One year ago today, I received my first injection of testosterone.
I feel great. There is a well of gratitude and stability within me that I can touch and feel almost whenever I choose to check in with it that wasn’t there before. I am more present, more alive even, in ways I never knew I wasn’t before. It is a joy and relief that I wish I could give to everyone around me.
I get to be more whole now, and that is worth all of the stress, all of the vulnerability and grief and fear and doubt. I am experiencing new life.
It is an experience that so, so many trans folks are actively and tacitly blocked from having because of prejudice, because of cisnormativity, because of our rigid perpetuation of binary gender, because of racism, classism, and able-ism. And we are dying. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
I am constantly fascinated by the fact that everyone new in my life perceives me as male without question. I am still surprised when new colleagues refer to me as ‘he’ even though I never asked them to. Sometimes, even, I am surprised when they use the right name, before I remember that they never knew any other name for me. At the same time, I feel a clear sense of disconnect from my pre-transition life. Any use of my old name by others feels like they are addressing an echo, and I humor them by responding at all. It feels like impersonating myself, a past self.
A year ago, use of my old name felt painfully constrictive, and induced a sense of hopelessness in me. It reinforced the idea that I could never counter the message given to me by the world: that you cannot ‘change’ your gender, that you must assimilate to a world where you are not supposed to exist, that your body determines your gender and you can’t escape your body, that others’ comfort and convenience is more important than your basic well being, than your ability to thrive, than your life itself. I am still recovering from living with this.
I clung to the examples of others who had transitioned before me, because they showed that it was possible, that there was hope for me. I clung to examples of trans folks who continue to live with daily misgendering with no sign of that changing in their lives, who have learned how to live with this daily oppression with strength and grace, because they were pillars of what was possible for me in the present moment. Thank you to all those who came before me: I could not have moved forward without you.
Every day that goes by with new folks referring to me correctly reinforces my confidence. Every month of change from testosterone grounds me further in my body and in the world, bringing relief and a stronger internal sense of self-worth. That hopelessness has been replaced by relief and hope.
And these are privileges. So many trans folks never get to have this experience, either due to lack of access to proper medical care or no desire for such a transition. Many trans folks still do not get to have this experience because they continue to be misperceived even after physical transition. Many trans folks don’t fit into the ‘male’ or ‘female’ boxes at all in anyway. Many trans folks live with depression, or on-going trauma, or otherwise don’t have frequent access to feelings of relief or joy or wholeness. Many live with on-going, active shaming from family members and friends.
I refuse to become complacent about the issues I no longer have (or never had) to face on a daily basis.
I have been thinking about the new phenomenon in my life that is the fact that I can live my life as male without anyone new knowing that I’m trans. It’s one thing to come out as trans and ask people to change the name and pronouns they use for you; it’s entirely another when you’re on the other side of that. I have been thinking about how none of my new colleagues at work know that I’m trans. I feel simultaneously like I’m not ready to come out to anyone there, and also like it’s unsustainable for me to never come out to them. Being trans is a huge part of who I am right now, and a huge part of what I think and talk about in my life in general.
Also, I have the enormous privilege of knowing that my immediate livelihood is not at stake if I come out. My boss knows I am trans and was supportive when I came out the first time, and I believe would be supportive if I ran into any obvious trouble. I can be fairly confident that it wouldn’t change much about the way new folks interact with me – though I can probably be sure that it would cause me some anxiety worrying about it at first.
When I am ready, I feel a sense of responsibility to come out, to be visible in this highly cisnormative environment. It is a simple, yet potentially powerful, act of resistance to a status quo that leads so many to hopelessness, self harm, and others to fatal bullying and consequence-free murder. It is an important risk for me to take as an act of solidarity with fellow trans folks who do not have the privilege of safety and income security that I have right now, who do not get to be correctly perceived and addressed every day, and for anyone else struggling with gender as a scientist (or not), who may feel hopelessly alone.
It’s important for me to remember also, when I’m worried about making others uncomfortable by being open about who I am, that if I’m making other people uncomfortable by telling the truth, then I’m doing something right.
I was going to just leave it there, but I’m sensing a reluctance in myself to end this post. After all, this is the big ‘One Year On T’ post! I should be regaling you all with stories from the past year, of moving states, of stepping up my activism and my Quaker work, of so many other little stories here and there! I should be firmly correcting the myth that T makes you more aggressive (because that’s a load of BS), or talking more about T in general. I should be talking more about figuring out how to navigate male privilege and what that might mean in a variety of different contexts. But I will save these stories for future posts when I have more energy. For now, I have written about some of what was particularly on my mind today, on this one year anniversary of a significant step in my own personal transition.