One year on Testosterone update (I think that’s today?):
Turns out I took T so that I could be as uncomfortable being called sir as I am being called ma’am.
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.
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.
I’ll make a video soon explaining what the hell is going on, but right now I’m too exhausted to make any sense at all.
Sorry it took me so long to get to this, but I’m finally ready.
I want to start off by saying that I really, really understand where these questions come from. I know a lot of trans men and transmasculine people get very angry and defensive when these questions get asked, and I understand that too, because they’re hard to answer. These are questions I’ve struggled with, and I think they’re important to address, but when you get down to it, they don’t actually make much sense.
I’m not going to deny that there are misogynistic trans men. There are people I’ve met whose male identities smack of a hatred towards women and being associated with women, whose ways of articulating their feelings of manhood use opposition to womanhood as their main justification. These men are misogynists, but that doesn’t make their understanding of themselves as male any less valid—I also know many cis men who position their maleness as somehow opposite to femaleness, and no one ever questions whether their hatred towards women is the sole reason for their identification as men.
The point is that people have many complicated reasons for identifying the way they do, some of which are easier to articulate than others. Oppressive points of view are always the easiest to talk about, because those are the ones for which the most language exists. We are not given the tools to think about or talk about gender. The same man who talks about hating women to bolster his manliness may have infinite other feelings of connection to manhood, but this may be the only one he can manage to describe. It’s important to acknowledge that while identities and emotions can be shaped by politics, they can also exist regardless of our beliefs; identities are not the same as identity politics. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your ability to affirm others’ identities is to turn the volume down on your tendency to analyze everything inside a political framework and listen to a person’s feelings.
It’s also really helpful to keep in mind that there is cissexism built into the idea that people whose bodies you might consider female should naturally be women unless they declare otherwise. Any time you ask a question about the genders of trans people, I encourage you to ask the same question about the genders of cis people. If trans men’s male identities make you uncomfortable at face value, why don’t cis men’s? You may not even have realized that you were not thinking of trans men as “real” men, but that’s kind of what this question boils down to; there is no “staying a woman” for a person who is not a woman.
You’re right that men and women should be treated as equals. In fact, people of all genders should be entirely equal. When it comes to being “treated like a man,” this is where you get a huge split between misogynists and everyone else. Obviously, there are misogynist men with all kinds of histories who believe that there are certain specific behaviors that go into treating someone like a man, but not everyone means what you think by it.
For some people, being treated as a man simply means acknowledging their male identity by using the right name and pronouns for them, and remembering not to refer to groups they are part of as “ladies.” As a cis person, you may not even notice how much access to gendered spaces you feel entitled to without questioning whether you’re allowed there. You may question the validity of gendered spaces—you may even feel uncomfortable in them—but when it comes down to it, you never wonder if you will be readily welcomed into a group of people who use the same word to describe their gender as you do. Many trans people who ask you to treat them as a specific gender are asking first and foremost for that: just act like they should be included in things that are for their gender. And I don’t mean act like men like sports, I mean act like your male friends should feel free to attend men’s spaces.
In addition to that basic validation, I encourage you to ask anyone who asks you to treat them like a man what they mean by it. If they can even tell you—which many of them may not be able to—you should feel free to address any misogyny you see in individual requests, just make sure you let the person know that you don’t want to do that for them because you don’t want to do it for any man, not because you don’t see them as a man.
As for the negative gut reaction that many men have to being called “she,” keep in mind that trans people put a lot of effort into being seen and understood as they see themselves (often to the point of compromising ourselves and our beliefs because it’s actually that big a deal to some of us. It’s very hard to live up to your own ideals in a world that is trying its hardest to deny your existence, and frequently we must give up what we believe for what is possible in the world as it is right now. Cis people do this too, but its extent is obscured by cissexist assumptions of the “naturalness” of their compromises). If the people you see doing this don’t show other signs of hating women, it’s more likely that their reaction comes from the shock and hurt of being seen in a way that doesn’t make sense to them than from an idea they have that being a woman is universally insulting.
Again, it’s ok to challenge people on their language around this stuff, but it’s not ok to challenge their identity wholesale. Encourage people in your life to be aware that not everyone is able to follow their logic and that the more steps they can flesh out for you, the easier it will be for you to understand. An example of this is: “hey, instead of just acting like I know why it’s insulting for you to be referred to as a woman, what if you added another step in your logic and said something like, ‘it’s really hurtful to me when people can’t see the effort I’ve put into being read as a man, and I’m insulted that they aren’t taking the time to read the signals I’m putting out.’? That way we could be on the same page about what is actually problematic about it for you.” (If the idea that it’s possible to give out gendered signals makes you uncomfortable, we can talk about that, but you can’t deny that in the world as it is right now, there are certain things we all do to get read certain ways, and they are useful to trans people). This also works with people who tell you that their male identity is based in their masculinity. Ask them to remember that not everyone can understand how A automatically leads to B and that saying something more like “I interpret my masculinity as coming from a place of maleness,” will help you feel confident that they’re not saying that all masculine people are male.
Misogynist men aside, I hope you can agree that there there are many feminists who are not women. Why would it be that all of those people are cis? I know that my own identity as a genderfucked androgyne is not based in the idea that there is anything about me that makes it impossible or unfathomable for me to be a woman (or a man). It’s simply a matter of my personal interpretation of my traits as not being those of either a woman or a man. I’ll reiterate something that I’ve said many times: I’m sure there is a woman out there who has all the same gendered characteristics I have, but when I try to see myself as a woman it just doesn’t work out. This fact of my gender is not in opposition to my beliefs, which are just like yours, that women can do anything they like in any way they like. In fact, my feminism and admiration for women has grown exponentially since I started exploring the possibility that I might not be a woman. I’ve tried many times to make the idea of a personal womanhood identity make sense to me, but I cannot seem to connect to it. This is not something I can or want to control through sheer politically-motivated thought power.
Sure, describing myself with a word that holds no personal significance to me could be a very powerful statement about gender, but someone else can choose to make that statement. I choose instead to make the statement that received ideas about gender are not trustworthy. Through this statement, I hope to serve as an example of gendered possibility and the value of feeling free to think long and hard about what descriptions make sense to you. That way, if it turns out that you are a woman (of any description), you know it’s not just because other people told you you should be.
As for your idea that my body is “still female,” it isn’t. It’s true that I have not modified it in any way, that I was told for much of my life that it was a female body, and that it being deemed female shaped the way I was raised and the expectations that were put on me, but again I call cissexism on anyone who tries to tell me that female and male are meaningful ways to describe anatomy.