Why I Chose to Transition

First of all, I never thought I would have the guts to go through with a full transition over to living 100% as male.  It all seemed like a nice dream but not something I had the courage to undertake.  I was more likely to sky dive and that ain’t ever going to happen.  So what, exactly, was it that tipped the scale and made me decide to go for it?  I’m not sure it was one thing.  How much better and more alive I felt on T certainly played a big part.  A goal of living more authentically and truthfully also played a huge role.  But, honestly, I think it was a lot of little things that added up very gradually that eventually led me to living as male.

I’ve been counseling a friend who is questioning how to proceed in his transition and I’ve been telling him he needs to make a plan and get honest about what he wants to accomplish.  Yeah, that’s bullshit.  I mean, it’s a great idea, but most of the time even the best plans don’t work out and our reasons for doing things shift mid stream.  I kind of had a plan.  At the beginning, all I knew was I wanted to try a low dose of T and see if it made me feel better.  And boy did it.  I was at one of the lowest points of my life when I started taking it and practically overnight my outlook changed 180 degrees into the positive.  This, to me, was evidence that I was on the right track and should keep going.  Other than T, my wish list included getting a hysterectomy, changing my name, and having top surgery, in that order.  It was important to me to get the hysterectomy done while I still had a female name and gender presentation.  But I never honestly thought anyone would ever see me as male or treat me as such.  It just seemed like a big fantasy.  A foolish pipe dream.

Well let me tell you, I upped my low dose of T to a full dose about six months before I had top surgery and by the time my surgery was over I was firmly entrenched on the male side of the spectrum as far as how people perceived my gender.  It happened really suddenly and completely took me by surprise.  It was disconcerting, but inside I was elated.  Could this really be happening to me?  Are these people just humoring me and playing along with me?  Just a few months prior I had worn a binder and my most masculine outfit to go out to dinner and the waiter referred to us as ladies and called me ma’am.  I left feeling demoralized and defeated.  Obviously, I was failing at this whole transition thing.  I felt like giving up.  Instead, I scheduled my top surgery for the next possible date.  While I was away have my surgery I let my facial hair grow out some.  That seemed to do the trick along with not having boobs anymore.  Flat chest and facial hair = Male.  Now I rarely get called ma’am and they usually correct themselves after they look at me better.  Quite the opposite of what used to happen.

I can’t say that I actually had a plan or made any conscious decision to transition with the goal of living as male.  I stumbled blindly through this whole process and really had no idea where I’d end up or even where I wanted to end up.  I was actually hoping that I could be happy staying in the female zone with a more neutral exterior.  Nope.  When I was in that middle zone I was so uncomfortable I could barely stand to go out in public.  Every day was a challenge just to leave the house.  I couldn’t stand not knowing how people would perceive me and I had no answers for them either.  I dreaded the question, “Are you a man or a woman?”  I had no idea.  I was as confused as they were.  So, even though I applaud folks who relish the confusion of gender neutral and non-binary identities, I need to pick a side for my own sanity.  I need to fit into a clear category that I’m comfortable with.  While neither female nor male fits perfectly, male is the closest.  I’m very comfortable in the male role whereas the female role felt completely wrong to me in every way.

Another thing that made a big impact on my decision to go for it was that I was on the precipice of losing everything I cared about.  My life was about to implode and I really felt like I didn’t have anything to lose by going for it.  I figured that if I didn’t start to transition I was dead anyway and if I did start then at least I had a chance of surviving.  I can clearly see now, looking back with 20/20 vision, that my old self was dying.  Literally, dying.  I wasn’t physically ill, but I had no desire to go on the way I was.  My spirit was dying and I didn’t really care about much at all.  I had ruined my relationship and my business and, while it looked from the outside like I had a great life, everything was about to crumble.  So, when you’re practically dead anyway, what do you have to lose?  I was worried about losing my relationship but once I came to the realization that it was over anyway I knew I had nothing left to lose by going for it.  Starting T was the best thing I ever did for myself, my relationship and my life in general.  I don’t mean to make it sound like a magic bullet because it isn’t, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of my problems stemmed from my hormones being out of whack from menopause.  I should note here that my thyroid was also low and I started taking meds for that at the same time.  Together, the two hormones made a huge difference and I felt better than I had felt since before I started puberty.

All in all, I think this whole process has occurred over the past six years.  I’ve gone incredibly slow intentionally.  I needed the time to adjust to the changes and figure out what to do next.  I’ve had a lot of self doubt along the way and have questioned myself non stop.  Now that I’m on the other side of things though I can confidently tell you that this was the best thing that I ever did for myself.  I’m dramatically happier, less moody, less depressed, less anxious, a better person, more engaged in life and more optimistic than I’ve ever been.  My relationship has been through hell and we’ve come out the other side together somehow stronger than ever and are planning our wedding.  My business somehow survived despite my best efforts to destroy it and, while I wouldn’t say I’m rolling in dough, I actually showed a profit for the first time in a long time and things are pretty stable again.  I’m easier to get along with and I think people like me more now because I’m happier with myself.  I’m a lot less angry than I used to be.*  The only thing I’m really dissatisfied with is my gut.  The T has made all of my fat redistribute to my belly and I have a huge gut now.  I hate it!!  But, I’m working on it so it will get better.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with one issue than a multitude of issues at one time.  Now that most everything else is taken care of I can focus a lot of my energy on my weight and physical health.  I’m looking forward to building up some nice muscular biceps and trimming down my waistline so I look good on my wedding day.

 

* One of the bad raps that Testosterone gets is that it can make people more aggressive and have anger issues.  This is definitely true.  I have noticed that I am quicker to anger and it boils up really fast inside me like a wild fire.  Before T, I was just dealing with a low grade constant feeling of being angry and pissed off on a daily basis.  After T, I’m pretty laid back but when I do get angry it happens fast and sudden.  Learning to control that impulse is a challenge that requires a lot of deep breaths and taking time to let it dissipate before I open my mouth to speak.  Just like a teenage boy has to learn to control his impulses, so do Trans Men when they start off on T, no matter their biological age.

 

The Deeper Side of Transition

When I started to transition from a butch lesbian to something on the male side of the spectrum I knew I needed to take things slowly.  I needed time to wrap my mind around exactly what I was doing and where I wanted to go with hormones, surgeries, name changes and the like.  I knew I needed time to wrap my mind around the idea of not being a lesbian anymore.  Of not being a sister and a daughter anymore.  Of being seen as male.  A white, heterosexual male.  I knew that the social side of transitioning was going to be the hardest part for me to navigate.  I wasn’t really sure I could handle it, or if my relationships could handle it.  In general, it’s been easier than I ever imagined.  But it’s also been tougher than I ever imagined too.  The person who’s given me the hardest time about everything is myself.  I get in my own way.  I’m not comfortable talking about my personal life to even my dearest friends.  I still feel like I’m walking around naked a lot of the time and everyone can see all of my flaws, scars and short-comings.  I still struggle with coming out to people, especially face-to-face, or even telling someone I changed my name.

I’ve been fortunate though.  The hormones have changed my looks gradually, lowered my voice to a definite male timbre, and top surgery seemed to seal the deal of helping me look like the man I’ve always felt like inside.  Before top surgery, I probably was perceived as male about 70% of the time and could still use a women’s washroom without too much fear.  I had started to work towards using the men’s but still didn’t feel like I could go in there safely 100% of the time.  Post top surgery, something magical happened and I was suddenly thrust over into the male side of the spectrum and it became clear to me very quickly that I was now seen primarily (98%) as male to the general public.  Generally, I’m happy with this turn of events, but it happened so suddenly that I wasn’t quite prepared for all of the repercussions this would foist on me and my family.  Now I am Candace’s husband, even though we’re not married, and I am my brother’s brother, and Candace’s mom’s son-in-law.  I don’t know if I could manage to pull off a non-binary transition now if I wanted to.  Luckily, I don’t want that but it’s still a little uncomfortable and strange for people to refer to me as someone’s brother or husband.  There’s a part of me that feels like I should be ok with this and it should feel natural.  Sometimes it does feel natural, but mostly it feels strange.  I’ve gotten totally comfortable with being referred to as sir and he/him by strangers but the titles still throw me.  I think it’s just a matter of getting used to it and will take time.  My brother also has to get used to this, and thankfully, has been very gracious about it so far.  He stumbles sometimes, but so do I.  I still avoid telling people I’m his brother by saying that he is MY brother and leaving my gender up to them to decide.

Basically, though, I’m really enjoying being a guy in public.  I went shopping at a jewelry store yesterday and it was really cool that everyone assumed I was shopping for my wife.  When I made my purchase, another man and I had a fun interchange about being good husbands.  Living the role of man, husband and brother in the real world is feeling like it fits much better than woman, wife, and sister ever did.  I feel freer in a lot of ways.  Socially, with the exception of a few people, I’m out to everyone.  It’s still awkward at times and we all have some adjustments to make, but I would consider this transition a success at this point.

Transitioning is funny though because we can’t always count on how the hormones or a surgery will effect how we’re perceived.  Just like a teenager, we can have a sudden growth spurt or physical change.  You could wake up one day and realize that you’re losing your hair at a much faster pace than expected.  Or your beard could suddenly sprout like a lumber jack.  If we’re not prepared socially for these changes it can really play havoc with our progress and mental space.  Whenever we inject a hormone we have to be prepared for whatever side effect it gives us and often, we think we are prepared until it does something unexpected.  In this case, the physical transition moves faster than our mental and social transition and causes a lot of problems.  Sometimes it’s more than we can handle at the moment and we have to make the heart breaking decision to stop our transition, temporarily or permanently.  I can’t say that I started hormones willing to take all of the possible side effects no matter what.  As time has progressed though, I’ve become willing to take them all no matter what.  I don’t relish the idea of becoming a bald guy, but I accept that it could happen.  I’ve seen my hairline recede quite a bit in the past couple of years and I know that my hair is thinner than it used to be up top.  Baldness is creeping up on me and I know it.  I don’t expect to go completely bald, but I do expect to lose quite a bit of hair.

Another, deeper, side to transitioning is erasure of our pasts.  Now that I look male, people make a lot of assumptions about my past that just aren’t true.  I did not have all of the opportunities handed to me that I would have if I’d been born with male genitalia.  I was not raised as a boy.  I never was a Boy Scout.  I never played Little League or any male sport growing up.  I grew up queer, a Tom Boy, a lesbian and I had to fight and prove myself every inch of the way to get where I am today.  I played girl’s softball and was a Girl Scout growing up.  All of that is forgotten now and definitely does not seem to fit with my current persona.  This can be very disturbing and upsetting if we’re not prepared for it.  Personally, I don’t care that much and I never really liked being a “female role model” anyway, so it’s sort of a relief.  I know my history and that’s what matters to me.  No one ever handed me anything and I’ve had to work my butt off to get what I have and I don’t care who knows that about me.  Others, though, could find this to be very upsetting and it’s something to keep in mind.

Balancing the emotional and physical sides of the transition process is tricky and not for the faint of heart.  There are a lot of days where I still wonder if I can handle all of this and even whether I want to.  There are days when I wonder if I made the right decisions along the way.  But then I think about the option of going back to living as a butch lesbian and I know that I could never do that again.  So, it’s onward I go as there is no turning back for me at this point in time.  What the future brings is anybody’s guess, but I know I will handle it to the best of my ability.

Testosterone: Panacea or Pandora?

Just in the last couple of days three bloggers I follow posted about how hormone therapy was causing them problems mentally.  First there was butchcountry67’s post here, then Sam’s thoughtful post here and then Eli’s post here.  Their experiences really made me think hard about how I’ve been feeling lately.  I know a few of you are thinking about starting T and no one really talks a lot about the mental aspect of transitioning or what the hormones do to our brains. I’ve even written a little bit about how I wonder if T is making my mind do interesting and sometimes alarming somersaults.  There was this post that I wrote recently as well as this one where I talk about my mental acrobatics of late.  My anxiety has been off the charts since November/December of 2015.  Like I’m often apt to do, I have tried to figure out what is causing this sudden and unexpected surge of anxiety in my life.  I’ve blamed it on the holidays, on surgeries, menopause, aging, stress, work, transitioning, hormones, diabetes, my weight, my diet, my lifestyle, lack of sleep, society, early dementia, you name it, I’ve thought of it.  Maybe all of that plays into our mental state.  Maybe one thing alone doesn’t make that much difference but all added up it creates a nice mind noodle soup that sends us into another realm.  I don’t know.

I try to remember when I started T exactly but I’m just not that sure.  I think it was around 2011, so about 4-5 years.  I started on a super low dose of Androgel.  My first prescription was a baggie with 4 or 5 little packets in it.  I put 1/4 packet on my upper arms every morning.  I did this for a while and then went to 1/2 a packet.  Eventually I was given a bottle of the stuff and applied two pumps per day.  I was on the gel for a couple of years I think.  Physically, I did see some minor changes.  My body odor changed pretty immediately.  There was some minor growth downstairs and a marked increase in libido.  My facial hair got much more fuzzy and pronounced and I started getting hair in new places like my butt and upper thighs and my voice dropped a little bit.  Mentally, I felt really good.  My moods leveled out and I felt unusually optimistic during a pretty rocky time in my life.

But I didn’t like having to put the gel on every day.  It’s messy and can rub off on pets and partners (so they say, though I’m not so sure about that once it’s dried).  The little changes I had experienced made me hungry for more so I asked my doctor about switching to injections.  I had intended to stay at the same dose or slightly higher than what I had been on with the gel.  But he wrote my script for a full dose (which I didn’t know at the time).  I did some research to try and figure out what a full dose typically is and realized he had plopped me up to full dose in one fell swoop.  I called and talked to him about it and he told me to take a little less if I wasn’t comfortable with it.  He made it sound like I was already to a full dose on the gel.  Maybe I was.  I don’t know about that since no one really talks about what a full dose of Androgel is.  I think I was up to 3 or 4 pumps per day a the end.  Not being either a doctor or a math whiz I’m not sure what the equivalents are.  So I injected .4cc or 80mg per week of T for about a year.  I saw a dramatic drop in my voice right away and some real facial hair sprouting as well as some chest and arm hairs and a serious increase in libido that was beyond overwhelming at times.  I didn’t dislike the changes.  He had given me carte blanche to toy with my dosage if I wanted to so I upped it to .5cc (100mg) per week for a while (maybe close to a year).  I had a hysterectomy and a vein surgery in the mean time.  People started increasingly seeing me as male out in public.  Using the women’s toilets started to become a problem.  Not being out as trans to friends started to become a problem.  People started wondering what the heck was going on with me.  Some people still do since I haven’t told everyone yet.  Still, mentally, I felt pretty good.

Looking back, however, I can tell you that a new pattern with my anxiety disorder was emerging.  I would go quite a while and everything would be ok but then suddenly, out of nowhere, there would be a huge surge of anxiety/panic attacks over some particular thing that would be debilitating for a while.  First it was bridges, then it was bathrooms, now it’s my mind/memory.  Is this the work of the T or is it just how my disorder is progressing?  I don’t know.  I had the two Transient Global Amnesia attacks.  The first one was before starting T, the second one was after being on it for a couple of years.  So, I can’t say that the T caused those.

What I can say, however, is that, while who I am has not changed, the way my brain thinks and processes information most definitely has.  I have disturbing thoughts throughout the day that scare me and make me wonder who I am becoming.  Sometimes these thoughts get a grip on me and don’t want to let go.  It upsets me greatly and freaks me out.  These thoughts are usually sexual or violent in nature.  I remember getting my eyes examined by a new doctor one time.  She was an attractive young woman (in my opinion anyway) and she had really muscular, well defined arms and was wearing a sleeveless dress that day.  I got fixated on her arms and wanted to comment on how beautiful they were.  I literally almost came unglued because this desire was so strong in my head and I knew it was inappropriate to mention something like that to her.  I had to will myself to stay quiet.  Then the other day I was driving along a back road and I saw an attractive lady (again, my opinion) wearing a very flattering outfit jogging on the opposite side as me.  I had a sudden urge to slow down, lower my window and tell her how nice she looked and how that outfit really showed off her figure.  What?  Who does that?  NO!!  Only perverted idiot men do that kind of shit!  I thought, oh my God, I’m turning into a sexist asshole pig.  Of course I didn’t scare the crap out of that woman thank God but I had the urge thought and that freaked me out.  This is NOT who I am.  These are two examples.  I have random thoughts like these throughout the day.  Every day.  Sometimes I get sudden bursts of anger that are hard to control, usually while driving.  Even the slightest little infraction from a fellow driver will send me into a fit of anger.  Again, this is not me.

Perhaps I’ve found that point where I’m beyond enough into the too much territory.  I reduced my dose back to .4cc for the past couple of weeks and my brain has settled down some.  I considering going even lower to maybe .3cc and see how I feel.  But after reading butchcountry67’s post I feel like I should ask my doctor before doing that.  Knowing him he’ll tell me to do whatever I want.  He doesn’t seem at all concerned about it when I talk to him at my bi-annual visits.  Maybe that should alarm me.  He’s more concerned with my diabetes.  He is an endocrinologist after all.  That’s what he specializes in.  The hormones are just a side gig for him.  But for me, they are a big deal and they impact my life just as much as being diabetic does.  To be totally honest, I’ve even been considering stopping my T altogether lately.  I doubt I will do that, but it is floating around my mind noodle at the moment.

I’m talking about this because it’s important for folks to hear the truth about hormones.  They are powerful and can mess you up if you’re not careful…and sometimes even if you are.  Throw in some mental disorders like depression, anxiety, bi-polar, etc. and you can have some really unpredictable outcomes.  I’m not saying don’t try HRT for yourself.  Not at all.  Just be aware  that they are serious and you need to closely monitor yourself mentally as well as physically while on them.  I don’t know if T is to blame for all of my recent issues.  My guess is that it isn’t.  But since lowering my dose just a little (20mg) has made a difference in how I feel, I’m pretty sure that some of it is from the T.  Doctors want to just throw a standard dose at everyone like we’re all the same and not think about it too much.  They suffer from the same issues the rest of us suffer with, namely, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  They don’t want to take the time to be thorough because they have a waiting room full of impatient people waiting to be seen.  It’s up to us, the patient, to advocate for ourselves and ask the questions and demand the answers.  Sometimes, the doctors truly don’t know the answers because there just isn’t enough information out there through research and studies.  This needs to change.