One of the ways in which (especially) medically transitioning is often described is as a second puberty. Not just because it, well… almost literally is in the sense of once more going through an intense and complex hormonal change that modifies your body (though this time in a non-traumatic way)… but because of the social aspects.
Note: what I’m going to be talking about here is from a trans-feminine perspective, as that’s the experience I’ve lived. I won’t presume to know the ways in which it might be the same (or similar) for trans-masculine people, but I have a feeling there will be commonalities.
For most trans people, an ideal situation would be that HRT changes your body to be something you are comfortable in – but also changes it enough that you are gendered correctly by the general public. “Passing” is a complex and difficult subject to tackle, but purely for reasons of personal comfort and safety, the idea of being cis-passing so you don’t routinely deal with transphobia is a fairly understandable one.
If and when that happens, whether it’s purely from HRT or if surgeries are involved, you then have to deal with that experience – and the experience of suddenly being seen as a woman in society can be pretty jarring, to put it mildly.
There’s pressure to look a certain way, there’s cat-calling, men talking over you in meetings, presumptions that you no longer know technical things you’ve done your entire life… and the list goes on.
Cisgender girls and women deal with this all the time, and while their earliest experiences with it are likely as kids – maybe even before they hit puberty – the experiences are very much still there for trans women.
One of these experiences is based largely around insecurity. Because you almost certainly don’t look like the airbrushed models on billboards and magazine covers, and if you do, you probably don’t think you do – because that’s what a sexist culture does. It’s not just physicality, either. Maybe you feel you aren’t smart enough funny enough, or ‘stable’ enough in a good-Capitalist-worker-bee sense.
It can be compounded by transgender-related anxieties, too. Even some of the most stunning (in the conventional attractiveness sense) trans women I’ve known have body issues residual to years of debilitating dysphoria and anxiety about their body feeling wrong.
But regardless of the complex root causes, the upshot ends up something like this:
Three people asked me out or otherwise expressed interest in me in the first year since I came out and transitioned.
I said yes to all of them. I was absolutely elated. It’s not like I didn’t have people express interest in me from time to time before I transitioned, but when someone is finding you attractive because of a body you feel horrible in, it almost feels like confirmation that things are wrong for you.
By contrast, the first time a partner (or even potential partner) called be beautiful, my mind just about melted in delight. I remember so clearly the first time I was consensually sexualised by a partner because of aspects of my personality or body that were distinctly feminine, such as the first time a partner fixated on my breasts.
Thing is, all three of these people in the first year were bad matches for me. Very bad matches for me. I said yes because I just wanted to be loved. To feel attractive and valued and to have a relationship with someone now that I was capable of truly feeling physically comfortable in said relationship.
Now that compliments made me feel amazing, rather than re-enforcing that my body was just… wrong.
It’s not to say those people were bad, of course. Just that they were a very bad fit (one explicitly didn’t like me using “big words” which, uh…) and despite that I could see that almost from the start, I craved the attention.
I didn’t magically get over it quickly, either. It’s only in the past year or so that I’ve begun to recognise just how harmful to myself that behaviour was. But I was chasing validation, even if it came in the form of physical sexualisation only. I would do anything to have another woman writhing atop me, touching me, kissing me and telling me breathlessly that I was “so fucking hot”.
It wasn’t just harmful to me, either. I went on single dates with people who were firing off red flags even on the dating app, and I went on multiple dates with people when there was absolutely zero chemistry. I would eventually had to break it off (or, more often, chicken out of doing it and just letting them realise the relationship needed to be ended). It wasn’t fair on the people I was dating. I don’t think I seriously hurt anyone, but I guess I can never really be sure.
Relationships don’t always leave a shadow in your mind commensurate with their length, either. Some of the shortest experiences dating I’ve ever had left me sobbing and still sometimes pining for the person years later; some of the longest felt like they ended more naturally and I rarely think about them.
Thing is, when you’re not so much finding a relationship with someone you click with as, y’know, just saying yes to anyone there’s even the tiniest hint of physical attraction to… you’re going to end up with more unpleasant experiences than pleasant ones.
I admit there’s a part of me that’s embarrassed by all this. It began when I read articles or spoke to other women who did similar things, but usually at a much younger age. “I’m a grown-ass adult and I’m acting like a hormonal teenager” is not a pleasant thing to recognise.
Regardless of that, though, it is nice to see it change. To feel growing self-confidence, and no longer finding myself saying yes to anyone who happens to match with me on Tinder or Her. I go on far fewer dates, but they’re much more meaningful.
Truly one of the strangest things about transitioning (as an adult, anyway) is having experiences that most people associate with young adults or teenagers much later in your life. I’ve even found myself gravitating back periodically to YA stories and films – as even if I am largely past the craving-attention stage of my own development now, at least I can relate more firmly with those all-encompassing first-romance stories you see in high school movies, in a way I never quite could before.