I was on reddit yesterday, and someone posted this question:
“Is the ‘woman stuck in a man’s body’ or ‘man stuck in a woman’s body’ a narrative invented by cis people or [do] trans people have that kind of experience?”
It was a “holy shit” moment. This “trapped in the wrong body” narrative is what I had heard from childhood as the very definition of being trans. Yet it has never once been a phrase I would use to describe myself. I was never more trapped in my body than anyone else is. My body never quite described me, or looked like me, but it wasn’t a cage I wanted to escape.
But what makes it a holy shit moment is that the wrongness of the phrase is part of what made it take so damned long for me to realize that the word transgender applied to me. That it described the condition of my life. Or that I had a case of trans-ness “bad enough” to merit treating. I’d never felt “trapped in the wrong body” after all, so I could probably just ignore it.
I frequently reflect on how public descriptions of being trans miss the mark, and how isolated that has made me feel through the years. The internet is a beautiful thing because it can bring us together so that we can tell our true stories in our own words. It was also through reddit, after all, that I described my feelings and heard from trans people around the world who experienced feelings just like them.
There is no single trans narrative. And I assume there are trans people who do feel trapped in the body of the wrong sex. But sometimes I wonder if these narratives also come about in trying to justify ourselves to people who can’t imagine what it feels like to be us. I am grateful that such justification is no longer necessary to simply live a decent life. And I am grateful that even if a strong belief in a false narrative may have delayed me from finding my truth, it did not preclude it.
I am here, in my strange trans body, and I am free.
Below are two videos: one shot today and one shot three weeks ago. I just came across the one from three weeks ago today and realized that it showed me at my lowest, at a place where I can end up when I am experiencing a great deal of gender dysphoria. I am sharing it because it is vulnerable and it shows the difficult aspects of being transgender. I spend a lot of time on this blog celebrating my transition (a greatly positive experience), but I want this space to be a full and honest reflection of all aspects of transitioning. Please watch the intro video first for more context.
Five months on testosterone. Time is flying. I have a little random facial stubble and hairy thighs. I get more sirs than ma’ams (barely).
I can do the deep voices when I read bedtime stories to my daughter, and my voice cracks when I do the high ones. I have days that I wake up with a lot of dysphoria, but more and more where I go around feeling pretty normal and natural. I’ve graduated from chin-ups and I can finally now do a pull up. Every month I hope to get serious about diet and exercise, and then life gets in the way. And this month has been a doozy.
A few weeks ago I had a consult for top surgery. The consult itself went pretty much as expected–I learned only one new thing, which is that the reason for losing sensation in the nipples is due to the severing of a nerve in the chest, not necessarily to the detachment of the nipple itself.
In researching options, I chose Dr Bartlett in Brookline, MA for two reasons. First, the results are really nice. They have good contouring, nice, tight nipples, minimal scarring. Second, it’s close to my parents’ home. I’ve not been impressed with the results of the doctors practicing close to DC and wanted to look elsewhere. Doing it near my childhood home means I have a place for R&R and emotional support on hand in addition to my partner. This is really important because we have a small child who will need caretaking and occupation at the same time I will. The office staff was incredibly nice and well informed. Two transmasculine patients wandered through the office while I was waiting. Dr Bartlett himself had very kind and knowledgable bedside manner. I picked up on a little sensitivity around the billing questions–but I had to understand the structure. He described in detail what goes into the procedure and recovery and waited patiently as I reviewed the two notebook pages of handwritten questions I had prepared. I was impressed.
I’m a day late and a dollar short. My physical transition is at a very slow crawl. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow to discuss my lab results (which shows a testosterone level of 165–short of what’s normal in the average man). I hope that means we can increase the dose some. I’ve also gotten a bit fat between stress eating and celebratory eating. Fat feminizes my features and makes me paranoid that I’m producing more estrogen.
Just last week my boss’s boss (who knows I’m trans) told me in conversation that if “someone with a penis” was sharing a locker room with his teen daughter he would personally march over to the school to rectify the situation. No amount of delicate explaining about the realities of trans kids and teens made a dent in his perception that all teens with penises were pervy teen boys.
I had a girlfriend in high school who claimed she had had an out of body experience. She claimed that one night, her soul left her body and floated around her house, and visited different rooms while her body remained resting in her bed.
I’m not stupid and I’m not superstitious. I know a dream when I hear one. Yet the story stuck with me, and for months I would lie semi-awake in bed hoping the same would happen to me. All I wanted was to leave my burdensome body behind.
This all came back to me today as I was thinking about what it has meant to be trans all these years before transitioning. My whole life experience has been about being disassociated from my body. Now, as I build a body that feels like it belongs to me, I’m realizing that everything I have known so far has been an out of body experience. My goal now is to come home to a body I can roam the world in comfortably. And then, I hope, I can rest easy.
Tomorrow is my two-month anniversary, which means comparison pics and video. Yay, I guess. But this month I’m really nervous about what I’ll see. The last few days when I’ve looked in the mirror, I’ve seen a lot more flab on my hips, thighs, and butt and less definition around my face.
I don’t remember feeling this nervous about it last month. I remember not anticipating visible changes, and being pleased that I saw some. This month I’m convinced that all the change I saw last month has been completely wiped out.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, so this is not a clinical description of dysphoria. You can find that here.)
Defining gender dysphoria isn’t easy. It manifests in so many ways–anger, social anxiety, depression, shock, delusion, disjointedness. Before I had a name for it, I assumed it was an insecurity of the variety everyone experienced. Nobody loves their body, right? Everyone wishes people could see them differently. Everyone winces at the sound of their own voice on an answering machine. If these things are normal, how was my discomfort with myself special? What is it about being trans that makes living in the body you were given untenable?
It’s about context. Dysphoria is a shadow, and your assigned gender is the sun. When gender shines brightest, because, for example, you need to get a manicure for a relative’s wedding, or join a women’s work association, or participate in Girl Cabin 8’s performance at the summer camp talent show, the shadow of dysphoria is darkest. Sometimes the gender sun dips behind clouds–because you’re with someone who accepts you as you are, or you’re in the mosh pit at a punk show with the guys, or you’re walking alone on a summer evening listening to music. But here’s the tricky thing about dysphoria (bear with me through the long analogy), at any moment, the sun can emerge from the clouds and leave you staring at a very long, dark shadow.