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.
I am so lucky to have met Matt at this point in his transition. I feel so lucky that he is established as a man in his (and everyone in his life’s mind). Blessed, actually.
I see stories often on the /r/MyPartnerIsTrans subreddit of couples who have been together, as seemingly cisgender individuals, now faced with one partner transitioning. The toll on each partner, not to mention the relationship, their families, their friends… it’s unimaginable.
I like to think that I am a strong woman. I like to think that the love that I feel for Matt is unconditional. That being said, I can never begin to guess how I would feel if he told me he needed to transition for the first time or even to detransition.
In trying to understand dysphoria’s place in my life, Matt’s life, and our relationship I had been pondering what I thought dysphoria felt like for Matt and not what it felt like for me.
I’ve been struggling to find words to find something I’ve never felt before. It doesn’t really feel like my topic to talk about. Dysphoria is a trans thing. Right?
Dysphoria is something I can witness, but it feels weird for me to talk about it from my perspective. No one has ever asked me what it feels like to be dysphoric, so I never considered it. But it still exists in my life. I still encounter dysphoria because I have a trans boyfriend.
Matt is generally really comfortable in his skin. Suddenly he didn’t want to be naked in front of me. I’m not sure if it was embarrassment fueled by the dysphoria, but I went a few days without seeing him totally naked. I’d tug at his boxers and he’d give me a look of discomfort. Like, what was underneath was foreign and he didn’t want to have to look at it.
So, what does it feel like for me when Matt feels dysphoric? I feel helpless. I feel absolutely useless.
There is nothing I can read on the internet to help me understand dysphoria. There is no quick guide for dealing with a dysphoric boyfriend. These first six months of our relationship have consisted of me learning about trans-ness as a general topic. There isn’t any way for me to understand away dysphoria. It’s not something I said, it’s not something I did, it’s not something I triggered.
I wanted to caress his face, and feel his beard, but I was worried he’d think I was drawing attention to one of his “manlier” characteristics. I wanted to lay my head across his chest, he always loves that, but I was worried he’d think I was drawing attention to his post-op chest. I wanted to tell him that I’m here for him. That I love him, no matter what. That I would do anything in my power to ease his pain. But I still fight an internal struggle. I don’t want him feel demasculinized. In that moment, I want to help him forget all the things that hurt him, not emphasize the things that are hurting him.
And then suddenly, the dysphoria passed.
It was like a switch. It seemed to be a really short time between Matt wanting his boxers to stay plastered just beneath his belly button and Matt wanting me to rip his clothes off and screw like little bunnies.
It was surprising. We didn’t really change anything in his routine, I didn’t do anything differently… There wasn’t a fix that I could see and it was unsettling for me.
In a perfect world, I wish that he had the ability to communicate what he’s feeling. Not just to help me visualize what hurts (emotionally or otherwise), but to help see how he went from 0 to 60. What triggered him. What flipped the switch.
That being said, I recognize that Matt generally does things to the best of his ability. When he’s dealing with dysphoria, I might as well be talking to Harry Potter seated next to a dementor. I get that that’s all he’s got in him. There are some days where I come home from work in a huffy. It had nothing to do with Matt, but I’m in the fuck-everyone mood. I understand that Matt is human, and that he probably wants the exact same thing out of me, when I’m in a bad place.
The best I have to offer is this: Ask your partner, in a time that they’re not feeling dysphoric, what they want, need, or expect from you. Respect their response, whether it was what you expected or not, whether it’s how you would want from them in the same position.
Know that you cannot solve their dysphoria. The best you can do is love and support them in the same way you have in every other aspect of your life together.
There are a few really simple answers:
1. Don’t. Not everyone displays kid-pictures, right?
This one just isn’t good enough for Steph. I love having pictures up. It’s one of those things that turns a house into a home.
2. Just do it. People might ask questions, but if we’ve let them into our home, then that’s “to be expected”.
This one just didn’t sit well with Matt. There are a lot of people in our life together that don’t know Matt is trans. While some of our readers don’t believe this is the best way for us to “live our life”, we feel it is. For instance: Neither of us are ready to out Matt to Steph’s parents. There may be a time and a place, but here and now is not it. Having pictures of Matt, with long pigtails and pink dresses, doesn’t bode well for keeping stealth.
So, like always, we went into brainstorm mode to find a solution.
3. Reddit. Check out one of the many subreddits: /r/picrequests.
Matt and Steph submitted a request for the photo manipulation masters of the web to give his pink clothes a blue-tint and shorten his hair. The results? Absolutely fantastic and 100% framable. We’ve actually shared the digital copies with Matt’s parents, who were thrilled.
Remember, if the solutions presented to you aren’t adequate, keep thinking.
As of right now, we’ve not told any of my family members. Two of my friends know and, for now, that suits us well.
I would like for my immediate family, my parents and brother, to know at some point. The number one reason being that it’s possible that they could find out from another source. A gathering of Matt’s family and mine for instance. I want them to find out from us. I want it to happen in a positive environment where they can have the opportunity to ask questions and process however they feel necessary. I don’t think that they’ll react negatively, they’re open and understanding, but it’s a topic that I don’t think they’ve ever had to confront head-on.
I don’t think it’s relevant for my extended family, or even most of my friends to know. I frame it similarly to ethnicity. There are a lot of people who are very proud of their ethnicity. They love to educate others and spread the beauty of their culture. That’s great, but there are plenty of people who identify as an ethnicity, but feel no need to advocate for it. Matt isn’t a trans-advocate (I wouldn’t mind if he was, he just isn’t). He isn’t particularly involved in the trans or LGBT community. There’s no reason to tell people his life story unless he wants to.
Until then, I guess we’ll just keep being stealth 😉
Steph and I are gearing up for a holiday that we’re splitting between our respective families, which includes swimming and being semi-naked frequently. Understandably, the topic has come up… do we tell her family that I’m a trans guy or don’t we? So that got me thinking…
Do you wanna know something that I don’t know?
I don’t know how big everyone’s dick is. My boss, my brother, my best friends, strangers on the street, not even my old roommates’ dicks… I don’t know and I don’t care.
This is my rationale when people ask me why I decide to be stealth and why I don’t think it’s all that important to tell people that I have a trans status/past/history/experience/etc.
Let me explain…
I have yet to encounter someone who has been circumcised or not circumcised who feels the unavoidable need to disclose that information to all of their friends, relatives, and in laws let alone complete stranger. It’s not a judge of their character, it was almost certainly not their choice, and it had absolutely no effect on their ability to receive or provide pleasure to someone (given that there were no lasting medical complications, which happens at a rate of 1.5% for newborns and 6% for older children, source).
Side note: circumcision is a little different with respect for the individual’s bodily autonomy, etc, etc; which is a great discussion but not one for this post.
So, anyway, other than the instances where I’ve gotten impressively drunk with my friends and we all decided to drop trow, I can’t see how the topic would ever come up among decent, socially aware human beings.
To be clear, I’m not ashamed of my trans status/past/history/experience/etc, I just don’t embrace it or think that it accurately expresses how I feel and what I’ve gone through.
Ok, so you get the big idea here, right? People don’t need to have intel about my genitals to know who I am as a person, and really my genitals are the only thing that’s visually affected by my trans status/past/history/experience/etc. There is actually another reason too…
People generally treat me differently when they know.
Some people have a very static idea of what being trans means and what trans people are like or how they look. People in the past have noticeably shifted their attitude towards me when they found out including…
- Treating me more delicately
- Being more guarded about certain topics (like sex or profanity)
- Questioning my sexuality
- Distancing themselves from me physically and emotionally
- Using incorrectly gendered pronouns
- Simply being mean and rude
So, at the end of the day, I don’t feel like anyone needs to know. I definitely don’t owe it to anyone to disclose my trans status/past/history/experience/etc and actually feel that it’s not worth my time/attention/sanity/safety/anxiety/stress/etc to fully explain who I am and why I don’t give a shit what they think. However, if someone does find out or if I tell someone, I’d rather educate them properly then have another ignorant jackass running around misgendering people and asking rude questions.
Honestly, dating Matt isn’t a whole lot different from any other dating experience I’ve had. The most unique aspect of our story is that we fell in love in a whirlwind are incredibly (ridiculously) compatible. However, a few trans-related differences:
I can’t tell, just from looking at or touching his crotch, if he’s got a boner.
There are some things that are infinitely funnier. When my period is late and a friend says, “Jeez Steph, what if you’re pregnant!” or when someone says, “Damn, I bet he has a huge cock.”
He understands my body, and how it feels pleasure, very very well.
Acquiring hormones requires therapy. Therapy leads to greater self awareness and emotional stability. Matt is more ‘whole’ than anyone else I’ve ever been with. He’s emotionally equipped to handle stress, confrontation and crisis better than anyone I’ve ever dated.
- Since soy sauce and testosterone don’t jive, I’ve had to adapt my Thai Peanut Chicken Stir Fry recipe to be soy-free.