When I started testosterone, actually before I started too, I used to shave when I was feeling dysphoric. Obviously I wasn’t growing the mountain man beard of my dreams, but going through the ritual of shaving was a welcoming relief to my dysphoria.
I even took it to the next level. I got into wet shaving and created a very personal experience out of the chore of shaving. Sometimes I would put on some 20’s jazz and enjoy the time to myself.
This went on for years… and then I grew a beard.
I couldn’t grow a decent beard until I was about 2 ½ years on T, and even then I don’t have the genetics to give me the kind of beard that I want. As a consolation, my beard is better than my brother’s, who is four years older and has an in-house testosterone supply.
I started with scruff, waited until that filled in, and once I was comfortable enough with how it looked I grew it out and kept it trimmed up. My hair doesn’t curl and is very fine and thin, but I still pulled it off and looked good.
After many months of fur, I started feeling the twangs of dysphoria creeping up. It was a different kind of dysphoria than I was used to and it was even more uncomfortable because of that reason. Like my other dysphoria, this too would ebb and flow. It slowly dawned on me that my beard was to blame. For some reason there was a serious disconnect between my bearded face and my internal face (the face I see when I close my eyes and imagine what I look like).
The only solution I could come up with was to shave. To bring back my ritual of wet shaving and give myself a bit of a jump start. Lather up and shave my way into feeling manly again. So, I did just that. I woke up from a Saturday afternoon nap and decided today was the day and went to town. I spent over an hour oiling, lathering, shaving, rinsing, and repeating until my face was smooth and clean.
As if my mind knew what was coming, I felt that same dull dysphoria resonate through my chest before I took my first full glance at myself post-shave. I knew I wasn’t going to like what mirror was going to show me, but hiding isn’t in my vocabulary so looking was my only option.
The dysphoria came on full force when I stared into my winter-pale face, still slightly red from the strokes of the razor. Of course I didn’t like what I saw: a younger, more feminine version of the face I had been getting used to for the last few months, and days later I still feel defeated and uncomfortable.
I’m still working on coming to terms with the fact that my clean face is no less my own than my bearded one and that both will never match my internal face. I’m also no closer to understanding why my bearded face was making my dysphoric or if there was another force at work.
What I do know is that because all of these faces are my own, they are all equally masculine, equally feminine, and equally awesome. I just need to remember it more often.
I was reading this article the other day and it got me thinking…
One of the most common questions I got when I started my transition, one of the most infuriating struggles with my school administration in college and high school, and the most uncomfortable and dangerous part of being trans… all have to do with bathrooms.
Once, when I was in high school, I was having dinner with my parents at one of our favorite Mexican joints downtown. Both of my parents were there, despite being divorced. I can’t remember what for though, the following experience overshadows anything else that was important at the time.
I hadn’t even started seeing a gender therapist yet, nevertheless started transitioning, and yet I passed nearly half the time. I was also, therefore, still using the women’s restroom in public, and especially with my parents. Halfway through our meal nature calls and I leave to use the facilities.
I enter the restroom, do my business, and go to wash my hands and return to my (likely) hilariously awkward company when a woman stops dead as she walks into the bathroom, stifles a whimper of sorts, and exits. I can hear her shouting around for a manager outside and make to steady my breathing since I can already feel myself teetering on the edge of an explosion of teenage angst and the kind of happy anger that only comes from being correctly gendered in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I made it out of the bathroom before I was bombarded by this lady, a clearly unhappy, middle aged woman who was too heavy handed with her perfume. She starts yelling to me and the manager about how she felt violated that a teenage boy would use the women’s toilet and how dare I and where the hell are my parents and she’s going to see that I’m kicked out of this place forever. I square up to her, cutting off the manager, and tell her, flatly, that I’m legally female and have every right to use whichever bathroom I want even if I wasn’t.
I don’t think she was expecting my retort. I only vaguely remember the manager apologizing to my parents when I got back to the table, though I never explained what it was for or what had happened. I do remember that we never went there again.
In college I was reprimanded for using the men’s showers and toilets on my own dorm floor after being asked to stop using the women’s showers and toilets, all before I had started testosterone.
I’ve been beaten up, verbally and sexually harassed, and generally pushed around in concert hall bathrooms and gay bar bathrooms and dive bar bathrooms and roadside bathrooms.
I’ve been harassed for avoiding using a bathroom for fear of being harassed or bullied or assaulted.
So why is it, that whenever we talk about trans folk and the great bathroom debates, trans men never seem to be accounted for? I’ve known trans men who have been treated far worse than me, raped and assaulted for simply using the restroom and having whatever genitals they possess or lack.
Perhaps we, as trans men, feel that we need to weather our abuse. That somehow, this is just a part of our rite of passage as men.
I don’t have answers. I don’t have a plan to make bathrooms safer for trans men or to begin the kind of discussion needed to make them safer in the future. I just have more questions and the ever-present bathroom anxiety that seems to be a side effect of transgenderism.
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.
I like deadlines. Well, no. I hate deadlines, but I find them useful.
Without deadlines I tend to not do things… have you noticed?
So, after a little bit of nagging from Steph–and to be clear it’s the only nagging she ever does and only because I’ve given my approval for her to nag–we came up with a day that seemed to be ok.
Actually, the conversation went more like this…
Matt: I think that since I’m doing weekly injections now that I’m going to start doing them on Wednesdays.
Steph: Alright, cool. Sounds Great.
Steph: We need to start posting more.
Matt: Ok. Yeah. You’re right. I need a deadline.
Steph: How about on Wednesdays, the same as your injections.
Matt: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Steph: Yeah, and then you can’t do your injection until you post on the blog.
Matt: *a look of horror*
Now, this is all in jest. Really, it is. But then I had an idea since I’ve been going through a rough time lately with my T levels and it’s been sooo bad some days… I’m going to tell you all what my levels are (to be followed up with some posts about dysphoria from both of us).
Prescribed Dosage (May 2011 – September 2013): 200 mg / every other week
New prescribed dosage (September 2013 – present): 100 mg / weekly
- Total Testosterone = 1010 ng/dL, normal range is 240-950 ng/dL
- Free Testosterone = 46.0 ng/dL, normal range is 9.0-30.0 ng/dL
- Hemoglobin = 14.9 g/dL, normal range is 13.5-17.5
- MCV aka Average Red Blood Cell Volume = 93 fL, normal range is 80-100 fL
- Total Cholesterol = 164 mg/dL, normal range is 100-199 mg/dL
- Triglycerides = 122 mg/dL, normal range is less than 150 mg/dL
- HDL Cholesterol = 44 mg/dL, normal range is greater than 40 mg/dL
- LDL Cholesterol = 96 mg/dL, normal range is less than 131 mg/dL
- ALT (SGPT) aka Liver Test = 19 IU/L, normal range is 8-45 IU/L
- Hemoglobin = 15.1 g/dL, normal range is 13.5-17.5
- MCV aka Average Red Blood Cell Volume = 90 fL, normal range is 80-100 fL
As you can see, my levels were completely bonkers back in April, and while I don’t have new T levels since I’m in the middle of switching doses and stuff, all of my other labs came back squeaky clean.
I should, according to my labs, be growing two beards a day and be in tip-top fighting shape.
So where’s my dysphoria coming from and what is it doing to me and Steph?
We’ll try to get to the bottom of that…
Matt (and Steph)
I’ve always had a hard time coming to terms with the idea of transition, of having a moment or series of moments that define a transition. On one hand, it’s kind of a perpetual thing with a few very distinct mile markers; but then on the other hand, every life is a life in transition and it really is only those distinct mile markers that make it possible to differentiate between mine and yours and someone else’s.
I get to thinking about this kind of stuff whenever I have something going on with my trans-ness; whether that be dealing with hormones or meeting a new potential partner or figuring out a new way that I like to have sex. Sometimes they happen sporadically and it’s doesn’t really phase me that my trans-ness is more apparent then (when I’m coming out or picking out a new dick or whatever), but other times they happen all together and it just kind of hits me like a freight train.
For a while now my hormone levels have felt pretty wonky, but I’m all headstrong and whatever so I’ve chosen not to go to the doctor. I’ll be rectifying this mistake this week, but this has been a big weight on my shoulders for months and months.
Meanwhile I met Steph and we’ve been having this amazing sexual relationship. We have some awesome sex and part of it has been exploring ways of having sex that I didn’t think I’d be ok with. Being ok with having sex in whichever way I like is actually pretty anxiety inducing. Basically, we escalated from pegging (her strapping in and me receiving anal) to what I call “front pegging” (her strapping in and me receiving in the… front hole…). Now, being a guy (and a manly-man-guy at that), it’s quite scary to suddenly realize that apparently I like dick-like-things in my front hole. What does that mean? Should I be concerned that I made a mistake somewhere? Am I different now? The short answer is: nothing, probably not, and no. The long answer is: bodies feel pleasure so I guess mine is working pretty well, definitely not but kudos to me for finding a new way to get off, and no other than coming harder than I’ve ever before.
Alright, so wonky hormones and fun new sex aside, I’ve also decided that I want a way for me to wear my packer when I go swimming. This is such a common issue with trans dudes, and we know by now that when there’s a void, I like to provide a solution. So, I’m working out a version of a backing harness that I think will work well, but this seems to be putting my trans-ness on the forefront of my mind more often than any of the other things that I should be thinking about. Am I having some sort of internal trans revolution or liberation? Am I suddenly embracing my trans-ness?
What I struggle with is that while my thoughts seem to be very trans-focused the way that I just described them, they don’t seem that way to me. My hormone levels are messed up, and while this stems from being trans, I see it as a basic medical need. To me, it’s a chronic medical issue, but it’s not really any different than my boss’ bum knee or my coworker’s IBS in the way I go about dealing with it. All couples explore their sexual needs and desires together, sometimes that means that one person second guesses themselves and what they want or how they want, and how great that Steph and I are able to do so with such passion and understanding of each other. As for the packer harness, I can’t be the only guy in the world who doesn’t like swimming with my wang flapping around in my shorts, so I hardly think that even this SPECIFIC goal is all that different; I just happen to be doing something about it.
Life is a weird place. It’s always changing, evolving, backtracking, giving you hindsight and wisdom; a constant transitional phase.
Just when I think that I’m exceptionally different, I remember that I’m just as different as everyone else.
This past weekend was a monumental one, both in our relationship and in Matt’s life as a whole. For Matt, it was his first time being shirtless around people who weren’t aware of his trans past, it was the first time we faced the possibility of needing to come out to Steph’s family (with Matt being shirtless and all), and it was the first time ever that Matt brought a girl to meet his extended family.
So here’s a look into how it went down for each of us:
1. How were you feeling about the holiday weekend before it started?
I was pretty nervous about the initial shock of her family seeing my chest and what their first impression would be. I had my excuse ready but I’ve had some experiences in the past where people have been violently shocked, and I hated that.
Nervous and excited. We had a lot planned and we were both coming off of stressful weeks. Often vacation with family (especially new family) is more stressful than relaxing. I prepared for this to be the case.
2. What was your biggest fear with Steph’s family?
That they would know what my scars were from and I wouldn’t have been able to use my gynecomastia excuse. It was actually a tie between that and not being able to water ski/sky ski/wakeboard/etc. They’re big into water activities (which I have virtually no experience in), so I didn’t wanna suck.
The drinking! Oh, the drinking. My extended family tends to do a lot of our bonding over drinks. Often… that trickles into naked swimming. Naked swimming and trans-boyfriends (even cis-boyfriends…) don’t exactly mix well. I was worried that Matt would get pressure to take off his clothes. Thankfully, the drinking was minimal.
3. How did you recall the shirtless situation going down?
I think her sister-in-law saw first and was like, “woah, those are wicked,” or something and I was like, “yeah, I had gynecomastia as a kid.” I don’t think she really know what that meant (expected) so just went with it. Repeat for Steph’s dad and uncles. No one else cared.
A few family members asked about them. My sister-in-law inquired with a few questions out of concern, being that she’s in the health field. My father/uncle asked out of awe of the gnarly scarring. Matt’s response was smooth; I had gynocomastia as a kid. The guys nodded and moved on. It was a non-issue.
4. What was the most memorable moment with Steph’s family?
Getting up on the sky ski on my first go at it. Apparently it’s really hard to do that, so it was pretty great that I did. Also, they didn’t want us to leave early (to go see my family) so it was nice to feel wanted.
My family’s cabin experience, when not centered around drinking, is focused heavily on water sports. Matt got up on my dad’s SkySki on the first try. No, that’s not him, but he did look pretty darn great 🙂
5. Overall, how do you think it went with Steph’s family?
Really well. I’m more of an introvert and it takes me a bit to open up, but Steph’s family is great and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable around them. The being shirtless thing was a non-issue, which I’m glad for.
Great! He’d already met everyone there, so I wasn’t really worried about much other than the swimming. Once that cat was out of the bag, it was smooth sailing. (Omg. So many cliches!)
6. What was your biggest fear with Matt’s family?
That my less that sensitive uncle would mess up my pronouns or name (on accident or purpose). I knew it wouldn’t bother Steph, but he can be a huge dick. Also that I would get shit from my family for needing time away from them since I can only handle them for a few hours before I need some “me time” or “Matt and Steph time.”
Interrogation. My first meeting with Matt’s mom and her boyfriend included a lot of questions. Including, but not limited to, what my favorite part of sex is.
7. What was the most memorable moment with Matt’s family?
My Uncle saying “fuck you” to my mom when she was razzing him in front of the WHOLE family and my grandfather telling Steph and I jokes and just talking with him for once.
Probably the whole picture taking ordeal and Christmas name drawing. In my dating history I’ve never felt so accepted into a partners’ family so soon. I was asked to be in all the family pictures AND to be a part of the name drawing. Very, very cool.
8. Overall, how do you think it went with Matt’s family?
Well, no one fucked up my name or pronouns in front of me and my tiny cousins think I’m the best cousin ever, so there’s that.
Pretty good. There were a few minutes where I wish I’d have bitten my tongue, but the whole weekend went really well. It was great to get to put faces with names.
9. What would you have done differently?
Made the weekend longer. I had a great time, actually. Once I got over the nerves of being shirtless around her family for the first time, I had a lot of fun swimming and hanging around drinking beer.
There was one memorable negative moment, in which I was teasing Matt for a long-ago bonding experience with his cousin. I’ve since replayed that two minute segment in my head a number of times, and wish I could get a do-over. I won’t go into specifics, but I teased him for being compassionate. I wish I would have just “aww’d”.
10. Did you have fun?
Enough to keep Steph around for a little while longer…
Absolutely. There hasn’t been a day in the last four months that I haven’t been having fun. I guess that’s how I know I found the one. 🙂
I’m getting a little tired of posting intro posts. Don’t get me wrong, I love Steph and I love our story and I think we have a lot to share with the world, individually and collectively, but the lovey dovey stuff isn’t useful beyond those feel-goody-feels.
And as helpful those feel-goody-feels are on a bad or dark day, they aren’t going to help you pass any better or have better sex with your partner or feel more safe in your life.
The company that I work for has a consistent mission to improve the quality of life for the employees as well as the whole world. Which is basically what I want to do here. It helps me improve my life and hopefully it’ll help you improve yours.
So, now that I talked the talk it’s time to walk the walk…
Introducing an inconsistent series on how meditation and buddhist philosophy can improve your mood, dull your dysphoria, and make you an all around better person.
Over the years I’ve discovered that a lot of people get pretty up-in-arms when I start talking about my experience with Buddhism. I’ve lived with Buddhist monks for a short time, I’ve spent years being celibate and relying on meditation to regulate my mood, and have delved deeply into Buddhist text and the psychology that they inspired.
There are some really important things to remember when you begin to look at Buddhism.
First, it doesn’t have to be a religion. Unlike Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism, most Buddhist sects don’t have a deity. There is no one to pray to or meditate to or however you want to frame that personal time within your own head. If you want to make a religion for yourself you are free to do so, but I don’t. For this, that, and the other reason, I’m just not into religion.
Secondly, spirituality is personal. You don’t have to be an evangelist if you don’t want to. You can meditate all you want and never tell anyone about it, or you can meditate once a week and tell everyone. Honestly, people might or might not care and either way it shouldn’t impact how you feel about meditation and your desire to understand yourself better.
Thirdly, that’s exactly what learning Buddhist philosophy and meditation is all about: understanding yourself better. Many trans people have been to therapy, it’s the nature of the beast, meditation is therapy without a second person. You learn how to ask yourself the big questions and how you can cope with the answers you give yourself. Sounds pretty meta, right?
My infomercial is almost over. I haven’t really explained exactly what you might get out of this underrated level of self exploration.
Side effects may include:
The ability to realize that dysphoria is an inward projection of perceived outward stimuli; and just like middle schoolers obsessed about how much acne they have, the only person that really notices and cares is you.
An understanding and “re-wiring” of your mind to body that allows you to perceive you naughty-bits in whichever way you want, freeing your mind and body to experience mind-blowing sex.
A general sense of calmness and perspective. Stress is less stressful when you allow yourself to think about it. Arguments with friends, family, coworkers, or significant others will be easier to resolve when you allow yourself to understand the opposing viewpoints and how every viewpoint is valid.
The ability to recognize how you feel and objectively act on it or let it pass by. This means waiting in traffic and enjoying the drive or shopping during the holiday season and enjoying the smile on a child’s face instead of getting angry; or even being able to walk into the grocery store when you are hungry and NOT buying the container of double-stuffed oreos and five bags of Lay’s barbecue chips; or more aptly, not becoming distressed or angry when someone uses the wrong name or pronoun.
Being happy with yourself exactly where you are because you know that you are doing everything you can to be happy and to be where you want to be.
If you’re interested in these benefits, then stay tuned. In the meantime, check out a few meditation resources: