Exactly four years ago (probably close to the minute – I was incredibly fastidious about taking my pills on time early on), I began feminising hormone therapy.
I still remember being terrified – I planned to start on the 1st of January, but after utterly failing to sleep on the night of the 30th, I decided ‘fuck it’, and began early.
Much of the next year I spent hiding in my apartment, as my body uncomfortably and even painfully changed. I saw friends sometimes, but it was a terrifying year – the up-side being I was filled with hope for the first time in ages, and also the least lonely I think I had ever felt up to that point.
It’s easy to feel lonely when you’re uncomfortable in your skin, no matter whether you have friends, family or a partner.
I could repeat more of my story, but it’ll be here on this blog soon enough, now I’ve got my server data back. So I thought this time I’d kick off the new year with a bunch of stray thoughts on the last four years, in no particular order – just wherever my brain takes me as I sip this whiskey.
- Even though it’s far less clean than this, I realise in my head the first few years of my transition were in a way more about physicality than anything else. I was absurdly lucky how fast oestrogen affected me, so my time was spend getting used to my body being shaped differently, my gait shifting, etc. I’m not kidding about that, either. If your centre of gravity changes even a tiny bit, ignominious experiences like tipping over when you stand up, or bumping your body into things due to subconsciously mis-judging of your body’s shape and size are a real problem.
After the first 18-24 months, I was pretty firmly in the ‘looking very feminine and gendered as such’ camp, which meant the last few years have been more about getting used to what it’s like being treated as female rather than re-learning to live in my changed body itself.
- That said, the last year has felt less like a learning experience and more like an… exhausting experience. The shock of dealing with sexism, objectification, intense social pressure to look a certain way, has now given way to frustration and even anger at times. The first time someone mansplained something to me, it was a surprise. (PAX Australia, 2016, and fuck that one guy in particular – he was wrong, too.) The eightieth time a man double-checks my work or refuses to accept my answer without looking it up, is just infuriating. I try to imagine that being your experience for your whole life, and I just feel… tired. But in thirty years, it’ll have been the bulk of my adult life I’ll have dealt with this.
Yet just after whatever it is – three and a half years of being gendered female? It’s impacted my sense of confidence. There are things I’ve done for my whole life that I now second-guess myself over if a man questions me. I try not to, but internalised sexism is really fucking shit.
- My number of cis male friends has dropped from a majority to… one or two. It’s not been intentional – it just kind of happened. One by one, they did something to make me feel uncomfortable around them, or I found out about something they’d done to make a mutual friend uncomfortable (or worse). Slowly, my comfort with them and then even my desire to spend time with them would drop. Until I realised the other month that it is bordering on impossible for me to feel fully physically comfortable when any cis men are around.
- While my identity (woman, lesbian, trans) has not really shifted in the last four years, my reasons for identifying the way I do, and how I feel about it certainly has.
Early on in my transition, I shied away from declaring myself a ‘lesbian’. I think it was at first because of imposter syndrome. I saw my body as un-feminine, so that meant I could not be a lesbian. As time went on, what caused me to adopt the label ‘lesbian’ was that it was foisted on me. Men saw me with a partner and screamed ‘dykes’ or ‘lesbos’ at us from passing cars. So using the label was about re-taking it. Destroying the power they had to make me feel gross by owning it.
Now, despite the complexity of identifying as a ‘lesbian’ when many of my friends and even partners have identified as non-binary, genderqueer, etc… I use it for a different reason. A simplification. Amongst the queer community and coteries of people I float through, I just say ‘queer’. But when talking to normies… the straight, cis people who mostly exist outside my close bubble… I’m a lesbian. Sure, that’ll do. Close enough. Whatever sexuality label makes you happiest to use for me.
- There’s a lot of conversation about “lesbian culture” or “trans culture”. What it means is, of course, pretty specific to the person who says it. A Very Online trans lesbian who spends much of her time on twitter likely means something different by ‘trans culture’ than a straight trans woman of colour who has never had a twitter account in her life would. But when I think of ‘lesbian culture’, I think of the… well, this is where it gets hard.
I think of the little communities I am a part of. Many are cis lesbians, or cis bi women with a majority interest in feminine people. But others are non-binary, trans masc, trans men, and even the odd cis men who are, for whatever reason, attached to us culturally. As for what that ‘culture’ is… it can be any combination of queer poetry, garden parties, performance shows, socialism, group outings to see extremely sapphic movies, or just hanging out talking about life.
So when I see media portrayals of ‘lesbian culture’, it feels so out of touch. Even the most recent lesbian dramas like The L Word: Generation Q don’t really resemble the femme-spectrum queer community I’ve known for years. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching them – just… they feel like the fantasies of rich, white cisgender lesbians, not a depiction of any of the complex, diverse groups I’ve seen in my city.
- I think a lot about privilege. My own, specifically. The more time I spend around other trans and gender non-conforming people, the more I realise how easy I’ve had it. The tough part is how easy it is to slip into the headspace of “Others have harder, so I shouldn’t complain”. Parts of my life suck. Traumas and other difficulties make my sex life a bit of a hell-scape at times.
Even in places where there’s on paper nothing but privilege – situations where I am not just gendered correctly, but find myself presumed to be cis, there are difficulties. But as I’ve learned, they’re hard to talk about. Because if you talk about the uncomfortable time a nurse began to tell you how often you should be getting pap smears at your age, you’re more likely to get dismissed as humble-bragging, rather than genuinely describing something which is uncomfortable or difficult.
- It is incredibly easy, once you’ve been distanced from it for some time, to confuse dysphoria with general insecurity. Once someone pointed this out to me, it changed a lot. I rarely experience dysphoria any more, except in specific circumstances. But I do have moments of intense insecurity, which can feel much the same, now that actual dysphoria is not an experience I can so easily recall.
I’ll want to leave the house, stare at myself in the mirror, and hate how I look. I look too fat. My skin is bad. My hair is bad. This dress used to look better on me. Why is my nose shaped like that? Fuck I wish my eyebrows were better.
It’s not, much of the time, dysphoria – it’s the same shitty behaviour from my brain as for many, many cis women who’re exposed to the same crappy media pushing unrealistic expectations on us.
In a way, though, I wish nobody had drawn my attention to this. Dysphoria, by contrast, got relatively easy to deal with for me personally, once my body had changed enough. If I had moments of discomfort in my body, I could take a selfie or look in a mirror or just look down at my body and… that’d be it.
The evidence was in front of me. Shut up, brain. You’ve got a body past-you would never have dreamed of having, not in a million years.
It’s harder to tell my brain that kind of thing now.
Sure, you’re physically female now, but you’re not pretty/thin/fit enough.
And my reaction? Most of the time, I berate myself. Oh, wow. So you’re not attractive enough now? You used to say you’d be happy in any body that wasn’t masculine – skinny, heavier, taller, shorter. Anything but this. That’s what you said. What happened to that?
It’s impossible to stop your brain being cruel to you, seemingly.
- In decades past (though this definitely still happens) transitioning meant you were told – or encouraged – to disassociate yourself from old friends and family. Change your identity. Move cities. Vanish off the face of the planet, and make yourself a new life. I had the support of the bulk of my friends and family, and within months developed a sort of found-family, too. Other trans and queer people who accepted me, and helped me. But over time, the “hey, we’re both trans! let’s be friends!” thing begins to stop carrying as much weight. I don’t think or talk about being trans so often now, unless it’s a new friend getting to know me and they’re asking. So I’ve found myself slipping away from old friends now, even those I was close to just four years ago right after I began transitioning. It’s not my intention, but as I found myself changing, the kinds of people I was naturally close to also changed.
Queer and GNC people are the bulk of the people in my little friendship groups, sure, but I am no longer close friends with people just because we have those shared experiences. It helps, and it’s a start, but that need for friends to at least 90% understand what I am dealing with and where I am coming from is no longer quite so important to me.
It reminds me of a friend describing how weird she felt going to mother’s groups after she had her first child. “I had nothing in common with them,” she said. “Except that we were all trying to support each other doing something scary and new, as we were all feeling our way through it.” I feel it’s the same with a lot of my trans friends. Some remain close to me, because for whatever reason our “click” went beyond the fact of both being transgender. (And, honestly, some just live too far away. You know who you are – and that’s as much my fault as yours! Geography sucks.)
I’ve had a shit year in lots of ways. I end it with a little more comfort and hope than I had through most of it. But I’ve drifted from friends. I’ve let some down. I’ve been let down. I’ve been hurt.
So I am trying to focus on how much I’ve learned, even in a year that in many ways feels a lot like I was treading water. The things I’ve figured out, and the small comforts I have now in my new life, are things I’m going to need to hold on to to make 2020 an easier time than 2019 has been.