I would try to tell you that I’m writing another post as penance for my months of lackluster blogging, but, truly, I’m just desperate to avoid doing my homework. That being said, I have been thinking about what I expected when I came out and began transitioning, and the ways in which my transition has stuck to or defied my expectations. And, as loathe as I am to admit it, I think I am learning a little bit about gender in general through all of this. So, I’m going to make a list. I apologize in advance for any offensive acknowledgment/lack-of-resistance of gender stereotypes.
1. People are not as judgmental as I assumed they are:
I would like to emphasize that I do not live up with the clouds and the rainbows and the carebears. People direct discrimination, hostility and outright violence toward trans* people all the time, and I will do my best never to forget that, for the sake of my own self-preservation, and in order to motivate myself to work to open the doors of post-transition life not just for me, but also for trans* people in general. Sometimes I cannot believe how lucky I truly am, and in those moments I strive to remember those whose suffering looks more like the horrors that make the newspaper headlines.
That being said, I have been surprised and overwhelmed by the absolute lack of judgment I have experienced. I have begun the process of legally changing my name/gender markers, and have changed everything completely within my college community. Most of the time, I am not, I don’t think, read as male, though between the highs of my excitement at T-changes and the lows of my gender dysphoria, it is hard for me to know. But, for the most part, when I introduce myself, though people may need to hear my distinctly-male name a second time, they smile and shake my hand after they catch it. And many (though not all) accept, at the very least, that I would like to be treated as a man, whether or not they see me that way. I have had professors with no official knowledge of my gender make reference to me with the correct pronouns (one of the best, an English professor teaching a drama course asked for volunteers for a scene. I volunteered, along with another guy, and she exclaimed, “Perfect, there are so many great scenes in this play for two guys!”).
Even those with more of an insight into my transitional identity seem to take it in stride. I introduced myself to a coworker who, upon hearing my name, felt up and down my back looking, I think, for a bra, who stated, “Oh, so you’re a girl.” I corrected her, she pulled the same move, and said, plainly, “Oh, got it. I couldn’t tell at first.” She has referred to me as male ever since. Other coworkers, if thrown off by my name, usually handle it by referencing someone they know with the same name. One seemed to care more about making sure I understood the meaning behind my name than about the less-than-perfect match between my perceived gender and my name.
In jumping through the legal hoops, I have walked into a courtroom in a tiny midwestern town and requested a hearing to change from my female given name to my male name without receiving a second glance. At the DMV, I asked about changing my gender marker on my driver’s license, and received the helpful attention of two friendly, if slightly confused, employees. The woman who published my name change in the local newspaper, when directing me toward the restroom, asked which one I would prefer, then pointed me to the men’s room without hesitation. Looking for housing for this summer, I outed myself to an alum of my college who was thinking about putting me up at her house, who congratulated me briefly, then moved on to ask if I would cat sit for her.
Some might argue that these people shouldn’t feel the need to peg me as one gender or the other, or should find ways not to force me to explain; that their responses reveal some sort of unacknowledged discrimination. I don’t know whether those arguments have much foundation, nor do I know where my opinion falls on their validity. Here’s what I do know: I think it takes a lot of strength and compassion to take a confusing situation and roll with it. There are many who would try to force their views on gender onto me. I have experienced that end of the spectrum as well, from surprising sources. I find the acceptance I have received from those who barely know me – those who need to ask me, however indirectly, how I identify in order to understand how to treat me – incredibly comforting.
2. I worry much more about my appearance now than I ever did before:
One of my housemates joked that I have many more products than she does. I take much more time to groom (and dress, though part of that I can blame on binding) than I used to. I spend more time looking in the mirror than I ever thought I would. My mother always used to chide me to “take pride in how I look,” and I have actually begun to do so now. I assume it has something to do with actually wanting to look like the “ideal” for my gender. There’s still a disconnect, a certain level of not caring, as a person in transition, living in a transitional part of life. After I graduate from college, I don’t expect to see most of my classmates again, so I use that to assuage my frustrations with my not-quite-masculine appearance. But I am making progress in looking more male, and the more progress I make, the more time I seem to spend thinking about how I look.
3. Testosterone is causing changes much more quickly than I expected:
I already talked about this in my 10 week update, and I’m sure I will continue to harp on the subject, so I’ll keep this one brief. I spent most of the time leading up to starting T lowering my expectations as to how quickly I would begin to see the effects of the treatment. But things are changing much faster than I ever would have thought possible – not that I’m complaining!
4. Testosterone has not much affected my mood/temperament:
With the caveat that I do, in general, feel much better as a direct result of beginning my transition, and another caveat that I never thought T would change my personality, per se, I have not seen as many mood shifts as I expected. A lot of guys talk about becoming more aggressive, having increased sex drives, being more easily agitated or irritated, or even more focused (as well as a lot of other things that I can’t remember right now). I haven’t really noticed any of this.
5. T may not have changed my mood, but openly identifying as male has changed how I interact with people:
Another caveat: I expected the change in my outward gender identity to affect how I interacted with strangers/acquaintances. However, I did not expect the subtle shifts in how I act toward those close to me. There are jokes I no longer feel comfortable making, examples I no longer feel comfortable using (mostly to do with gender or gay identity, since I am not in the same position in that community). My male relatives and I get confused when trying to say goodbye to each other (handshake vs. hug). Offering to open a jar for someone or holding open the door has become a little bit more complicated. The things that made me “butch” before make me vaguely a “bro” now. I feel incredibly awkward and wary of complimenting friends’ appearances. Some of the nicknames that my relatives had for me before are, hands down, just no longer okay.
6. I’ve realized that I have no idea how to interact with men I’m not already friends with:
I’ve heard this from other guys pretty commonly, and, in some ways, I was kind of expecting it. But I thought I would be able to wing it a little bit more than I actually can. I am stressing more about facebook comments and text messages to guys I would like to befriend than I have about girls I like. For god’s sake, I have more trouble keeping myself from staring at guys in order to pick up on their mannerisms than the aforementioned girls. I have been asking my guy friends to “teach me how to be a dude.” It’s a problem. I mean, seriously, it’s a problem.
“Unexpected Aspects of My Transition” by growingupgareth.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at growingupgareth.wordpress.com.