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.
You won’t find a reputable gender and sexuality therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist that will deny that difference.
Some of you may not know the specifics behind the differences, so just for clarity’s sake, here are one liners pulled from Wikipedia:
Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
Gender and sex are, simply put, not the same thing.
Except for the 98% of the population whose sex and gender are the same. For them, there is no difference between gender and sex. As someone who has never experienced a disconnect between the two, it’s hard to grasp.
On Earth, mass and weight are functionally the same. In my day-to-day life, I see no reason to recognize the difference.
Does my experience of a total match-up between mass and weight discredit the scientific finding that the two are different?
Absolutely not. My lack of expertise is irrelevant. A difference exists, whether I chose to acknowledge it on a daily basis or not.
The distinction between mass and weight may only matter if you are in the context of a technical or scientific sphere, but by that logic the distinction between gender and sex only matters if you are in the context of people who experience gender dysphoria. And when you talk to me, a girl with a trans boyfriend, it is an extremely relevant distinction.
Just because we haven’t experienced the difference between two things, doesn’t mean that a difference doesn’t exist.
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.
Throughout my life I’ve had more short-term passions than long-term pursuits, with a few exceptions. About once a week or two I would come up with something new that I was super interested in. I remember being enthralled in space exploration one day and obsessed with medieval weaponry the next. That’s how I’ve always been wired.
Some things just naturally don’t fit into the category of “hobby” or “interest,” notably sexuality and gender identity. However, that’s a hard thing to come to terms with as a parent, so it’s understandable how my folks were temporarily just going with the idea that I was a guy. Emphasis on the temporary bit.
They would eventually realize, at some point between two weeks and two years of confiding in them, that it was not a temporary thing. My dad has always been the skeptical one, and I don’t blame him at all since I’m just as skeptical about other people’s stuff and things in general. He was skeptical about anti-depressants when I was a teenager, he was skeptical about my decision to go from a computer science major to an English major, and he was pretty skeptical about the whole me being a guy thing.
To be very clear, he has always accepted me and shown me his love in the ways that make sense to him. Only in my most irrational moments did I ever interpret his skepticism as something other than the deepest concern that parents have for their children.
All in all, it made a lot of sense when I was on the eve of my name change, and again on the eve of starting hormones, and yet again on the eve of my surgery and my dad made me do a gut check just to make sure one last time.
When the gut check is coming from him, I don’t mind asking myself, and in turn reminding myself, that this is the right path for me to be on and to reflect on how much more comfortable I’ve become after each step in my transition.
And then, random people ask me what it would be like, or even worst, what it will be like when I de-transition.
I shit you not, through college I experienced more than the recommended dose of stupidity and rudeness when people would tell me that I would never pass well enough, that I would be ostracized, that I would be emasculated and broken to the point that I would willingly slink back into womanhood.
It still doesn’t even make me mad. Ok, maybe a little frustrated, but mostly it’s just hilarious. Beyond the face-palming initial reaction, I am faced with a person who is so internally conflicted about the idea that their own gender identity might be in question that they are telling me how impossible it would be for my own brand of masculinity to be accepted as natural fact.
So, no, I don’t wonder what it would be like if I de-transitioned just like I don’t think that happily cisgendered people wonder what it would be like if they transitioned. However, for the sake of pondering, my results are quite comical.
Time has a way of changing people and minds, and if me and mine change then I guess I’ll just roll with it. Hell, that’s basically what I’ve been doing so far and it’s been working out alright.
This question baffles me.
No one has ever asked me what I would do if Matt changed his mind, but I’ve read of many parents of gender-nonconforming kids being asked this relentlessly.
I don’t think a person could meet Matt and then ask me what we would do if he “changed his mind”. There isn’t a fiber in his being that suggests he’s anything other than male.
But, I love Matt. I love him immensely.
If he changed his mind, about being trans, I’d do everything in my power to help him feel loved and safe.
Would it be easy? Absolutely not. Generally speaking I don’t find myself attracted to feminine features. I love beards. I love treasure trails. I love deep voices. I love tough, strong men. But would I still want to be with him? Yes.
I would do everything in my power to help get him back to a place where he feels comfortable in his body.
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.