Expect Problems

A transition blog.

I have a medical condition which, were I born in another time, would have killed me, most likely before I was 40. But due to advances in science, it's easily treatable with a few blood tests and a monthly venesection (in plain english: I donate blood).

This isn't uncommon. I know two or three others with my condition, never mind many dozens of others with different things that'd have killed us over the course of our lives.

Then there are those of us who were saved from childhood illnesses, even without knowing it, because of vaccination or various other practices that have, all in, meant that my previous likely lifespan (~40 years) which would have been pretty standard centuries ago, would have instead had me dying 'young'.

We're lucky. Very lucky.

It's not like this is perfect, of course. There are many, many more conditions or problems that medical science doesn't yet have an effective answer for. The kind which would cause a snide comment like "What is this, the dark ages?" from Bones in Star Trek were he to see what we have done to us to save our lives.

(Random aside: a little girl I grew up with had a heart condition that was then untreatable. I've no idea if it is now. But it meant her lifespan was to be measured on a few hands. And, indeed, she died, if some time later in life than anyone expected her to live.

I remember her because she was the happiest child I'd ever met. A few years younger than me, and seemed entirely unencumbered by the neurosis and issues that most of my other friends dealt with. While I realise she was too young to have come to some epiphany about her short life and have been happy as a result of that, I do wonder if it was those of us around her that did this for her. Knowing she had a very short time on this planet, we were perhaps kinder?)

Beyond zero-sum 'alive or dead' medical science, you have something else - you have antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications... lots of things which are pretty demonstrably things that make many of our lives bearable, or even pleasant in a way that we aren't without them.

Thing is, I increasingly see this - medicine and science saving and extending our lives - also being true as a trans person.

While not the same thing as my medical condition and the simple solution of donating blood, I thought about ending my own life more than I ever wanted to admit to people. It's not that I thought I was depressed - it's that I knew I wasn't. I knew precisely why I found life so tough, and why I so frequently found myself "over it all". And I was ashamed of that reason. I'd had masculinity beaten into me and forced onto me by society, and this despite a family who never did anything of the sort.

There's an awkward joke in Monty Python's Life of Brian where "Stan" (Eric Idle) sheepishly admits that he wants to have babies. It's awkward comedy, but something I found hugely, hugely uncomfortable to watch. Because it's how I felt. Not just 'having babies' explicitly (although I can't describe how jealous I am of my friends who get to bear children themselves), but feeling that my life was 'wrong'. It wasn't the way I was supposed to exist.

I tried to imagine being a father, and it horrified me. Something about that particular 'role' as it was defined felt fundamentally wrong to me. So I told people I didn't want children. It was easier, and being that the world saw me as male, I didn't suffer the same pressure to have children that I would were I seen as a woman.

I'm still not sure I actually want children, but at least my complex feelings on the subject make sense now, and no longer loathing my body and the way people treat me has made my life better. It's made the idea of self-harm a distant memory. I have bad days - even terrible days - but it's no longer because of a gnawing self-loathing that wouldn't go away.

Hormone therapy isn't a simple process. Even today, in Australia, it's not that easy to attain - and medically it's uncomfortable, complex and takes time. It's not perfectly effective, either. Even if I get reassignment surgery, I (almost certainly) won't ever have a womb or be able to give birth, and I won't ever have had the experiences my cis woman friends had growing up female - for better or for worse.

But it's responsible for saving my life as much as my monthly blood donations are.

(CW: Suicide, objectification)

I remember the months before I began hormone therapy as being a bit surreal.

I had come to the realisation that I had to transition. That if I didn't, things would probably be over. I'd begun to daydream about just ending it all. Not even because I was depressed per se, but because even good days seemed relentless.

I knew I was going to do it, and I knew when, so I began to research things, talk to people and begin thinking intently about something specific.

I asked a handful of my female friends a question.

"What do you think I should do in these last few months before I lose most of my male privilege?"

I varied the wording a bit I suppose, but this was the jist of the question.

I wasn't sure what kind of answers I'd get. Most were banal-seeming at the time.

"Go swimming wherever you want without a top on."

"Just go to a bar on your own and have a beer."

"Go jogging without a bra on."

I'm sure I got more answers, but these were the three that stuck in my head, as they were all things I did.

I didn't go into this naive. At least, I didn't think I was. I was completely aware that I was going to be jettisoning a lot of my privilege, and I even had a good idea of just what that'd really mean... but what I didn't understand was how that'd feel.

To be honest, none of those three things have enormously changed much in my life. I don't often sit in bars alone drinking, and if I do it's rarely at night. I haven't had the opportunity to go swimming at all since I began HRT.

Jogging, I certainly began to notice a difference. It doesn't take being particularly busty before that stops being comfortable.

I was still presenting male about two odd months into HRT, but wearing a crop-top under my t-shirt to flatten my growing chest to still pass as such.

I was possibly going to miss my train.

Without thinking much of it, I ran.


If your breasts are incredibly sensitive for any reason, well... honestly, just sprinting for that train was a huge shock, even with a fairly constricting crop-top on.

Thing is, there were certainly things I didn't really consider - or didn't think would be have as much

Now I actually look and present female, and have done for a while, I figured I'd go back over that list and see what else I could add.

I'd add just two things for now, although I'm sure over time I'd add more.

Go walking at night.

Seriously. I never thought much about it, but on a hot summer night when it finally got cool around 11pm, I'd often go for meandering walks. Didn't much matter where. Around the block. Down to the water, if I was living near water. I'd listen to music on my headphones and just walk, ignoring everything around me but the comforting darkness.

In retrospect, it was amazing, and something I took for granted.

Of course, I'm not claiming that every time I leave my house after night-fall now I am instantly set upon by monsters, but the thing is it doesn't have to happen every time. All it took was one or two instances of some creepy fucker cat-calling me as I walked by, or some creepy guy trying to just talk to me when I was minding my own business and walking alone on a sidewalk.

It has a whole new level of fear attached to it when it happens at night, and now it's happened a few times I have begun to lose my confidence.

I don't go walking at night any more. Not on my own. I'll travel to and from a station, but even then sometimes if it's too late I'll get a taxi or an Uber.

Which brings me to the second thing I'd add to this list.

Go out in public without thinking about my personal safety.

I suppose in a sense this is related to a few of the points, but really, that's what it comes down to.

A lot of things have just become part of what I do now, almost on a subconscious level.

Where I am going and how I will get there, if I have been drinking, what I am wearing - all these things factor into my personal, travel and social plans now.

It's almost embarrassing to think back about how good I had it before. Seriously. It's not even that I was unaware of this before, but what is really shocking to me is how different it actually feels.

In a lot of ways, I feel my life is more constricted now. The world is just that bit smaller. It's no longer meant for me.

And it makes me angry. Very, very angry.

Those one or two times a week (I don't go out that much, remember - I work from home and it still happens one or two times a damn week) I get cat-called or suffer some creepy interaction with a random guy? It fucking blows.

It's depressing, can ruin my day or even my week, and this is without anything physically happening. Being made to feel like a piece of meat being appraised, or a thing whose personal space means very, very little is just about the worst, most disempowering thing I've experienced.

I'd dwell on this more, or discuss how much worse the experience must be for others, but I just can't. I'm not going to even try to talk about or think too heavily about worse experiences I haven't had.

I couldn't have even really begun to imagine the effects these near-constant psychological micro-aggressions from random people in public would have on me.

I thought I had some idea, and I really didn't.

So, yeah...

If you're reading this and have the privilege to not be constantly considering you personal safety, and aren't beset by these kind of things when you go out in pubic (for whatever reason)... I'm a little envious now.

Just to be clear, though: none of this makes me regret my decision to transition. I can't stress that enough. It was the only way to make my life bearable - to cope with my gender dissonance, and despite all the problems, I'm still happier now. I've a lot more to deal with personally, but it doesn't matter.

On the bright side, I think I've figured out the subject of my next blog post: a converse list... all the things I appreciate most about the rapidly closing gap between my gender identity and my body / presentation.

Identity is a really strange thing to get your head around. I'm not talking about gender identity, but personal identity.

Back when I was in denial about my gender dissonance I was performing a constructed personality which, I think, I built largely based on the things I enjoyed.

Some of those things have changed a little, but there's very little I liked before that I don't like now - it's simply been augmented with new interests. But those old interests I've had since I was a kid helped define not who I was, but the kind person I felt I should be, given I was supposed to be a 'man'.

I was into cerebral things. At first, technical stuff as it was nice and zero-sum, easy for a young mind to feel comfortable with. Electronics. Programming. The extent of my creative additions to this were things that still had rules - lego, video games, etc.

As I got into video games more and more as a means of escape, I had this interesting disparity building. I enjoyed some competitive games, and loved the tactical and strategic nature of military-esque video games, from strategy to shooters. However, I also preferred games where I could play as a woman. It felt better.

It's not like I could say I 'related' to them better, per se. This was partly because video game protagonists are often so under-written, but also because my experience was as the world seeing me as a boy or a young man. No matter how awkward and out of place, the fact was my experiences were tempered by that, even if I always felt pangs of depression that this was somehow 'wrong'.

So I'd play - sometimes secretly - very girl-focused games. Most were almost offensively crap. They had bad game design (apart from a few virtual doll-house things like The Sims) and were a huge contrast to the games whose mechanics I genuinely enjoyed.

So when I began to get more and more mockery, gentle or not, I began to assemble an identity based on how I perceived I should act, given my interests. In a community of Doom and Quake players, even the girls acted macho. So I joined in, and it began a process of making an identity based on the way media and internet communities told me I should be - the kind of 'guy' I should be.

This sprang to mind largely because of my friend Ash. She said this recently: "Fem Ash existed largely in a void or fantasy and now she's having to find her place in the real world, which is hard."

That hasn't left my head, and I keep thinking more about who I am becoming, how, and why.

As I said, it's not that my interests have changed much (although I am no longer so fascinated with stories / media focusing on male-to-male relationships - they were once models for me of 'how men relate to each other' that I could mimic) so much as no longer feeling bound to perform a part I constructed.

I'm happy as hell to be gushing about makeup, clothes and lesbian rom-coms as much as I am discussing World War II naval strategy or US politics in the 1960s. I'm fascinated by all those things, and together they help make me who I am.

But who I am now is far different than I'd imagined. I'm not performing any more, so I am now on a path of discovery as I figure out just how I feel natural behaving.

I'm not sure I ever had a strong idea of who Elissa was or would be. I didn't know if I'd ever find makeup interesting (I do), if I'd find fashion & style interesting (I do) or if I'd find myself relentlessly having suppressed a desire to be a mother (I don't).

For this reason, I think the change has, for me, seemed gradual. I have slowly changed how I present myself as that feels comfortable to me. I usually only notice personality shifts when friends comment on it. Vocal pattern shifts, as I am not intentionally trying to train myself vocally to sound more 'feminine', are also a slow unintentional shift I tend only to notice when someone comments on it, or in the rare cases where I slip outside of myself and pay attention to how I'm behaving.

I'm still uncertain if I'll put a more concerted effort into my voice. I'm not hugely deep-voiced, even if I did once pretend to be. In person, people don't seem to have a problem gendering me correctly based on my voice. On a phone is a different story.

All of these things slowly building up, however, make me more comfortable and have slowly brought me to realising something I didn't anticipate: how jarring it must be for people close to me, but who don't see me often.

Not everyone is comfortable with change, and even if they are, it must be a strange experience to see a loved one change this much this fast. Months may seem slow to me, but for people like some of my family members who've seen me perhaps three or four times this year, it must be a strange experience.

I read that a common experience for people whose immediate family or partner is transitioning is grief. That they have lost someone, even if they have gained someone else.

The thing is, this was tough for me to fully get my head around because I've never experienced this. I know quite a few trans people now, but those few who I've seen transition from the start I haven't really been close to before.

The last thing I've noticed as my personality slowly changes to reflect how I really feel about myself and the world is something more curious - that my friendships change.

Through no fault of anyone's, there have been some cases where people I was close to before no longer feel that same connection to me, or I no longer feel that same connection to them. This has nothing to do with transphobia, either - this is simply slowly becoming a person who longer quite gels the same way we once did.

Of course, this isn't a trans-specific thing. People change all the time. They grow closer and move apart at different times in their lives. It's just natural. The only unhealthy part of this is (usually when in committed relationships) when these changes go unacknowledged, leaving one or both parties unhappy and yet unwilling to accept that it's time for the relationship or friendship to end.

It's just that in my case, the change can seem hugely extreme - I can't imagine how weird it must be to see someone who used to brag about drinking 3 litres of beer (god I could be a dick) at a bar the previous night sipping sparkling wine and bitching about bras while lounging in a sun-dress.

I don't know who Elissa is.

I still find my behaviour shifting. I'm being changed by the way I am treated in public, by the way my friends relate to me, by hormonal changes, and a thousand other things.

This past year has been hugely intense, with several relationships coming and going, friendships shifting and a ton of deeply awesome experiences coupled with some unpleasant ones.

I know things will settle down in the coming years, but for now, I feel like I'm in a constant state of flux.

I've heard a few trans people talk about becoming someone specific. I admire that so much. Seeing people decide they would be comfortable being a certain way and moving heaven and earth to achieve that is amazing.

In my case, though... I'm just going to have to keep seeing where this takes me, and what kind of woman emerges at the other end once things begin to slow down.

One of the problems I'm increasingly dealing with is the feeling of being 'other'. Of not quite fitting into a category that most people can reconcile and that many people can't quite feel comfortable with.

It has nothing to do with 'passing' or being treated socially as a woman - although that's its own problem, and it has everything to do with the differences between myself and most cis women.

Some of this isn't unique to the trans experience, but being bombarded with ads for tampons, contraceptives and a total barrage, because of my age, of "shoudn't you be having babies?"

Well, no. I can't. But thanks for reminding of of an experience I can't ever had.

I'm torn between feeling genuinely happy - elated, even - for friends of mine having children, and feeling a deep sense of sorrow. It's not even so much the desire to have children as that I've always been jealous of women who can bear children. The idea of that deeply personal, intense experience sounds amazing to me, despite the discomfort and pain.

Like I said, I'm fully aware that I could well raise children, but I can't help but shake the feeling that the experience might not quite feel 'right' for me. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I will different in future.

A friend of mine who's spent their life torn between a few different cultures told me yesterday that they feel a sense of not quite 'belonging', and that it was a huge problem for them. Not quite fitting into Australian culture, not the other cultures they've been a part of most of their life.

And I found I could empathise very well with it. Partly because I was raised in semi-rural Australian / near-urban culture and didn't quite feel I fit in anywhere. I'm sure dysphoria didn't help, but I got so used to learning things and being asked if I was English because of my 'accent'. I don't have an accent that should stick out that much in Australia. Of the three general Australian accents, mine is what I've learned is 'cultivated Australian'. In short? The closest Australia has to receive pronunciation.

Between that and being teased for not being 'manly' to the point where I began to pretend to be masculine, just to fit in, and I always felt quite alone.

It's a step further now.

Much of the time with female friends, I feel fantastic. I feel like our experiences and the way we relate to things emotionally is much, much closer than anything I've had with people before. And yet it's hard not to be constantly reminded of little differences. Even social - being raised male and coping with dysphoria without any idea what that was has had profound effects on my personality. I won't ever have the experience of being a young girl growing into womanhood.

Even now, transitioning with hormone therapy - "a second puberty", isn't quite the same. It's faster, for one. If anything, based on the side effects it's closer to (in a twisted irony) pregnancy than puberty. Then of course there's the strange experience of having massive body and hormonal shifts as a mature adult. I can feel myself slipping into childish behaviour sometimes, no doubt due in part to the huge effects hormones can have on your emotions.

I can see myself doing these things, sometimes in embarrassing ways, and yet often can't quite stop myself.

It's not quite as simple as spending time with my trans friends, either.

Our experiences are all wildly different. The way we feel, the way we present, our varied ages and experiences before we transitioned... we're as unique as any group of people. I can find people whose experiences I can relate to sometimes, but even then there are limits.

I hear about trans women standing up to pee, and it still confuses me a bit because I can't do that without often feeling hugely dysphoric. But for many others, that's not a problem.

And this is constant. A feeling of not quite belonging in any one category, or one little subculture.

I get invited to a Hen's night, and instantly get this feeling that I wouldn't quite feel comfortable there. No more so than I ever did being invited to Buck's nights.

Sometimes, I relish these unique experiences and prefer to think of it as a sense of uniqueness. But other times, I just feel lonely. Even around other people.

I'm just glad I have a lot of the friends I do.

Nothing helps as much as my girlfriends who accept me completely and make me feel good about myself.

One of the things that's thrown me quite a bit, and had a much larger impact than I'd expected transitioning is what people call me, and how the same terms can have wildly different effects on my emotional state depending on who said them - and why.

Changing pronouns is obvious, but that happened in stages.

Very early on, when I had only come out to a few close friends, I explicitly asked them not to change pronouns around me. The reason was that I didn't want to be accidentally outed if they said it in mixed company.

Which meant the first time a friend called me 'she' or some variation was when they did it anyway when we were alone. Unsurprisingly, it gave me quite a kick and felt like something was just right.

Once I came out, it didn't take long for people to be using female pronouns all the time.

Then came the first time some stranger correctly gendered me. A bartender calling myself and another girl standing beside me at the bar 'ladies'. I wasn't even presenting femme at the time, so that made me enormously happy. So much so that I ordered a sparkling wine to celebrate instead of a cider.

But it's not as simple as she/her.

There are a ton of terms of address that get levelled at us every day, and the thing that surprises me wasn't the variety - 'lady', 'love', 'darl', 'babe', 'girl' - but how whether or not I enjoyed them depended entirely on context.

An aspect of the sexist nature of our culture is that masculine pronouns are considered 'genderless' for the most part. (Also, keep in mind I'm talking about Australia here, so some of these may be unique to our fine sun-seared folk.)

Many people - regardless of gender identity - will use the terms 'man', 'dude' or 'mate' as a genderless form of address. By contrast, however, if you call a bloke 'lady', it's dismissive.

This is one of those uncomfortable ways in which masculine behaviour is shown to be aspirational, and feminine behaviour as somehow 'weak' or undesirable - even for women.

Of course she won't mind being called 'man' - who wouldn't want to be a man? "It's okay, mates. She's like one of the boys." The gross disrespect with these kind of statements - that somehow she's "elevated" to the level of being male, is pretty obvious.

But I digress. Somehow, because of this, feminine forms of address sometimes taken on a dismissive or diminutive tone.

A bartender said "here you go, love" the other day after serving me, and it felt pretty gross. Thing is, by contrast - if the bartender had been a woman, I wouldn't have minded one bit.

What we call others has a lot of loaded subtext, and it's something I don't think most men often consider.

Yet it's there, and very obvious for me. I spoke to a few female friends about this, and it's certainly something they think about, but perhaps are more desensitised to than me, simply as most have been hearing this for years.

"Man" from a male friend who I know always refers to his friends as such, regardless of gender, does not seem negative to me, despite knowing the systemic unpleasantness that results in it being okay as a generic term of address.

"Girl" from a female friend who's in the process of complimenting me feels wonderful; from an adult male, especially one I don't know, it sounds reductive and gross.

It's not as simple as "stop using diminutive feminine terms for women", either - because almost every feminine term has subtext for us here, and it often depends entirely on the specific usage - when, where, why, and who says it.

One day, I'd like to go through a huge list of possible forms of address for men and women, and discuss what they mean based on context.

That'd be quite a document.