Facebook showed me some video about a young trans man who began hormone replacement at age 12, and is now also being spotted in feminine attire, leading people to question if he truly knew what he had wanted when younger. I want to comment on this.
Being transgender doesn’t mean trying to look or sound a certain way—it means trying to feel right inside your body, in whatever way that can manifest. If taking hormones or dressing a certain way or using certain pronouns or whatever makes you feel more comfortable with yourself, then that is what you do for the sake of those results. Some people don’t need to change much to ‘transition’ from discomfort to comfort, and some could change everything and never feel comfortable.
The worst gender dysphoria I experienced was in my teen years, when I felt that my masculinity made feminine expression totally impossible. In my twenties, I came to terms with the fact that regardless of how I might identify, there were aspects of myself I could be comfortable with regardless of gender—and so I wasn’t in a state if constant discomfort, which is why I was able to live for so long without being totally crippled with depression. When I finally realized the need to transition was not because my life was abject pain, but because as far as I could tell I should have been comfortable in my every day life because I had no other perceivable problems; but I couldn’t be, because without something to distract me from it, I would always slip back into that discomfort with myself. Transitioning was never an end-all path to absolute happiness in life or anything—it was just one more way to raise my baseline standard of life quality.
I grew up in a period when masculinity as a concept was being tested by its ability to embrace femininity. “Real men wear pink” was a slogan I saw on shirts in middle school, ‘metrosexuals’ became a thing, and basically all the aspects of culture which lead into the next generation’s invention of the ‘e-boy’ took place. On the flipside, ‘tomboy’ went from something used as an insult, to a way that some women self-identify.
It took me a long time to begin transitioning, specifically because I couldn’t find ‘logic’ in it. ‘So what if I’m a woman, why would that mean I can’t have a beard?’ ‘So what if I’m a man, why would that mean I can’t sing in falsetto along with Babymetal songs?’ If I am confident in my gender, shouldn’t I feel that it isn’t threatened by these things?
In the end though, while ‘real men’ might be comfortable with themselves wearing pink, to do so even when you don’t really want to for the sake of proving a point about your ability to do so is its own form of insecurity. For me, growing a beard was to hide the face I was embarrassed of from being overweight. The few times I lost weight, I shaved and looked good—but I was afraid to lean in on being a ‘cute’ or ‘twinky’ boy. Likewise, when transitioning I was a little too concerned about being a ‘hot’ girl at first, because every step toward the most perfect mental image of femininity I’d held in mind was euphoric to experience. After a while, I discerned where my values lie and which aspects of femininity that I had rejected before were important to my growing comfort and which were not—as well as what isn’t reasonably possible to do with my body. It’s the difference between ‘trying nothing,’ ‘trying everything,’ and ‘knowing what you like’ that people usually experience in their teens, that I never had gotten to.
‘Passing’ is a matter of contextual importance to me, but self-comfort and love are always important. What I struggle with (more than anything to do with my appearance) is closeted emotions. My way of acting feminine was shunned for so much of my life that I locked it away, and I needed hormones just to pull it back out. I hate the way testosterone makes me feel and behave, and having been off of HRT for a while thanks to complications with moving around and not having money or insurance, I feel worse for it—even having improved my life in other aspects in the meantime. I like the way that estrogen makes me feel and what changes it made to my body even after just a few months using it, and some of those effects lingered while others feel like they’re now hanging in limbo.
The manner of dress I feel most comfortable in is probably best described as ‘androgynous’ with feminine leanings. If I wasn’t physically more masculine than most women, wearing short-shorts and tanktops would still make me a ‘tomboy’ by conventional dress code. I don’t mind so much that my voice is a little more on the masculine side because it still sounds good, and frankly was very feminine to begin with. It varies in my older content, but the videos where I sounded most natural were always the ones where I wasn’t making a deliberate effort to sound ‘more male’ (which I often did, especially when on-camera).
My desire to self-identify as female does not mean that I need everyone to recognize me as a woman or to bleed femininity. Positive reinforcement of my identity is appreciated in the same way it is for anyone. (And deliberate non-acknowledgement isn’t annoying because it hurts my feelings, but because it shows a lack of simple respect. It’s really not difficult to use the pronouns someone asks you to use, especially online.) If I’m trying to look cute, I want to hear that I look cute. If I am gendered male, it is usually because I am not trying to look especially feminine—and I am not always trying because it doesn’t always matter.
If I’ve been working all day and turn up to the grocery store in sweatpants and a hoodie, and the guy behind the counter calls me ‘sir,’ I have nothing to be upset about. The same thing happens to any other woman who shows up that way and isn’t curvy enough to still register as female—and if any of us cared enough what that clerk thought in that moment, we wouldn’t have shown up dressed that way. A lot of women are raised to present themselves as throughly ‘kept’ in all public scenarios, and I have watched a lot of them be driven to insanity and reclusion by it (plus you just waste a lot of time).
I can’t stand the way I feel when any of my body or facial hair gets too long, so I shave it regularly. I also can’t stand how makeup feels on my face, and am not passionate enough about changing my face to really learn much more than the basics of using it. I look feminine enough for my own purposes without it. I am a thirty year-old writer for chrissakes—being pretty is very rarely my job. I wear short-shorts almost exclusively, with leggings when it is cold, and usually small t-shirts with jackets, because I find those to be comfortable in all situations (even more so than the pajama pants and large shirts I used to wear exclusively). Maintaining a healthy weight has by far been the biggest victory in my quest for self-comfort.
Whenever I have taken HRT long enough and finished laser hair removal on my face, I will not look enough like a man to be mistaken for one often by people who don’t know who I am. When I put in even a modicum of effort to look feminine, I am rarely mistaken even now. These are nice, but ancillary results to the fact that I am more comfortable with myself now, and will become more so as I grow.
When I began transitioning, I would become paralyzed sometimes by trying too hard to not do anything that would contradict the idea of my own femininity, like wearing men’s clothes or acting in a masculine way, because I was afraid that it meant I wasn’t ‘serious enough’ about my transition or something. On the other side of having spent long enough apart from a male identity that I get sincerely confused when addressed as a man, I don’t know that I could behave in a way that I found to subvert my identity. I am as comfortable and confident in my femininity as a man who says “yeah, of course I’m not afraid to wear pink—but I much prefer to stick with black, because that’s what I like.”