My year of Gender Stuff
posted | about 21 minutes to read
tags: gender identity
Last month I was thinking a bit about gender things and realized that it's actually been just about a year since I first realized and was able to start accepting that I was a woman. Yep - last August I was deep in a full blown Gender Crisis, trying to start therapy and figure out who I was, and desperately searching for guidance and reassurance. And look how far I've come now! It's been a heck of a ride. I thought it might be an interesting retrospective to go back and kind of look at some of the milestones and see how far I've come.
In early August 2018, I ended up realizing, kind of all at once[^], that “wait, i'm not one hundred percent sure what I am, gender-wise, but previous assumptions were definitely wrong”. I forget exactly what it was that hit me so hard, but I think it may have been reading something along the lines of “you know, cis people don't typically spend hours thinking about their gender identity or about how they'd live life as the other gender if given the opportunity”, and that kind of brought down the whole house of cards and got me started thinking about the years and years of thoughts and feelings and dysphoria that I'd been ignoring and suppressing3. I spent the next month or so going around in circles in my own head, trying to get a handle on things, and not having much luck - the best I could come up with was basically “well, I definitely need to get in and see a therapist who understands this stuff”.
That was a really rough couple of months. I wasn't communicating well, I didn't really have a handle on it myself at that point, and so I ended up putting Sarah in a really tough spot because I couldn't articulate what I was dealing with and honestly kind of didn't really want to until it all settled down. We hadn't really talked about gender identity or trans issues much before then, so I think maybe there was some nervousness there too. Regardless, I think that was probably the toughest time for our relationship just because I was so lost in my own head trying to figure this stuff out.
It was fortunate, I think, that I had a good friend who was trans who was willing to listen to my problems and offer some advice. When I told her that I was questioning my gender identity, she took the time to calm me down and ask some really helpful questions which actually did a lot to clarify where I was at from a gender perspective (when I actually articulated “ok, these are thoughts I've been having for years, this is not a “just a month or two thing”, and also I super fail the button test4", it was a real eye opener for me). I think that without her openness in sharing her experiences and insight into how to get clarity on this stuff, it would have been a lot more of a struggle to get to where I ended up - and without her support and willingness to listen, I don't know if I would have been able to get through those early days at all without just freaking out completely, suppressing, and having things come back worse than ever (plus regret) in another ten years. Her help really got me to the point where I could go into therapy with a little bit more of an idea of who I was than just “I am having a Gender Crisis, please help!”
September rolled around and I started going to therapy. This was another thing that I really needed to do to sort through things6, and it wasn't just because of gender issues. Separately from gender, I had been struggling with a negative self-image7 and anxiety issues8 for a very long time, and I was - eventually - able to address some of those. Starting out, though, I still had a lot of that anxiety over actually doing anything about my gender identity, or about telling Sarah, or any of that. I did do some things incrementally - asking some close friends to start using they/them pronouns to try them out and start adjusting a little bit, and experimenting with presenting as overtly a trans woman as a separate Internet presence, and that helped cement where I felt I needed to be, which I think was good. Eventually by sometime in September or October I had embraced she/her pronouns with an Internet community I'm close with9 which was a big step.
By October, I was secure in admitting to myself and accepting that I was a trans woman, and starting to discuss with my therapist exactly what that meant and what I felt I actually needed to do10. I had actually just broached the topic of “I think I need to start thinking about sharing this with Sarah” at this point when that topic ended up coming up in a much more “oh shit” way than I would have preferred it to; I had been low key experimenting with some aspects of presentation and she asked me about some things that she noticed, and it kind of just immediately spiralled from there. That was an extremely difficult conversation for both of us; obviously it came as a complete shock to her, and I definitely didn't have all the answers I wished I did at that point. Things were rough for a bit - how could they not be, with such a radical change? - but there were moments that really stand out to me from that time. Like the time she gave me some clothes to try, and I looked in the mirror and literally broke down because I could actually see a woman there, or the time I was standing in the shower crying over having opened the Gender Can of Worms and out of fear for our relationship and she came in, grabbed my wedding ring from the drawer where I stick it when I shower, stuck it on my finger, and gave me a big hug.
So yeah. There were hard times. For a long time, I think, neither of us were sure that we'd settle back in to life as a couple.
I spent the tail end of 2018 starting to dip my toes into the gender pool, beginning to experiment with presentation (stuff like getting my ears pierced or painting my nails, mostly; I was surprised at how much just these little things did in terms of gender euphoria) and working through some things in therapy. Not being out to anyone but Sarah yet made the holiday season a challenge - there were definitely days where I had to pull back on the social interaction just to breathe and create space for myself, which was a new thing11. While there were some things that were moving forward, others felt stalled out at this time; one of those things, for me, was hormone treatment. That was one thing that I felt would really benefit me from a mental and emotional state perspective, not just from the physical transition aspects. That, along with the general feeling of “spinning wheels” over these months, were really frustrating for me. Still, being able to at least engage with gender feelings during this time was good.
Right before the new year, I got in to see a new doctor who got me a referral to a local endocrinologist, and I actually got in to see the endocrinologist in early January, which was a few months ahead of what I had originally expected. I was given spironolactone12 right out of the gate with a promise to revisit for estrogen in 3 months; it's not what I wanted, but given the tone of the conversation in that appointment13, I think it's about all I could have gotten. I will admit that up to that point I still had occasional doubts about what I was doing, of the “oh god, what if I'm wrong about my interpretation of my feelings, what if I'm deluding myself” variety, but just the act of taking that first pill - not even the physical or emotional stuff, that takes time - just taking it quieted a lot of those.
It was also right around this time that I started very slowly spreading the news to people. Right after the new year, I emailed my parents about my gender identity - I believe I had already told my sister by then - and about a week later I came out to my grandmother. My family is full of wonderful people, and of course there was love and acceptance, but before I sent those emails I still couldn't help but be nervous. I remember needing two weeks to work up the courage to call my sister and then spending, like, 40 minutes in small talk before actually coming out with that news, or sending the email to my parents after two hours of staring at the send button and then immediately logging off and going to sleep because I couldn't handle the stress.
I also started to slowly look into voice therapy around this time. I knew I had to do that eventually because my speaking voice was getting to be a big source of dysphoria for me, but it was difficult; when I was calling around to ask about it, I honestly had a lot of trouble talking about it over the phone, no matter how accepting people were about it. Eventually I found a group in Chicago that did web-based lessons and I started working with them.
Finally, I started thinking about redesigning my website. I had a personal site for tech blogging and resume stuff for a while, but I had an impulse around this time to start looking at moving to more of a personal blog. I started working on that off and on in my spare time; I had a vague idea of eventually launching it but it hadn't really coalesced into anything more than that yet.
In January, I had put together a list of goals - like a cross between a proposed timeline and a set of new year's resolutions. It absolutely did not take that long before I was way out ahead of it; I launched my new website in February to coincide with a coming-out announcement to everyone I knew outside of work. It was at this point, I think, that I really started to realize that this was going to be more like an avalanche than something that could be clearly and easily planned out - I was two months into the year, already two months ahead of my schedule, and didn't seem to be slowing down.
I was also kicking voice training into high gear around this time, which was an interesting thing and led to a lot of awkward moments where I was trying to apply concepts that I was learning throughout the day in order to get more comfortable with them, but also keeping in mind that I was not yet out at work. There was a certain amount of friction there, so I also started thinking about when to come out at work.
It was about this time, I think, that I really stopped sinking time into video games. For a very long time I had, I think, leveraged them as a form of escapism14; it was easier to think about video games than it is to actually engage with things in my actual life. It certainly wasn't the sole cause of missing gender stuff for years, but I genuinely think it probably contributed a lot to it, unfortunately. I think that's borne out by the shift from bunches of gaming to clearly wanting to engage more with the real world mirroring my social transition.
I also think that it was probably in February or March that Sarah and I had started to kind of settle into a more stable pattern relationship wise. We still had some rough moments, but they weren't unmanageable, and we had both really started to open up a lot more about our relationship and where we might get to. This was a really positive shift; they were conversations that, before my gender transition kicked off, we didn't really have, because we didn't feel like we needed to, but finally starting to have them really helped re-cement communication as a foundational piece of our relationship15.
In March, I started to really work on going out to stuff en femme16 - errands here or there, or to activities with friends. The lack of negative reception from strangers was a big relief to me - there are so many stories about trans folks getting screamed at in public, but that never happened to me. The first couple of times felt very “holy goodness, everyone's staring”, but that kind of went away pretty quickly as soon as I realized that they, uh, actually were not doing that. In fact, I actually started getting gendered correctly by strangers around this time, at least on days when I was really making an effort with makeup and clothing and everything, and that was really nice for me. It wasn't until April that I actually got the nerve to go out in a skirt17, but I did eventually get there - and once I actually got to that point that was kind of the breaking point of “well, I guess I might as well just dress female all the time outside work”, so I did.
Mid-April was also the time that I got my estradiol prescription! This was actually very exciting to me; spironolactone was definitely working for testosterone suppression, but I really wanted to keep moving forward with physical transition (plus, it'd help with social transition and being perceived by others as a woman). It really didn't take long for the first things there to kick in; by early May, I was starting to get the early symptoms of being on HRT. My breasts had started hurting, I was feeling emotions more strongly18, and I was starting to be able to tell that I was getting some muscle atrophy. It really seemed like a lot of this stuff was happening a lot faster than I expected it to19, but I wasn't unhappy about that, certainly.
At this point, I was getting pretty far with voice practice, but I really felt like not being out at work and having to drop voice for 8 hours a day was really holding me back. It wasn't only that, I suppose; just not being able to be myself at work in general was really starting to chafe. With some pre-planning help from my therapist20, I finally went ahead and discussed it with HR and started getting a plan together to transition at work. It'd still be two months before that came to fruition, but in the meantime I had plenty of other plates to juggle, so it actually ended up working out. I needed time to build my wardrobe a bit21 and go on a vacation22 and all sorts of other stuff.
Part of that other stuff was kicking off the legal transition process - getting my name changed, fixing gender markers on official documents23, so on and so forth. This actually went a lot smoother than I anticipated; when I filed the name change paperwork in late June, I didn't think I'd get the order for a while. Instead, by mid-July, I had it all done (didn't even need a hearing, actually) and from there it was just a ton of bureaucracy and running around downtown Buffalo to get all of my other documents updated. It was only very shortly before this, actually, that I did go full-time at work; I discussed that ad nauseum in a previous post so I won't belabor the point here. Fortunately, by this time, I pretty much had my voice in order - and the previous week's worth of vacation did a lot in getting me comfortable with using those techniques all day. It was a little bit of vocal strain the first couple days, but I adjusted surprisingly quickly.
I also got my estradiol dose boosted in mid-July - went from 4mg to 6mg. I'm not sure what impact this has had - at least, from a blood test standpoint, I won't know for another couple weeks - but it's nice how that's moved along now that I'm working with someone that I'm comfortable with at the endocrinology practice.
One other thing that happened between May and July, I think, is that somehow a lot of stuff that used to not bother me so much from a dysphoria standpoint really really started to hit me a lot harder. There were a couple of periods in there where I was spiralling pretty badly emotionally. I've been working on coping with those and think in the last couple of months it's gotten a lot better. The bright side of that is that it let me really focus in better on sources of dysphoria for me, which was important in letting me actually start to take constructive steps to deal with them.
Speaking of better, Sarah and I have continued to do well. I think continuing to focus on open communication has really helped build our relationship back to a better state, and that matters a lot to me. Our relationship is such a large part of my life - and Sarah is such a wonderful person - that it's crucial to me to be able to build on what we've got.
So that's the journey so far - and it certainly is “so far”. While I've done what I think is a pretty complete job of social transition, there's still more changes to come physically, and more I want to do with my appearance. These are, in some cases, things that just come with time. (The most outwardly obvious of this is my hair - it takes time to grow! - although a lot of hormonally driven changes are also in this same boat24). I don't have a completely clear picture of where I'm going to end up, but at least I can say that compared to this time last year, the path is a lot more obvious now, and that's a big improvement.
The interesting thing, I think, about all of this, is that there really isn't a Unifying Trans Narrative of which to speak. I'm not putting this up here to claim that this is How To Transition or something; I'm only doing it to share my experience. Everyone's journey is different25, and I think that's important to remember, but I think there are also sometimes these commonalities in some stories that may be of value to share to people who are navigating their own transitions.
Some trans folks use the term “cracking” (like an egg!) to denote this kind of thing happening - while it's not a universally applicable thing, it fits what happened to me, and is also a lot shorter than the number of words I typically use to describe it2.↩
There's other terminology that works as an effective shorthand - one that springs immediately to mind is “deadname” instead of “previous name” or similar. I'm not 100% happy with the connotations there - not every trans person has negative associations with their old name (I'm actually a decent example of this) - but sometimes it's a matter of convenience when in conversation.↩
I cover some here, but oh gosh there are so many more, I'll have to write it all up sometime (like, the level of oblivious here was so high that I can legitimately point to starting laser hair removal on my face before I even started questioning as an example).↩
“If you could press a button and be instantly transformed into a woman and live the rest of your life as a woman, with no going back, would you?” is probably the best articulation of this I've seen (when it's posed to AMAB5 folks questioning their gender, anyway).↩
Assigned male at birth.↩
I honestly think everyone should get therapy at some point and that regular mental health checkups should be a universally covered service. There's a lot of benefit to be able to have those conversations and realize that it's okay to get some help sometimes.↩
Okay fine this was probably at least partly dysphoria, but I really think there may have been more to it than this. I'll write about weight loss sometime, that'll probably give a clearer picture.↩
The one that I remember most clearly was probably going to a music festival an hour away when I was a kid. By 3 days in I was freaking out and desperate to go home.↩
Seriously I cannot overstate how much folks from this community have helped me through this last year. I've had any number of emotional moments and gender related issues in the last year and people have always been so nice and supportive and just there for me to help talk it out, and share their knowledge and experience, and I cannot possibly explain how much that matters to me. (If you're reading this…you know who you are!)↩
This is an interesting one, and could probably be its own blog post. Once I actually came to the realization that I was a woman, there were certain aspects of transition that I simply felt I could not put off, and others that I felt like I would need to make a decision on later in the process. More on this later in this post, though.↩
This has gotten better.↩
An antiandrogen - it blocks testosterone receptors, basically meaning that any testosterone that gets produced will be less likely to actually do anything. It also cratered my libido, which for me was a very positive change; I'm told that changes again after 6-9 months on estradiol for some women, but who can say, really?↩
He was very focused on standards from 10 years ago - stuff like “you aren't really presenting as female yet” or “you know, you used to need 1 year full time before you could start estrogen, and there's some benefit in that” - and honestly, not only is that dangerous but it's also destructive. I really see that kind of an attitude as stealing time from people who are trying to grow into the person they're supposed to be. Plus it gatekeeps nonbinary people or people who may not feel comfortable or want to present as whatever idea of “feminine” this dude has! Since then, I've started working with the NP at that practice instead and it's been a much more constructive and positive relationship. Anyway, I got irritated and went to work with freshly painted nails and light makeup the next day, and I'm still not sure who I was trying to prove something to with that one.↩
“Hmm, it's interesting that I really prefer playing female characters in all of these games, but I certainly shouldn't examine why that is in any depth at all,” said Alli for an entire decade ugh↩
As avid followers of the intricacies of my personal life may know, Sarah and I met playing video games online. This kind of made communication foundational out of necessity - we spent a lot of time talking every night. We still talked a lot in the intervening time when we actually were able to spend time together and after we got married, but I think that I neglected to communicate in those conversations as much as I needed to for a while.↩
This coincided with being able to finally consistently see a woman looking back at me from the mirror, which did wonders for my self esteem.↩
This was actually a result of that same endocrinologist! I got so worked up about his presentation gatekeeping that I got super femmed up for my next appointment, and then I just ended up seeing the nurse practitioner who is an extremely nice woman.↩
It wasn't just feeling emotions; it was expressing emotions too. Like, if I was feeling emotional I was able to express that in the moment instead of suppressing, and I also felt like I was more able to be open in my writing. There was more stuff that I wanted to talk about and share, and that was a really cool shift for me.↩
Or what the timelines on the Internet said, to be honest. I consistently felt, and still feel, kind of like I'm speedrunning transition. Not just from an “avalanche” sense like I mentioned earlier, but also in a “I am getting all the changes way faster than any of the available resources say I should be expecting them” sense. This is not a complaint - although it is a source of privilege that I strive to be mindful of!↩
Yep, still in therapy! I was still working through a couple things, but honestly by this point I was shifting more into “well, here's what's coming up in my social transition” and working with her to form action plans for aspects of that. These days, appointments have become less frequent, but I really still appreciate having the check-in and the opportunity to talk about and unpack stuff, even if at this point all of the really serious “need a therapist” stuff feels completely under control.↩
Funny story: week 1 actually presenting female at work, despite having built my wardrobe up a bit in the preceding few months, I had to make a panic run to JC Penney in the middle of the week because I realized I did not have enough outfits that would be good for work. Whoops!↩
I cover it to some extent in the linked post, but seriously, this was an extremely validating trip for me on a ton of levels. Having friends be welcoming and open and having strangers gender me correctly were both such integral parts of this trip that it's hard to overemphasize it.↩
Still not quite done - a little bit of friction with the passport agency, unfortunately. I'm hoping that'll get done sooner than later, but we'll see!↩
Some timelines claim that some effects of HRT can take up to five years to fully kick in!↩
Although I'll be the first to admit that mine is a wee bit stereotypical, there are actually reasons for that! I've got another post cooking that goes further into that.↩