Emerge 2020: What I Read – Not an Endpoint

Emerge 2020: What I Read – Not an Endpoint

There are a lot of popular myths about trans people, from the ridiculous to the hopeful.

There is the ‘born in the wrong body’ trope – as though our real bodies are out there somewhere waiting for us to discover them. So where are they? Are they wandering around with an equally dislocated inhabitant animating them? Are they in some mythic state, like a limbo body storage unit with inept management?  I’m not disputing the very real sense some trans and nonbinary people have about having been born in the wrong body, I’m just saying there are many of us who do not see ourselves that way.

Another story that persists and is equally suspect is – “once I transition, all will be set right.  I will reach a state of alignment and peace.”

Don’t I wish.

First of all, what defines ‘transition’ and how do you know when you’re done? Toss that out into a group of trans people for discussion and get as many answers as there are people.

In my experience, that ‘state of peace’ is a piece of fiction.  I don’t feel like there’s an endpoint to be reached, or a time I will say ‘I am done transitioning’. 

I began what we call ‘medical transition’ about 6 years ago.  I’d already gone to court to change my name, I had come out to everyone in my life, including employer and coworkers, asking them to begin using he/him pronouns when referring to me.

For me, medical transition began when I started taking testosterone.  Like others before me, I had researched and read stories, questioned friends and acquaintances, almost memorized a long list of possible impacts the hormone would have on my body, mind and emotions.

I remember being very excited about facial hair, body hair, voice changes and what is euphemistically called ‘bottom growth’.. Hint, it does not involve the hiney. In fact, my butt has shrunk significantly. 

There were things I was concerned about as well – hair loss, increased chance of high blood pressure and cholesterol, a second round of acne to go with my second puberty, and the emotional surges as my body dealt with a changing hormonal influence. 

The potential for going bald caused me the most concern.  I really liked my head of hair and finally in my 40s I’d found a hairstyle I really liked, that maximized my masculinity and was easy to maintain. While there was a chance I wouldn’t go thin on top, it was miniscule. All I had to do is look at my dad and his brother, the uncle we call Hairy Jerry, to know what I was in for.  Combs men didn’t so much experience hair loss as they experienced a migration of head hair to other parts of the body.

And still, I decided to go forward.  I shrugged my shoulders and accepted my probable future as a balding, hairy guy.

What I hadn’t considered and didn’t expect was that dysphoria would come back, well into transition.

You’ve likely heard about dysphoria.  It’s the feeling that your body doesn’t match your image of yourself. This term is most often used in relation to trans and nonbinary folks. The desire to transition is generally about aligning our physical selves more accurately with that mental image – the desire to look and feel ‘right’.

I want to pause my story for a moment to dispel a notion some people may have about transition – the idea that a series of medical, social and legal changes and procedures can forever eliminate a person’s sense of dysphoria. Not even going into the reality that many, many trans and nonbinary people do not have the resources or ability to transition in the way they’d like, transition is not a perfect or predictable process. The way hormones, surgery and other changes impact us cannot be known ahead of time. You can’t apply the hormone in the places you want to change and leave other parts of your body as they are. And none of that takes into account the emotional changes and the time it takes to process them.  I feel like emotional transition is the part of the iceberg under the surface – much larger and more unmapped than the obvious outward changes. Some folks who undergo transition procedures may never feel entirely at home in their bodies.  Transition is not magic.

Ok, back to my story.

There was a point, maybe the 4 year mark in my transition, where I started to feel some unease when I looked in the mirror, or saw pictures of myself. I was having a hard time relating to what I saw – yes, I had the beard and mustache I’d been wanting for so long. My body shape was changing in ways I found desirable, however, the way my face shape was changing left me feeling disoriented.

I realized I was having another bout of dysphoria – I didn’t fully recognize this newly remodeled face as belonging to me, it didn’t look right, or rather, it looked like it belonged to someone else. I spent a lot of time looking at pictures of my ‘before’ face, feeling nostalgic.  I wrestled with my feelings.  Was I feeling regret or was this a natural sense of loss of the familiar? Was I grieving? What the heck was going on with me?

After a lot of processing, I figured out some of what was going on. Even though I’d read that my face shape would most likely change, I had still been picturing myself with that face plus facial hair, and more hair on my head.  Instead, there was a stranger with a fuller, more square jaw and a much higher forehead staring back at me from the mirror.

I’d like to say I got over it quickly.  I didn’t.  I wallowed in that state of dysphoria for more than a year, mostly keeping my thoughts and misgivings to myself. I was too embarrassed to admit that I was not 100% satisfied with my transition experience. Especially considering the ways in which it had disrupted my whole life and the lives of people around me.

So I sat with it. Over time, I felt less and less disconconcerted by my face, focusing on the exciting new frontier of beard and mustache styling.  I confided in my sweetheart who acknowledged that I had been very handsome as a butch dyke, and was also handsome now, as a trans guy. By degrees, I came to appreciate my new face and even accept that my thinning scalp didn’t detract from my looks.

The point of all this is to say that being trans is not a destination, rather it is an ongoing process as long as we are alive.

Some of us have very well defined goals and procedures to follow in meeting those goals.

Some of us are finding our way as we go.

Some of us will reach a state of ‘rightness’ that satisfies us.

Some of us will never entirely feel right in the bodies we were born to, no matter how much we remodel them. 

We all have a different story – all trans and nonbinary people have our own set of challenges, hoped for outcomes and senses of self.  All of which are valid and powerful. 

There is no ‘one right way’ to be trans or nonbinary.  Instead, there are an infinite number of ways to be absolutely ourselves. And that is the beauty of being trans or nonbinary.  We acknowledge that we are the creators of ourselves, even if those selves don’t have as much hair as we’d hoped and we couldn’t stop our asses from shrinking three sizes.

Thank you

To watch the whole set of performances (I was up third), click on this YouTube link.

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