Two years ago on 7/11/2014, I rechristened myself with a new legal name. A month before that, I’d started taking testosterone. At the urging of some friends, I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned about myself, about transition, and about being transgender during the past two years.
1. The excitement of Whisker Watch wears off. I don’t remember when it happened, but I do remember how eagerly I inspected my face every day, and how much I celebrated each new evidence of growth. And then I noticed that I had a bunch of new hairs that I hadn’t noticed while they were growing. The obsession was over. Also, about shaving: the first few times, shaving was an exciting adventure and a bit intimidating and now it’s something I have to remind myself to do – or get reminded about, as in, “Mommy, your face is too scratchy!” or Red noticing that I missed a patch on my neck. When I do shave, I enjoy it, especially since I got a shaving kit from Red and can make luscious foam to put on my face. I do my best to just shave the cheeks and leave my sideburns, chin strap and goatee in place – I’m not planning to shave it all off the way I did last November… sheesh, my chin does not look right bare naked like that.
2. Knowing ahead of time that you will probably lose your hair does not make it easier to clean out the shower drain every morning. The whorl at the back of my head is getting more and more bare, and the top is thinning in an alarming way. I noticed that my dad at mid 20s had a hairline like mine and I know what happened to his hair. Yikes. The fact that I have hair on my chest, belly, shoulders and upper back in abundance does not really help me feel better about a future where my head bare.
3. I sometimes miss my old face. I have a ton of pictures from the past 8 years, so I have plenty to compare to. Before testosterone, I’d look at my face and see all the feminine markers, the large eyes, the soft edges, the full lips. I would sometimes see the handsome masculine side and I would cherish those momentary glimpses while wishing they would last longer. Now my face hardly ever shows its feminine side. Every morning, I look in the mirror and say hello to a man in his middle age. Sure, he’s got a rather fleshy chest, but the hairline, the beard, the shape of his face is unmistakably masculine. I’m told it’s a handsome face and yet, sometimes, I feel a bit of longing for my old face. I can look at it now and see more of the masculine, more of the handsome. I sometimes wish testosterone had simply planted hair on that face without changing the shape. I also sometimes look at pictures of myself when I was much younger and have a similar longing, wishful thinking that I had appreciated what I had, when I had it.
4. I often miss my old voice. I used to open my throat in song with utter, unabashed confidence and joy. I could do it without thinking and know I’d hit the notes. Now I’m hesitant. I don’t know my instrument any more. It cracks and shifts at unexpected places. I haven’t done karaoke in over two years – I used to jump on stage with a mic whenever I had the chance. Don’t get me wrong, I love my T influenced speaking voice and there are times when I sing and feel that deeper vibration and enjoy myself. However, I have lost a lot with regard to singing. I can’t soar in multiple octaves any more or hit those amazing rock and roll notes of Robert Plant and Ann Wilson at full volume. I am not confident yet in my new singing voice. And I wish I had more recordings of myself before. That’s a bonafide regret.
5. Neither of those previous 3 items add up to overall regret about my choices. I don’t regret my choice to take testosterone. I don’t think it was a mistake. I acknowledge that the changes I’ve undergone as a result of my choices has resulted in some losses, and I embrace those feelings along with the feelings of joy and self-acceptance.
6. I am not comfortable with my newly garnered male privilege. Yes, it greases the wheels in a way that makes my life easier. I can now man-ditto and be validated, even though I’m just repeating something someone else said. I immediately have more authority just by the virtue of being perceived male. It’s gross. I am sometimes not as aware of it as I’d like to be. The advantages are still unexpected and I don’t always catch it when it happens. I spent most of my life not having that advantage and I don’t particularly want it now. I can’t relate to it, it’s alien and unwarranted. And because I automatically get respect based on maleness, it feels artificial and less satisfying – it’s not a respect based on things I’m actually doing. I have (a lot) more to say on that in another post in the near future.
7. I don’t cringe when I see my old name any more. I used to wince, and cringe and curse when mail came with my old name on it. It was a phase, apparently. I don’t want to be addressed using that name by people who know better, that’s still going to result in a glare and maybe a curse word. But that’s not about hating my old name or wanting to erase it. I haven’t changed my diplomas or my birth certificate, or that of my children. I don’t want to pretend I never had a different name. I’m not ashamed to have had that name, it just doesn’t fit me any more. Like the clothing I’ve purged from my closet and the pronouns I lived with for the first 50 years of my life. That name is just much me as my new name is – it holds space for a huge chunk of my life experience and is a kind of time machine for when I want to go back and revisit the past.
8. I want brotherhood without misogyny. Here’s where a lot of my current struggle is. I am recognized as male everywhere now. There are occasional weird moments with people who knew me before and after who slip up with my name or my pronouns but those are the rare exceptions. Everywhere I go I am ‘sirred’, ‘Mistered’ and treated with that little extra respect our society still reserves for men. I love it and I hate it at the same time. I don’t trust it and I understand it to be evidence of my male privilege – something that wasn’t on my list of reasons for transitioning. Whether I wanted it or not, I have it now and I feel guilty about that. I want and crave the camaraderie of other masculine people. And I cringe and feel offended at the casual misogyny that gets thrown around in conversation among men. I know that I’m expected to wink and nod back. But I don’t. And I feel distinctly like an outsider when I don’t play along. What I think that means is I need to keep being selective about where I seek that brotherhood, so I can find like minded men.
9. I feel more myself than I have for most of my life. Even though my voice still doesn’t feel entirely mine yet, and my face catches me by surprise sometimes and I have a whole lot of new privilege I didn’t ask for – I still feel more *me* than ever. I am not someone else’s definition of man or woman, I am my own creation – at least in my head. From the outside, well, we can’t control how we’re perceived. That’s frustrating and unfair. And I’m still figuring out how to articulate my insides to the outside world. That’s probably going to be a lifelong project. If I had it all to do over again, there are a very few things I’d have done differently, but I would still have started taking testosterone and changed my name.
My name feels very me, it fits and I love the sound of it when people use it. Pronouns sometimes catch me by surprise. Not that ‘she’ would ever work at this point, but ‘he’ sometimes sounds odd too. Maybe I won’t ever feel completely at home with pronouns.
Two years ago, when I started down this fork in the road, I was excited, nervous and afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like all of the changes that were coming. Well, as it turns out, there are some things I don’t care for. And it turns out that I’m OK. Even with the hair loss and having my singing voice change so much and not being sure about my face all the time. I’m OK and I like myself and I like where my life is leading. Which is a good lesson to remember the next time I’m fearful of change.
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