “suddenly my ideas were less valuable” switch yet. I’m sure when it happens I’ll be aware.
And overall, I’m willing to hazard a guess that my fantastic community buffers me from all this shit to a great degree.
Day 25: Talk about symbols. Do you ever fly the colors of any LGBT+ or gender identity flag in a symbolic way? Do you wear jewelry, buttons, patches, or other accessories that telegraph your being trans? Do you have any LGBT or gender identity related tattoos? Are they usually visible or hidden under clothing?
The back of my laptop has a number of queer and trans stickers, and that’s my little way of putting myself out into the world in a way that’s both somewhat socially acceptable and also visible to the people in my work-related spheres. Regardless, I’m sure they mostly slide off people’s eyeballs without making a dent.
Other than that, uh, I don’t really do a damn thing to hide my boobs these days, and I’m also using a masculine-gendered name and my natural voice. I consider that a constant ambient state of coming out.
Day 26: Talk about role models. Who are your role models? How have they influenced you?
In a broad sense, the multitude of strong women in my life have served as the biggest inspiration and source of strength and comfort. No matter what aspect of self I want to embody, somewhere in my life, there’s a woman modeling it tremendously.
Specific to being trans, however, there are a few people I have in mind. I won’t name them, but I’ll say that I’ve received the most profound assurance from folks who are playing with gender like I am, who own their bodies and selves without letting societal expectations ruin their fun.
The queer gals, the futas, the Amazons, the women who don’t hate their boy selves, the boys in dresses, the men who are robots, the ladies in tuxes, the bunnies and kitties who are having such a goddamn blast being girls. My life has been a continual search for kindred spirits, each group fulfilling and disappointing in its own ways, but I’ve never felt so known and understood in all my complexities as I have in the company of those people. You know who you are, and thank you.
Day 27: Talk about politics and activism. Has being trans influenced your stance on any political issues or candidates? Are you active in your local trans and/or LGBT+ community?
Being trans has influenced literally all of my stances and views. It’s really hard to go from “mostly cis, mostly het, mostly dude” to “queer trans girl” and NOT improve your understanding of just how deeply and profoundly systemic marginalization affects people.
I’d consider myself a trans activist before anything else, in that my writing, social media posting, and awareness-building has so far focused on that aspect of my identity more than any other, though admittedly I don’t participate much in the trans-specific political world in San Diego. I would say I’m active in “the community”, but it’s more the large number of queer and trans folks in the inclusive polyamory community I’ve built myself, rather than the trans community that revolves around organizations like the Center.
I’m pretty okay with that, actually, but as I gain energy to do more in the world than just type, I’d like to get involved with bigger advocacy platforms.
Day 28: Talk about religion and spirituality. Has being trans influenced your spirituality? Have you joined or left a church because of their stance on trans related issues? Have you found acceptance in your religious community?
While I had a very interfaith upbringing, I made the leap to atheism in my very early twenties, and it’s just a background part of me at this point. I consider myself a secular humanist, more than anything else — I don’t hate religion, and while I don’t consider myself spiritual per se, I tend not to judge or even disbelieve most people’s spiritual experiences unless they appear to be doing a marked disservice to themselves or others.
Strangely, I seem to have fallen into the close company of a rather large number of rather amazing queer Jews, and it’s strongly influenced my views on the benefit of ritual in one’s daily life. I think secular society throws the baby out with the bath water, to some degree, as we dispose of preconfigured and judgmental notions of morality and ideology, but also many well-honed mechanisms by which meaning can be imparted to a (beautifully, optimistically) meaningless existence.
None of that is specific to being trans, mind you, though I’ll say that seeing the intersection between queerness and faith has been a remarkably beautiful thing, and I don’t think I’d be able to bear witness to it were I not a part of at least one of those communities.
Day 29: Let’s be positive. Post a message of loving kindness. If you can’t honestly open your heart to the whole world, narrow it down to one special person if you have to. But try to put some positivity out there in a public way.
It may be weird to start this section with acknowledging that we currently live in something rapidly approaching a political dystopia, but honestly, I’ve been utterly amazed at how much solidarity, consideration, empathy, and yes, kindness I’ve seen come out of this. More than ever, I feel like a part of something larger than myself; more than ever, I have shining examples of behavior to aspire to. More than ever, I see my kin all around me, and more than ever, I feel confident that we’re on the right side of history.
So much of this sucks — sure it sucks, it sucks hard, it sucks on so many levels they can’t be counted — but I’ve also never been more confident in my life, at the height of my knowledge of exactly how shitty the world is, that a better world is not only possible, but in some ways seems imminent. And if you’re reading this, it’s thanks to you.