As those of you who have been following this blog know, I have been feeling ambivalent in recent months about looking, almost two years into my physical transition, more dudely than androgynous, and about not becoming the effeminate fag I expected to be. Several times, I have felt a sort of gender alienation upon looking in the mirror or looking at recent photos of myself – not because I looked female, but because I looked so unambiguously male. While this was far milder than the gender dysphoria I experienced before transition, I have to admit that it was in the same category of experience: I did not feel that my appearance accurately reflected my gender. Even stranger, several times, upon looking at the pre-physical transition pictures that, before, made me feel depressed and gender dysphoric I not only did not feel gender dysphoric; I actually felt nostalgic and a bit mournful. That beautiful, slender boy no longer looks female to me, he just looks like a perfect me. Perfect, that is, but for the fact that others fail to consider him male. In moments of honest introspection, I have wondered if what I really ought to do, in order to be true to my gender and to the embodiment and appearance, is just to go off T entirely before I change any further. If I could stop now, I thought, with my masculinized facial structure and baritone voice, and allow my body to return to its non-testosterone form, I might reach the perfect and ideal me – androgynous, slight, pretty, yet unquestionably male.
And yet, every time I considered this, I also concluded that, realistically, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I am not willing to sacrifice my functionality, emotional well-being, and sanity to severe PMS for one week out of each month.
As you know, I have been playing with my dosage for a while now, trying to keep it as low as possible, to find that magical balance point at which I would hold steady without transitioning any further. For me, this balance point does not exist. Even when I lower my dose to where my PMS becomes pretty bad, I have moderate menstrual bleeding, and my upper-body muscle mass and neck thickness go down noticeably, my facial shape, skin, voice, and body hair continue to masculinize. I’ve discovered that different gendered physical features are differently sensitive to T. At a middle-low dose, some continue to transition, and some go backward, but none remain the same. There is thus no dose that will keep my periods and PMS mild while stopping my physical transition.
Just as I was feeling caught in this dilemma, I came across another inspiration for my particular transition path – Jang Geun Suk – the Korean celebrity and “flower boy”. I won’t go into the details of my obsession or of his gender here, but let’s just say that he incarnates a new ideal of East Asian rebellious young male beauty as girlish prettiness in a culture in which this sort of prettiness – which, in his case, includes long, flowing, curling tresses, transparent scarves, ladies-inspired jewelry and tailoring, “cute” behavior, and a languid, graceful body language – is not automatically equated with homosexuality. He is, in fact, far prettier and girlier than I would ever want to be myself. But he offers me a fresh sense of what a man could be, of how I could embody androgyny, even with a body that reads unquestionably as male not by manipulating my hormones, but by expanding my gendered style, experimenting with accessories, and growing out my hair. The point is not to remain forever in an early stage of physical transition in order to appear physically between male and female but to embody male androgyny through style. What’s sexy about Geun Suk is precisely how his male physical characteristics – his Adam’s apple, veined hands, and manly bass voice – contrast with his pretty-as-a-girl appearance and clothing. And, though he can act girlishly cute, he certainly doesn’t prance around like a fairy. But whether he’s wearing his high-glam femininity over cute androgyny or cocky manliness, he still presents an alluring, and interestingly queer, gender. I find him to be, frankly, the most beautiful male I’ve ever seen in my life. I could look at pictures of him all day long, day after day. I also find him incredibly hot and can imagine perfectly the grateful and slightly pained expression he would cast over his shoulder at me as I entered him from behind…
This is all very reassuring to me. I have been disconcerted to discover that I am not the prancing fairy I thought that I would be as a man and have had trouble coming to terms with the fact that my gender expression hovers between manly and gently faggy. I am manly, I’ve discovered, when I’m grumpy, tired, determined, or simply serious, which is often enough. This was made worse by the fact that, during my transition, like most other trans guys, I did my best to look male by getting a super short haircut and wearing chunky glasses and typical male attire. I knew that butching it up was not me, but I’ve had a bit of trouble fully letting go of the butch act, even now that I pass. This is in part because I’ve been afraid of anything that might somehow bring out some remaining “female” line in my face or body. While this is an understandable fear in a trans man, I’ve finally realized that it’s quite irrational. Short of wearing women’s clothes and women’s style make-up, there is nothing I can do (unbinding is out of the question) to make people think that I might be a woman. The other reason is more mundane and almost embarrassing. Like most males, I am afraid of looking like a fool or drawing too much attention to myself by looking too feminine. How could I be so typical? For so long, my visible gender transgressions have been a source of pride and uniqueness for me. But now that I appear male, I have been ridiculously fearful and somewhat ashamed of anything that could read as “feminine”. But if I think back on it, it was terrifying at first to express masculinity as someone who was supposed to be female. I felt ashamed and afraid of getting in trouble the first time I bought men’s underwear or shopped in the men’s section of a department store, and flustered when I was unintentionally sirred. It took me making a concerted effort to see my masculinity as cool and rebellious and to decide that I didn’t care what small-minded people thought to gradually embrace and feel at home with my masculinity and maleness. I no longer have to fear being read as a woman. And it isn’t as if I’m a femme-phobe who thinks that feminine men look silly and ridiculous – I think Geun Suk is the male ideal. So with the inspiration of Geun Suk, it is time that I challenge myself to be a gender-transgressive man; a man who is willing to go out on a limb with his feminine fashion, who is willing to be noticed and even to draw stares, and who is even willing to risk looking in-between genders, because that is exactly who he is.
Since I decided this two months ago, I’ve been growing my hair out in an avant-guard asymmetrical do: falling long and curly over my forehead, shaved on one side, and gradually growing out on the other instead of pomaded back away from my face like before; I’ve shaved my downy mustache; I’ve taken out my plugs and collected a variety of dangling silver earrings; I’ve started wearing silver bracelets, chain necklaces, and, when possible, transparent scarves. If I hadn’t spent hours admiring Geun Suk’s appearance, I would have felt silly and ashamed of how girlish I sometimes look, but he has shown me that girlish, on a guy, can be extraordinary. At the very least, he has made it clear to me that my fears of looking too girlish are silly, based on a lack of courage in breaking away from how society says a man must look and act. But the fact is, a man who is pretty enough to be mistaken for a woman is truly extraordinary, beautiful, and courageous, and that is something to be admired. And right now, it is impossible for anyone to really mistake me for a woman. If ever the thought should cross their mind – “Is this a pretty boy or a cute dyke?” – my deep voice immediately decides them. It is most likely, though, that the thought never crosses their mind in the first place. Just before I began taking T, people almost always greeted me as male, and only revised this reading once they heard my voice. I have male passing privilege, so now it’s time to be truly fearless and to use it.
These days when I look in the mirror and see someone who looks androgynous and even slightly girlish, someone who could be a girl or a boy, I smile and feel beautiful. No matter how androgynous I think I look, I now know from experience that no one is going to actually think I’m a girl. A beautiful boy, perhaps, or a flaming fag, however lacking in effeminate mannerisms, but not a butch or a girl. And this is just perfect for me.
So now, I get to rediscover men’s fashion. Not as a trans guy who has been prevented from wearing men’s clothes and who fetishizes them and how male they make his body look, but as a queer man who isn’t afraid of not looking like other men, who dares to toe the line between genders, who accessorizes in the women’s department, and who knows that ultimately, nobody will think he’s a woman – they will think he’s a fag or just a fabulous and unconventional man, both of which are exactly the truth.