It has been almost a year for me now on hormone therapy, about ten months of being public as a trans woman, and about four months since I was last misgendered. Over that time, I went from looking masculine (permanently-visible stubble and a pot belly) to (obviously) looking distinctly feminine. I went through a stage of looking sort of ambiguous in terms of gender - quite androgynous. I also changed the way I presented enormously.
This is a pretty massively short amount of time to go through so much change, and I'm enormously happy with it. I didn't really believe my endocrinologist when they said, looking at my blood work, hormone levels and body generally, "Your transition should go smoothly". He meant physically, of course. But it turns out he was right.
So in what now seems like a very short time I went from t-shirts and pants every day to dresses and, often, makeup, along with painted nails and dyed hair.
I recently began thinking about broad differences in the way I socialise as a result of this.
As always, I have to begin with a few caveats. The majority of what follows is anecdotal. It relies just as much the nature of the groups I socialise with and my own psychology as anything else - it probably says more about me than people in general. And finally, this: nothing I'm saying is new. It's more that these were the specific things I've observed which, most of which fit things other women (or people who study social behaviour generally) have been saying for years.
Early in the year, even shortly after starting to take oestrogen, I remember paying very close attention when I went out. I'd go into bars and note how bartender treated me. How fellow patrons treated me. Who looked at me and who didn't.
I did this because I was fully aware that these were the last few months where I'd get this kind of treatment - ever. That was a strange thing to get my head around, as dysphoria and discomfort aside, it's what I'd known for my whole life.
"Hey mate, what can I do for you?"
I'd ask about beers or drinks in general and get helpful but brief replies from male bartenders, recommending whatever craft beer or cocktails that fit my personal tastes.
I'd meet up with friends and get some variation on a deep-voiced "how're you doing, mate?" with a clap on the back or a handshake. Sometimes, if I was just joining a small group at a bar, they'd offer to buy me a beer. Otherwise, I'd disappear briefly to buy one for myself.
I would usually buy whatever everyone else was having.
Craft beers? I'd join in.
Cheap domestic tap beers? Same thing.
Cocktails? Well, that's a free pass. I'd drink whatever I felt like.
Within a month I had found that between a solid oestrogen carpet-bombing and laser hair removal, I had begun to look... androgynous. I had long hair, but still usually tied back. I had no noticeable breasts (although I was often wearing sports crops so I looked flatter than I was) but otherwise still wore the same baggy, masculine-cut t-shirts and the cargo pants.
I also lost a lot of weight. In fact, over the next six months I'd lose a total of 12kg - an absurd and almost scary amount of weight to lose, but for the fact that I began my transition sitting juuuust, I was told, in the 'overweight' category. I hid it well, but I was a chubby, unfit guy.
This was the point where men started treating me... differently. Skinnier and more effeminate, but not quite 'feminine', nor presenting as such.
I was still gendered as male by strangers, bartender, baristas and waitstaff, but the camaraderie was largely gone.
I found some of my male acquaintances began to treat me a little stand-offishly.
They had no issue with me transitioning. They were happy for me. But it was clear many of them found it slightly disconcerting not feeling I fit nicely into a clear, defined little basket that could be labelled either 'male' or 'female'.
Not long after, my breasts became impossible to hide. Fat redistribution takes a while, of course, but I have a fairly large amount of actual breast tissue - large mammary glands, as my endocrinologist pointed out. This was fine, but it meant I went (uncomfortably) from flat-chested to wearing a bra more or less out of necessity, albeit a small one, fairly quickly.
I was still trying to modify my existing style of dress, but feminising it a bit more.
I usually wore a tight, low-cut feminine top but kept the cargo pants and bulky masculine-style boots.
After a while, I hit another snag: I didn't look female, but I did look... young. Oestrogen softens your skin and it really did that for me. With less and less visible stubble and softer and softer features, I got carded. A lot.
But getting carded and presenting an ID which increasingly looked nothing like me was awkward. At best I got very bizarre looks - if I was wearing a low-cut top and presenting ID showing me as clearly male, I got gross looks at best, or refused service at worst. The one that always sticks in my head : "What're you trying to pull? That's not you."
I'd never been more embarassed.
So for a good few months in the middle of the year, while still sorting out a name change and figuring out when I should get replacement ID (I didn't want to do it too early, lest my photo very quickly stop resembling me)... I stopped going out.
I avoided bars, didn't buy much booze for myself without 'masc-ing up' first - wearing baggy jackets and looking dour (not hard to pull off, as GOD I felt awkward pretending to be male again).
Most of my socialising during this time was at house parties, or small gatherings at my place.
I felt uncomfortable, and I'm sure this didn't help the way many people treated me.
During this time, seeing how many of my male friends became awkward around me (not all, though - a few were amazing, supportive and just generally great people) drove me to spend more and more time with other women.
No women I know showed any outwards signs of discomfort at my androgynous appearance, so my life became female-dominated and, frankly, I felt more comfortable.
Because by the time that began to change I had new ID, my name had been legally changed, and, frankly, between growing hard-to-hide breasts, having much softer facial features, no visible stubble and having lost a lot of weight... I looked female.
I tentatively began wearing dresses, partly out of necessity. Feminine-cut pants didn't quite fit right, but men's underwear and cargo pants either didn't fit or felt very uncomfortable.
I played with makeup.
I had imagined myself as a kind of hardcore tomboy, but it turns out that wasn't me. Pants and nerdy t-shirts were no longer me. I found that dresses complimented my figure better than anything else, I loved how they made me feel, and began to really appreciate the artistic pleasure of shifting my look around with changes in my makeup, day-to-day.
I began to socialise again.
It hadn't been a long (self-imposed) social exile, but things were different. Very different.
The first time I turned up to a party wearing a dress, men I'd known for years who'd shaken my hand before would give me a hug and kiss me on the cheek.
It was a little confronting at first. To be fair, this is how they'd greet any close female friends, but it wasn't something I was used to.
I've never had so many hugs from men, usually unprompted, than this past six months. I've probably been hugged by two dozen guys, half of which I didn't know.
I would meet up with male friends at a bar and before I could even say hi one of them would offer to buy me a drink, and not take no for an answer. At first I wasn't sure if it was just out of happiness at seeing me for the first time in months after my little exile, but I began to notice it happening with many women. It just seemed to be an unspoken rule, even if the woman went on to buy her own drink and bought a drink in turn for the guy who bought hers.
One time, I went out to a bar with a lot of friends and several hours later realised I'd not bought a single drink for myself, and no one person bought more than one drink for me.
I'd flag this as a positive thing, but sometimes it makes me quite uncomfortable, especially when I offer to "get the next one" and get shot down. Sometimes, it's fine - especially if I know the person earns / has more money than me, but it can on occasion make me feel uncomfortable.
As I began to get back into socialising more and more I found myself at parties or gatherings with more and more men I didn't know, specifically.
It was when I found myself in the company of men who didn't know me that things began to get noticeably different.
This isn't a transphobia thing - it's just, I believe, that men who've known me for years see me more as 'me'. I may look quite different and even behave differently, but I am still a person they've known and hopefully liked for years.
But for men just meeting me, their behaviour became tougher to predict and, often, more uncomfortable.
A guy would introduce himself to me and his eyes would be very, very consistently flicking or even gluing themselves to my cleavage.
A guy would very quickly, during conversations, begin shuffling closer and closer to me until I made an excuse to leave.
Some men would touch me. A gentle hand on the shoulder or, in one case, flat out touching my leg. That time was in unique circumstances, but it still shocked me so much I actually didn't react at first. "Did that really happen?"
I began to get a little more cautious around men.
I noticed a change in behaviour from male bartenders too.
I'd walk up to the bar and order something, and found that quite often their behaviour and means of address would shift depending on what I ordered.
A beer might get me a neutral response. A wine, 'love', 'dear', or 'miss'. One time I ordered (very precisely) a Laphroaig, straight, with a small glass of water on the side.
I got "ma'am" from the same bartender who'd called me "miss" not fifteen minutes before.
Men would sometimes talk over me, in a way I remember doing in the past when I was 'trying to act masculine'. I was doing it as I was trying to mimic "alpha male behaviour" in years past.
I sometimes found myself in a group, sharing raised eyebrows with other women as men would hold court in a self-aggrandising way attempting to impress everyone and instead coming across as total arsehats.
I began to get cat-called. Despite how unnerving it was, my first thought was "at least it wasn't transphobic abuse" like I'd gotten quite a bit earlier on.
That quickly vanished and, while I still consider it a huge privilege that I 'pass' quite well - only for personal safety reasons, mind, I began to notice my behaviour in public changing.
I would hunch more.
I'd wear a jacket to hide a low-cut top just in case.
The hair would stand up on the back of my neck if a guy got too close, or if one tried to talk to me.
I practiced my resting-bitch-face to look unapproachable.
I began to pay careful attention to the people walking near me at all - my eyes instinctively flicked to men walking in a particular way, or groups of men, especially ones who seemed drunk.
Men stopped politely moving to one side on sidewalks.
Twice I got bumped into by men who just assumed I'd move out of the way for them, despite walking on the left-hand side of the path like any respectful perambulist.
Once, a car pulled up when I was walking home late at night (having made the informed decision I won't make again to walk the relatively short distance home rather than paying for a taxi/uber) and two creepy guys began trying to talk me.
I won't repeat the statements that followed from there, but I picked up the pace walking home, stopped listening to my earphones so I could hear anyone approaching me, and went home and cried, locking each external door to the house just for a my peace of mind.
I mention this because while it isn't "socialising with men" in the sense that I've been writing about, I'd be lying if I tried to claim it didn't affect how I reacted to men.
These handful of negative experiences got me more and more cautious in groups of men, and bad ones at parties when they happened only made things worse, to the point where a short while ago this happened:
I was (briefly) at a Thing. At this Thing, I joined a cluster of men I mostly didn't know. They were all a bit drunk, as was I, and there was just one person in this group I knew and trusted. I was the only woman.
I sat there for a while, listening to everyone talk and occasionally (but sparingly) throwing in 2c.
Then I realised I was doing something which, in retrospect, I found depressing: I had stood next to the one guy I knew and trusted. Not just next to him in a regular "I don't know anyone here" way, but I had shuffled slightly closer to him than I would normally have done. Not quite in his personal space, but close enough to, I think, subconsciously signal I was 'with him' in some capacity.
To give me a sense of safety.
I don't know why I did this, but I know it wasn't conscious, and it's depressing that I felt the need to do it.
But then, that's the story of this whole thing in a nutshell: my behaviour has changed in ways I didn't expect, and if not in conscious ways then subconscious ones.
My life, despite being a lesbian with mostly-female friends, is dominated by thinking about men, far more than I'll ever be comfortable with.