Transitioning was the most difficult, scariest thing I’d ever done, but it was also the most revelatory and important. I wasn’t scared to transition because I was turning into a different person, but because I was finally letting my most vulnerable, authentic self emerge in a world where many people do not want me to exist.
For years, all I thought about was gender. I’d spend hours online researching surgeries and the effects of testosterone, reading blogs and watching YouTube videos. I talked constantly with trans friends about their lives, and watched men—cis and trans—closely, looking for reflections of myself or the man I may become.
Before having my gender-confirming surgery and starting hormone therapy, I endured aggressive stares and questions from people, usually men: “Are you a man or a woman?” Because I never knew how others would read me, I tried to disappear. I folded in on myself, trying to be small, afraid to meet anyone’s eyes. I worried about my chest, my soft face, my girl voice. I berated myself for not “knowing” I was trans earlier in life; I questioned whether I was really trans or trans enough. Every single day, I wondered whether I should start testosterone, or how I would come out to my family. Finally I made the decision to go to a surgeon in Seattle.
The physical transformation for me was also a deep emotional transformation. With my new chest, I felt buoyed by joy and confidence, and I felt a connection to my own body. But that wasn’t an end in itself. Transitioning did not start on the day of my surgery or end after I grew a mustache. It’s been an ongoing process of coming out and coming into myself.
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I relied on trans friends to help me navigate the legalities of changing my name and my gender marker on my driver’s license and passport and Social Security card, all of which required money and paperwork.
Although I’ve found trans-affirmative doctors in Kentucky, where I now live, I’ve also been asked inappropriate questions and had to educate some of my own physicians about trans health care. I worry about traveling internationally, but I’m just as anxious traveling in America outside of urban spaces: What if I need to go to the doctor in a small town? Will they be transphobic? I worry about the future too. What will health care look like for an old trans man, or retirement or nursing homes? The Trump administration’s ruling only intensifies these feelings.
Despite everything, I know I carry a lot of privilege. Eleven years after I started my transition, I’m only ever read as male. I have a full-time job at a university that supports me. Still, I’m anxious whenever I have to use a men’s public bathroom (in Kentucky, it’s difficult to find gender-neutral restrooms), or when I go into the locker room at the gym, I worry that I will be outed, threatened, assaulted. Ohio, the state where I was born, refuses to change gender markers on birth certificates, so mine still lists my gender as female.