Why, after 6 years as a staunchly no-hormones trans person, I have decided to use T: a love letter to my body, and an open letter to the trans community
When I was 16, I began to question what it would mean to change genders. How could you tell, I wondered, what gender you felt in a given moment? What did gender entail? I wondered, too, whether an ideological disagreement with a gender binary was enough to put you outside it. I started to research how different people were approaching their gender questions, what the world of gender and sex possibility looked like.
I quickly found Hudson’s Guide and read everything. Because I started from a fundamental lack of understanding of even the basics of gender, I absorbed any opinion and advice I read. On Hudson’s Guide, this specifically meant some pretty binarist ideas about what it meant to walk through the world as a trans guy whose gender was acknowledged as valid. Still, Hudson is helpful for some things, and it was where I did all of my research on medical transition.
I was obsessive in my research during this period. I remember spending hours doing nothing but trolling the internet for the perfect answers to my ineffable questions. I couldn’t think about anything else. Still, somehow I don’t have a very strong recollection of my research into hormones and surgery. It must have been very quick. If people were posting their entire transition chronologies on youtube and tumblr at that time, I didn’t know about it. I must have looked at a couple of pictures, read that genetics dictated your likelihood of baldness and the density of your body hair, and decided that it wasn’t for me, never mind how appealing some of the other changes sounded. I was changing gender presentations every day at that time, and the idea of making intentional, permanent, gendered changes to my body felt senseless given the constantly shifting nature of my body needs.
That was it; I never looked back.
There were times over the years that I would wistfully watch someone else’s testosterone-induced transformation and wonder if I had made the right decision, but I would always quickly decide that I had. At the time—and in many ways still—it felt like a non-normative decision to make. I didn’t make the decision in order to be non-normative, but I have always taken special pride in the things that are true of me that set me apart. Many of the people around me had never met a trans person before, and the answers they were able to find from the internet and pop culture painted pictures I wasn’t in, so that meant that I was constantly asked to defend my choices and, by extension, to defend my gender. I lost friends as they got bored and impatient with the effort it took to justify my existence.
As I moved away from gender-switching towards seeking an understanding of my gender as constant, whole, and all-encompassing, the choices I had made despite all the pressure to do anything other than what felt right solidified into an identity, a badge I had to wear proudly so as not to lose it. I developed rhetoric and scrambled to spread it as I witnessed a lack of resources causing so many trans people to adopt the official narrative before their stories had even had a chance to unfold. Identity policing from in and outside of trans communities disheartened me, but also hardened me. I worried a lot about the exhaustion involved in pushing yourself beyond sanctioned existence and hoped for myself that I would find ways not to bow to the binary and end up medically transitioning to make life easy rather than honest. I adopted an anti-assimilationist ideology that I hoped would bolster my resolve if things got tough.
I never really found community, but I met individuals who understood what I was doing and why—people for whom the personal and the political also spiraled around one another. My ideal lifestyle involves my methods of survival and my political rhetoric refining and redefining one another until they become indistinguishable—until I am an angel dancing on the head of a pin—the perfect point of liberation. In reality, this has often ended up with me taking up my stance too extremely in my own life, forcing constancy and rationality onto my passions. Maybe my stead-fastness with my no-ho status was one of those times.
My first shot is tomorrow.
So what’s changed, and why am I allowing it?
Well, probably the biggest thing that’s happened is that I’m in therapy and I’m in a healthy relationship. I love myself more now than my 16-year-old self could have imagined possible.
See, when I was 16 and making decisions I was going to force myself to stand by for the rest of my life, I hated bodies. Now, don’t misread that. It isn’t that I hated my body (I mean, I did hate my body, but I didn’t especially hate my body) I hated all bodies. I thought all bodies were horrifying. In fact, I was in the habit of comparing my body to other bodies and preferring mine. This habit (and some choice reinforcement from my parents) caused a panic at the idea that anything might change about my body. It was beautiful as it was, but only because it fit a certain idea of what beauty looked like. My decision not to take T wasn’t just about not wanting to put effort into permanent changes that would only occasionally be right for me—it was about a complete terror that my body, with its high likelihood of hair going everywhere but the top of my head, would become disgusting.
Turns out I developed an anti-cissexist, body liberationist theory out of a deep-seeded fear of bodies born of cissexism and body colonization.
Lucky for me, the theory holds water. Even luckier for me, it’s actually been helping me to liberate myself as a person with a body. As my fear and loathing of bodies has been eroded by my belief that all bodies are valid, worthy, and beautiful and that they should be autonomous, I’ve come to really, really love my body. And unlike my old “love,” which was based on the shaky foundation of stasis, this new love is firmly rooted in a love and understanding for all bodies that my 16-year-old self would never have thought possible. What this means is that I’m no longer terrified that my body might do the thing that bodies do best: change. I am not even perturbed by the idea that I might not like all the ways that it changes. I feel able to approach any changes that don’t excite me with the understanding that I have the capacity to find love, healing, or both.
This is all to say that when the question of whether I had made the right decision came back up for me recently and wouldn’t go away, I thought that changing my mind might be a betrayal of my politics. How could I continue to tell people that being trans didn’t require a cissexist understanding of how bodies are sexed, doesn’t require self-hatred or medical transition? How can I continue to argue that it is the world that must change, not us? I don’t worry about that anymore. My politics have always asked the questions, how can we counter a normative gender narrative? How can I keep from getting caught up in gender norms coming from anywhere but inside me? How can I live my life as a trans person whose gender is mostly a source of great joy to them? Taking testosterone does not stop me from asking these questions; it actually helps me answer them. It also doesn’t mean I have copped out to pressures to assimilate myself into the binary. That isn’t why I’m taking T, and my hope is that it never will be.
My entire exploration has been chasing an answer to the question, “what if?” So now I’m asking it again: What if I stopped allowing my fear of change to stifle my curiosity? What if it took people 5 seconds to decide which binary gender applied to me, instead of the two it takes them now? What if I took this hard-won love for my body and let it propel me forward? What if things could be even better than they already are?
I want to be clear now that this decision is not a reversal of my previous one. Rather, it is a continuation of my previous one. There is no moment in which I wish that I had started T earlier, no moment of my gender exploration that I regret. Indeed, I could not have made this decision at any point in my life before now, because I could not have made this decision out of anything but a deep, deep love for myself, my body, and my gender. It is not a concession to any of the forces that have tried to tell me my life was impossible. It is the decision to acknowledge and prioritize my desires. And I feel pretty damn good about that.
Pretty sure I live like this and the only family member I’m out to in any way finds it frustrating and inaccessible. we’re growing though :)
I mean, I’ve been making myself accessible for years now, and it still feels frustrating to some people in my life, and frustrating to me too. The thing is that most of the people I actually feel safe around usually didn’t need me to be all that accessible in the first place. I’m lucky and privileged to have found so many people like that, and I’m currently not feeling very patient with anyone else.
Treat everyone as though they are a badass ally who already knows the basics and is ready to validate and engage with my lived experience. Act as though they aren’t unduly curious and don’t have any questions. Don’t give them any opportunity to exoticize me or treat me like a magical, mystical other. Make it clear that my expectations are high, but not unreasonable. Remove the “you are special” element of allyship.
When it turns out I’m wrong, make sure they feel like they let me down by not listening hard enough and not trying to figure out the answers on their own; don’t allow them to imply that I let them down by not making myself available enough to their curiosity and ignorance.
If any one has any extra money they can shoot to an awesome cause, now is the time: Doing It Again (the trans woman porn project, if you don’t know) only has hours left on their kickstarter. They’ve got lots of rewards for donation if that provides an incentive to you, but for me the best is that if they reach $15,000 (they are about $1000 away from that goal), they’ll have enough money to make a third film dedicated specifically to the sexualities of people with non-binary identities. I seriously, seriously want to see this happen, but I cannot put up the 1000 bucks all by myself. It’s got to be a team effort, so even if you can’t donate any more than you maybe already have, I hope you pass the link along to other people who might be interested in having such a thing exist.
idk, while Freud really perpetuated the oppression of women through his work, HB did a lot of actual good to promote the needs of trans folk. Continued… The HB joke is funnier if you’re telegraphing your trans status and playing off of anatomical expectations, but it feels mean to HB, whereas Freud really should be sucking dick. “Envy” indeed…
Brin, while I’m sure he appreciates your concern for him, have you read the standards of care written and carried out in our pal Harry’s name? I definitely recommend it if you can stomach it.
Here are some choice exerpts (TRIGGER WARNING for cissexism, gatekeeping, and other assorted bullshit)
Two Primary Populations with GID Exist—Biological Males and Biological Females. The sex of a patient always is a significant factor in the management of GID. Clinicians need to separately consider the biological, social, psychological, and economic dilemmas of each sex.For example, when first requesting professional assistance, the typical biological female seems to be further along in consolidating a male gender identity than does the typical biological male in his quest for a comfortable female gender identity. This often enables the sequences of therapy to proceed more rapidly for male-identified persons. All patients, however, must follow the SOC.
The Clinical Threshold. A clinical threshold is passed when concerns, uncertainties, and questions about gender identity persist in development, become so intense as to seem to be the most important aspect of a person’s life, or prevent the establishment of a relatively unconflicted gender identity. The person’s struggles are then variously informally referred to as a gender identity problem, gender dysphoria, a gender problem, a gender concern, gender distress, or transsexualism. Such struggles are known to be manifested from the preschool years to old age and have many alternate forms.
in order to provide puberty delaying hormones to a person less than age 18, the following criteria must be met
throughout childhood they have demonstrated an intense pattern of cross-gender identity and aversion to expected gender role behaviors
gender discomfort has significantly increased with the onset of puberty
social, intellectual, psychological, and interpersonal development are limited as a consequence of their GID
serious psychopathology, except as a consequence of the GID, is absent
the family consents and participates in the triadic therapy
I mean, I get that this was a cool first step and all, and that, thank goodness, more and more places are moving away from these requirements, but the joke that is so great about “Harry Benjamin can suck my dick” is that Harry would never, ever, allow someone like me to have a dick.