Surely you’ve seen it? In the latter quarter of the first year on HRT, the majority of trans women find they have very little to say. It isn’t a case that changes have stopped, just that the physical and emotional foundations have been set in concrete and it becomes so subtle that it is almost indescribable to explain the sensations without experiencing them yourself. When you’re doing it, you’re doing it – it’s wonderful to be on the path to an honest life, but the actual process is not that exciting. I want to optimistic and positive but I also want to try to share the realities of transition away from more acute presentations that I sometimes see in wider trans media.
We simply cannot claim to know very much about our inner workings in general. Hormones are momentum, it allows transition to be carried by forces other than disabling dysphoria, as in, those initial changes in emotions and mind-mapping at the onset of HRT are quite profound in their nuance; those things that may in general be noticed most broadly as a reduction in aggressiveness, sex drive and a sense of over-emotionality. These attributes eventually calm down to a regular functioning background level, but the mind is still changing, growing evolving, and it’s all happening sub-consciously.
It’s too much to expect to have one eyeball peering back into the brain to notice all these changes; nobody has the time or awareness to document it all, so it just happens, and you are the change you want to see.
I am three weeks off one year on HRT, and though I remember clearly the days when its’ acquisition was a dream, I barely remember that person. In a wonderful dichotomy, I recall it clearly because it is me, but I have grown so much in that space in awareness and knowledge that I couldn’t pretend to think with that same mind. In that, I barely remember who I was 4 months ago so many of the inner workings have changed.
You want to know what trans dreams are? Utter regularity. For as remarkably interesting as the experience of transitioning is, it doesn’t hold sanity quite as well as being able to throw on a random dress to go to the shop to buy some milk without having to worry or care about looking out for people who may be looking at you. When you get over being trans yourself, you can get over it for how anyone else perceives too.
So, it has been nearly 4 months since an update. I’ve had my own issues with anxiety both unlinked to transition yet inexorable from hormone medication. In this time I’ve went from being still wary of my perception, to being gendered female the majority of the time, and what’s more is that I understand how people would view me this way regardless of my presentation. So let’s look at the physical signs:
Hormones: In April I went from 2mg Progynova to 3mg, after finally seeing my endocrinologist for the second time. Due to my levels still being too low, 2 months later in June I was upped again to 4mg.
Moving up to 3mg was emotionally difficult in the same way coming onto estrogen was initially but less severe. I found myself pretty depressed and volatile for nearly two weeks but it settled down after that. Luckily, moving up to 4mg wasn’t a problem, I imagine because my body is getting used to a consistently higher level of estrogen.
Along with this I was prescribed the 12 week injection of Prostap 3DCS which creates a special kind of hell. I’ve talked to others and had already done enough research to learn Prostap/leuprorelin is absolutely the worst testosterone blocker to be on. On the 4 week blocker, the last few days were irritating as testosterone trickled back into my system, however I’m only 8 weeks into the 12 week shot and I feel the T seeping back in already, which is normal and very distressing for many.
Even without that fact, the past two months have seen me feeling more like a eunuch than a woman. My sex drive is absolutely severed; it’s not low, it simply doesn’t exist. The influence of a sex drive is a key component in human wellness (even for plenty of asexuals) even if I don’t like to admit it, but without some sort of a drive it’s hard to feel like any kind of person. This apparently isn’t such an issue on other T-blockers, and like many of my peers I’m seeking an alternative. For the lack of experiential data on Prostap, I’ve still found that cis men and women on this drug have the exact same problem, and it is not healthy for many active relationships.
Face: I might say I’m one of the lucky ones, my features initially lent well to the idea of a feminizing face. A couple of months ago (8 months 17 days into HRT) I saw it finally, a face that I would gender as female; because that matters…as much as my prime goal is to be seen as female in society, I really wanted to see it and believe it for myself, if anything, to deal with the disassociation of being gendered female whilst seeing myself as looking quite male. That would confuse me, ‘I look like a guy, how don’t people see that?’ Now, I almost consistently see a face way more attractive than dead to rights I am privileged to. Even from the side in certain angles I look good, and rarely, from below, I could see my jaw and chin just about pull through holistically.
A lot of these benefits come from laser treatments. I’ve been having laser for over 18 months now, with at least another 6 to go. I was told at the start it would take this long, and it’s not as grueling as it has to be, if you can start early. I’ve had 12 sessions in that time with 5 more to go; I still won’t have a clear face by then, but right now I’d say I only have a couple hundred hairs really coming through at any one time, which considering I had upwards of 30,000 hairs to start with is a massive improvement. In the last week leading up to laser, many more hairs start to come through, so I know even 2 years of treatment isn’t going to be enough and the next level pain of electrolysis becomes the only long term option. It’s not 2 years of still having unmanageable facial hair, it consistently gets better and easier to hide, but I personally do recommend making it a priority in transition, on the same level as obtaining HRT, if this is the path you have to go down.
I get called ‘cute’ ‘adorable’ even at times ‘beautiful.’ I’m not boasting – it is a buoying experience, but it can be perturbing without having a certain level of belief and self-love to allow the joy of these compliments.
For years I watched the transition timelines and got that cold dread, I still do. When I see beautiful trans women I still wish I could look so good, as passably delicious as them…and then I get told they feel the same way, and about me.
A couple of months ago, I would have struggled to find good photos, but now I have an abundance. I look good right?! I posit this as a means to your own inspiration, and serve up the treats low expectations can bring. Sure, it doesn’t always look so good…
It’s a lot better than this…
But you know what? Whoopy-do. A pretty face doesn’t pay my bills, it doesn’t guarantee me a good honest relationship, and it doesn’t make me not trans; it just gives me a little more wriggle room in playing with public perception. It’s important not to get caught up in aesthetics; appreciate them, then get humble.
Also, eyebrows. Going into an eyebrow bar is much less painful than laser and much less humiliatingly worrisome than a GIC therapist asking about your masturbation habits. It’s a great first step, and when you see how much a wax and shape changes the outlook of your face, you’ll see why eyebrows are a big deal to some people.
Voice: I had my final voice lesson recently, the first of my transition programs to come to an end. My voice is far from perfect, and still is probably what will get me clocked on most occasions. I ploughed about 8 months intense daily practice to get to where I am and stopped, and it’s going to take another few months of focused practice to fine tune my voice to sound reasonably passable; since it’s important to me. However in the meantime, like I’ve said before, confidence and acceptance make a big difference even in the delivery of your voice, as does presentation. My voice will still sound like the voice I’ve always had in my head to an extent, because it is my voice; even if it were perfectly passable I would still hear myself because we all have a unique vocal identity. It is simply, my voice, as female. Embrace that, you’re trying to be yourself, not someone else!
Body: Look, I follow people at the same stage of their journey as me but from all different age groups. I started HRT at 29 years old and my monthly effects have been corroborated almost identically with a 19 year old, whereas a 24 year old may have very few results, and a 45 year old can have them happen even quicker. Age is not the prime issue when it comes to HRT results, genetics are. Also be aware that many people are experts at manipulating their image both in the real world and the digitized one. Don’t let me or anyone else fool you from the realities of your personal journey.
Changes in my body shape are only now beginning to become more pronounced. Here’s the thing, male and female human bodies are, in general, remarkably similar. Humans tend to look like humans. Sure, primary and secondary traits of gendered biological sexes can seem very blatant, but little has to change to alter innate perceptions of gender. When you spend time with non-binary and intersex folk you can get a real idea of this, that if ambiguity is possible, then the lines between male and female are mutually blurred within each other. An inch here, a breast there.
My breasts have been the most notable change, I’d say obviously. Though they are small and undeveloped, it’s difficult not to notice the two bags of chocolate and cheese fed fatty flesh bumps protruding from me. I don’t need bra inserts anymore, a simple push up bra can give the idea of some kind of boob if I so choose, barely. I don’t care about having boobs, but I can’t deny they are fun, and add to a feminine look. On my mostly male frame they don’t look too good naked, but you take what you can get.
They still hurt to touch and that’s a good thing because it means they are still growing, there’s a long way to go, but it’s already exceeded my low expectations. I still hate wearing a bra, but now even a long walk without one can be pretty unpleasant. Like most of transition, it becomes a normal thing and not a particularly exacting subject to spend energy thinking about.
I suppose it shows the major benefit of HRT is that even the most trying dysphoric notions can come and go and be taken for granted after a time, if you let it.
Other changes are the result of wonderful coincidences. A loss of muscle mass makes the neck, shoulders, and arms seem a little less harsh without any actual reduction in size. Whilst my waist hasn’t gotten any smaller, the growth of fat around my hips partially creates the illusion of a smaller waist.
The loss of strength is ever more of an issue. Carrying shopping can become a real problem sometimes and I seem much more prone to foot and leg pain. I haven’t been exercising as much as I should but still I recognise the difference in capability levels. Self-defence would be a real concern now because I am simply less able to weigh leverage on a confrontation.
Appetite and weight is also a concern. Before HRT, I could happily maintain a goal weight of 10st 7lb (147lbs) – 10st 10lbs (150lbs), yet 8 months in I was stuck at 11st 7 lbs (161 lbs) and now, even with making a few changes I’m up to 11st 10lbs (164 lbs) which is unthinkable for me. Of course this goes into creating new fat masses at a speed quicker than the heavier muscle can atrophy, and it may not show that much, but it bothers me greatly.
Hair continues to grow slightly less coarse and slightly slower but it still comes in annoyingly fast, and it will continue to do so because humans tend to grow a lot of hair. It is still prominent in my nose, nipples and pubic area but this further highlights the similarity of sexes, especially if you’ve ever seen a cis woman try to remove nose hair with a set of kitchen tongs.
My skin is noticeably brighter than it was six months ago, but again, it’s not something that can be kept track of and as time goes by it’s easy to forget what it felt like the same way I can’t totally remember what my old bed felt like, and it becomes just as relevant.
Aside that, you’re going to have a body that somewhat reminds you of the body you had pre-HRT. It’s your body, it will always be your body, and that’s a good thing; look at what it can do, look at how effortlessly a human body can at times accept cross-sex hormone therapy. It is affirmation at its finest.
Mind: As far as emotions go, the drastic ups and downs are settled for the most part as HRT normalises in my system. I cry as often as I ever did…maybe less in fact, although I am rarely prone to aggressive anger. Violence still exists in my mind, although it is much less likely to manifest than ever.
My sex drive as I said is minus zero. Erections are incredibly rare, though still annoyingly robust, and have actually become quite painful. Trying to force one upon myself fortnightly has now become a struggle to do even monthly. The pain is just another deterrent in an otherwise defunct sex life. This however isn’t an exclusive effect. Many trans women on HRT have regular or high sex drives, and an ability to temper it at will and have a great time, but circumstances personally leave me bereft.
Sex may become more a part of my life at some stage, but I think it’s important to spell out what sex means as a trans woman on hormones seeking surgery. We should know by now that even genital surgery is not sexually motivated, however, sex can be desirable regardless of genitalia, and with the changes brought about by something like surgery, it’s more of a learning experience to use what you have now being borne out of lack of choice, rather than an explosive coming together of all the hopes of immediate normality in pre-transition thought. For me, it’s still more a case of ‘Oh gosh, what am I going to do?’ than ‘Ok, let’s do this!’ Although……… a story for another time.
Otherwise…pff. The dense arrays of neurons and goo in my mind have changed me enough to not know how much I’ve changed, and in that I can only know myself for who I am now. I am free from the repression of a false life, free from the hindering yoke of dysphoria, how could I say which changes are hormonally induced and which are a product of self-acceptance and exploration. Either way, I’m seen as a brighter person, the lows are still low, but the highs are higher; content people tend to break out more often in genuine smiles. I walk about the streets with the same casual arrogance I did whilst living as male, and I love it. Revel in your strength, if you can do this, you can do anything.
I’m still having a difficult time in my life but in terms of transition, well, that’s the one thing that’s working out pretty well. Time and experience makes one adept. Putting in the time early in my transition has allowed me to get by without very much effort or stress at this point when I have bigger fish to fry than dragging my transition on any longer than it needs to.
I still rarely wear make up, but I’ve done it enough times, picked up enough tips, and been helped by enough people that if I want to put it on I can do it just as well as the millions of Western women who aren’t very good at makeup but still make it work. At times I even experiment. I’ve been with enough cis girls who’ve shopped for makeup their entire adult lives to see that they often don’t know what they’re looking for either, and so you learn blagging tricks for getting round a store without feeling like you’re standing out. And then it too, becomes normal.
Same with shopping for clothes. I observed for a long time before I was brave enough to get in on the fun. I still get anxious, especially by myself, but it’s not a big deal. Flick through the hangers of things that look like clothes and pretend you are looking for your size and then just go ‘naaaah.’
At one time, you’ll hopefully see something, something you just want, and you’ll go find out that it’s in your size. If you’re super brave you’ll ask your friend to keep watch while you go into the changing room and then come in to see how you look. It looks great on you; you’re scared, but you gotta buy it; not give it to your friend to buy, but to go up yourself and pay for it.
It’s a great feeling, and before long confidence and knowledge builds, and if something doesn’t work out? Postal returns. I don’t know how, but now I can put an outfit together that makes sense for my style. Honesty from friends and family is essential, because as much as you can hopefully tell what just doesn’t work in the mirror, a good friend will tell you not to wear that mess of misplaced fabric outside, and help you make adjustments. Match colours, cover unwanted lumps and bumps, accentuate desired lumps and bumps, appropriate accessories. It’s less scary than it looks.
As a wardrobe grows, opportunities to mix and match become exciting, and unique new looks can be created to express yourself the way you want to rather than the way you feel you should. Go easy on yourself, it’s taken me nearly two years to show that I can pull off jeans with a dress.
If you’ve been following my story you may see that there is a lot more confidence now in being able to do all the transition-y stuff. Looking from the inside out at the wall of seemingly impenetrable transition guides and information that greets trans women making the leap…it doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. The real changes honestly come from inside, and it’s from those that it’s easier to deal with the practical issues.
With so many potential dreams, hopes and obstacles in a ‘male to female’ transition, try not to see it as so many unattainable goals; learn to pick smaller battles, celebrate in little victories, start building a picture of experience, compromise, discover yourself, and over time it will come together. A long time. All the small cogs in transition eventually start adding up and connecting with each other to build a better idea of the picture you are trying to create. Don’t let the word ‘years’ scare you, this is time to grow more quickly than at maybe any other point in your life; there are so many little and momentous successes to be had that they can outshine many of the difficulties you may have to endure, for a long time.
In a lot of ways, HRT sucks. Sometimes a big shot of testosterone feels like exactly what I need when emotions become strongly overbearing, but I’m at a place now where this is just how it is. For all my appreciation on surviving thus far, larger battles await.
I’ve had my second opinion for lower surgery and now I’m waiting for a pre-op assessment. If things go well I could be lying on that operating table within six months. There is no doubt in my mind that this is what I’m going to do, but it’s still terrifying. As reality creeps in and I picture myself getting ready to go under, and then dealing with the extensive and probably very painful recovery recovery period, a little bit of panic sets, because all things going well this will happen. The worries are the same any trans women going towards this procedure experiences; there is only hope that it will be satisfactory, whilst preparing myself for the notion that it will go badly. Again I temper my expectations – it doesn’t have to look right, it doesn’t have to work right, it doesn’t have to feel right, it just has to be there in place of what I currently have. Being able to have this operation at all is the bonus, any positive effect is a privilege.
Then comes to the big question of what next? To what extent does being transgender effect you for the rest of your life? The transition period comes and goes regardless of how long it takes. For my experience, this is a very quick transition and therefore may feel quite disorientating for a while once it’s done. My optimum is not to normalise being trans, it’s to negate it. My gender(s) shouldn’t have to be normalized, only hopefully accepted and embraced as an everyday occurrence. There are still a few things I have to do to be totally free; to not be scared of swimming pools, gyms, and still to an extent clothes and makeup stores. Maybe wearing a bathing suit…..maybe. I don’t like them but it could be an affirming experience one day. Then back to shorts.
Toilets aren’t a problem – With good observational skills you can make trips to the toilet less stressful. I don’t do it so much now, but if it were possible I would keep a glance of the toilet when I needed to go and went when it seemed there would be less people there. I would take advantage of single stalls, disabled and gender neutral toilets whenever possible. However, for the most part I’ll still easily go to the bathroom in a busy bus station because I gotta pee and it is always going to much less troublesome for everyone and for me to use the women’s toilets. And if I’m drunk, outdoors and really need to pee, I’ll still do what I need to do in a hidden space, giving that I can with the equipment I’ve got. That’s the big drawback to not having a penis for me, not being able to pee at will. Ahem. Not endorsing.
As I have tried my best to manifest this experience I’ve been feeling better than ever in some ways. A couple of years ago I escaped from an abusive relationship, found out I was losing my job, and realised that I was transgender within a month and it broke me. I still suffer quite a lot from the effects of these little traumas but I have also turned them into positives, necessary blows that got me to this point. If that relationship hadn’t ended, if I hadn’t lost that job, if I hadn’t realised I was trans..I couldn’t believe my life would be anywhere near as good and full of possibility as it is now. Sometimes the sacrifices you make are of things that hold your life back.
To this point I’ve have been transitioning for almost two years and on HRT for almost one year. This whole thing came out of nowhere, and now I’m doing what I thought two years ago was only for other people, or a certain type of person. But it’s happening, and it’s still pretty surreal, which is why I try to encourage at least myself to think about it as little as possible because it can very easily swallow up your whole life.
The goal for me is the same as always, to alleiviate dysphoria as much as possible and then get on with my life. Yet on the way I’ve learned so much about the human condition. I’ve met, spoke with and made more friends in these past couple of years than I ever have, people from all walks of life. I don’t think of myself as being particularly ‘queer’ because I feel just like a regular person, and I realised my ignorance in going to queer events – folks who may be all kinds of genders with all kinds of styles, hairstyles, mannerisms, impairments etc who are just like me, who are just like you, who are just like anyone.
Queer is a reclaimed term, not because we are different from ‘normal’ society, but because we aren’t; we are simply unique within it. Getting more ingrained into queer scenes and circles, to see at times real solidarity is a very special and heart-yearning experience.
Being transgender inevitably opens one’s eyes to new ways of understanding the world, and with that information many want to speak out, to educate, to help, because there isn’t always a lot of information or support for transgender people.
Sometimes, I feel I would like to go stealth, but more often I think we all have a role as our individual experiences are entirely unique and whatever we add is part of a beautiful collage, not part of some grey book about how you should or shouldn’t transition, how you should act, who you should be.
I want to encourage you to keep finding your ways to express yourself, it doesn’t have to be limited, it doesn’t have to be forced, it doesn’t have to be anything other than what you want. What other way could it be?
I’m here because realising I am trans hit me in a momentary flash when I was 28, and once it was out of my jail of oppression there was no stopping it. It was terrifying, rightly so, but it’s not the worst thing that can happen in your life. In fact, for all the bad life changing things that can happen in life, being trans is probably one of the best, because for all you may lose in health, wealth and support, you gain back in truth, love, hope, potential, opportunity, and greater support than you can imagine.
Just because it’s far away doesn’t mean you can’t get there, it will just be a more epic journey! That’s not platitudes, it’s spoken from experience.
Until next time,