Today I went to a New Year’s Day brunch hosted by a friend of mine from school, and it was the first social event I’ve gone to since coming out that had a decent chunk of people who didn’t know me beforehand. It was also unintentionally a nice test run for presenting myself as male in group social situations.
My overall impression: I really enjoyed it. I know I didn’t pass, as my voice hasn’t dropped either significantly enough or consistently enough to put me in the male range, but coming away from the event, I kept talking to Fergus about what a good time I had there. There wasn’t much extrinsically special about it: snacky-ish brunch with a group of folks, most of whom I didn’t know.
Even now, I still get myself into cycles of doubt with the trans thing. It’s not that I think I’m really cis or really a woman (nope, that box sure doesn’t fit); even when I’m doubting myself, I recognize that. Instead, it’s sort of an odd doubt that I’ll find myself not liking things with transition that I already have liked thus far. Or sometimes it’s that I feel anxiety for some other reason and try to pin it on having given myself dysphoria by transitioning, even though it doesn’t match my experience (for example, being tired to the point of “everything is blar” and somehow getting from there to trans doubt).
I like having this recent social situation to point to in regards to shutting down my counterproductive rumination (always had problems with rumination, by the way). I have other things to remind myself of my transness, notably my answer to the inner question “well, am I girl? nope, am not and don’t want to fake it,” but recent evidence to point to is always appreciated. (Also, this social situation didn’t have the awkwardness of Christmas get-togethers)
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.
Musically, barbershop acapella is my home. It was the context where I learned to sing and trust my voice. Ringing overtones and delightfully frictiony seventh chords are what give me goosebumps down my arms and neck. I first started singing barbershop (women’s of course) in high school, and while I haven’t been in a chorus all or even most of the time between that first time and now, I still miss it and have some piece of my identity tied to it. While I had some gender dysphoria being part of a women’s chorus, it was all about performance and presenting oneself a certain way, so it was surmountable.
Since I haven’t sung with a barbershop chorus for about a year (interestingly, coincidental or not, that was right about the time I came out to myself as trans), I’m starting to get nostalgic for it. But there are complications. I’m not a woman, and being in a women’s chorus doesn’t fit. So then I worry, will my voice drop enough? Would an octave drop in singing voice do it? Will men’s barbershop give me the same musical satisfaction? Could I fit in socially in a men’s barbershop chorus? If not, what other musical group could I use to get my social and musical needs met?
On the plus side, I’ve poked around blogs/reddit threads about singing on T, and it sounds like gradual increases are the way to go. Something like starting at 25mg weekly for a few months and then going to 50mg weekly. I don’t know if I’d like to go beyond that, since I’m still feeling out the right level of masculinization.
So Fergus and I are planning on having a second kid sometime in the next year or so, after I’ve started and gotten a chunk of the way through HRT-aided transition. Binding is workable now (though I sometimes do it to an unhealthy degree), but my understanding from reading stuff from transmen who got pregnant after social transitioning was that binding was difficult or impossible while pregnant or breastfeeding because of tenderness, size, engorgement, etc. I am pretty sure I can handle the pregnancy bit, even with the potential for awkward conversations, but not binding for pregnancy plus 6-12 months of breastfeeding sounds… very very unappealing.
I know that some form of top surgery as soon as I can manage with insurance requirements should help (I have almost a year of real life experience already, based on when I started going masculine part time, and regardless of binding or not, my chest gives me back problems). I keep going back and forth about degree, though. The plan that fits in better with balancing my overall goals is seeing about a reduction that leaves the parts needed for breastfeeding intact (glands, leave nipples as they are, etc), with a full top surgery later on. The plus sides to that idea include: better health for kidlet #2, potentially easier time getting insurance to pay for reduction as a non-trans issue over full top surgery as a trans issue, and smaller chest than my current size during pregnancy. The cons list is longer: two top surgeries instead of one (surgery has inherent risks, insurance might have issues with covering a second top surgery), living with breasts for longer, dealing with social consequences of breastfeeding while ftm, unable to be flat during time between reduction and removal. There’s also the risk with that plan of not even being able to breastfeed the baby, which would take away a good chunk of the reason to do the plan that way.
One of the parts I keep getting stuck on is: what if the baby needs to eat while out and about? That was no problem when I was an awkward trying-to-be-a-woman person; I just did it and covered or left the room as the situation dictated. But the thought of every feeding being a chance for stares and potential need to come out as a very uncommon category makes me really uncomfortable. I’m fine with the idea of breastfeeding itself, and in private, I imagine that it wouldn’t be a problem (I might be wrong, because when I breastfed kidlet #1, I was still assuming I was a cis woman). But I keep picturing myself as a passing man in a public space breastfeeding a baby… it’s bizarre and uncomfortable and dysphoria-inducing. Perhaps breastfeeding would be a private thing, and formula or pumped milk would be the solution for being out and about?
Some un-paragraphed thoughts about breastfeeding and top surgery that I’ve been having tonight:
- Breastfeeding is certainly better for a baby’s health.
- Or is it? Some sources suggest that the benefits that breastfeeding research have discovered are partially confounded by socioeconomic status.
- Having full top surgery means committing to a year of formula, which would get expensive.
- How bad does back pain or involuntary slouching have to be to get insurance to cover a reduction? Can trans-related coverage be used for a reduction (ie, can a reduction count as top surgery assuming that the insurance covers trans top surgery).
- Doing top surgery before pregnancy instead of reduction means changing the plan yet again on Fergus. What if I change the plan right out of pregnancy?
- How much of a reduction is possible while still maintaining ability to breastfeed? Is going down from DDD to A/B possible for that?
Thankfully I have an appointment with my gender therapist to talk about my transness generally and future top surgery more specifically (my understanding from the intake appointment was that they expected that I was going to them for a referral letter). That’ll be a good time and context to talk through this particular issue of reduction/top surgery and timing, at least on the emotional bit.
This week I had an appointment with my doctor and came out as trans to her. Informed consent was just as easy as I had hoped: she asked some questions to confirm with me, ordered some bloodwork, and set up an appointment for early next month to start T. I still have some doubts, but a strong emotion I’ve been feeling is comfortable or relieved.
One way I’ve seen this is when I had an interview yesterday. I’m not out in general, and I didn’t want to come out for this, so I girled up for it (pink dress shirt, even…), but it felt less constricting that my test run last week (from my last post) where I got into a dress, earrings, and makeup, and it seemed that a chunk of that difference was because girling up for the interview was temporary. I knew that because of my transition plans, I won’t have to live in girl mode indefinitely.
Another way I’ve seen this feeling of comfort/relief has been a little more amusing/counterproductive. A couple times I’ve thought to myself, “oh you’re feeling better, I guess that means you don’t have to do this, you can go back to how you were.” It’s a little bit like in the past when I’ve gotten a cold or the flu, rested to the point of starting to feel better, and then felt like that meant I could get up and be extra active. The feeling of relief is from moving forward with transition, not an indication that I should go backward and stuff myself back in my closet.
Earlier this week I was thinking about that idea that occurs to me every so often that it would be easier to just go back and present in a feminine way again. So I got out my old makeup and a dress I still had and some earring and put them on. I still remember the makeup techniques I had learned before, so the makeup looked socially appropriate, and the dress is one that gets compliments when I wear it. After I got done getting into girl-mode, I looked at myself and took some pictures. I was very uncomfortable, and I felt like a man in a dress (sorry to use that trope, but it fits the situation). It seems like girling up was easier to deal with before I came out to myself as trans. It’s like a new sleeping bag or tent that fit fine in the box originally but just won’t go back in. Or an allergy that starts out as a minor irritation and becomes more severe as time goes on (I have a fruit allergy with precisely that trajectory). Having experienced male presentation, I don’t want to move back.
After that, I took a shower to scrub the makeup off; then I bound myself tightly and got into equally formal men’s clothes: slacks, button-up, and a vest. It felt much better (except that I took the binding a tad too far, using ace bandage, sports bra, and a binder to really press things down). That was a turning point. Before that, I was feeling that maybe I could just stuff myself back in the female box and live with it, but I don’t think I can anymore. I want to get on T and eventually top surgery so that I can pass. I have a pre-existing doctor’s appointment on Monday, which was supposed to be about checking in about a different health issue, and now I plan to use that appointment to also ask for HRT on the basis of informed consent under the WPATH 7. The doctor’s profile says she has a specialty in LGBT and transgender care, so hopefully it’ll work out. I’ll have to explain to her that the pregnancy plans are on hold for maybe 6 months or a year from now and that I reason I was chomping on the bit was because I wanted to get pregnancy over with so I could possibly transition. But now, I want to start transitioning first, before trying to have a second kid with Fergus. I understand there is something of a risk of problems conceiving after having been on testosterone for some length of time, but I’ve heard of enough cases (including an article about 25 trans men who were able to conceive after having been on HRT).
That night, I told Fergus that I wanted to start T soon and that I decided that I definitely want/need to move forward and eventually come out. He was incredibly supportive as usual (and as usual pointed out that it wouldn’t be a problem because my current masculinity is no problem for him and personality would be the deal-breaker), and we made a timeline of plans regarding pregnancy and transition, etc. Here’s some of the basics of it:
- I will come out around the time my voice drops or I am otherwise more visibly masculine. This may take a bit, because I plan on taking a low-ish dose, maybe half or quarter of a “typical” dose of T, because I don’t want to go super masculine, maybe more sort of androgynously masculine but still able to pass even when I talk.
- Fergus and I will start trying to get pregnant about 6 months from now (obviously I’ll come off of T for that, because of ovulation and also fetal hormonal environment). We may wait a little longer than that depending on his job stuff (getting day shift) and my job stuff (if I get a new tech job, I’d rather wait a bit more to be out of the probationary period).
- Top surgery might be something like 6 months after kid #2 is born. Breastfeeding is beneficial and all, and I breastfed kid #1 for 1.5-ish years, but I’m dealing with DDD cups now and would enjoy not needing to bind as tightly. For a while, I’ve been thinking leaving something A cup-ish would be ok. Not totally flat but not super noticeable either. I suppose I can always take the rest off later if need be.