I am sitting on the eve of my two year anniversary on testosterone. Of course April 6, 2010 was neither the first day I was queer (and as readers might know, I go back and forth on how much I identify with that label nowadays anyway) nor was it the first day I was man. I’ve been male since birth and I’ve lived as a man since sometime in 2009. But I don’t know the date I first wore a binder or first asked people to use “Sebastian” or first corrected someone’s pronoun usage for me. I certainly don’t know the date I first felt firm in a male identity or even the first date I questioned my female identity. But oh boy I will always remember April 6th.
It’s not like I was thinking as I rang in the new year that I would be celebrating my two year T anniversary in 2012. I haven’t marked April 6th on a calendar anywhere. It was brought to my attention actually because a band I’ve fallen in love with (Perfume Genius) is playing in my town that night. I went to buy tickets and was like oh April 6th, that’s important to me for some reason - OH YEAH!
So without further delay, let’s start off with what 85% of the people reading this want to know. What does 2 years look like compared to 1 year compared to 2 weeks? What are my physical changes, my physiological changes? Well ladies and gentleman I’ve finally started growing facial hair. It is blonde and soft and looks too much like (sort of invisible) head hair for me to grow it out long enough to judge what could come of it. But I do get soft stubble almost everywhere and I shave once or twice a week. I have more body hair than I did a year ago. A noticeable amount downstairs growth since the one year mark. Face widened, skin is a little coarser too. Happy to report no balding or receding of hairline though!
Something that I’m pretty excited about and really thought was never going to happen is my shoulders are officially and noticeably broader than my hips. This has gotten more pronounced as I’ve started working out again, but I think another year into fat redistribution really knocked off some lil pounds from my hip area (and my butt). Although I am still quite skinny and smaller than the average man, my body has really shifted into the shape of most XY men. I’ve never liked when people refer to non-trans men as male-bodied, because I think trans men can be male-bodied as well. And I certainly think of myself as male-bodied. And I think that I feel more solid/comfortable with that terminology than I did a year ago - whether that’s the changes that make me more stereotypically male-looking, whether it’s just another year living as a man, another year older/wiser, who knows?
Emotional stuff: I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on here before, but since I started testosterone, I found it harder to cry. I get sad certainly, but I don’t cry. This has not changed, though I’m pretty used to it now so I don’t really think about it. Sex drive has not really changed but I’ve learned to control/ignore it much better than I did the first year on T. Still something I struggle with though as I often can’t turn it off (so to speak) when I would prefer to just have a nice nonsexual intimate moment with a partner, and while a year ago I still was working on not acting upon those impulses and I think I Have that under wraps now, it is a distraction that I wish wasn’t there so I could be in the moment 100%. Or at least like 75%. I think I’m at about 50% attention when sex is on the brain unfortunately. I think impulse control in general is something I continue to notice as a challenge since testosterone. I’m somewhere between trying to manage it and also coming to terms with being a little bit more impulsive (in terms of instinct/desire/gratification) than I used to be. I have noticed recently a little more aggression in territorial-type conflicts with other people (typically other men). When in my past I would have been upset or saddened, I find myself literally wanting to fight them or having built up physical aggression that I want to take out somehow (I go to the gym). I don’t know if this is testosterone or my male socialization or entirely unrelated to my transition and instead to the relationships and situations I find myself in. But I think it is worth noting.
Identity stuff: Over the past year I think I have struggled with the trans and queer part of my identity. I have known for a while now that my male identity rings truer or at least more significant in my life than my trans identity. That I see being transgender as more of an experience than an identity. But I went through fluctuations of really wanting to distance myself from a trans identity and a queer identity to the point where I actually questioned whether or not I wanted to continue to pursue a career dealing with trans* issues in psychology and counseling. For a month I decided I wanted to go to law school and live mostly stealth and just be a man. As I think I have grown more and more comfortable (though we all still have our days right?) with my body and its increasingly masculine structure and appearance, my male identity has felt more and more natural and less and less constructed. I think with increasing comfort on my male identity, I have been able to reclaim trans and queer as part of my identity. I am actively involved in school consultations where I immediately announce myself as a transgender man and use that as a tool of exposure and education. In the fall I applied to 4 or 5 PhD programs in Counseling Psychology, specifically applying to do research on trans* psychology and issues in counseling. I also began working as a coordinator/advisor of two youth programs for trans* and gender-non-conforming youth and their allies. Although I have not kept up on this blog and basically handed in my writing position at Autostraddle, I have made trans*-related work a part of my life again and in a rather prominent way. And this summer I’ll be moving to Louisville to study under Dr. Budge and the rest of the faculty at UofL’s Counseling Psychology doctoral program, and will be doing a lot of work surrounding trans* issues and advocacy. I know for a fact that I could not have done this a year ago and would not have wanted to. I continue to not think of myself as part of a queer community or culture, but identify as queer-minded, as a feminist, and I do identify with my transgender experience. I think on a similar note, I am in a relationship with someone who I knew prior to transitioning. A year ago I was pretty big on not wanting to do that ever again - I was involved with someone whom I had met as Sebastian and needed that timeline to feel comfortable within our relationship. Again, I think my increased comfort with my male identity and male body have allowed this increased comfort with my past.
I mean I wrote a whole post with all the specifics and the ramblings because I think that is what is expected when we write these T anniversary posts, but the reality is, I am just living my life. I’m living my life as a man. I’m living my life as a person who transitioned. I’m living my life as someone who has two X chromosomes and a uterus. I’m living my life as a straight person. I’m living my life as a guy pursuing a PhD. As a guy interested in education reform. As a guy in a relationship. As a guy with great friends. As a son who still tells his parents he loves them. As a big brother. As a guy who has to pay taxes and worry about car repairs. As a guy! Every time I write one of these I think I say the same thing, which is that before I transitioned, I couldn’t have imagined a day where living as a guy was something easy or natural, something I didn’t think about. And here I am two years on testosterone, with big things on my mind, very little of which actually have to do with me being a man, and even less with me being trans. I get down on myself from time to time for various things (and sometimes even body things) but if I can take a step back and realize where I was two years ago, I feel like the sun just comes out. The weight of first coming to terms with yr gender identity or of trying to figure it out or trying to express it to other people, the burden of being visibly trans or gender non-conforming, the stress of being early in transition, of changing documents and getting letters… when you’re in the middle of all that, you feel like you’ll never be able to let it go, to move on. But then you do. You can, you will. I’m not throwing a party tonight. I’m going to a concert I’m excited about and my girlfriend is arriving on a bus. My celebration is in writing this, in reflecting on the changes and reflecting on the peace of mind I’ve gotten to (at least related to gender stuff! don’t get me started on taxes), and in sharing with you all a story that I hope will give you hope for your futures and all they hold beyond your gender identity and expression and transition.
Much love to you all
I don’t know the exact date I came out as trans. My email account doesn’t go back that far and neither does my phone. But it was September of 2009. So I’m hitting my two year anniversary of living as male. And obviously, I’m reflecting on who I was back then and who I am now - where I’ve come through all of this.
I am so different. Someone who is more than a year out of college looking back at their senior year will be different. Someone who is almost 24 will look back to when they were almost 22 and realize they are different. Obviously we change, we grow throughout our lives. But my changes and growth have been more major in the past two years than the those of the average 23 year old. And I’m not talking about gender - I’m not saying it’s major because now I use male pronouns, had surgery, do injections, saw lots of doctors, et cetera.
My growth, my most major differences between who I am now and who I was then, though I believe them to be the result of transition, are not that “I’m a guy now.”
I remember stressing when I came out that I wasn’t changing who I was. “I’m the same person - I’m just going to be presenting as male now.” I think it was very important to the people who loved and supported me that I wasn’t going to change in any serious way beyond gender. And important to me, too. We all needed some promise of consistency through a period of intense and noticeable change. “Transition doesn’t change who you are.”
Well, it does. In our world, living as a man and living as a woman are such different experiences that I could never truly know myself, know who I was, and develop my identity fully when I lived as a woman. I existed in ways that weren’t true to who I really am outside of my gender itself, because so much of identity and experience are gendered.
My best example of this is my relationship with North Carolina, where my family moved when I was 14 and where my parents still live and I ultimately consider my hometown (despite protests from my friends in Kansas City, Missouri where I lived before the big move.) When I came to college in Boston at 19, I was so embarrassed to be from North Carolina. Sometimes I even said I was from Kansas City. When I did admit that I was from the south I often rolled my eyes or suggested in my tone that boy that place was awful. I did not identify with it. I didn’t identify with the mainstream culture of the south as a whole or with that of my preppy independent high school.
What was there for me to identify with? I didn’t dress the way the girls dressed there. I didn’t appreciate the beach nearly as much as everyone else. I didn’t like the door being held for me. I didn’t like being miss’ed and ma’am’ed. I didn’t like cheering for the football team or the other sports teams at my school. I was completely uninterested in partaking in field hockey or women’s basketball. I could obviously go on.
I didn’t fit there.
I didn’t fit there as a woman. The identity of the southern woman was not at all close to who I am or who I wanted to be. So I hated the south. I didn’t like being from the south. I demanded that I move north of Virginia as soon as possible.
The identity of the southern man, however, is much closer to how I see myself. The ideals of a Southern gentleman, the politeness and respect for women (even over the top), the yes ma’ams and yes sirs, the style of dress, the friendly confidence. I very clearly do fit in the south as a man. I’m still a feminist and a proud one and though North Carolina is far more progressive than most of the non-South seems to think, it does still have some work to do. Southern family values, though wonderful in most areas, don’t leave room for much diversity in terms of gender and sexuality. So there’s work to be done and there are elements of the southern male identity that don’t fit at all.
But since coming out, I’ve really developed the parts that do fit me, really incorporated them into my self-image and my attitudes and behaviors. And this is just one of many identity-driven changes. I think that how we view ourselves in terms of job, family, night life, even like as a roommate - all these aspects of our identity have interplay with gender roles. (I hope to write more individualized posts about particular gendered identity developments/evolutions!)
Transitioning ultimately allows for some real development of identity that was stunted before.
And let’s talk honestly about the realities of being socialized now as male. I know socialization typically and most acutely occurs in childhood and adolescence, but for us trans people, our timelines get a little wonky. My parents said I obviously was going through a period of adolescence when I transitioned. And that’s obvious to me now, too. In addition to wanting to experience some of the stuff men got to as boys and teens, I also was in a state of learning what it meant to be a man. There was a lot of “coming of age” to my life the past two years, despite my being 21-23 through it.
Being treated as a male socially can absolutely impact you and your personality, behavior, et cetera. I think that I am less impacted by social “rules” for men because they are more visible to me given my experience, but I am not immune to them. And surrounding myself with guys (who had been able to live as guys their whole lives and were a lot like me) has meant new experiences and ideas. I think I am more masculine than I was two years ago. One year ago even.
My dating life being classified as heterosexual rather than homosexual has changed me. In some ways, the change came from hetero privilege. Dating meant something else when it wasn’t a spectacle for others; my love life being normal was very new and changed the way I was allowed to talk (and thus think) about it. But there were changes that weren’t related to privilege. Some of it just had to do with that part of my life (which is a major part of our lives - the romantic and sexual parts I mean) finally being in sync with how I felt.
And you know what? Testosterone changed me a little, too. I’m not more aggressive or angry, but I have a different kind of energy that is noticeable at least to me.
And the big whopper: being comfortable with who I am gender-wise, has allowed me to focus on things I couldn’t before. My discomfort in that area no longer dictates my comfort level in general. I am more confident overall, I am more future-oriented. And I also am a lot more interested in the present. It’s funny to say that transitioning made me both more future- and more present-oriented. I’ll explain.
My friend and I talked about how I used to daydream about skipping my 20s. How at 21 I felt like I was totally over it - the partying, the dating. I wanted a family life. I wanted a career. I wanted stability and security. It was amazing how much I didn’t want those things (yet) as soon as I became more comfortable with myself. I think I didn’t need the security and stability in my external world when I was more secure with who I was. In this way, I became much more interested in the present - in having fun - in being in-between life stages, etc.
Another thing I’ve written about is how before I transitioned I didn’t have any idea what the future looked like for me. I couldn’t imagine it. I knew I wanted this stable life, but I had no idea what I wanted it to look like and thus had no real direction for it. I think I was so hung up on this “gender no-match” without even realizing it that I couldn’t really decide what would be best for me in the future - how I would fit into the world as an adult. This has gotten a lot easier knowing that my adulthood will be as a man. And as I got further into transition and my anxiety regarding my gender faded, I could start really thinking and making decisions about what’s next. In these ways, I have become more future-oriented.
An ex of mine from before transition told someone she liked me better “as Sarah.” I think I’ve turned into a great guy, personally. But, though I think my values have been largely untouched (mostly just strengthened) and a huge majority of my personality traits from the “Sarah” days are still prominent in who I am today, it is true that I have changed. I should never have promised that transition wouldn’t change me. It was a promise I couldn’t keep and probably shouldn’t have wanted to even. Some people may have liked the traits I’ve evolved away from and so I could find it feasible that someone might have liked me better before my transition than they do now if those were the things they liked most about me. But by and large, the changes have been good. And things I’m proud of. Or happy about.
I think these transitions are just as important and deserve just as much celebration as the physical gender transitions.
I’m beautiful in my way / cause god makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track baby / I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret / just love yourself and you’re set / I’m on the right track baby / I was born this way
For those of you living under a pop culture rock (not that there is anything wrong with that), the above is a sampling of lyrics from Lady Gaga’s self-acceptance anthem, “Born This Way.” The song encourages people to embrace what makes them different, what other people might criticize, and though it covers a lot of ground, has been largely adopted by the queer community as a new “I’m Coming Out” (that’s Diana Ross for those of you REALLY living under a rock). In the song, Gaga actually says “no matter gay, straight or bi / lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to survive.”
And yet, since its release (all thoughts on the actual quality of the music aside), I’ve been hesitant to adopt it as my own power queer anthem. Because I was only sorta born this way. I mean, I was actually born pretty different. Without intervention, I’d physically be very feminine right now. My face would be slender and stubble-free, my voice would be higher, I’d have a fully developed female chest (aka boobs!), my frame would be even smaller than it already is, and the little bit of fat I’ve accumulated (I blame you Arkansas) would be sitting almost solely at my hips and not just above my waist line in this skinnyboy mini beer gut fashion. I might be oversharing.
The point is I’ve medically intervened to change some of the ways I was born. And even before Gaga tried to help us all celebrate the ways we were born, I’ve had a hard time aligning my decision to transition with the self-love movement. It’s been a slight point of tension that I always planned to address when I inevitably return to therapy. There are people who choose not to medically transition, who say, “I am a man, that is my gender identity, and this is the kind of man’s body I was born with.” I always half-wondered if they had discovered some truer ability to love themselves than I had. I don’t believe in God, but if I did, wouldn’t I be suggesting that a mistake had been made if I in fact needed to change something?
This stems from another difficulty I’ve had in intellectualizing my transition. I’ve always been torn about discussing it as an illness/problem as opposed to natural variation. I believe in gender diversity among our species. I believe there are lots of ways to be men and lots of ways to be women and lots of identities and expressions in between or that include both ends of the spectrum, even. And yet, my need to change my body to (mostly) match that of a non-trans man, of a man assigned male at birth, suggests that there was something to correct.
The way I usually toe the line is to celebrate the fact that I am a man with a different history – to see my medical changes as necessary but still appreciate the need for them and what it means about my history and process and gender and sex. I try not to think of the female aspects of my body as problematic but just as another element in the complicated equation of my gender and of my sex. And I try not to think of my surgeries and hormonal intervention as “fixing” something and instead frame it as encouraged physical evolution.
But this encouraged evolution, this forced development into a more typical male body STILL means I’m not living the way I was born, or at least not the way the way I was born indicated I would. That’s wordy, but I hope you follow.
Glee had an episode dedicated to self-acceptance, titled after “Born This Way,” in which the characters were encouraged to accept the parts of their personality or body that were most criticized, even their faults. The effeminate gay boy again embraced his sexuality, the Jewish girl decided against a nose job, the singing coach celebrated his “butt chin.” My discomfort with the aforementioned tension I felt between loving myself and having needed to change my body was pretty high through most of the episode. It doesn’t help that a lot of anti-trans and anti-transition writing centers around this idea that trans men just need to love our female bodies and trans women their male bodies. The all too famous Dirt blogs (in a very misinformed, transphobic, and propagandic way) about how “young girls” wouldn’t need to transition if they could just accept their butchness and stop perpetuating a misogynistic culture. I don’t buy that, but like I mentioned earlier, I often have the creeping feeling that I can’t fully claim self-love and self-acceptance.
“The years teach much which the days never know.”
My whole life (and quite possibly long before that), my father has been a quote junkie. I’m sure he had books of them before the internet was around. Then he got a daily quote email. Now he receives a text at 7:15 every night with some well-written or well-spoken bit of wisdom. He will forward these on to his friends and family, or read them aloud if we are near.
Well, we all grow up to be our parents, and now I get my daily quotes. And I write down good ones that I find in books I’m reading. And I send emails and texts (or even letters sometimes) to my family and friends and lovers with my favorite or most appropriate quotations. I recently sent my sister a quote I thought she’d appreciate, and she replied, “Well, it’s a good quote, but tell me you’re not getting daily texts of these.” “I have to be honest,” I replied. “I have an app for them.” “I can’t talk to you anymore.”
So I’ve become a nerd and my father, and my sister thinks it is hilarious. But there is no denying that I have gained a little collection of wisdom thanks to my smart phone app (Daily Quotes 4 U, I believe it is called). The title of this post is a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson that hung on my homescreen just a week ago.
And it is perfect, because yesterday was my one-year anniversary on testosterone. I’ve been plotting this T-Day post for a few weeks, in my head, trying to think about what I’d share, looking back to what I was writing on xxboy 12 months ago, 18 months ago… and it’s sort of amazing the insight I have gathered by looking back over the past year or so that I missed in my day-to-day reflections along the way.
So, this wordy intro is just to say, I’m going to talk about some of the “lessons” I’ve learned and observations I’ve made since I started T – many of which I was not anticipating.
First of all, testosterone is simultaneously a major and minor component of my being male. Over the past year, the world has started seeing me as a man and there is no doubt that society’s shift in perception was largely due to my “second puberty” which testosterone launched me into, and the physical masculinization that came with that. So yes, it is major in a chemical sense. But the fact that I truly see this as my “second puberty” suggests that my transition has come to feel very natural to me. And it has. So much so that I canned any plans of celebrating my one year anniversary of my start date.
I remember as I was deciding whether or not I wanted to start testosterone, and in the months approaching my first shot (and even in the months following my first shot), I watched video after video of men’s transitions over a year on hormone replacement therapy. I was addicted, like many trans men are, to “1 year on T!” videos, and I could not wait to make my own.
And I didn’t make one yet. I will, because it is helpful for guys starting out or thinking about transitioning to see what a year on T looks like for different people, but I’m not doing it in a celebratory way.
Obviously, I’m thrilled that I was able to transition. That I had support and a therapist and a doctor and could afford what I needed. I’m really really excited to be where I am now, but celebrating the day I got my first shot feels more like celebrating the anniversary of a pubescent boy’s first armpit hair or something. Yes it was the beginning of something totally awesome, but it feels normal and natural, like it was going to happen anyway.
A second thing I’ve noticed as I look back is how much my identity has shifted along the cross-gender spectrum. I have come to see myself as more and more male as I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to live and be seen as male. Being trans is an important part of who I am, but it is not always an important part of who I am as a man. I am a man and I am transgender is far more accurate to me than I am a transman. I can’t remember the last time I used that word, actually. I’ll say trans man, but that’s different. My identity as a man is mostly separate from my identity and experience as trans. And interestingly, I think the world’s perception of me has shifted in this direction, as well.
I’ll illustrate. I recently told my close friend that I was traveling south to speak at a college about trans issues. This gave her pause. And after our conversation, she said, “You know, you’re probably going to think this is really weird, but for half a second, I was like why is he going to talk about trans issues? I FORGOT you were trans!” And this is me, Sebastian – author of xxboy, trans writer for Autostraddle, a trans speaker, even. My day job focuses on gender and sexuality diversity in schools. I am not stealth AND she knew me before I transitioned.
I think this speaks volumes on how my gender and sex as male are separate from my trans identity and experience. And this is not how I originally felt. I had a hard time imagining myself as just a guy. I felt I was more man than I was trans, but I had a hard time thinking of myself as a man without trans as a descriptor. The kind of man I felt I was had a lot to do with being trans. And it just doesn’t anymore.
Another thing I’ve learned in hindsight is how much strength and effort and energy it takes to live before you transition. I’ve got an analogy for this one! When I was in high school, I was diagnosed with an executive functioning disability – a part of ADD. I’m a pretty smart guy and had made it through school my whole life with a focus and organizational learning disability. My grades hadn’t clearly suffered. I ultimately performed well as a student. But since I was a kid I had had major fatigue issues. I had my thyroid tested; I had my iron levels checked and re-checked; there was never a clear source.
After I went on medication that helped with some mood issues AND helped my brain’s executive functioning work better, my energy levels markedly elevated. My psychologist said that she suspected my brain had been struggling SO hard to function with this disability that I was literally exhausting myself. It turns out that the main symptom of my learning disability was that I was tired all the time, because I had managed it or compensated for it enough that other indicators were missing.
And after a couple months on the medication (again this also had to do with mood changes, as well), I remember telling my parents and therapists that I hadn’t really known what it was like to just be happy and have energy until then.
Living as a woman was a lot like that for me. Despite initial protesting as a kid, I appeared to handle my femaleness pretty well. I was not suicidal and did not, as far as anyone (myself included) can remember, have an emotional crisis when I hit puberty. Instead, I think it just slowly wore me out. And it’s actually even more exhausting when you first come out. At least it was for me.
Because at that point, you can identify the problem and you see it everywhere all the time, and you are constantly engaged in this battle against yr body (or at least how it is expressing yr sex or gender and how it is not). And yet you can’t do much about it initially. Hair cuts and chest binders and a slight change in the tailoring of yr clothing can all feel really futile and frustrating at times.
But I am amazed at the energy and happiness and comfort that has come with my medical transition (my hormone replacement therapy and my chest surgery). It’s like when I was 16 and was like OH, this is what it feels like to not be constantly working against yrself.
And as I look back in the year, I can see all the things that have come with my increased comfort and energy. My ability to see myself as an independent person (separate from parents and partners in identity), the success I’ve had at my job and putting myself out there career-wise, the success I’ve had socially and romantically, how much more in touch with my wants and needs I am. This also has to do with the transitional place I’m at in my life, having graduated from college in 2010 just a month after I started T. But honestly, when I graduated from school I was still pretty lost – I had mostly figured out my gender (because who ever has it totally figured out anyway), but that was about it.
I had a sort of revealing conversation with a friend of mine last night. I told her that just under two years ago, when I was living in Seattle, I had decided I was over being in my 20s (I was 21 at the time). I was over “partying” and semi-friendships and casual dating. I wanted a board game partner, a relationship; I wanted to settle down. I wanted some sense of permanence in my life. I wanted a small number of close friends and weekly dinner parties.
Now I feel like I’m not ready for that. I will want something like that eventually. But I’m 23 right now and really enjoying young adulthood. I like meeting people; I like being able to focus on myself; I like not knowing where I’m going to be this time next year; I like being able to sleep in my own bed, alone and watching what I want on Netflix; I like dating when it doesn’t have any serious plans for the future; I even like to party.
“What changed?” she asked.
“I became comfortable with myself.”
Through a bit of therapeutic conversation, we realized that a lot of my need to have a partner, to have a settled life (to have what she called a “Liz Lemon relationship” where you wake up in 10 years and you’re in bed watching a movie) had to do with me not being comfortable enough with myself to be out in the world experiencing it. And this is not just a romantic issue. I didn’t try new things. I wasn’t brave at all. I liked what I liked and I stayed put for the most part.
I had a comfort zone. And in a lot of ways it was necessary because I didn’t have that self-comfort that I have cultivated over the past year (though, really I’d say the past 8 or 6 months).
So this brings me to my final observation/lesson that the year taught me and the days certainly never knew. Transition changed me. I remember sort of agonizing over this in therapy and in my relationship – would testosterone just make me more visible as a man or would it change who I was as a person? I swore it wouldn’t change me. I’d be the same old “SB.” I’d just look and sound more like a man…
And no, testosterone doesn’t create a totally new person. And it doesn’t just make you hornier or more aggressive or angrier.
But I’d be in complete denial if I didn’t acknowledge that being on testosterone has changed my personality and my role in the world to a far greater extent than solely a transition in gender roles. Most of me is the same – I recently reconnected with a friend from middle school that I hadn’t hung out with in probably 4 years, and she said she was floored and relieved to see that I was so much the kid she knew when we were teens. But when I compare who I am now and my life today to the person and life that existed two years ago, I’m shocked and excited and proud to see how far I’ve come. And a lot of that growth has happened since that first shot of testosterone.
Because it is freeing to be able to live as a man. To not have to worry about that anymore. To not be fighting some invisible gender demon. To be comfortable.
All this warm & fuzzy business said, starting testosterone also didn’t solve all my problems. It is not the answer to every question and it is vital that anyone in transition remembers that. I still have body image issues and am still working out some intricacies of gender and gender identity, not to mention all the non-gender/trans related stuff that comes up in life!
But I do think I am much more equipped and ready to handle whatever life throws at me now than I was one year ago.
I was never butch. Not when I lived as a girl and not as a man, either. And though I never bought into gender roles, I don’t think I fully embraced the concept of male femininity until I realized that I myself was male and feminine.
In order to accept myself as male, I had to accept that men could be feminine. So through my transition, I have become more and more aware of male femininity and its presence (or lack thereof) in culture.
Something that is getting a little more attention in the Sociology and Psychology worlds is the way societal ideas about masculinity and its importance in men are affecting the development of boys. Particularly those that are not naturally so “masculine” or butch.
Enter Cheryl Kilodavis, a mother of one of these non-stereotypical boys who likes to express his femininity through dress - dresses, to be exact. She wrote the book Princess Boy after she tried to tell her son that boys couldn’t dress up as princesses or be be princesses and he told her that he was just a “princess boy.” I love hearing Cheryl talk about her son, because she is so honest and also finds a way to universalize their story. Here is a transcript from another interview she did on the Today show:
Meredith Vieira: But I know when you first wrote the book you included a letter to your family and friends because you were having trouble with this, you were struggling with it. And you wrote -
I had independent values, deep cultural and religious perceptions of how my sons as male should look and behave. This became a journey in self-awareness and reevaluation of stereotypes and perceptions of what I thought I believed.
Now if it was hard for you, what kind of struggle would it be for people who don’t have a princess boy in their life?
Kilodavis: We’ve gotten a lot of responses from people who don’t have children, who don’t have princess boys. Really, Princess Boy the book stands for hope and it stands for acceptance. And in 2010 in light of all this bullying and things that have happened and the unthinkable outcomes of children taking their lives just for being different, this is our chance to say 2011 is going to be about the year of acceptance. We are going to turn this around. And it takes the first step to go to acceptance and then we can start to get into inclusion and sooner or later my hope is that the world will embrace the uniqueness that is really within all of us.
I love that she publicly acknowledges her struggle with it initially. She talks about how she tried to redirect and how she is not proud of that. I think that is an important part of the dialogue that has been missing from discussions about parents of gender nonconforming and transgender children.
The reason I shared the above clip is because I also like that this is talked about as separate from cross-gender identification. The reality is that someone can be a feminine boy or a masculine girl and still identify with their maleness or femaleness - they can still be a boy or a girl. I think often times, gender-nonconforming play or dress gets associated solely with transgenderism, which only reinforces the binary concepts that men are masculine and women are feminine. A boy who wears a dress does not necessarily do so because he truly is a girl and will ultimately want to transition.
And I also LOVE the way the doctor in this clip distinguishes between gender-nonconforming behavior/dress and cross-gender identification. “I’m not playing anymore.” No one in this clip makes the possibility of having a transgender child a bad thing. They simply acknowledge that that is not necessarily what is going on here and that’s all gravy.
Kilodavis has been on a number of talk and news shows and is really an amazing resource and spokesperson, in my opinion. Also, this book is the first of its kind - she originally self-published it, but it just got picked up my a major publisher (yay!) so hopefully it is something more children and parents and schools, etc., etc. will be exposed to. Learn more about Princess boy here.
(My boss and I use clips from these interviews in our education materials about Gender and Sexuality Diversity.)
And if you want to get really progressive with all of this, consider that these things apply to transgender people and children, too. A person who was assigned female at birth but is actually a boy and identifies accordingly (i.e. a transgender man, sometimes referred to as Female-to-Male) may still have enjoyed (or may continue to enjoy) wearing dresses! Because wearing dresses doesn’t make you a girl! How’s that for flipping gender assumptions on their butt?!
I wrote a post about “the ftm trend” a while back. It’s here and I largely stand by what I said.
Sometimes I am a little taken aback by people who identify as trans before they have done a lot of research on gender identity and transition. But I have to also remind myself that (a) this is a new day and the internet I think totally changes the way young people approach things like this - they can explore identities and slowly educate themselves in this safe space where they are somewhat anonymous and largely free to change their minds or develop in any way and (b) that it’s probably a good thing.
It might tick us off initially to read someone who is young and still figuring things out and even largely clueless about trans identities, issues, problems, communities, etc. (this is not every young person who identifies as trans by the way, just an extreme example), but honestly - if it helps them come to terms with their gender identity, I’m okay with sharing the label, even if it is temporary. Maybe a teenager who writes in and says they are FTM will finally feel free to explore their masculinity and realize they are comfortable as a butch woman or that they are more comfortable identifying as male but not medically transitioning, etc., etc. Maybe by identifying as trans, someone who doesn’t think they’ve experienced dysphoria will find one deep-seated root behind depression they’ve experienced. Or maybe truly hasn’t experienced dysphoria and has a unique non-binary gender identity that may not be what they are assigned but isn’t in conflict with their body. And maybe they’ll be able to fully develop their understanding of that identity and be able to speak better about it in the years to come.
Obviously, I caution ANYONE with a newly explored gender (or sexuality or… anything, really) to not lock in on a certain identity. And I strongly recommend against anyone transitioning if they do not understand the impact of all aspects of transition - social, medical, emotional, immediate, long-term, and so on.
I don’t think many of these guys on FuckYeahFTMs (etc) are saying “I’m trans and this is what it means to be trans and I’m going to go out and start hormones and have surgery because that’s what it is to be trans and that’s what I am.” Instead they may be opening a whole new dialogue about how there are lots of different ways to not be cis. Which is pretty cool. And they’re creating a comfortable environment for people who really need one