Expect Problems

A transition blog.

A small handful of times recently I get asked something recently. "Do you ever walk into the wrong bathroom by mistake?"

It's a slightly strange thing to think about, because it's something I've always had difficulty with. Not because I ever got this wrong, but because in years past I would have to consciously not just ensure I was walking into a men's bathroom, but steel myself for it.

It felt so wrong to enter gendered spaces for men that every time I did I would have this gnawing sense that I might be 'found out' at any moment. Despite consciously being able to tell myself that's not the case, it was a feeling I never shook and which never made a lick of sense sense until I began to read about gender dysphoria.

Now, using women's bathrooms presents a different problem. Despite how I look, there's been so much furore about trans rights and bathroom use (especially in automated 'trending' spots in social media) that I can't help but get a twinge of nervousness when I use one. Concern that the wrong kind of someone will spot me as trans and attempt to actively deny me the right to use the toilet.

The worst part is - this has never happened to me. It's a fear that's been built up largely because of constant coverage of bathroom-rights debates in a handful of US states, and good 'ole Angry Internet People.

It bothers the hell out of me that this is such a major concern of mine, despite having proven to be as common for me as being struck by meteors, attacked by zombies or waking up to discover that I now exclusively speak Swahili.

Yet it bothers me enough that if there's a unisex bathroom I'll use that, or if I don't really need to go that bad... I won't use it - and all these situations are still far, far better to the constant feeling of dread and paranoia I always felt using men's before.

Ignoring the effective scare-campaign being run by the media about this for a moment, another thing springs to mind: my relationship with gender will always, always be complicated.

It will get easier over time, but the fact is I've always had to think very carefully before entering gendered spaces, and decades of doing that coupled with the constant dissection of the validity of my gender identity don't make it easy to shake, even though I am more comfortable in gendered spaces now than ever before.

Some days, things don't go well. For any of us. It just happens. It doesn't have to be a huge thing, either. It can be a combination of little things that leaves you to desperately wanting to leave work early and have a beer with some friends, cry in a cubicle at work, or just comfort-eat and watch a movie that makes you feel good next to a heater.

The small things that trigger it can be anything - a bad sleep coupled with rain and a shitty trip to work. Someone snapping at you plus losing your wallet for a stressful hour. Spending hours doing the wrong thing at work without realising it and knowing it'll take you even more time to rectify your mistake.

The problem is that, while on balance my life is certainly better now, the bad days are more frequent.

Not because things are worse, but because there are more 'little' things that can trigger them. Someone misgendering me. The stress of going outside if worse than before, at least for now. I'm still getting used to cat-calling and shitty behaviour, and all it takes is one crass comment from some guy on the street and it can send me spiralling into insecurity for the rest of the day.

Reading an article saying the wrong thing and finding that my whole sense of self is being debated by people who've never experienced and never will experience dysphoria in their life.

One of the many times I find myself coping with the ton of body and sexual issues years of dysphoria and insecurity have left me with.

A bad interaction with some form of corporate or government bureaucracy having trouble with my name or gender changing in their system.

The number of relatively minor things that can turn my mood south with little warning seem to be much, much larger these days. Sometimes they don't even need to happen. Just thinking about the ton of bullshit or even really scary, expensive medical things in my future just to keep moving past all this is too much and I curl up on my couch and become a sobbing wreck until my face hurts and I need water because I'm dehydrated.

The one thing I always go back to when I have these days, like today, is to focus on the knowledge that in the long run they will get better.

The bureaucratic stuff will be done. I will continue to get better at dealing with my insecurities. Like every woman, I will gain more confidence and get used to what's the new "normal" for me about existing in public as a woman.

It can be hard to latch onto that. To find the hook to get myself really able to focus on the positive.

Especially when comforts fail me. It may sound strange, but one of the things which vanished entirely for me when I accepted being trans was that the majority of the books and films that used to be my go-to bad-mood media stopped working. This is for personal reasons, of course - I used to find, when I was at my most sad, lonely or dysphoric, I'd watch media that depicted happy relationships between men, usually in tough circumstances. Or films that dissected masculinity. Because often, when I felt bad, what was going on was that I was having one of my frequent moments of difficulty functioning as an 'adult male'.

That media usually remains of vague interest to me now, but it doesn't help me.

My cinematic comfort-food is gone.

What were once my favourite films now seem as foreign and hard for me to relate to as a geology paper when what I really need is a poem.

So I watch more movies, slowly finding more stories I can try to relate to in some way or other. That's tough, though. Most of us can emotionally connect with a huge variety of protagonists - they don't need to reflect us perfectly. But our comfort viewing is often something that tells a story we really click with.

Those stories are tougher to come by when you're, say, a trans lesbian.

Not many protagonists are lesbians. Even fewer are trans - and often the stories aren't really about them, anyway, and they're played by cis people which makes it feel even tougher to really believe what you're seeing.

And that's before we get to whether or not emotionally I feel I can connect with their ~specific~ story. Just because a character is trans and/or a lesbian, doesn't mean I can relate to her, any more than every white, heterosexual cis guy can relate to every similar film protagonist who shares these specific traits. So I usually have to make do with movies focusing on female relationships with heavily queer undertones. Or movies unrelated to any of that which just make me laugh. It's not like I'm suddenly incapable of related to people who aren't Me With A Different Name... but some days it'd be nice to feel a little closer more of the people who are the Good Guys in their own narratives.

If you're a white, heterosexual cis guy, you have a huge variety of stories and it's likely many of them have protagonists you can relate to - whether you're an outcast loner in a leather jacket or a book nerd anything else, you're likely to be covered.

They can find their stories.

It's harder now.

The bad days, like today, are tougher to bookend with something nice.

But there's always something, if I look hard enough. It may take me hours and cost me litres of tears, but there'll be something for me to latch onto.

A nice message from a friend who has no idea you're having a tough day.

Evidence that some further part of your ongoing bureaucratic and medical odysseys are reaching something close to a conclusion.

They're there.

I just need to get better at finding them.

It's reached the point where more often than not, I wear dresses or skirts. There are a few reasons for this, but they're actually more practical than aesthetic.

It's about comfort. As my body has changed, pants have become less and less comfortable. This may seem like a slightly odd thing to say given how many women wear pants all the time, but I suppose it's worth mentioning here that my situation (and my body) isn't quite the same as a cis woman's.

While my body is becoming more curvy as I go on, I am still an awkward combination of quite skinny... and yet not man-shaped. My hips are more pronounced than ever before (crossing my legs when sitting is now, thanks to fat redistribution, actually incredibly comfortable compared to how it was before). But I am not yet medically, financially or psychologically ready for reassignment surgery. So pants tend to fit worse than before. They're either uncomfortably tight in a painful area, or incredibly baggy and look... rubbish.

So a skirt or a dress tends to feel best. It helps, too, that they're a bit form-fitting and make me feel better about myself.

It's hard to get too dysphoric in a dress. Well... harder.

And yet... despite wearing dresses or skirts much of the time now, I still rarely wear them out of the house.

Of course, it's a lucky privilege I can do this at all - I work from home; most people don't.

The reason why, despite being physically less comfortable, I tend to wear pants when going out (regardless of how femme or masc the rest of my outfit is) has nothing to do with comfort and everything to do with behaviour.

On the one hand, I don't get misgendered with any frequency in a dress. I'm lucky there. On the other hand... I get more attention. Many, many more eyes on me.

Dressing down is safer. Whether or not somebody genders me correctly or not, the number of times I get cat-called or abused on the street is far, far less if I wear pants. And yet by presenting more androgynously with pants, the chance of transphobic abuse or being misgendered is much, much higher.

So I'm left feeling conflicted. Sometimes I feel like presenting a bit more feminine, but stress over the result if I dress nice before going out. Other times, I want to tomboy it up with a leather jacket and combat boots, but worry about the reaction when somebody sees my breasts / body-shape or face up close.

They're both things I need to deal with. I can't change the world.

People will pay attention to me - more frequently when I dress up and draw attention to myself.

Which leaves me in the position many people find themselves in all the time - balancing my personal safety and comfort versus what I believe.

I believe I have the right to not be abused or hit on by leaving my house.

But I also believe that in practice, some ways of presenting and behaving will reduce the reality of how often that happens.

And all it takes is one shitty evening where someone hurls crap or sexual comments at me and my confidence can slip away for days.

I'll stare at my feet when walking around. I'll avoid standing too near any men I see on station platforms or in public places.

And I'll be left feeling disempowered and weak when it happens.

Most women I know dress very feminine every day, and aren't beaten down by this.

I know I don't get an abnormal amount of sexual comments, either. The danger of something nastier may be higher than with cis women, but the number of times I've walked along with a friend and heard gross comments like "show us your vaginas" and had them not even flinch or really think much about it hours later when we discuss it... it's worrying.

In a paper I read recently, the way it was described was this:

Most transgender people going through a gender role transition have to learn how to be in the new role without the benefit of a long period of socialization typical for non-transgender people. They experience an accelerated adolescence based on an image heretofore held only in fantasy without adolescent friendships and social feedback.

In short: I was never a teenaged girl. Nothing has ever normalised this for me, or taught me how to deal with it practically or psychologically.

The worst part is that the shame I feel at how tough this is proving for me is based on a shame that I've come to realise is a bad analogy: "If a teenagers can learn to cope with this, why can't I?"

I need to think a bit more realistically about what I'm going through - a second puberty, but in more ways than just physical. I am re-learning social interaction from a totally different perspective.

In the same way that young people begin in safe spaces of family and friends before becoming more comfortable in more public environments, I am doing the same thing.

I am, for now, preferring interactions with friends, housemates and people in more safe environments.

I should, I suppose, feel a bit more okay than I do about taking a while to feel anything resembling comfort in public spaces, when the way I get treated is so astoundingly different.

It takes years for young people to find confidence in social situations. I may have started on an arguably more "mature" platform, but even with that leg-up (and ignoring for a moment the challenge of my previous social training often working against me at this point) I've been presenting / looking female for a very short period of time - mere months. I need to give myself more time.

If nothing else, the realisation of what it feels like to experience what cis women my own age have experienced for the majority of their lives up to this point has been astoundingly eye-opening.

So much so that I stress over whether or not to wear a dress, and I'm furious that the world isn't a better, safer place for us.

Yesterday, after I realised the fear I'd built up in my mind of wearing dresses in public without being around a lot of friends... I wore a nice dress out for the day. To see my psychologist, to drink with friends at a bar... I wore a nice dress, loved how I looked and how it felt, and nothing bad happened. (Well, apart from the hangover. Damnit, Luce...)

One of the major changes since I began transitioning has been something that didn't fully register as even existing until it began to change.

The simple way to describe it is this: I had never been able to feel attractive. At all. Partners could tell me I was attractive. They could be noticeably excited by being with me. I could find out someone had a crush on me, and I would chalk it up to something in my personality.

I could never understand or accept, on any level, that someone found me physically attractive.

In fact, compliments about my appearance usually had the reverse effect. I'd get uncomfortable, and it could even trigger dysphoria. I remember instances with partners in intimate situations where the wrong comment - intended to be positive - would absolutely destroy me. Any focus on my body at all would ruin any chance I'd be able to be comfortable with them right then.

It meant that I dressed down. Always. Daggy pants and at best a t-shirt with a logo or pop-culture reference on it that I liked. If I did nothing to ever give people reason to comment - even positively - on my appearance, it made things easier.

In rare situations where I was forced to wear a suit or the like, I would walk around in a funk, in dread of someone acknowledging it. Calling me handsome, or some equally masculine bit of praise.

Over time I began to get a little more used to it - I sometimes dressed a little nicer, but usually not by much. My fear of feeling deeply uncomfortable when receiving a compliment on my style or looks was too high.

That's begun to change now.

Compliments feel good, and have the reverse effect. Positive comments on anything from my hair to my makeup to my clothes to just general observations are often enough to put me in a good headspace for hours to come. Not so much out of a desperate desire to be seen to be attractive, but that physical compliments are almost invariably gendered, and can, cumulatively, serve as a bulwark against dysphoria.

Then there finally came experiences where people made me feel sexy. Genuinely sexy. It's not compliments on a conscious level that do this, either. It's that feeling when someone is kissing you, lying next to you in bed or wherever, when you see it in their eyes that they're absolutely, really and genuinely into you.

When they say something like "you're so fucking hot", and there's an absolute energy to how they say it - like it's not a voluntary thing to do. They just have to say it.

I'd seen that kind of thing before, but it always made me feel uncomfortable. If someone thought I was an attractive male, I felt terrible. When a partner is clearly attracted to me as a woman, however they express it... it feels so different.

It feels right. It brings elation and confidence and the sense that things will be okay.

It's a feeling I didn't know I was missing from my life until I first began to feel it.

On some level, partners were, I suppose, never able to fully express any attraction they felt for me, as my reaction was so negative. Most learnt to just not try, although I'm sure none had any real idea just why I reacted like that - I sure didn't.

Essentially, I was never able to be fully comfortable in a relationship. The closest I ever felt to being 'myself' was when I was briefly able to forget my physical body and avoid any treatment which in any obvious way gendered me.

Which was rare.

It feels, now, like I'm finally able to be with someone fully.

I love how they can make me feel sexy now, and I love trying to make them feel the same.

For some of you who know me in real life, it may seem like I have just... vanished. I very rarely go out to bars any more. I'm not at many parties. Even some of my closer friends I've seen maybe twice or three times this year.

If you still follow this blog, and my social media posts, it may seem a little like I'm avoiding you, as I seem so confident as I blog about transitioning and all the other things going on my life.

That's not the case.

I want to talk a little about my rollercoaster-like experience with self-confidence as I began transitioning.

I suppose everything can be marked back to when I accepted I wasn't male. The day I realised I wasn't cis. The weeks and even months that followed were intense. To acquaintances it probably seemed like not much was going on, beyond me shaving my beard off and beginning to experiment with slightly abnormal (for me) bits of personal style, like nail polish.

At this point, my dysphoria was getting worse. Much worse. Because in recognising what it was, I also destroyed my usual (and unhealthy, I'll add) coping mechanism. So going outside was stressful for me.

I remember going to a bar with a few friends near Christmas last year. All the friends I was with knew. I was presenting as male. I hadn't started HRT. But just being in public was triggering the most crippling dysphoria I'd felt in ages. I could barely function, and sat there nearly-mute until I broke down crying when I got home.

Once I began HRT, and my emotions began to shift from the oestrogen & dramatically lowered testosterone, the dysphoria became less problematic. Especially as I began to ditch the hyper-masculine parts of my presentation and behaviour that I'd built up as a coping mechanism over the years.

But I still looked - and generally presented - pretty masculine. I was still only out to close friends and family, so this worked pretty well for me.

However, while my presentation probably didn't give much away, I was also dealing with the insane emotional rollercoaster that being carpet-bombed with oestrogen (and later progesterone) takes you on. That aside, I really did feel more confident. I went to bars just as... myself. Apart from nail polish and a crop top to make my developing breasts less obvious, I was more comfortable presenting as a slightly effeminate tomboy, even if people still gendered me male all the time as a result of not going hyper-femme from the start.

Still, dysphoria doesn't just vanish when you start presenting differently or begin hormone therapy, and different things would trigger me often enough that I was still a bit cautious going out.

Once I began progesterone and raised my dosage of oestrogen, though, physical changes began to change things very fast for me. Thanks to lucky genetics and whatever other bits of random chance, my body's response to hormone therapy was fast. I remember vividly when I was still wearing baggy men's clothes, hiding my budding breasts and drinking at a bar.

To my absolute shock, the bartender gendered me correctly. I think that was the first time I began to realise just how lucky I was, and how effective HRT was proving.

That's great - don't get me wrong - but it's meant that the process of getting used to how differently the world treats women has been a lesson I've had to learn much faster.

I still wear pants much of the time. My clothing is almost always bought from the women's section. I often wear tight, low-cut tops, as I love the way they make me feel and look.

But my body, if I'm not in really baggy clothes, is distinctly feminine now. I can't hide my breasts any more without wearing absurdly baggy tops. Even sans makeup, I get gendered correctly more often than not. In that way, I'm incredibly lucky. Not because it's some perfect aspirational goal - but because it does make social interaction easier.

So why am I still so incredibly timid when it comes to going out? Why am I still spending so much of my time in small, close-knit groups and avoiding the kind of public nights out I'd so frequently enjoy in years past?

I've suffered very little transphobic backlash or abuse, frankly. And given how bad that can be, I consider myself phenomenally lucky.

But here's the thing: it's not just people picking you as trans that can be problematic and stressful.

I've had to adapt to the world seeing me as female.

If you're a cis male you'd probably be quite surprised to realise just what a major shock and what a massively different experience this can often be.

It certainly was for me. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what I'd be facing. And intellectually, I was conceptually aware of quite a bit of it. Most, even. In a way, I was right. The things that I deal with now were not fundamentally surprising to me. But how much that can affect you psychologically was.

Just walking down a street and getting screamed shit from men in cars or cat-calls if I make the mistake of passing (usually groups) of men. That's if I'm lucky, and they don't pick me as trans. If they do that, it's much worse.

At one point after a loud fuckwit in a car called out "hot arse, bitch!" at me, an acquaintance said to me, "Well, look on the bright side, you're a hot chick!"

Honestly, it's a bit hard to just try to see a bright side to this when a handful of times a week I'll get reminders of how surprisingly juvenile groups of men can be. It can not happen for a week now, but I'm still defensive and uncomfortable out in public. Not much I can do about it except, as people say, "get used to it".

But it takes time.

It's the ultimate in ironies that years of male privilege make this tough to get used to. But cis women grow up being forced to get used to this horrific horse-shit. Over years cis women grow 'into' being a physically mature woman who the world sees as a sex object. Or, to use more clinical words, "Most transgender people going through a gender role transition have to learn how to be in the new role without the benefit of a long period of socialization typical for non-transgender people." [Fraser, Lin (2009) 'Depth psychotherapy with transgender people']

"You just get used to it. You learn to tune it out."

I've heard that dozens of times now, and I'm sure it's true because some days I feel it.

I prefer to think of it as just getting numbed by it.

I'm in constant awe when I'm out with a female friend, we get some crap screamed at us from a passing car, and it seems to just roll off her back.

But just thinking about 'getting used to it' makes me angry. Why should this kind of behaviour be so prevalent and so accepted that it's us who have to get numbed to it, rather than these human dumpster-fires that need to accept that their behaviour makes us feel unsafe and objectified?

Then you've got drunken guys in bars...

This is why I stick to small, expensive bars when I can now. I have less money than ever, but I'm happy to spend it on hideously expensive cocktails & wine if that means I'm unlikely to be surrounded by raucous blokes who've just consumed $2 schooners of Generic Bitter.

In a sense, I feel like I'm on the "home stretch" now.

I remain on an emotionally insane rollercoaster and my body is still feminising more and more each month, but I'm now firmly in the "androgynous at absolute best" camp, and can't ever go back to the social privilege I had before.

As happy as I am with my progress, and as genuinely amazing as it is to finally be approaching the point of not feeling trapped in my own body, I'm still a long ways off having the confidence I'd worked up before - even after my hormones stop making my brain a stormy hellscape.

To all my trans friends who go out so confidently? You're amazing. <3