My Trans Journey With Gender-Affirming Care
It's been a long process to accept who I am and how to express myself to others.
In January, I took my first dose of estrogen. I decided to start my transition and embark on my own journey with gender-affirming care, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The estrogen I’ve introduced to my body will achieve a certain level of physical change. I have never been happier in my entire life.
I don’t believe giving the reason behind my transition is required, but I do want to talk openly about what motivated me to do this because I have a strong feeling that someone, even just one person, might benefit from my story. I know when I was first struggling with the decision to begin HRT that I felt that there was hardly anything out there that spoke to what I was personally feeling. My intention with this piece is to encourage people to take a deeper look into the meaning of identity, our self-imposed limitations and ultimately expand our understanding of what it means to be trans or to transition.
The “M” and “F” Boxes Didn’t Apply to Me
I’ll start by prefacing I came out as a gay man when I was 17. I came out as non-binary when I was 24. And now I’m coming out as trans at 28. It is very important to mention that there isn’t just one way to be trans, something that I even had a hard time understanding at the beginning. Our identities are forever changing, growing and expanding, and exploring my gender is simply the next chapter of my journey. I want this to be super clear: This is where I am presently with my identity and this may change, and that’s OK. It’s my journey, my own experience, and it is by no means meant to be representative of all trans experiences. I hope you will afford me the same leniency and space to explore my identity that I had to learn to afford myself.
Today, I identify as queer, non-binary, trans, trans-feminine and transgender. I no longer identify as gay. And, transparently, I’m having a hard time identifying as a trans woman at the moment because I believe the term “woman” is indicative of wishing to achieve yet another level of the gender binary. Although, like anything mentioned in this essay, my feelings towards this may change in the future. I learned from past mistakes to never speak to my identity in finite terms; rather, I embrace my continuous growth and evolution. For the sake of this piece I will be using the term "trans" when referring to myself, my experience and the transgender, GNC (gender-nonconforming), non-binary community.
In our society, regardless of how much I wish it wasn’t the case, there are two recognized genders: man and woman. And while there have been strides made to be inclusive of trans individuals, I feel that a lot of people's understanding of what it means to be trans is, simply put, a man trying to be a woman, or a woman trying to be a man. It is easy for people to understand that because it's just a matter of checking the “F” box instead of the “M,” or vice versa. But it’s so much more than that. What I’d like to pose is, what if there were more options? What happens when the “M” and “F” boxes feel like they don’t apply to you?
If you’ll bear with me, I want to recount what I’ve experienced and the moments that ultimately led me to start gender-affirming care. I think we can all agree that 2020 was a hard year and, truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for it. Like for many of us, the solitude led to a lot of thinking. Fundamental questions would arise about my life and the life I wanted and, this time, I was forced to address them head-on.
I Often Prayed Not to Be Gay
Since I was a child, I’ve questioned my gender hundreds of times throughout my life. This is nothing new. The question of whether I was trans or not has come up for years and I would often satiate its persistence with “I don’t think so,” or, “I don’t have a hatred for my penis so I must not be.” These answers would suffice until a few months or years would pass and that question bore its way back into my mind. 2020 forced me to look at it and address it. For the first time, I couldn’t distract myself from that line of questioning. My heart knew that it needed answers and it absolutely petrified me.
I haven’t told a lot of people this, but growing up, I used to spend my time after school in the shower crying, praying and begging God not to be gay. Growing up Catholic, I thought that would work. I remember promising myself that I would never be gay, as if it was a switch that I could just turn on and off. I was so afraid of not being “perfect” in the eyes of others. Think about how crazy that is. Let's just say, as I started to look back on my past, I began to see a pattern of denial.
One morning, I decided to give myself permission to explore this side of myself. “Maybe I am gay and so what?” I said on waking up. At that moment, everything changed, and I came out to my mom that morning. I literally woke up from a sex dream of a guy I had a crush on in high school, and when I woke up there was no denying it anymore. I loved men! It was like a eureka moment to me, even though my queerness was probably obvious to everyone except myself. I just hadn’t come to accept it.
Trans People Are Rarely Considered Loveable in Pop Culture
My journey with gender identity has felt similar to this. And this time, as the questions around my transness would arise, my denial would slowly erode. I’ve always been someone who was different in both the straight world and even the gay world. I’ve never really felt connected to gay male culture, and even in that world I’m not the “standard.” It was like I came out of the womb just looking for somewhere to belong. But as I’ve gotten older, I care less and less about belonging and care more about being happy.
Oftentimes, my desire to appear perfect to other people has led me to cater to what I believe other people want instead of actually listening to what I want. The fear of no longer seeming perfect, or no longer being desirable to others, was enough to dictate my identity, and ultimately have ramifications to my mental health. In short, I was deathly afraid of being considered unlovable.
The sad truth is I didn’t believe that trans people were considered “loveable” to other people. It’s the reality that I, until recently, hadn’t seen a trans person in pop culture or in real life that experienced the type of love that all other people are free to experience. It was the irrational belief that if I were to transition, no one would love me, and I would just need to be OK living a lonely existence. In reality, I was in such denial of who I was that I believed I would be happier being what I thought someone else wanted just to be considered worthy of their love. This is the farthest thing from true. Trans people are loveable.
It took knowing that real trans people of all experiences have fulfilling, healthy and loving relationships that I was able to finally address this fake belief. I had to reprogram my own mind and deconstruct this fallacy, one that likely came from the often sad and tragic narratives about trans people force-fed through the media. Many trans characters in mainstream entertainment are cast in such a negative light—most get murdered, find addiction and die, or get a disease and die. In this context, how is someone supposed to believe they are worthy of things as simple as a loving relationship? The lack of inclusion and variation in trans narratives is the very reason I knew I needed to share this vulnerable part of myself with you.
I Experienced a Different Kind of Gender Dysphoria
Another dangerous belief that delayed my gender-affirming care is that being transgender means having an aversion or hatred for the sex with which I was biologically born—that a hatred for my body was required in order to qualify for the right to transition. To really drive this home and make it as simple as possible for you: I do not hate my penis. Confused? Here’s the deal.
Most of us trans and non-binary people have complicated relationships with our bodies to begin with, and most people often assume we just detest them, that we simply view ourselves in the mirror with disgust, loath our genitals and regard our bodies as something we can never accept. That we might happily use these parts for sexual pleasure is often shocking and hard for some to compute. And while my genitalia is not a source of gender dysphoria for me personally, it can be for many trans individuals. But it is not the default, and it is not a qualification to determine whether you are trans enough.
For those who don’t know, “Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.” It’s nearly impossible for me to explain how it feels to experience, but I will do my best.
I didn’t experience gender dysphoria in that way, but I did when it came to other parts and aspects of my male body. From the beginning, I was born in a body that was “non-traditionally male.” Meaning, I’m not tall, don’t have big muscles and I don’t have a lot of body hair. My body innately started at a more feminine baseline, which is not the case for many trans-feminine people. And while I never developed that hatred for my male parts in a similar way to what common trans narratives portray, I still experience gender dysphoria.
The onset of secondary male sex characteristics, like hair loss and thicker body, has affected me. I think it’s often been used as a joke in my family because my level of anxiety when it comes to these things has always been extreme and can appear comical to someone on the outside. And, please, before your mind confuses this as an issue of mere vanity, let me explain.
These particular secondary sex characteristics aren’t the only thing that has prompted gender dysphoria for me throughout the years, but the impact of these particular traits has left ramifications to my mental health and has left me to venture into the dark spaces of my mind where I would rather not go.
As these secondary sex characteristics became more prevalent in me over the years, I realized I was ultimately going to have to age like a man. No matter what I did, I was destined on a course towards an inevitable end I knew that I didn’t want for myself. Suddenly, the feminine disposition I was born with, which comes naturally with being young, didn’t matter. In fact, it was slipping away from me with each passing day. There was nothing I could do to hold onto what femininity I did have. The amount of anxiety I felt waking up would grow in intensity with each buzz of my morning alarm until it became debilitating. I was bedridden, in a weeks-long depression. I felt trapped and subscribed to a future I didn’t want.
I Hope My Story Helps Others Like Me
The hardest part of all of this has been coming to personally accept this part of myself. It took months of fighting, trying to convince myself that this wasn’t who I am, and doing my best to justify why I am not trans. Looking back, I think I would have inevitably gotten to this point in my life and possibly would have gotten here earlier with my current understanding. And I’m very sure that no one chooses this life for themselves—quite honestly, it’s not easy. This is just truly and purely who I am.
And as I continue this journey, I have begun to love my transness. Once ashamed, I now see my transness as my superpower. I believe that I am neither man, nor woman, but simply me. I believe trans people transcend our understanding of society and experience life beyond the limitations of most people. I feel as though I have achieved a "me" who is completely uninhibited and untethered from society's expectations, and I believe I am capable of anything, endlessly. While my path and journey are hard ones, I feel so blessed to be transgender.
I believe through my vulnerability and sharing my story, I may possibly help someone, possibly even save someone. And I fully intend to commit my life to the visibility and inclusion of transgender people of all backgrounds. I realize where I am privileged, and I intend to use my privilege to uplift my community. I will share my story, loud and proud, for all of us to hear and to remind people, we are here. And for those people who have struggled with their identity like I have, or identify as anything of than cis-gendered, I want to let you know that I see you.
It doesn't matter if no one else can, because I do.