We got this question in our inbox:
I don’t know how to ask this question as people get really touchy about it no matter what way I phrase it but I’d really like an answer from someone who has gone through or wants to go through the “transformation”. I guess all I want to know is why did you decide to do it? I’m a bit confused about the end result mostly, cause I can understand you don’t feel comfortable with the role you were given and you feel in your heart that you were supposed to come out another way, but with science at the position it is where it can’t truly turn one gender into another (working reproductive organ wise) then why did you decide to do it? I feel like at this point in time it’s just giving up your ability to reproduce for a more pleasing physical form and I guess I really don’t understand. Please help me understand.
So, here is my answer…
First, and this is really important so try your best to understand this part, there is no possible way for you to fully understand what it’s like to be transgender unless you actually are transgender; and even so, as a transgender man I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to be a transgender man and even have a hard time understanding what it would be like to be a transman from a volatile household or a gay transman or something other than the experience I have already lived. In trying to understand WHY people transition, you have to accept that you might never fully understand it.
Many trans people, myself included, get REALLY frustrated and angry when asked these kinds of questions only to hear the curious person tell us how they could “totally imagine what that would be like” or can “totally relate” because one time they thought they were gay or something equally as unrelated. I love educating people, but sometimes the first step in understanding what it’s like to be transgender and to start transitioning is that you need to accept that you can only ever scratch the surface of understanding; because so much of transitioning and living as a transgender person is internal and personal.
Now, every person’s story and reasons for transitioning are different. This is only one person’s story, specifically mine, and can’t really be used to generalize the overall experience.
When I was a kid, before puberty was on anyone’s radar, I was very happy. Unless, of course, my mom was insisting that I wear a dress in which case I was throwing a fit and decidedly NOT wearing a dress. I would go to school in my white sneakers and holey jeans and t-shirts and play on the playground and skin my knees and try to catch bees (unsuccessfully) and wrestle with the other boys in my class. It was a good little life.
Puberty hit like a freight train and while my female peers were starting to look at the boys with glistening eye and hiding their faces with hands and giggles, I was stuck. Every feeling in my body was completely opposite from that I was “supposed to” be feeling. I was becoming aroused by girls, fantasizing about kissing them and getting nervous by the idea of talking to them, not to mention that I was completely horrified by what was happening to my body. While the girls around me started going home with mysterious ailments (aka getting their period), I was slinking into a pitch black chasm. I was finally taller than all my guy friends, but it was at a heavy cost.
I was embarrassed by the way my body was changing. I wore increasingly baggy clothes to hide my chest and began wearing hats and letting my hair fall over my face to hide it’s changing shape. I did everything I could to hide the changes my body was going through.
By the end of 8th grade, I was hiding behind my clothes at school and drowning my pain in alcohol the moment I was able to be home alone. I played soccer and became more aggressive; it was the only time that I was ever able to forget what my body looked like. But then other parents would approach the referee at half time to try to get me off the field as they assumed I was a biological boy masquerading (poorly) as a girl.
I realized that I couldn’t live with that kind of deep shame and discomfort anymore. I needed to find a different way of coping with the fact that my body was something other than what I needed it to be. So I tried to just embrace it. I tried to just “be a girl”.
Looking back on some of the pictures from them, it’s hilarious. I looked like an awkward teenager in drag. I was still sexually attracted to women, and had many girlfriends, but that didn’t stop me from getting attention from the guys that I used to skate and party with. I think it’s safe to say that everyone was pretty weirded out by the few months that I tried like hell to fit in.
Trying to fit in, trying to force my mind to match my body, it was a disaster. If I was suffering before, it was nothing compared to how miserable I became in those months that I tried. My grades plummeted, I almost left soccer behind me, but those are superficial compared to trying to take my life. In the pain of living in a body that didn’t feel like my own, the only way I could see an escape was by ending my life. I failed many, many times because a few selfless people interveined.
At one point, when I was a freshman and my older brother was a senior, I had collapsed in rage and pain in the hallway and he had to carry me to the school nurse. He called up our mom and managed to get me to my therapist. I literally could not continue moving in my body. I couldn’t bring myself to try anymore.
Another failed suicide attempt later, I found myself in psychiatric hospital getting real help for my gender dysphoria. I met a kid who would sit and read his bible day after day. Somehow he got it into my head that there was something I was meant to do in my life, and that I needed to find a better way to live in my body in order to actually get to the point of doing that important thing.
It was years after that before I started seeing a gender therapist who actually helped me devise a way to live in my body. The intention was never to have a body that I was 100% happy living in. All we set out to do was to find a way for me to be able to want to try to keep living, a way for me to be able to feel good enough to have a productive life. Anything beyond waking up and doing what I needed to do to stay alive was a stretch goal.
Luckily, after changing my name and taking hormones and having top surgery and dealing with and understanding my dysphoria, I’m able to have a productive life AND and a happy life. Some transgender people are only ever able to have a productive life, and some never make it that far.
So, why did I transition? It felt like my body disobeyed me and changed into something that made every part of my life incredibly painful. Laying down, going to the bathroom, hearing my name, walking, running, getting dressed, taking a shower, speaking, seeing my hands… everything reminded me that I had no control over what my body was turning into. I felt like I was living within a monster. I felt like I was living within a cancerous shell. I needed to escape, but there is no way to fully escape, so I did whatever it took to get as close to escaping as I could. And I am incredibly happy and healthy because of it.