I looked through my old pictures the other day. I think the original reason was to look at the hairline of male folks in my family to get some ideas of what to expect, but I came across old photos of myself that hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting.
I looked at those old pictures of me as a teenager, awkwardly trying to negotiate (implicitly) the contradiction between my assigned gender and my feelings, and I felt so much relief. Before now, I have been going on my memory of what that implicit dysphoria felt like, and of course, the null hypothecis comes in with its insistence that transness requires a p value of < 0.001 or something like that. I remember feeling uncomfortable about my gender, feeling like I wasn’t a girl like my peers, being more comfortable in androgynous presentation (except for the awkward questions from others), but I felt that I couldn’t trust those things.
But when I saw those old photos of myself, especially from before I decided to be more socially appropriate and girl up, I thought this time, “there’s a boy staring out at me.” I’m not so big on the “always was a [target gender],” for a number of reasons (not the least of which being that I’m a tad sick of the main narrative of transness being folks who always knew, even at 3 years or 4 years old, although it certainly is a narrative that’s easier for cis people to understand). Looking at those pictures, I saw the weird feelings about gender, the desperation to do the right thing, to finally try hard enough to be a girl like I was supposed to be.
Seeing those pictures, and seeing the dysphoria looking at me through 16 year old me’s eyes, gave me a feeling that I had correctly identified myself. It assured me that this wasn’t something that I somehow cooked up in the last year, that I hadn’t falsely found kindred experience in the stories of other trans people. In other words, “I see you, 16 year old Jon, and I finally found you in the last year.”
I started testosterone last Tuesday (cruddy day generally, but yay for T anyway). There haven’t been many changes yet, but it’s still been so nice. It’s been sort of a confirmation of diagnosis by treatment, and I’ve been feeling gender euphoric. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction, and presenting myself in a masculine way feels very nice, even rather nicer than it did pre-T. I’m feeling more and more like I fit in my own skin, whereas before I sort of felt like I was squashing myself into something that didn’t fit right. It’s also made me more impatient to come out and be authentic about it. Before it felt like coming out was an unpleasant chore, but now it seems more like a small and surmountable obstacle to being myself. Will I still wait until my voice drops to come out? Maybe, or I might get joyfully impatient and spill the beans ahead of that plan. I find myself caring less about folks’ impressions of my news, it’s still good news to me.
Some changes so far:
- lower range of my singing voice is slightly lower (not hugely), and it feels more comfortable to be in that range. I’ve been keeping my voice in practice by singing along with barbershop quartet, and singing along with the female bass part feels more homey.
- My speaking voice (realistically) is just about the same. It does feel chestier when I let it fall down lower, and it’s comfortable to let it sit a bit lower. Even though my speaking pitch is mostly the same, I feel more confident when I’m trying to pass, and it’s helped my voice dysphoria.
- Some muscle growth. I’ve worked out a couple times since starting T, once lifting and once bouldering with Fergus, and it’s early (and I’m not going for “hey, get swole, bro”), but there is a perceptible difference in my arms and shoulders.
Fergus and I have been engaged for just about a year and a half, and we’re planning on getting married August of next year, 2017 (sort of a slow timeline, but comfortable for both him and I).
Anxieties over the wedding were a problem for me in the past, especially around the time that Fergus and I set the date. I had a hard time describing what my problem was, and it was before I came out to myself. I tried to explain it to Fergus’ mom by saying that I didn’t want something fancy, and she suggested a tiny wedding with regular size reception (regular for an event involving that huge family, anyway), but that wasn’t it. I tried to explain it to Fergus as I didn’t want to wear a dress, and he reasonably suggested that I wear pants or whatever I felt like, which didn’t feel like it quite solved the problem (again, this is before I came out to myself and especially before I decided to transition). There were some times that my worries were bad enough that I lost sleep. It wasn’t the details, it wasn’t the money, it wasn’t a problem with weddings in general or marriage as an institution, it wasn’t worries about Fergus or the relationship. I knew it had something to do with people and me, but that was as much as I had it figured out at the time. Since it was a long ways away, I decided it was a problem for future me, and I put it out of my mind for the time being.
Now, in the current time, with me out to myself as trans and actively planning on transitioning, my feelings are very different. I saw a friend’s pictures on facebook of his wedding, with him in a waistcoat and tie, and I thought, “I want to get married like that.” And then today, I was walking through some foresty paths to get home after an errand and listening to mushy Beatles music, like “In My Life” and “When I’m 64”, and I was imagining myself as a man dancing with Fergus to it. I realized that I didn’t have the anxiety or embarrassment I had had before thinking about the wedding. And then I knew how to label my negative feelings about the wedding: I was anxious and embarrassed and ashamed thinking about being seen as a woman at my wedding. When I think about presenting myself as male at my wedding, it feels fine and dandy (ha, dandy).
I’m so relieved to have made this connection. I’m also wondering if other bits of people-related anxieties I had would also turn out to be partially caused by gender dysphoria. How much has my past default of poorly squishing myself into the female label affected my perception of social situations and my ability to navigate them?
So I was writing my broad coming out letter tonight (it’s a little early, since I plan to wait for my voice to drop, but I was thinking about it, anyway), and I was anticipating what some people might say, sort of generic people rather than specific friends or family members.
One thing that I kept coming back to was the feeling of gender dysphoria, especially as a vague “something isn’t right” way that I had. How could I explain to cis folks the difference between questioning one’s gender identity (some flavor of trans) versus just going along with the assigned one and never really thinking to question it (cis, generally)? In trans spaces, there’s a common idea that if you’re questioning your gender, you’re probably not cis, or something like “cis people don’t think about their gender like trans people do.” An example from a gender therapist is here. Other examples are googleable.
I decided that shoes are a surprisingly decent metaphor for this. If your shoes are comfortable and they fit you, you don’t really notice them as much while wearing them. Maybe some passing thoughts, but not constant. On the other hand, if your shoes don’t fit in some major way, maybe they hurt or are way to big and slide around, walking in them means thinking about them much more than otherwise. Perhaps constantly or maybe just occasionally if you’ve learned to ignore the discomfort, but it’s always there in some way, shape, or form.
This is like the degree to which one’s assigned gender fits. If it fits, there’s little reason to think about or obsess about how well gender fits or how non-uncomfortable it is to present that way. I’ve talked with Fergus about his experience as a cis guy, and certain things just never occurred to him to personally consider. It just worked, right out of the box, no assembly required. For a trans person, however, the disconnect between internal gender identity and assigned gender is uncomfortable and readily on one’s mind.
Yesterday I had an appointment with a therapist to talk about my gender stuff (or well, it was kind of a second intake appointment to talk about a treatment plan. also: they said I do have gender dysphoria, how affirming). The therapist asked me who I’m out to, and of course the answer is Fergus and my three closest friends.
Before that, it was Fergus and my close friend who is trans and helped me come out to myself indirectly. In the coming months, I’ll be coming out to more and more people (it might take a bit, depending on how quickly testosterone lowers my voice). Probably the next people on the list are parents-in-law and my parents, and after that, more distant in-laws and more distant friends. As a side note, I’m so grateful that Fergus is willing to help me with the distant in-law coming out; there are way too many cousins-in-law that he and I see periodically that should probably know at some point.
Of course, I knew before now that coming out is not a everyone-at-once deal and that usually different people are told at different times. But answering the therapist’s question made me realize how coming out sort of ripples outward. I don’t have much else to say about the realization, but it was just interesting to think about.