Out of your Bubble

A year or so into my transition, I went over to a few friends’ new apartment for dinner. They were a (cis) lesbian couple I’d been friends with for years, and the night might have been simply enough lovely evening with friends, if it wasn’t for one thing which means now, years later, I still think of it.

I think about it because of their neighbour. She was a very straight, very cis woman who had just had her first baby. They’d apparently helped her with something not long before, and this particular night she happened to pop by and have a glass (or three) of wine with us.

As I mentioned, this was pretty early in my transition. I was quite lucky in the amount of cis-passing privilege I had developed very quickly – my body took to oestrogen running – but like almost anyone who’s been misgendered or clocked as trans in public, the fear of that happening had stuck with me. Still has to do this day – being misgendered is almost never a thing that happens to me, yet I still have low-key anxiety that it’ll happen.

My friends were, of course, supportive and had been from the start. But this random woman… I had no idea. She seemed very typical. She was confused by these two lesbians. She’d never really met any lesbians before, seemingly. She even asked the staggeringly awkward question of “who’s the guy in the relationship?” which, yes, it turns out still get asked of lesbians.

I made the decision to out myself. It was something I did then and still do now in a lot of social situations – I’d rather be open about who I am. If there’s going to be awkward transphobic responses, I’d rather it happen quickly and be dealt with.

The reason why this interaction stuck with me, though, was that her response to me coming out to her as transgender was by far not what I had expected.

I’ve gotten lots of reactions from people, from polite nods to genuine shock to them clearly having just had their suspicions confirmed, and of course the typical and uncomfortable non-compliment response of “Oh! I’d never have known!”

When I came out to this woman, she looked me up and down, furrowed her brow, then asked, simply, “Which way are you transitioning?”

She had no idea if I was a trans woman or a trans man. (I highly doubt the notion of me possibly being non-binary was something that entered her mind.)

As it’s relevant here, it’s worth noting how I was presenting at that time: very feminine. I was even then fairly curvy, wearing a dress showing some cleavage, with makeup on. Whatever anyone thought of me, it’d be hard to read my style that night as anything other than ‘very feminine’.

“I’m a trans woman,” I replied to her.

“Oh,” she said. “So does that mean you were… born a woman, and won’t be in future?”

This threw me even more, but I decided rather than correct her with the nuance of ‘being born’ a specific gender, I’d just ignore that and answer simply. “Born male.”

She didn’t seem surprised, in any way. Just curious.

The idea that she would have been entirely believing of the concept of me being a trans man stuck with me. She knew so little about the very idea of transitioning that the idea of someone with a (for lack of a better term) feminine body, wearing dresses, makeup and keeping long hair, might be a trans guy. It’s possible, of course – there are so many social reasons why someone may present in a way that’s not how they’d prefer to present. This, however, clearly didn’t come from a very progressive place of “I will not presume your gender on the basis of your body and presentation”; it was instead from a place of absolute lack of understanding.

I’m not a stranger to getting questions which showcase someone’s complete lack of knowledge of biology, bodies, hormones and transitioning, of course.

I once had a cis woman ask me if I could get pregnant.

Another time, a guy asked me “when I had my surgery”. At first thought he was just very rudely presuming I’d had lower surgery, but it quickly became apparent he presumed I’d had breast implants, and perhaps in even facial surgery to ‘look female’. The idea that hormones make trans women develop breasts same as they do for cis girls (and with as much variation in shape and size) was something he simply didn’t know, nor that someone with an androgynous face going on oestrogen might also end up looking quite feminine without surgery.

I don’t think about those questions, born mostly of ignorance as to hormones and biology, anywhere near as much as the woman who wasn’t sure if I was a trans man or a trans woman. I suppose because it showed a different level of ignorance – that the very idea of presenting in a way that you might feel comfortable despite your body had not occurred to her.

It made me realise how privileged my social circles had been, even before I had out trans friends, never mind realised I myself was also trans. I was used to people experimenting at least a bit with their presentation – men with earrings or eyeliner or even dresses (albeit mostly at parties), women presenting as butch as they pleased.

So even now, years later, I think back to that woman, because it reminds me just how little many people know about transitioning. Just how foreign the concept is, and how assuming even a baseline level of knowledge from people is likely unhelpful.

It made me think that even the inaccurate and problematic narrative of “born in the wrong body” was something she didn’t know, and how even that would have at least put her vaguely in the right ball-park, if not exactly totally on the money.

When you are queer or trans, it’s very easy to vanish so completely into a queer-literate, trans-literate and even poly and kink-literate spaces. So much so that it’s sometimes jarring to poke your head out of that and realise how how foreign all of this must be to people for whom the very idea of questioning their gender or even their sexuality, or the road map from dating to marriage to kids and a white picket fence, is foreign.

Super Cute

A friend sent me a picture – a sketch, related to the conversation we were having.

I replied, saying it was super cute.

Then I stared at that phrase for the longest time. That’s super cute.

It’s not uncommon, either – I sometimes find myself focusing on something I have said, or something I have done. I do this when I notice something which is so very, very clearly not something I would have said or done a decade ago, before I accepted who I was or transitioned.

Of course, there are a lot of these things. From the everyday and simple, like putting on a bra, to changes in empathy or language, or even which kinds of media I seek out for relaxation and enjoyment.

I usually, however, end up focusing not just on the little things such as a single cutesy phrase, but on things past-me might have resented, or even mocked when I was at my most resentful of the world.

I hated the term ‘super’. I’d never have described anything except, maybe, a little kitten as ‘cute’. I was so bitter that a simple act of expressing delight at something nice would have made me eye-roll.

I focus on terms like these because it makes me realise not just how much I’ve changed as a person in the past half decade, and mostly for the better.

Of course, some things remain the same. I am, despite sometimes enjoying the Doctor Who metaphor of having ‘regenerated’, still actually the same person, of course. I may have new interests to compliment or replace ones I’ve had my whole life, and I may look different and often communicate slightly differently, but I am the same person.

You don’t need to transition to go through personal growth, of course. It’s just that transitioning generally comes with a set of new and very different experiences that might affect the course and intensity of that growth.

Something that always springs to mind is what I mentioned earlier – that I as so very bitter and angry before. I’d have, when describing myself before, used the term ‘jaded’. In retrospect, that’s not the case. I was confused, angry and bitter to be sure, and perhaps jaded about my response to certain kinds of media, but I had no idea just what ‘jaded’ was until I’d begun to experience year after year of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. In TV shows, movies, in person, in the news… at a certain point exhaustion and jadedness blur together when you feel like progress is so slow and sporadic that it almost doesn’t seem worth fighting against.

Especially when you begin to recognise that a lot of those changes I began this post talking about… are because of those things. Because of sexism. Because of Transphobia. Of homophobia. Some of it internalised, some of it external and inflicted upon you.

Last year, I found myself in a meeting with a room full of mostly cisgender men. I had a suggestion, which I thought was correct, but I knew might run into some resistance. I made it, but I realised after I did so that I hadn’t declared it as a suggestion… I had raised it as a question.

Why did I do that? When did I start doing that? It’s an incredibly common thing. Had I begun doing that because I saw other women doing it and subconsciously adopted that method of communication? Had I done it because I’d spent years freshly adjusting to men questioning my ideas or statements more than they ever had back when they saw me as One Of Them?

A lot of these small changes seemed to happen subconsciously, with me only realising I was doing them years later. I learned the hard way early on that being too warm, or too kind to a guy can result in him thinking that you’re hitting on him.

So despite my natural urge to smile and be polite, I adopted a more guarded tone, even a cold one, when talking to men I don’t really know. But not too cold, of course – then I might be accused of being a bitch.

All these changes, shifting to an environment and to people who now treat me entirely differently, happened slowly, and as I realise I’m doing them, I feel that growing sense of jadedness.

I didn’t just change how I spoke, I also realised I was having my own sense of value and confidence shook. Years of people (even other women sometimes) presuming that because I am not just a woman, but a very feminine-presenting one with dresses and makeup, I must not be a technical person. People question my statements about something involving a programming language I’ve used since 1998, and when that keeps happening, you even begin to question your own knowledge and abilities.

I double and even triple-check things I am confident about now, before I dare post a declarative statement of fact about them I would have just blurted out years ago.

I can’t tell if that’s good or not. The reason for doing it – a growing lack of confidence in my own capabilities and experience – is clearly bad. I’m just not sure if the actual results have even a slightly beneficial side-effect.

These things, when I notice them, are definitely fairly extreme. They affect how people relate to me, how I relate to them, and how I think about myself.

Yet it’s that’s super cute that sticks in my head more.

I think, because unlike the other things, this is clearly a positive shift. Not that I used that language specifically, but that it came from a genuine place. I saw something, felt a little moment of joy, and expressed it, figuratively and literally smiling.

This was not something I was able to do before. I might have gotten that little bit of joy at seeing something pretty, cute or otherwise aesthetically pleasing, but I’d never have expressed it so simply, clearly or emotionally. Because that was just not how men did it.

Shedding the more toxic aspects of behaviour I was mimicking in order to fit in, and recognising that I’ve done it, is a wonderful thing to realise.

So many people, regardless of gender, seem to be afraid to express joy at the tiniest little positive experiences. I’m sure for some men it’ll be for a similar reason to why I did it – to try and fit in when society tells you Men Behave This Way. Or perhaps for young women it’s as a rejection of the inverse – that a cutesy phrase is expected of them, and they want to be Cool instead.

I’m not saying I think everyone should use cutesy phrases, of course… just that I am glad I now feel comfortable doing so.

It’s super cute.

Haunted

I am walking through a parking lot, toward the supermarket in my suburb. I pass numerous people, but one of them is different. He’s someone I know – someone I knew for 15 years. We’re heading toward each other, and I have this brief moment of surprise at seeing him – his is a face I hadn’t seen in the better part of a decade. We used to have sleepovers as a kid. We dated the same girl once. (Not at the same time, and, uh… it caused tension. To put it mildly.)

He walks toward me, and in a second he obviously realises I am looking at him. Not too directly, but I am clearly looking in his direction. He stares at my face. He eyes me, looking me up and down. For a moment, I think he’s recognises me, then I realise he’s just staring at my tits.

So I guess he hadn’t changed much.

In the past I’ve described some of my life now as being a bit like someone gave me the wrong memories. I remember being [deadname]. I remember how people reacted to him – strangers, friends. It’s totally different to how I am treated now. It’s a bit sci-fi, really. But I think I’ve found another way to describe this strange experience:

I feel like I am haunting my past life.

I remember it. I lived it. I know all those same people, but it’s like they don’t see me. Or if they do, they see someone totally different. Being perved at by someone I used to have sleepovers with isn’t a specifically trans experience, I know, but it’s not the first time this has happened.

It’s strange enough, seeing places and people once-familiar to me, that I increasingly fantasise about moving city. This place feels strange to me now. I avoid suburbs I used to frequent. I feel weird seeing places I used to know. I run into people, like this tit-staring pervy ex-friend, who make me feel like either I’m being haunted, or I’m haunting them.

I think of the underrated and touching show I used to love, Dead Like Me.

Georgia Lass is an 18 year old girl who dies, and is brought back as a reaper. She walks around the world, performing tasks, but people see her as someone else. So she sometimes runs into her family – and they do not recognise her.

It’s yet another instance of the feeling that, post-transition, conventional dramas or novels are less relatable to me now than fantasy or science-fiction. My life is often more surreal than real.

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Am I Adulting Yet?

When I left home, I moved into a sharehouse. From there, in with a partner who I would spend the bulk of my ’20s with. After that, when I began transitioning, I moved back into a sharehouse. What I’m getting at is this: I have always lived with other people. You can… probably guess where this is going.

I’d been planning to try living on my own this year. For the first time in a decade, I have a stable full-time job. Not the best paying in the world (it’s game dev, after all) but one where, frustrating bugs aside, I enjoy the company I work with and the company I work for.

So I’d been saving up. Figured out the suburb I wanted to move to. Thing is, it wasn’t supposed to happen until June or July.

Sometimes, the best things happen to us when our hands are forced. I had to borrow money. I had to scramble a bit, but suddenly knowing I had merely two weeks to find somewhere to live… I managed it. I found a 90% perfect apartment in the suburb I wanted, my application was accepted (in fact, my application for my backup apartments were accepted to – unlike every other time I’ve been apartment-hunting in my life) and just 9 days from first finding out I had to leave… I am living here, in this apartment, alone for the first time in my life.

I’d say I was about 80% excited and 20% scared. I’m quite an extrovert, and I need human contact to recharge my batteries, so to speak. So living without housemates outright terrified. But I am moving to within walking distance of about 6-7 very close friends, so that softened the blow a bit. Plus, I figured, who knows when I will get the chance again? I am dating right now, but the people I’m seeing… it’s quite casual. There’s no domestic partner on the horizon for me right now, so it seemed like the best time to give it a go. Who knows – maybe I’d love it?

It’s weird suddenly realising that I am alone here. No housemate to run social events by. No partner to check in with before buying new appliances, crockery or throw rugs. It feels… amazing. Not that I wouldn’t love to share my life with someone again, but right now, this feels like everything I needed.

I spent the last four years living with friends, who in a way acted as a buffer. I had little contact with real estate agents or the like, so I could quietly transition and get used to my new life.

Well, I’m used to it now, and things are… easier. I realised that before I transitioned, dysphoria’s attendant social anxiety, for me, meant that I would do anything to avoid interacting with strangers. Neighbours, shopkeepers, even delivery drivers scared me.

Not any more. I smile at my neighbours. I voluntarily go to a normal checkout at the supermarket rather than seeking out the self-checkout lane.

Is this… adulting? I hate the term, but life doesn’t scare me now. I can do all the household things, I can deal with my real estate agent, make smalltalk with the kid working the til at the local supermarket.

I don’t think I realised how much dysphoria-related anxiety had affected my life until recently. But now, it feels like I can be, with little care or fear. They’re just other humans.

So here I am, in The Sims buy mode, making my house and preparing to play single-player for a while.

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Four Years

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.

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Nice Girl, Pretty Girl

I walk through the supermarket entrance, making a bee-line for the carrying baskets. As I pass an old man walking up to the information counter, I notice him dropping a twenty dollar note. The cashier notices too, and pauses briefly, obviously conflicted about leaving her booth or returning the money to the man.

I reach down, grab the note, smile at the cashier and quickly approach the man. “Excuse me,” I say. “I think you dropped this.”

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