It's been three and a half years since I started testosterone and about two and a half years since chest surgery. In some ways that feels like a very long time, but I know in the big scheme of things it really isn't. There are still plenty of changes happening, even physical ones, though they may not be evident in the photos. The biggest changes I have seen in the past months have been in body hair. I am getting more chest hair and the hair in other places (face, stomach, arms, back) is expanding and filling in. I don't notice the changes over short periods of time, but once in a while I'll look at my arm or chest and realize there's a whole new patch of hair. Overall I don't see a whole lot of change in my body, even in the pictures. I guess I see a lot of change in my face, but not so much my body (other than the obvious chest surgery) even in pictures. I don't know how that compares to how other people see me. I know a lot of guys whose bodies look almost completely different than they did before testosterone, and that doesn't seem to be the case with me. Not that it really bothers me. It's not like I have a problem being read as male, and the thing I would like to change most (my height) isn't going to change no matter how much testosterone I inject.
My feelings about bottom surgery continue to change as my transition progresses. There was a point when I was fairly certain I would never want or need it. Now I can comfortably say that if it was something that I could even imagine being a financial possibility, I would most likely pursue phalloplasty. As it is, I pretty much break even every paycheck once my bills are taken care of, so affording bottom surgery is only a pipe dream. I know with a lot of hard work I would be able to finance a metaoidioplasty within a few years, but I don't think I would be satisfied enough with the results of that surgery to be able to justify the expense. I try not to think about or focus on phalloplasty too much. I don't want to drive myself crazy by obsessing over something I can't have right now. I can't completely turn off the desire, and I can't make myself any more comfortable with my genitals as they are now, but I purposefully haven't done much research or inquiry into available surgeries in an effort to not make things any harder than they already are. I think knowing more about what is possible would only make me feel worse about not being able to have it.
At this point in my life I am focusing on what it means to be a man, and a transman. There are some places in my life where I am out as trans, and others where I am not. I can't say that I prefer one over the other, each brings it's own set of challenges and advantages. Some things I like about being out are being able to talk completely openly about my entire life, including my childhood and trans-specific issues I deal with presently. At the same time I often think that once someone knows I am trans, that is always what they assume is the biggest and most important aspect of my life, which is not true. In that sense it's nice to have spaces where I am just seen as a guy, as a person first, not as a trans person. Of course in those spaces I worry about what will happen if and when people do find out I am trans. I know that figuring out how to present myself to people will be a lifelong process.
Height - 5'4"
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Four years have passed since my first testosterone injection. I'm supposed to say "that feels like a lifetime ago," right? Actually, it doesn't. I was living about a block and a half away from where I do right now, working a different low-paying job, still scraping to make ends meet, with a slightly less cynical outlook on life. I was ready and excited to begin my physical transition with hormones, but in all honesty I had no idea what it was going to feel like to be a man in the world.
Up until that point I'd spent a lot of time and energy trying my best to pass as a man, or more accurately, a boy. A lot of the time, it worked. Still, it was something that required so much work and thought on my part that I was never able to fully settle into that role. I was hyper-aware of myself and my surroundings at all times. People around me might be tipped off to the fact that I was female-bodied at any moment, and their perceptions of me would change completely, along with the way they treated me as a person. As a result, I was much more reserved and often just tried to blend in with the background. I didn't have any place where my identity didn't precede my personality. One of the first things people often knew about me was that I was trans. Who I was as a person was secondary to that.
These days, I'd guess that about half of the people in my life are aware of my female history. I am actually surprised by this, because I have rarely tried to conceal my past. I can only think of one instance in which I have actually made up a lie to cover for what would have been a give-away, and that was to say I played baseball in high school rather than softball. I am not out to my employers at my current job, though some people who I work with know, either because I have disclosed to them or because they knew me before I started the job. For the most part, I come out to people on a "need to know" basis. My transition feels more private to me now than it used to. Of course, because I am now unquestionably read as male, I usually have the privilege of choosing when and to whom I come out, whereas before I needed to be open about my gender history if I wanted my pronoun choice and identity to be respected.
There is a lot of talk about male privilege around trans circles. Some would say there is not enough or not the right kind of dialogue happening out there. Privilege is a much more individual and complicated beast than one would tend to believe. Sometimes I try to think back to how I experienced the world before transition. My recollection doesn't mirror what you typically think of as a female experience. I never really lived as a woman... I grew out of "girl" and into "butch." Being a masculine female-bodied person brought with it a different set of rules and expectations than what most women face, so it's very hard for me to relate to some of the kinds of oppression that women talk about. I was not objectified as a sexual target for men. The kinds of messages that women are shown about what an ideal body type should be didn't apply to me. The only thing I ever remember being told I couldn't do because I was a girl was joining the Rod and Gun Club my father belonged to. Still, I understand misogyny and sexism and I know how those systems work to oppress women. I can pick them out of situations where they exist. It makes sense to me, in theory, that a person who transitions from female to male would expect to gain privilege in this sense. In some ways this has been true to my experience, but I would also say that there are equally as many ways in which it has not been the case.
Yes, I am seen as a man now. On a personal level, I am more at home in my body than I have ever felt before. On a broader scale, I am a small, very young looking, often perceived as gay, man. I feel inadequate when compared to other men, and I am often treated as inferior. A system similar to sexism plays out among groups of men, where the more masculine and macho men are at the top, and have a lot invested in maintaining their positions there. It is prevalent in male culture and displayed through attitudes like, "man up," "be a man," and "take it like a man." It values physical strength over emotional health or creativity. There is a ton of research and reading material out there on this stuff if you ever want to dig a little deeper. Ironically, I experience men's oppression more now that I am living as a man than I ever did before transition. I constantly work to reverse it's impact on my life and try to be sure I am not perpetuating it through my own actions.
I feel a great responsibility to work to undo these systems. I believe this drive is only somewhat a result of my trans history. Certainly not all trans people feel moved to do this kind of work, and I'd like to think that if I had been born male, I would still be in touch with and concerned about these issues. That said, I am in a unique position. As a [trans]man, I think my voice is probably most effective in speaking to other [trans]men. I put "trans" in brackets purposefully. In situations where I am out as trans, I generally gain credibility within trans and maybe even broader queer circles. However, I lose a bit of that credibility in the eyes of most non-trans men, especially those who are already sexist, homophobic and/or misogynist. Those groups will value a more traditionally masculine person more than they will myself. There are situations where I may have an opportunity to educate and open people's eyes by sharing my gender history, but other times when it would be more effective if I was assumed to be an Average Joe who happens to have something to say about sexism. I try to gauge situations to figure out which approach I should take, when presented with the choice. More often than not, lately, I choose not to share my trans history right away. In all honesty I have to admit that this choice, and the fact that I am in a position to be able to make it, does generally make things a lot easier on myself.
Now that I've gone on and on about that forever (thanks for bearing with me), I will talk just a little about physical transition. The biggest change as of late has been self-induced. I've put a good amount of energy into getting healthier by eating better and going to the gym regularly. I've been able to lose a little fat and gain muscle, and my athletic condition is probably the best it's ever been. I am feeling a little more confident even though I am still pretty much the smallest guy at the gym. I have been entering road races and I'll be playing organized softball this spring for the first time since high school. Setting personal goals and working past them has been very important and a lot more productive than focusing on how I compare to other men.
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