Expect Problems

A transition blog.

CW: Public attention from creepy dudes.

Most of my transition blog posts have been either general observations about an aspect of transitioning, or specific discussions of experiences I've had. This is... half way between the two. I'm going to describe it as if it was a specific, distinct event, but what I'll be doing is fictionalising something which has happened to me in some variation a small handful of times in the past year.

But first, for context I need to mention three things: I have a very mid-range voice. It's not very deep - so much so that during my pre-transition years I trained myself to lower my voice, out of fear I wouldn't seem "manly" enough (the irony of which once I accepted being trans hit me like a freight train). However, my voice isn't very high-pitched, either. So for a woman, my voice is... a little deep. Not enough that I wanted to do vocal 'training' to sound more like some person's idea of what a cis woman sounds like (in reality, cis women have hugely varied voices - many deeper and more resonant than mine - who knew?), but enough that I occasionally get self-conscious about my own voice.

Then there's my body.

I look feminine. A little tall, and "more tits than arse", but I have a fair degree of cis-passing privilege. This is, to be clear, a very good thing - at least from a personal safety standpoint. I get gendered correctly and rarely suffer much transphobia from strangers.

One final note before I begin the story: this is not something 100% unique to trans women. It's a little different, but very similar to stories I've heard my cis friends tell. Thing is (and this may surprise you if you're a cis dude) the core of this story is something that happens with enough uncomfortable frequency, in some form, that it's unlikely to be a thing your female friends will have told you about unless the subject came up. It can become not so much 'normal' as an occurrence that gets at least partly forgotten fairly quickly after it's over. It doesn't happen to everyone, either, but sometimes you're just unlucky and incidents like it happens a few times in a week.

You're walking down the street, minding your own business. You're not late for something, but still trying to walk with purpose. You look forwards and, if you ran into a friend, you'd probably get told you had a solid "don't fuck with me" or "resting bitch face" going on. One you've practiced, consciously or not, for a long time.

Then you hear his voice. "Hey, baby."

At first, you keep walking and hope he's talking to someone else. But no. He calls out again, "Hey, you with the [insert identifying characteristic here]!"

You keep walking, but out of the corner of your eye you can see him approach, and even if you're kinda used to it, your heart probably picks up a bit.

He walks up beside you. "Hey stop, I just want to talk."

You ignore him. You say nothing.

He is in your peripheral vision, walking along side you while trying to make eye contact. You refuse to do so.

Then his line of questioning gets more intense.

"Hey, stop walking, I just wanted to say you look cute," he might say. Or perhaps he thinks he's Not Being Creepy, and his line might be, "You look really interesting". Or even neg you. "You're kinda hot for a chubby chick." A back-handed compliment intended to make you even more off-balance.

You begin to walk a little faster.

"Hey, what's the matter? Slow down, babe."

Or, if you have headphones in (yes, this even happens with headphones in), "Hey, stop your music for just a sec - I wanna say something."

You think about where you're going. Without visibly reacting too much, you try to take stock of where you are. How close are you to your destination? Is the destination somewhere you'll instantly be safe? A friend's place? Is it one you MAY be safe, if he decides not to pursue you into earshot of others? A bar? A supermarket? Or is it somewhere he might just stay and talk to you, like a nearly-empty train platform you'll be waiting on for five minutes or so?

He repeats himself, this time sounding a bit more intense.

Then, finally, he escalates. He reaches out to put a hand on your shoulder.

This is where the story diverges a bit, if you're trans. Or, more specifically, if you're me. I know trans people who, when they hear this story, fully agree. Others less so. But either way, here's the thing:

The "you" in this story didn't respond. Didn't tell him to go away. To leave you alone. To fuck off. (Though, for the reference, saying this is like responding politely to a spam email - it rarely does more than qualify as engagement, and a reason to continue talking at you.)

"You" didn't respond... because once it's clear he isn't going to leave you alone, you worry what his response will be if he begins to suspect you're trans. He won't be hitting on you then. Will he scream the T word in your face and leave? Worse? What if, in this variation of the story, his friends are across the street, watching with amusement as this unfolds?

Or what if he's already clocked you're trans, and he's just fucking with you, waiting for a chance to say something abusive?

These things are all going through your head, and the whole time your heart is racing faster and you're asking yourself: will things be better or worse if I talk? What if I'm polite? What if I'm terse? What if I'm rude?

If you're very lucky, you never get to find out. After what seems like an eternity he'll say, "Fuck you bitch, I just wanted to talk!" or maybe "Fuckin' bitch! I just gave you a fuckin' compliment!"

Or maybe not. Maybe you'll be walking down the stairs onto a station platform with this guy following you.

But that stress - "Do I talk or not?" is made so much more intense when you fear, however irrationally, that somehow just talking, even a few words, will give you away.

For many of us, even if we haven't been misgendered or clocked as trans based on our voice for years, this kind of thing sticks with us. We are literally silenced by our own fears.

This event I'm describing? It doesn't "need" to happen often. Once or twice to this extent is enough. Enough that when you hear that initial, "Hey, baby" or similar being called from behind you, across the street, or from some dude standing half in your way with a sleazy grin on his face, your heart picks up and you pre-emptively begin to go over all the things I mentioned - where you are, where you're going, if he's alone...

These incidents make even otherwise-comfortable situations suddenly nerves-inducing at best, scary at worst. Once I heard someone calling out at me and approaching from behind, and I all but panicked before realising it was a friend who was running up in excitement to say hi.

When you ask for advice from other women, the most common response is... "you get used to it."

They're talking about the first part of the experience, of course, not the trans-specific fears that go with it, but that doesn't make it any better. I doubt it's much less scary and gross and uncomfortable for cis women than it is for me. This is something which we tell ourselves to just suck up and take. To get used to.

There's no training to deal with this, cis or not. Nor should there have to be. The practical part of my brain thinks that some useful tips of the psychology of dealing with Creepy Dudes Who Think You're Fuckable would be a useful thing for someone to write. But the idealistic part of me would rather, instead, that men are taught to respect personal space.

It'd be a huge shift, though. Trust me, I know - I spent my teen years feeling deeply uncomfortable as I was pressured to be assertive. Be strong. Be sexually forward. Mocked for the slightest "non-masculine" behaviour at a shitty public school. I've seen the social environment put that means certain boys grow up to be That Guy Who Won't Take No. I was there, and now I'm seeing the effects. I reckon I could even tell you, retrospectively and with reasonable accuracy, which of the dudes I grew up around have done this to other women - and genuinely thought they weren't doing anything creepy or wrong.

Because before anyone calls out, "Not All Men", no SHIT not all men. But it doesn't take ALL men. Just that one dude, out of literally thousands you pass every day in a major city like mine, is enough. That one incident happens, and it may not happen again for months, years - or even never - but you begin to look for it. It affects how you walk. How you behave in public. Where you choose to walk.

It feeds into other parts of your life, too.

You may wake up, like me this morning, having just had this precise incident play out in a dream, leaving you unsettled right from the beginning of your day.

When I go out for coffee today, I'm going to be thinking about that. Paying just a little more attention than usual to who I can see on the street and what his body language says, despite the fact that in all probability I will be ignored entirely by everyone but those I directly address.

Those small handful of creeps? Their behaviour has fucked up my Monday, a full few months after the last of them tried to "hit on me" in public.

I used to passionately detest the way I looked.

I grew a beard and kept it from about age 21 until right before I began transitioning, and GOD I hated it. On myself, anyway. On others I had no issue with beards, but I kept that thing for just one reason: my dysphoria made me damn paranoid that people would "figure out" that I didn't belong in male spaces.

It also meant that every time I saw myself in a mirror or a photo I got uncomfortable. I couldn't see what I looked like - I only saw a body which felt wrong for ~me~. Like I was wearing a clown suit and everybody was just being polite by not mentioning it. For this reason, I think there are more pictures of me these days in a given week than were previously taken in an entire year.

Early in my transition, I hated seeing any remaining pictures of past-me. It made me uncomfortable because all I saw were similarities, and I'd get worried that I looked too much like the guy that I saw in those photos.

As time passed, it stoped bothering me. It instead became fascinating. I'd look at old pictures (as rare as they are) and think, "Holy shit. Was that ME?"

I don't miss that body one bit. I don't miss the discomfort, the paranoia, the self-consciousness, or the feeling that I was absolutely ugly in every way. That anyone who gave me compliments on my looks must be objectively wrong. I learnt not to say as much over time, but the fact remained that I felt there was something fundamentally wrong with my body in a way that nobody's else's was.

Now I can stare at pictures of past-me fairly objectively, and see... just a guy. Not an ugly one. A perfectly reasonable-looking one. I recognise I could well have spent more time on my appearance - could have tried some interesting personal styles.

I don't feel bad that I didn't, of course - I was too uncomfortable in my own skin to do that - but I no longer feel it would have been a futile endeavour.

I didn't look as bad in a suit or tie as I thought I did. My face didn't look "wrong". My beard kinda suited me. As much as a really-gay girl like me can, I can see some aesthetic appeal and understand why some of my partners or flirty acquaintances were attracted to me.

For me, this realisation is a pleasant form of catharsis.

I'll always have had those awful dysphoria-related issues - nothing will change that - but I am past them affecting my day-to-day life, and I can look back on who I was (physically, at least) and no longer find myself feeling quite so deeply uncomfortable.

That was me. A past body. Pre-regeneration. I look mind-bendingly different now, and I'm slowly becoming okay with both past-me and present-me. (Though I'm 90% sure we wouldn't have made great friends.)

Pre-transition, gender only factored into my dreams and internal monologue when I had no choice. I was so deeply uncomfortable being gendered male that in most of my dreams I had no noticeable body. When thinking of myself or talking to myself to figure something out, I tended to imagine people talking who were not me.

I suspect a part of this comes from writing fiction, but the idea of mumbling something like, "Damnit, dude, wake the fuck up" when I made a mistake... well, that just never happened. (I wrote a bit about this before in a previous blog post - the 'gendering yourself in an inner monologue' thing, anyhow.)

This, of course, isn't hugely surprising. Lots of people I've spoken to have essentially genderless self-images in dreams, and their gender identity or pronouns rarely factor into their subconscious expressions of themselves.

The rare exception to this for me where in some dreams (not enormously frequent but still common enough to be memorable) I would be female. The dreams often centred on very feminine-centric events or experiences. Once I dreamt I was pregnant. Another time I had a very vivid dream where I was in a female body and found myself moving through a cave, naked, feeling soft vines and leaves brushing along my body, electrifying every sense and making me hyper-aware of every part of my dream-body.

What was notable with these dreams, beyond sheepish thoughts of "Why did I dream I was a woman?" (look, I was REALLY deep in self-denial at this point, okay?) was how it affected my day.

I'd feel unsettled. Sad that I was awake and back in my real body. Sometimes I'd even start crying.

What's particularly interesting about this for me, is how it's shifted. More often than not now, when I remember a dream, I have a body - and it reflects my own. I have the moderately curvy, feminine body I now inhabit. Even if my body / gender doesn't factor heavily into the dream in question, I tend to be aware of it now.

It almost feels like my subconscious was avoiding it before, as when I did have a notably-masculine body in my dreams before I'd wake up feeling uncomfortable & stressed. Self-correcting seems to have happened relatively quickly.

However, it goes a step further.

I have had numerous dreams now in which I have clearly already had lower surgery. Only one was sexual, too - the rest have been incidental aspects of other dreams.

This can be a little depressing in itself, as the further I get into HRT the more I feel I do need lower surgery. However, it's also objectively quite fascinating to me - my subconscious is now correcting for the body it increasingly expects, and only 95% has.

I've found similar shifts in my natural tendency to use gendered language when "talking to myself". "Damnit, girl," or similar things now happen a few times a week, at least I notice them a few times a week. It's not something I've really worked myself INTO doing - it's just begun to happen.

I'm even subconsciously 'ret-conning' my life. I've caught myself twice now saying, "when I was a girl" in lieu of either genderless ("when I was a kid") or masculine-gendered ("when I was a boy") phrases. The former doesn't quite seem right, so I tend to stick to genderless. Either way - my brain is compensate. Almost over-compensating.

In summary? Before I was uncomfortable enough with my gender that it was often suppressed or written out of my subconscious or conscious idea of myself. Now, it's often a very active element in my subconscious sense of self.

Voices are really interesting things. For me, my voice was actually the one part of myself related to my body that I wasn't ashamed of. I liked the range of my voice. That I could go surprisingly deep when I wanted to, usually for comedic effect. That I had pretty good control over it, and could affect quite a few accents pretty easily. I realise this isn't a physical thing as much as a mental thing, but either way: I liked my voice.

That changed when I began to transition. Like most trans women I know, my voice is a cause of self-consciousness.

I'm incredibly lucky. My voice, despite me being able to go quite deep when I want to, is mid-range. The pitch puts it somewhere bang in the middle, and actually higher than some of my female cis friends' voices. Or, at least, a lot less gruff. In fact, I often artificially spoke deeper when I was uncomfortable in social situations. My dysphoria would hit, and out of paranoia that someone would "find out" or "realise I wasn't a guy" I'd subconsciously begin talking a bit more loudly and deeply. (Boy, how embarrassing in retrospect...)

In fact, when that bit of behaviour vanished I had a few people say, "Wow, your voice sounds different already!" prompting me to have to explain that oestrogen doesn't change your voice in the same way T changes the voices of trans men. It's one of the unique problems that we trans women have to deal with - potentially having very masculine-sounding voices, depending on the luck of our genetics.

A few other people suggested vocal coaches, but honestly, I was so insecure and terrified of leaving the house much of the time that the idea of seeing ANOTHER specialist, even if I could afford it, made it something I flat out ignored.

So I became more quiet in public - a common occurrence. I was less likely to talk around strangers, and avoided interacting vocally with random people in any way I could. Taxis VS Uber? No brainer. I was less likely to be forced into conversation with an Uber, and didn't even have to tell the driver where I was going.

It felt safer.

So I had begun to settle into feeling half-mute in public, and it depressed the hell out of me. Several times I considered 'feminising' my voice in some way, even if just practicing with youtube videos but... just acknowledging the problem AS the big issue it had become was too much. So I just kept on. I'd talk around friends, but keep quiet around strangers unless it felt like a genuinely safe space.

There was a certain irony to it. The "silencing of trans voices" had become in my case (as in many others) very literal.

So I was quite surprised when, a while back, a friend drunkenly admitted to me, "I had a bit of difficulty around you early on." I thought he meant when I was at that early point in transition when I looked kinda feminine but still had stubble, etc. But no, "It was your voice," he said. "Now you sound feminine."

I what?


I began to pay attention to how I was talking.

Firstly, I began to notice that my accent had shifted slightly. For those who haven't heard me speak, I have what I'm told is a "cultivated Australian" accent - one of the three broad categories of Australian accent. In short, the Aussie version of British received pronunciation. It's a slightly less common accent here, which means I sometimes get people furrowing their brow and asking, "Are you English?"

Personally, I love this. My associations with Aussie accents tends to be misogynistic, gross homophobic culture from where I grew up, so people taking me for English isn't something I ever took offence to.

I'd noticed that was a little more obvious. But more than that, when I asked friends "how I sounded different now", the answer I got more than once was, "Uhm... you sound more melodic."

Melodic? Huh. I began to look up the kind of speech patterns that are generally considered "feminine". And sure enough, I'd begun to affect some of them, even without meaning to.

It wasn't until I had a conversation with a friend of mine who's cis, female and works in the corporate world that I began to unpack it a bit more.

"Oh, I do that intentionally all the time."

"Do what?"

"Rising inflections at the end of sentences, slight shifts in tone at that point in a sentence, avoiding saying precise statements and instead make them more of a question... it makes men more comfortable with me. I get accused of being bitchy otherwise."

This kinda blew my mind. I had begun to feminise my speech patterns without intending to, and in a way that made me seem 'less offensive' to men. And that this was something many, many women do - sometimes intentionally.

Beyond how fucked this is, I'm left trying to figure out how I managed to begin doing this subconsciously.

I began to pay attention when ordering drinks at a bar, when paying for things at a store, etc. My friends were certainly right - I had begun to sound more lyrical, and it resulted in me being gendered correctly - even on the phone most of the time.

I'm torn between feeling slightly more secure now I feel comfortable talking in public and knowing there's still a reasonable change I will be gendered correctly, and feeling like the fundamental aspects of these vocal changes... just plain suck.

I can't help but escape the feeling that so many "feminine" traits are defence mechanisms in a hostile environment.

Even though I used to love my voice, I have seemingly begun to camouflage myself in every way I can, to avoid transphobia. Even if that meant compromising the way I might otherwise communicate with others.

Emotions are a major part of our lives. They inform how we react to situations from big (grief, loss or joy) to small (stubbing our toes or finding a buck on the sidewalk).

Precisely how much hormones affect the way we feel emotions is something pretty hotly debated. I've read quite a few papers and articles on it now, but even though there are many of us now who've for various reasons experienced major hormonal shifts in our lives changing which sex hormones are dominant, it's hard to be objective when the rest of your life is changing at the same time.

However, it's hard not to conclude, after living so much of my life 'on' testosterone and now almost exclusively oestrogen, that the emotional difference is, for me, huge.

I'd describe my emotional connection to things going on around me before as being filtered. Numbed. As if I was trying to see something through a semi-opaque window that let light through, but not the details of what was beyond.

Now my emotional reactions seem clearer, quicker and more powerful. At least, my responses to things like hugs, smiles, fragrances and the like seem more intense.

When I finally found myself crying in years past, it'd be like a dam breaking, and it felt deeply uncomfortable.

When I cry now it's a common occurrence - a nice little moment of catharsis that lets me feel better and then move on.

For me, this feels 'right' on a scale that's hard to describe. In retrospect, it almost feels like some part of my brain was expecting a response the other part of my brain wasn't giving up. In short: my emotions feel like they're in sync with my expectations of them. Before, there was an emotional dissonance between what I felt and what I thought (on some subconscious level) I should feel.

A few trans people I know have described similar feelings to me, making me increasingly sure this is a common thing. Not just for people on feminising hormone therapy, either. I've heard trans men describe feeling more 'attune' with their emotional responses once they began testosterone.

When I began hormone therapy, the first things I focused on were not physical changes (it took a month or two before they began, and that was pretty fast compared to what it often is) nor emotional ones, but side-effects. I couldn't not focus on those, really - I was terrified of hormone therapy, even though I felt I needed it (and was proven to be quite right).

But one thing I did feel more and more as time went on was how this emotional dissonance began to slip away. I perhaps didn't notice it as fast as physical shifts, but the more time has gone on the more I notice the difference. The way my reactions to things felt right, and how whether or I was crying, laughing or finding myself aroused by a partner, all these things now felt very different - and very right.

That emotional shift is something that I don't see discussed often enough.

It's important to me that I can be gendered correctly and that I feel physically comfortable in my own body, of course, but the emotional comfort I get from my brain reacting "the right way" to stimuli is something that's done wonders for everything in my life.

So much so that I suspect that, in retrospect, they may have been the most important part.

Breaking that emotional dissonance was amazing, and I've never felt more alive.