Expect Problems

A transition blog.

I've been mulling over one of the more "personal expression" aspects of changing your gender identity - self-referencial gendered statements.

"Hey, look, I'm the kind of girl who [x]."

"I am the queen of [x]."

"Well, this lady likes [x]."

It's something a lot of us do. Mostly in a simple way - a quick glance at my Facebook feed shows "I'm not really a comic book guy, but-" and "I am fangirling so hard right now".

I certainly used to use similar turns of phrase when talking about myself before. And I still do now. But it's actually one of the things that I've found for some reason a little strange to slip into, despite naturally using feminine gender pronouns without pause or hesitation from the day I came out.

Somehow, slipping in irreverent stuff like "fuck yeah, I'm a Goddess" instead of "God" if I just did something awesome (or terrible) feels a tiny bit... over-indulgeant.

It's not that I have a problem or feel awkward using new gendered terms, so much as that using gender-specific terms for myself seems to be drawing attention to my gender - something which seems like it's more omni-present now anyway. It's hard for trans issues or random goings-on not to be brought up in conversation these days - either people ask specifically, or indirectly get that sort of answer when asking what's up.

So what I'm going through/doing is always there.

Thing is, that's a rather bizarre reason to pause before doing the same jokingly-gendered stuff I'd have done without hesitation in years past. Especially given it feels good. I still get a kick every time someone says warm, gendered things to me. Things that for once feel right instead of uncomfortable. (I had no idea until it began to change just how weird and wrong it has always felt having masculine pronouns applied to me.)

I should be doing it more. I should be doing what makes me comfortable and happy, including specific kinds of jokes / comments.

And yet, on some level, I think it relates to feeling like I am constantly discussing or thinking about or being probed about transitioning / gender.

Don't get me wrong - I love discussing this stuff. I am excited to unpack all the things laid out in front of me, making sense of myself and more about society around me through the differently-shaped lens I now get to look through.

But there is always that slight fear of, "surely people are tired of me rambling about gender and amateur sociology by now..."

So I still make some attempt not to rant too hard without prompting.

Really, though? I should use gendered sentiments or statements about myself more. After thirty years of it feeling shit? It makes this girl feel good.

I kept fairly detailed personal diary entries when I began HRT. This is part two of my attempt to slowly move those into a more readable form - at least the ones about physical changes and my reactions to them. I'll do something else with the social/sexual posts I made during this time.

I began on the 31st of December, 2015. As my previous pre-HRT journal post noted, I intended to begin on the 1st of January, but found I was so nervous about starting I felt it best to just begin a day early.

This is a collection of my diary entries for the first month.

On the day, I wrote this:

"Took my first pill at 8am this morning. They’re blue, so there’s a twisted reversal of the red pill / blue pill thing from The Matrix.

I’m now officially going through hormone replacement therapy.

I’m correcting my sex."

It was New Year's Eve, so I suspect I'd had a few drinks.

On day two, I wrote this:

"I spoke to a few other trans women, and it’s clear I am on a crazy-large dosage compared to lots of them. Most started on 1mg per day plus an androgen-blocker. I’m not on an AB and I’m on 6mg - 3x 2mg doses per day.

I’m kinda nervous.

But especially because the more I think about it, the more the idea of a fast transition excites me.

I’m going to cautiously read the list of symptoms that are bad with the progynova tonight, just to make sure I’m familiar of what to be looking for."

Day three got a bit more complicated.

"I feel a bit off. Slightly muddled. Emotionally volatile. Physically a bit more sensitive than usual, too. But it's three days. Too early to have any real symptoms, so it's got to be psychological, right?

I've been very cautious and checked the big list of side-effects again. Everything I feel so far is on the 'known/normal side-effects' list. There are only two marked as 'stop taking this and talk to your pharmacist or doctor immediately'. Migraines (especially if it's your first, which it would be for me) or tight, recurring chest pains."

Day four was when the real symptoms began.

"Last night was a disaster. My heart would beat erratically, making me terrified something was wrong, but nope, 'erratic heart beat' / 'heart palpitations' is on the know side-effects list (just need to watch for actual chest pain, which I haven't had).

So is emotional volatility, odd cravings, and every other side-effect I’m having. Of which there are many.

Hot flashes are another fun one, but those aren't common and just feel weird, rather than actually unpleasant.

The heart thing made me unable to sleep last night. Almost at all. I felt nauseous in the morning, too.

But my favourite symptom? My breasts ache. I can’t even say ‘chest’, because there are other issues (the heart thing) which my chest is going through. So, yeah, breasts. No other way to put it. My nipples and the attendant matter behind them? Ugh. Sore as fuck."

I also came to another small realisation.

"I was discussing these symptoms with a friend.

It seems that, short of uterus symptoms, being carpet-bombed with oestrogen has basically given me a half-way between the symptoms of going on a strong contraceptive pill and early pregnancy.

Yaaaay. Cis women are fucking champions for putting up with this shit. Even knowing this is a more extreme form and combination of these symptoms, the idea of getting even some of these monthly, or doing this in a serious way because of pregnancy and then adding in all the uterus-related stuff I don't have to deal with... yeaaaah. Men have no idea how good they have it.

*cries into video game controller*"

I also began to mull over my decisions more.

"I suppose it goes without saying that this is fucking terrifying.

How can it not be? But each time I have moments of panic, which are pretty common, I remind myself of one thing:

All those fears? Of looking odd? Of being treated differently because of how badly trans people are often reacted to?

It’s all temporary. Literally. I will transition. I will become who I am comfortable being, even if it takes surgery.

As for trans treatment? How trans people are treated right now, in January of 2016, is not something I should factor in. Because, like everything else, progress gets made - I need to be thinking about this as the rest of my life. How will I be treated in 2026? Or 2036? That’s what matters.

So that is what I keep reminding myself of every time I get fearful.

This is about the rest of my life, not the present, or the near-future."

That fourth day was bad. The physical symptoms were bad enough that I was genuinely nervous. Not that I'd made a bad decision (I often questioned but never doubted my decision - all I had to do was think back to how I've felt since I was as young as 10-12 years old to remember how much I've really always wanted this) but that my body wouldn't react well. That it wouldn't 'work' or that these side-effects would continue and make my life intolerable.

But on day five, I wrote:

"Feeling better today.

A lot better. Much more mellow. Calm. No anger, annoyance. My breasts still ache, but the other shitty side-effects are gone.

So instead I just have to fight the urge to grope my chest several times an hour when I’m in public. Jeeze they are really sore.

I am having trouble finding a way to sleep comfortably. I used to sleep on my chest habitually. That's tough right now."

Day six:

"I’m having trouble focusing on work, and I’m a bit more emotional than I’d like.

Random aside: I haven’t drunk anything in two days, despite being in social situations where I normally would. Partly to see if the booze may have had ANYTHING to do with the uncomfortable heart palpitations I felt (I will deliberately drink some wine tomorrow having had two days of no-heart-issues) but partly just because I don’t feel the need so much any more.

I am nervous, but I am also excited and rather comfortable with where my future is heading, at least in the long term. So drinking to numb things is no longer something I want to do."

Day seven:

"It somehow just hit me…

If same-sex marriage became legal at some point, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that I could actually be a bride some day.

For some reason, even though just about every other gendered role seems to have flittered through my head, THIS one took me by surprise.

The idea seems so bizarre, and yet much more 'comfortable' than the idea of being a groom ever would be."

What's interesting to me here is that I still considered myself exclusively attracted to women. To be clear, that hasn't changed in a meaningful way, but I am now at least not being dismissive at all of the possibility that I might be more bi/pan than I had previously accepted.

Day eight:

"Though the whole 'your testosterone levels will rise at first to try and compensate' thing I read about seems to have happened? My chest hair seems a bit thicker. I read that’ll happen before it thins out properly.

Guess my body just has to get used to oestrogen."

That was fun.

"Now on day 8 of HRT.

I’m feeling calm, mostly happy and just… I dunno. It’s good. I hope the worst of the side effects are, for now at least, over.

I guess I’m now dwelling heavily on who I am. How I will present myself, etc.

Most of this comes down to seeing how I naturally act now I’m shedding my inhibitions. I guess I act more feminine, but not hugely so. While I feel being female would be right for me, I am also almost certainly not a totally hyper-girly sort. It’d be somewhere in the middle… but more heavily leaning toward feminine than masculine.

I've no idea how this will change as my body feminises and I get used to this, but right now I guess on the spectrums of gender identity and presentation, I'd be far down the 'feminine' end for identity and a bit closer to 'androgynous' for presentation.

There's something kinda hot about androgyny, anyway.

Either way, I feel calmer. I don’t overdo things so much any more. I don’t over-act. I don’t feel the need to impress.

I am happier already."

Day eleven:

Once things began to settle down, I spent more time thinking about the future and considering fears rather than focusing on the minutia or small discomforts / changes going on with my body.

"I haven't had these fears in a while, but it popped up again last night after a moment of fairly bad dysphoria. I began to dwell on issues that haven't happened yet - on social awkwardness or problems that might arise as I continue to transition.

I started focusing on being scared of body changes. Of being treated as some kind of ‘other’. I start mulling over, 'You know, just ‘sucking it up’ and staying male might be easier...'

But then I think more about that, and the idea depresses me so much I can’t function.

So I end up in stuck between something terrifying and something too depressing to get my head around."

Then later on:

"Things have settled down now. I guess it’s day 16 now?

I get days of being overly emotional, and it’s too hard for me to tell if there are any physical effects just yet, beyond my chest being a bit sensitive on and off.

But I feel happier, despite those melancholy / nervous days. I feel I’m doing the right thing in a way even I’m surprised at.

Not just the right thing - but becoming, really, who I want to be."

On day eighteen, I noticed something I'd somehow failed to realise before.

"So, it just struck me - my sex drive has begun to drop very, very noticeably.

For context, months ago and for much of my adult life, I've had a fairly strong sex drive, even if I had trouble acting on it due to discomfort with my body. Left to my own devices and without reason not to, I'd gladly get off a few times a day, if only to keep my head clear so I can focus on work.

I haven't felt aroused or been distracted thinking about sex for a while now. At first I thought I was just too busy or distracted by what was going on, but no, my sex drive seems to have dropped noticeably already.

I read this would happen for a while, so it's not concerning. In fact it's kinda pleasant. Fewer distractions.

My concerns started getting a bit more specific as HRT went on.

"HRT, Day 19.

Woke up feeling really crap today. Very moody, emotional and nervous about going outside. Ate lots of chocolate. I never used to enjoy eating chocolate.

My chest aches, and I can actually see breast development. Already. Like, quite noticeable to me. I am wearing a crop top under my t-shirt half for comfort and half so it’s not obvious, because my right breast is noticeably larger than my left. I wear a size smaller than would fit me normally, so it acts like a really crap binding to hide my bumps.

I read that asymmetrical breast growth early on is common. :-/ I’m just kinda scared. I’m not even a month into HRT. I heard it takes like 5-6 months before breasts are usually noticeable. What if I'm desperately trying to hide breasts while still looking masculine otherwise?"

Aside: the asymmetrical thing would pass. At least, past the point of being noticeable at all.

On day twenty-three, I began to draft my coming-out post. I would write, re-write and stress over it almost every other day until finally coming out a months later.

Ugh. I wanted to avoid this getting meta - using my transition blog to comment on another blog post or article. But I feel I have to.

So, read this amazing article by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart. It's a discussion of all the states of denial Vanessa went through before accepting being transgender.

Holy shit. It's one of those articles I read and was just amazed at how similar our experiences were, and so incredibly well explained.

Here are some of the more deeply familiar parts she covers, and some expanded notes on them:

  • "Why do transgender people make me feel so uncomfortable?" This was something I had felt for years, and I was deeply, deeply embarrassed of it. Why should trans people make me uncomfortable? I couldn't understand it. I'd never in my life had issues with any other group of people, of any sort.
  • "Why do I feel so negatively about my body size and shape, regardless of how much weight I lose or gain?" I couldn't explain this. I just hated my body. It made me deeply uncomfortable at all times - and only worse when I was in the situation of being intimate with someone. It felt foreign - like I was constantly in danger of being 'found out' somehow, or someone realising how bad my body was. The only exception to this was my hair - the longer and more feminine I kept my hair, the more comfortable I was with it.
  • "...thought that maybe trans people were crazy, unable to accept reality the way I had." Yes, even this. I had at times consciously accepted that I wasn't comfortable being a man and wished I were a woman, but also had dumb ideas about the binary and immutable nature of, at least, physical gender.
  • "I believed it was a sign of weakness to complain or try to change whatever nature had left you with." Yes. Even though I was raised in a very liberal family, with values of self-improvement drilled into me, some part of me kept telling myself that I just had to deal with this. So I tried. Quietly. For 33 years.
  • "I also believed that all women secretly wanted to be men. This is not actually the case." Yep. I somehow really managed to convince myself, "surely all men secretly want to be women. That's normal, right?" We tend to be very good at assuming our experiences are 'normal', despite normality not really being a very measurable thing.

Another thing the author mentions is not really identifying as "male" yet.

This is also really interesting to me because I actually came very close to not changing my name (yet) when I came out, and even considering not asking people to use correct gender pronouns for me.

Thinking back on it, it was because I was scared of it being awkward. Like, "if my body is still masculine, how awkward will I feel being introduced as Elissa?"

This was especially concerning because I knew my instinct was to present androgynously most of the time, not overtly femme. I absolutely identify as female (at least, way further on that end of the spectrum than male) but I still firmly believe in gender being a far less-than-binary thing.

Like this writer, for me a larger part of being trans for me was body issues, rather than social ones. It's still very hard to offend me by misgendering me. (Though someone managed it the other night by chance. Impressive - genuinely. I'm still trying to unpack how they did that.)

But a few people convinced me right before I came out that I should change my name and gender pronouns all at once. "Don't go half way. It should be like ripping off a bandaid." And there were other concerns. I thought I wouldn't care much about gender pronouns or names, but one issue was that if I was some peoples' first experiences with a friend transitioning, they might assume that what I prefer would hold true for other people who transitioned later on. A million things for me to ponder, and in the end I decided my friends were right - I should do both.

"I think you'll feel differently once people start calling you 'she'," a friend told me. The process, mentally, might be a lot easier for me doing all this at once.

Damn was she ever right. The first time anyone used a female gender pronoun for me my heart leapt.

And it still does.

Today is the hundredth day of hormone replacement therapy for me.

So, in celebration, I plan to drink some tequila & cocktails tonight. But before that, I figured I'd do another 'stray observations' style post.

  • Laser hair removal doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would, but it's still very uncomfortable during the session, my face looks blotchy and red for a day or so afterwards, and on top of that having to be extra-careful going out without sunblock rather sucks - especially in Australia, where we all live about two and a half kilometres from the surface of the sun.
  • I am now completely used to responding to and introducing myself as Elissa, whether I'm presenting female or andro. The weird thing becomes responding to my old name when I get official phone calls or the like - I haven't legally changed my name yet.
  • Growing breasts is incredibly uncomfortable. I have taken to wearing (slightly) padded bras much of the time now, but not for aesthetic reasons. Because growing breasts are sore as hell, and very soft slightly-protective padding is helpful.
  • They tend to be very sore for days at at time, and then be fine as long as I don't bump them by mistake. (Easy to do - as your body changes, getting used to the slightly different space it occupies is complicated.)
  • On that subject, I have occasionally lost my balance lately. I am slowly putting on weight around my thighs and my chest, and losing it from my middle, and as my doctor pointed out, "your centre of gravity is changing". So that's fun.
  • When I first went to buy women's clothing from various department stores, I was incredibly awkward. Some of my friends were awesome enough to come with me the first few times. That helped. But lately, something else happened: not only has the awkwardness gone away, but when I went to buy some cargo pants (men's cargo pants are 40x better than women's, generally)... I felt VERY out of place in the menswear section.
  • I still find myself switching wildly between being self-conscious about looking too masculine, and revelling in my androgyny. Which I'll get to now...
  • I have found myself really, really fascinated by peoples' reactions to me in public. Even when I get very rude people staring intensely at me, it doesn't so much make me embarrassed as curious. And I still intentionally present in a very androgynous style 90% of the time when I'm out and about, precisely because I know I haven't got much longer left any more to enjoy the odd experience of people simply having trouble gendering me. Going to make the most of this while I can, as a slightly odd social experiment.
  • I am slowly, slowly becoming more comfortable with my voice again. Pre-transition, I used to love my voice. Was the only part of myself I did love. I was confident in what I sounded like and what I could do with it. Now, everything is reversed - I hate how I sound, and I'm having to train myself into being comfortable with still having a fairly masculine voice.

Anyway, cheers to the next hundred days...

I am presently in the slightly odd situation of no longer fitting that nicely into most men's clothing, and yet not quite fitting right in lots of women's clothes.

I have begun to fit nicely in some cuts of dress, but not always.

With a slight bust and a much, much slimmer waist (within six weeks of starting HRT I dropped about 6-7kg, almost all from my middle) men's t-shirts kind of hang off my chest, even if I do my usual trick of wearing a tight sports crop underneath to flatten.

Even my jackets sit less well over my shoulders now I've lost a lot of muscle mass up there.

So I often wear women's tees, as they're much more comfortable. But, damnit! I have so many awesome t-shirts from my decade as a t-shirt hoarder. I'm going to have to get them altered eventually...

Anyway, my odd experiences clothing myself even when I'm trying to present in a very feminine way are curious, but what's surprised me and been really interesting is that while at first this felt like a "unique to transitioning" experience, it quickly became apparently to me that this is absolutely not the case.

As I spoke to lady friends, I got similar stories. "I don't have much of a waist. I use the following tricks and types of outfits to work around that..."

"I'm really self-conscious about having small breasts. So I tend to..."

And it goes on to other things...

"I hate my hips. They're so big. So I tend to wear stuff like..."

I had no illusions that all women magically wore the same type of clothes perfectly. You'd have ben totally blind to think that.

But it has still been eye-opening to me just how much effort most women have to go through if they want to adhere even a little to the kind of look that women are all assumed to have and are judged against.

After all, hormones aren't some zero-sum thing. Men have more testosterone than oestrogen generally, and the reverse for women. But there are other hormones, and different levels affect different genetics in different ways.

So there are a ton of cis people who are often mis-gendered, and have either consciously or subconsciously learned how to dress and behave to negate this. (Or rather laudably just gone 'eh, whatever'. In which case, rock on!)

Even things I thought would be relatively trans-specific, such as dealing with facial hair (not everyone can afford laser hair removal and almost NOBODY can afford or wants to deal with hair electrolysis), are still not things I and other trans women have to deal with.

At all.

More women than I ever realised wax, shave or have noticeable facial hair removed some other way - like blasting their face with a laser in the same way I do.

Thing is, this has been surprising and fascinating to me, and I had previously thought of myself as pretty aware of women's issues - be they social or physical.

But just in terms of dressing and presenting, there is more complexity and stress involved than I'd ever have previously imagined.

And, honestly, right now it's fun for me... but I'm sure in years it'll be hard not to just be over all of it.