On Deciding to Start T

I’m really hesitant to suggest that it’s become easy to be trans. I don’t think that’s the case, and I also don’t think it’s trendy.  I do think that it’s liberatory, that we’re in a liberatory moment. Hopefully that’s going to continue to grow, where people will be able to access new ideas about who they can be that are broader than they used to have.

– Dean Spade

To the extent that the FTM maybe believes himself to be a male person who just doesn’t have the right physical equipment to go with their psychic understanding of themselves, that person doesn’t have a problem.  The problem is that he can’t get the right recognition without the right body, because we read each other’s bodies all the time, and we make a lot of assumptions based on the body.  Plus, it may be that he feels that this is his phenomenological vehicle in the world, and he can’t be in the world constantly misrepresenting himself.  So there are all kinds of issues that the FTM, I guess, believes will be not resolved, but will be reduced by some sort of bodily transition.  And I think that for many people, this is the case.

– J. Jack Halberstam

I have decided to start taking testosterone as soon as possible, within the next 2-4 months.  Here are my reasons:

First, social transition is just not working for me.  At times, when I am with people who I know see and treat me as male, I manage to feel pretty good.  But other settings, where I worry that people probably see me as a masculine female, have become excruciating.  I don’t know why this is such a big problem.  I’ve tried to not care about who strangers and acquaintances think I am.  But during these moments, the level of disconnect between how I see and understand myself and how others see me, with my body hovering in between as the imperfect medium of communication, makes me feel crazy.  It is a profoundly alienating experience.  At worse, it impacts my own sense of myself, making me think, “Well, if this is how others see me, and this is how my body is, then I must just be a masculine female,” sending me into spirals of doubt and depression.  The quote by Jack Halberstam above really resonated with the experiences I’ve been having lately.  My body is my phenomenological vehicle in the world, and moving through the world in a body that so profoundly miscommunicates my inner sense of who I am disrupts my entire relation to this world, as well as to myself and my body. What I know is that I feel much happier and better about myself in those moments when both I and those around me are in agreement about my maleness, and I would like to make this the condition of my life.

I am hoping that starting T will help get me past my current state of being barely functional.  I feel like I spend my life managing my gender dysphoria, obsessing about transitioning, and processing the traumatic gender experiences I regularly have.  I have done almost no work this summer, and I am usually disciplined and productive.  Worse, I feel like I’m in danger every time I leave the house.  I could feel fine when I step out the door, then spend three hours in the library feeling excruciatingly self-conscious (even though everyone is looking at their book, not me), about the fact that I believe people see me as female.  When I return home, I feel heavy with exhaustion and sadness, and I have to spend the rest of the night processing what happened and recovering from it.  And this is when nothing happens!  When someone, even a stranger, calls me “Miss” or a friend slips up on my pronoun or says, “Yeah, girl,” it quickly builds into a sinking feeling of depression and hopelessness.  And there are still those occasions when an uninformed person at a party refers to me as “she” in which my body goes into a full panic reaction – heart racing, shallow breathing, nausea – both at the blow of that pronoun and at the stress of having to come out to a whole group of people.  The feeling of trauma and discombobulation persists long after the initial panic reaction has dissipated.  I simply can’t live in such a state of extreme vulnerability.

And this is the easy part.  In the fall, I’m going to have to deal gracefully and confidently with coming out to large numbers of colleagues, students, and new acquaintances, and with ignoring their inevitable pronoun slip-ups.  I’m going to have to be unphased by all of this, able to not only be productive, but to be in command of a challenging intellectual environment.  And right now, I shrivel up and am literally afraid to use my own voice every time I step out the door.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to access hormones before I start teaching, but I’m praying that the knowledge that transition is just around the corner, and that even those who are having trouble with my pronoun will soon be forced to see me as male will get me through.

Even when things are good though, when I feel male and feel that others are treating me as socially male, there is a certain inauthenticity in our interactions.  This is because in order to get male recognition, I have to really butch it up:  short military haircut, loose muscle shirts, stiff body language.  It feels good to be included in male camaraderie as a result, but I am being included based on a false idea of the kind of guy that I am.  I can’t let go of the butch act to be my faggy self except at the risk of losing male recognition.  Changing pronouns has not helped matters.  It has created a situation in which I am 100% more terrorized at the idea of being read as female than before and am constantly policing my gender presentation.  In this sense, social masculinity is an awful solution for someone like me.  Even when it works, and I am treated like a guy, it is at the expense of my authentic sense of who I am.

More and more, the idea of having a male body seems like a liberation, a release from the obsessive care I have to take just to not look obviously female, from my constant policing of my gender, and from the experience of being constantly misread – as female, as a butch lesbian, or as a butch dude.  When I look at my gay best friend – his short shorts, his tight shirts, his freedom of gender expression, the graceful, languid way in which he moves his body – I am envious.  Here I am in the cage of my female-bodiedness, dressed so as to look like a solid square, afflicted with gender dysphoria every time my hair grows longer than a quarter of an inch, moving my tiny body as if it belonged to the Incredible Hulk, when really I am a languid fag like him.

Having a male body will liberate me from the strictures of masculinity, will set my inner faggot free.

And then, there is the simple matter that I would really like for my body to be more male.  I would like a male torso, the elimination of female hips, a masculine facial shape, a lower voice, facial hair.  Right now, I feel a palpable sense of relief when I cut my hair, darken my mustache, or put on a certain hat that I believe makes me look more male.  How nice would it be to experience that relief and ease on a daily basis, as my body metabolizes the T and masculinizes itself.  I know that, for a while, I still won’t pass consistently, I’ll still be read as gender ambiguous, and I’ll still be seen as female sometimes, but my hope is that as my body becomes more male, this won’t bother me as much.  I will be too consumed with the excitement of looking and feeling more male every day.  I will be proud of my body and secure in my maleness.  I will know that, if I have an awkward interaction, this isn’t a measurement of the permanent state that I am forced to live in, it is just part of being in a moment of transition.  I will have forward movement to anticipate.

My only fear is that I will become an ugly man when I want to be a beautiful fag.  I hope that my male body maintains a certain level of androgyny and that my face continues to look a bit boyish.  In truth, with my Asian phenotype, I think that I will always be svelte and boyish, even if I transition “fully.”  What I know if that I want and need some degree of masculinization.  Perhaps I will feel great about how I look and go on a lower dosage before I am read entirely within the “male” range, or perhaps I will transition “fully.”  Only time will tell.

It is really really hard to have to wait to start T.  Every day that I’m not on T I feel like I’m dying.  It’s torture.  I need to come up with coping tactics during this lag between when I decided and when this can actually happen.

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