Expect Problems

A transition blog.

A few months before I accepted I was trans, I had an experience which didn't fully resonate with me for what it was about at the time.

For some context... I always used to hate collared shirts. Of any kind - business shirts, polo shirts... anything. The more masculine it made me look, the worst it felt. Same was true of suits and tuxedoes, but a much larger degree.

The only time I ever wore collared shirts was as an over-shirt.

I used to wear them not for fashion reasons, but because I hated my body and often felt uncomfortable wearing just a t-shirt. I wanted something to hide how gross my body was (to me). When it was too warm for a jacket, I resorted to an over-shirt.

Thing is, I actually quite like the look of a loose over-shirt and a tee underneath. And yet the look always felt 'wrong' on me. It bothered me, immensely. I was deep in denial about my gender dissonance, so I was just confused. "Why can't I feel good in this, when I appreciate it on other people?"

(The same was true of suits and tuxedoes - when my friends dressed up, I'd be amazed at how awesome they could look, and it was this source of absolute shame that I could "never look that good", in my own mind at least.)

When my old over-shirt went missing, I begrudgingly went to go find another. I always liked ones with military-style shoulders - the one you can pin ranks to. They just seemed to fit mentally with my thing for camo and other mil-chic. (Something I still like today.) Result? I went to a disposal shop.

There I began to browse shirts. I kept thinking, "Look, fuck it. Get something nice. Pick a shirt you feel you look good in. There has to be ONE."

I began to browse. I finally found a Gondwana dust-coloured shirt. The kind you'd see a park ranger or a zookeeper in, if it had a name tag and a park badge sewn onto it.

It reminded me of Indiana Jones.

So I glanced at styles, found one that I thought looked good, then took it back to the change rooms.

Now, I always hated change rooms. Because they're gendered - in large department stores, anyway. But in small places like op-shops or disposal shops? I felt more comfortable. Nobody eyeing me as I went in, like at Kmart or Target. Nobody whose stare was making my dysphoria go nuts, even before I knew what that was.

So I went in, and tried the shirt on. To my surprise, there was NO way it was going to fit on me. It looked about the right size, but I was completely wrong.

Then I figured out why - I'd picked up a women's shirt.

I felt a deep rush on embarrassment, and got it back to the shelf to pick another few from the men's section, hoping nobody had seen me browsing in the women's section.

I bought a men's equivalent, but it never quite worked for me. Didn't seem right.

It remained an overshirt I'd wear on occasion, but disliked as much as the others.

Only a few moments ago, as I found it while unpacking from my recent house move, did I remember this moment clearly.

I had grabbed for a women's top, because to me it looked nice. I had no idea I was browsing in the women's part of the store - I just saw a piece of women's clothing... and wanted to wear it.

Next time I have money, I kind of want to go back to that op-shop, and buy the shirt I'd eyed off enviously... it'd probably fit now. I've lost enough weight, and my body is more than feminine enough to fit nicely into fitted women's shirts.

I want to see myself in it now, and not just in my mind.

(CW: a few short discussions of sexist behaviour. Very brief.)

First of all - apologies for using binary gender assumptions in the title. (It was a reference to... look, it's a long story, but the title has meaning to me.) Ahem, anyway...

Last time, I wrote a bit about how I had underestimated the scale of personal change transitioning would entail for me, and how this meant I had underestimated and even been a bit dismissive of the complexity of this experience for friends of mine.

This time, I want to muse on some broad and general observations on how the way people I know relate to me, and I to them, has changed in the past year. Specifically, this is going to be about friends & acquaintances - discussions of broad social treatment is something else entirely.

To get a few things out of the way - I will, be force of necessity, need to make some generalisations here. None of this is intended to be a men-are-from-mars type thing.

To kick off, I need to once again re-iterate something you've probably heard me write about quite a few times if you read my blog even a little bit. Gender is not a binary, and is better represented by a series of spectrums - identity and presentation being the two most obvious ones.

It doesn't matter if you feel "I'm a woman" or "I'm a man" and have had no issues with this, you will probably still find you can pick somewhere on each of these two continuums you fit on.

I've known plenty of men who, while they still identify as such, have always felt a little ostracised and uncomfortable around particularly "masculine" (in the traditional sense of the word) men. Like they're still... a little bit 'other'. It may cause a problem, or it may not. Depends entirely on the person and the social situation.

Same is true - perhaps even more obviously - for many women. I've had a few friends tell me thing like, "I'm not really sure I identify as a woman". Clarifying to me, it might be that they don't emotionally relate to other women that well, despite not feeling any particular kinship for men, either.

You may have an image in your head right now of the sort of woman who told me this as sort of masculine/androgynous or tomboy-presenting women, but you'd often be wrong. How someone presents is a separate spectrum from how they identify. There might be overlap, but there might not be. Just the same as you might not see a somewhat masculine-presenting woman and assume she's a lesbian (well, hopefully not, anyway, because that's not a good indicator of anything except your own bias), assumptions about how someone identifies and (often, therefore) relates to other people can't be assumed by how they present, or even what they do.

By which I mean, a handful of women who've talked to me about a degree of estrangement emotionally from other women are mothers, and even have noticeably maternal and even quite feminine character traits. None of these are mutually exclusive things.

If it seems I'm focusing more on women here than men, I think it's for two reasons. Firstly, because I relate a bit better to women generally, and spend more time talking to other women. Always have. Secondly, because for many men, gender is invisible. For plenty of men it's not, of course (especially those I talked about before who don't feel entirely uncomfortable around particularly masculine men), but a common theme in many articles I've read is that "gender isn't important for men". When you are most likely in a very privileged position where you suffer few challenges socially as a result of your gender, it's not something you often think about. In short? It's very easy for privilege to be invisible.

(Oh, and before I launch off into the behaviour and relations stuff, to briefly touch on non-binary people... actually, that's really simple. It may not seem it, but it is. When a friend of mine is either uncomfortable with gender binaries and/or actively rejects them, I find myself not having to make any assumptions about them based on what I perceive their gender performance or assume/know their gender identity to me. It's actually quite liberating, and while I can't and won't try to speak to what that's like, I can at least say that on a purely selfish level it's quite easy for me to just jettison behavioural assumptions when talking to one of my NB friends, and I actually appreciate it quite a bit.)

So, there are a lot of ways I can break down the way I've found my relationships shift as I transition, and at its very core it tends to come down to two factors: how someone identifies, and how important that identity is to them.

I have found that particularly feminine women are often the people who are most quick to be warm, friendly and want to get to know me better. I suspect a part is that if your identity as a woman is so important to you, then relating to other women is a much more personal and gratifying and important experience. These are often women who have very close female friends more often than male ones. Perhaps as it's easier to relate.

I don't always present particularly feminine, but I certainly identify as very strongly on the feminine side of the identity spectrum. Which also contributes here. But even if it didn't, the fact is that gender is, right now, a huge factor in my life. I am experiencing a totally shifting social environment and going through many of the same physical discomforts and experiences that cis women go through. So, regardless of how strongly I identify as female, that my experience at the moment is so heavily gendered and new to me means that my relationship with women for whom gender is a major part of their life was probably always going to be matter too.

Fact is, I love these interactions. Hanging out with intelligent, strong, feminine women - or women who have a huge interest in gender generally - is one of the greatest pleasures and the most intellectually & emotionally stimulating parts of my life right now.

You hear a lot about "the sisterhood", unless you've been living under a rock, and I suppose what it refers to is the sometimes-instant connection and support you can have for, and from other women, especially in certain situations.

When you have a shared experience that isn't always good - even when it's through something as massively varied as your treatment based on your gender - solidarity becomes a very common reaction. And in this case it's an amazing experience. The instant need or desire to help other women and the delight at how supportive they often are to you is something I didn't expect to this degree, and something I had no previous experience with.

I'm not saying that male-to-male friendships and camaraderie isn't a big deal or particularly empowering... I'm saying I wouldn't know. The more I accept that I don't and never did comfortably identify as male, the more I realise that none of my relationships with men sat right with me. Not the gendered relationships, anyway. I had plenty of friendships with men through the years, but any where the relationship was heavily based on gendered behaviour or shared experiences as men just didn't work for me, in a way that makes perfect sense now.

Which brings me to masculine men. Men who are very comfortable identifying as men. Many have specific set behaviours reserved for women. Things you do or don't do. It may be their idea of chivalry, or it may be sexist behaviour, even if they don't recognise it as such.

My relationship with these men has changed the most.

I didn't have many friends that fit into this category, of course, but the few I knew... everything is different. If they are even comfortable with my transition, they are often more shut off to me. More cautious, and, strangely, more polite.

Oh, and... the ones who are the most uncomfortable around me? The ones who have the most difficulty with me changing physically?

Yeah. They're the really sexist ones. It's so obvious. The ones who see women exclusively as potential sexual conquests or eye candy. While I was perceived as male, they so obviously saw me as one of them. But now I'm Other. I'm, at best eye candy and depending on how they feel about trans women, a sex object. At worst... I'm something very, very uncomfortable to them. Someone who they perceive as actively rejecting masculinity (as opposed to the truth of never functioning within it, even if it looked like I was). Someone who muddies the waters for them regarding the simplicity of women as walking vaginas for their personal enjoyment.

Fortunately... I didn't know many of these, but it's hard not to be strongly affected as I realise who they are and try to cut them out of my life as quickly as possible.

Between these two extremes lie probably the majority of my friends & acquaintances. Most of these are men. Some are women.

People whose behaviour toward me hasn't changed that much. Who, it's clear, never gendered me particularly strongly. For whom my secondary sexual characteristics or gender identity didn't factor that strongly into being friends with me.

These, I think, tend to be people who don't identify particularly strongly as either gender, whether they've expressed this to me or not.

They can be some of my best friends, and it actually can be just as nice an experience to realise someone treats me the same as it is to find people who are warmer and more comfortable with me now.

When I began transitioning, I think I tried to imagine most of my friends would fit in this camp. People who I assumed were somehow 'above gender', like that's a good thing.

But it's not that simple. Gender identity and expression is incredibly personal, and can have varying degrees of importance in your life. For people who sit somewhere in the middle but not quite so centrally enough to identify as NB or similar, I am beginning to suspect gender can be quite a frustration at times.

Assumptions about their own behaviour based on presentation and their body must be tough if they just personally don't care. If you want it to go away. If you have friends for whom gender is equally unimportant. If you'd rather not discuss feminism or inequality or gender biases because it's not a huge part of your life (or you feel it isn't).

There are a ton of reasons this might be you. Factors might be how you were raised, how you identify, or that you simply didn't see much gendered bias in how people treated you over the years, and haven't had an issue with it. These are all perfectly valid experiences and feelings, of course.

And I wish in a lot of ways I fitted in this camp. It'd be nice for gender not to dominate my life so strongly, really.

But it does, and will continue to do so probably for a lot of the remainder of my life, as it does for many people.

Of course, it's also very possible to fit in this "not very strongly gendered" camp and yet still have a deep interest in gender. I know plenty of you. Awesome people who ask me questions and give me interesting observations from your own wide experiences.

But some people are just not interested in gender at all. They have no questions, aren't particularly interested in what I blog or post about, and may even be a little confused as to why it's so important.

Perhaps for these people it's the hardest to understand someone transitioning.

If gender is not a big factor in your life, it must be even harder to imagine how it can be for someone else.

It's hard to imagine an experience you haven't had. Either one you're about to go through, or one you likely never will.

When I came out as trans, I read about (and heard people talk about) the kind of reactions I could expect from friends and family as I came out to them. Most are the kind you'd expect, but the closer a person is to you, the more intense and unpredictable the reaction can be.

Part of the reason for this is something that I wholesale rejected - really despised - at the time I first heard about it. That concept is grief over loss.

I heard it described as something relatively common when coming out to parents - that the process can be not dissimilar to flat out losing a son or daughter, even while and gaining another child. That the person goes through grief.

At the time, my rejection of this and annoyance at it came from hating, really hating, the idea that peoples' relationships with me was that gendered. I was preferring the idea of living in a slightly naive world where people are friends with me, not a gender performance or a beard or a really specific kind of behaviour.

On another level, as the months have passed, I've had to realise and accept that in a lot of ways I didn't fully understand the intensity of what I was doing. I was naive about that too. I wanted to feel that "nothing would change". That my friends would remain my friends, my family my family, and that'd be that. Because I felt I knew they were clearly all mature and intelligent enough to not judge me or treat me differently based on gender. And while that has predominantly been true, I really feel I didn't understand just how much I would change.

When I hit the point of accepting my gender dissonance, and realising how much of my life was and always had been totally wrecked by the astoundingly shit experience of gender dysphoria, I was at my wit's end. I finally recognised and accepted a problem I'd been actively denying for years, and knew I had to change it.

Of course, that hasn't changed. On a fundamental level I am happier now than I've ever been, and the degree of comfort I have with myself is hard to describe. I made the right choice.

But I didn't realise how much of my own experience changing would affect my world, and how much of a shift (hopefully in positive ways) there'd be in my personality.

I often see friends - trans or cis - using metaphors to describe transitioning. One of my favourites early on was regenerating. Like Doctor Who. I loved the idea because it seemed powerful and cool. If you're going to go through something this massive, likening yourself to a benevolent long-lived Loki-like god-figure helps make the idea seem less scary.

The fact is it's a much longer process, but one way the metaphor really worked in a way I didn't expect was that The Doctor's personality changes, just as mine has changed.

Which brings me back to grief - the reaction I read about that I had rejected and hated the very idea of.

I underestimated just how much this (relatively) fast change could affect the way someone related to me, and I to them.

Whether it's because of hormonal shifts affecting my emotional reactions, because physical changes on this scale can't help but affect the way even the most well-meaning friend treats you, or because the way I an treated socially has affected how I view and react to even close friends.

It may sound like I'm just talking about or focusing on men here ("it's weird to think that you're a chick now", etc) but it's not exclusive to one gender identification.

The process of transitioning has been, for me, an exercise is self-discovery and re-learning a lot about myself. I'd made so many assumptions that were wrong, surprising me even though I went into this trying to jettison any ideas of who I was.

And the more I realise I change, the more that grief actually seems like a reasonable and understandable reaction.

I found the idea of "you're a new person now" laughable because my conceptions of the importance of gender identification and performance now feel wrong, but they make an enormous impact in how the world treats you, whether it's strangers or friends. This isn't all negative - many of my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. And I'm not trying to cry that gender is anything other than the enormously complicated spectrum it is, either. I've certainly had a hugely different set of reactions from friends depending on where they sit. Not all women are enormously feminine, and not all men are enormously masculine.

Some people I know were instantly and obviously a little uncomfortable. They seemed to sense that I would change, and this scared or concerned them a bit. (I don't mean that they were transphobic - just that for some people recognised better than me how big a change this would be.) Others weren't obviously concerned, but seemed to become so as they saw me change.

I'm not criticising any of these reactions. If you've never had a friend transition, and never transitioned yourself, it's naturally outside the breadth of your personal experience and can be any combination of surprising, scary and even fascinating.

I'm not upset with myself for failing to accept the enormity of all this - although I do wonder how much was ignorance and how much was a desperate desire not to let myself be lost in just how massive the coming years would be.

I do, however, recognise that I underestimated hugely how big this would be for my friends. Especially now that I have more trans friends who I've seen, however briefly, go through their own transitions, I realised what a massive deal this makes.

It isn't the right place for me to unpack how much of this is hormonal and how much is social, but which percentage is what doesn't really matter.

Fact is when I think back to past behaviour and memories, it's quite foreign. Like the memories aren't mine, but implanted, Blade Runner style.

They happened, and I remember them clearly (in some classes more clearly) but as I've spoken about before, it's like they happened to someone different.

And I suppose in a very real way they did.

The 'regeneration' metaphor seems more apt than I ever imagined.

As I change I've found myself closer to some friends and further away from others, and it's nobody's fault - nor is it permanent.

Something else I've realised is that it takes time to reconnect with friends - because that's literally what you have to do. Your interests may be largely the same, but the tiny changes add up and it can take a while to find the core of your friendship again.

To those I've barely seen, it might seem I'm more distant, and to me it might feel that you're more distant.

I try to think of this another way, though: that it means someone I know I can be close friends with, I get to experience becoming friends with, again, for the very first time.

And if you feel the way I described earlier... I think I get it now. And I'm sorry for your loss. (Let's just hope the 2nd Doctor continues to be less of a grumpy shitcake than the 1st.)

There were a lot of decisions I had to make when I began HRT. One that occurred to me pretty early on was a practical one. I figured there'd be a point where I found myself slightly uncomfortable presenting too femme and still being misgendered with some frequency. I had no idea how long that would last, and even when it'd occur, but I used a lot of blog posts and questions of other trans women to guestimate when it might be.

I ended up being wrong. Quite wrong. I didn't expect HRT to affect me so much and so quickly. But either way, I was kind of right about one thing: around now, six months in, I am still getting used to some of the less comfortable aspects of being a woman in public.

How I dress / present is a huge factor, but while I'm getting used to it, one of my original ideas about the timing proved true: it's winter, which means when I'm too uncomfortable or anxious to cope with the bullshit that comes so often from presenting particularly femme in public... I can hide.

It's a luxury I have. It makes me feel shit wearing a baggy top and even presenting kinda masc, but on some days it's so stressful just imagining being on a crowded train or wandering through the city that I choose to take the shitness of potential dysphoria.

I hate those days, and I feel like I've failed... but they're an option I have.

The other day, our I-can-wear-really-kick-arse-jackets kind of winter briefly subsided with a yawn, spitting out a 24 degree day. Warm enough that while I was out in public I really, really couldn't deal with wearing a jacket.

So that came off and I was a t-shirt. A tight one, because I love how they feel. But it still meant more looks than usual, guys staring at my top and various other things that were just enough to raise my level of discomfort throughout the afternoon.

Today it was raining and the temperature bottomed out again, but it still sticks in my head.

In six months, it'll be summer, I'll be a year into HRT, and if six months is anything to go by I'll be looking even more feminine.

This is good, of course, but there is still this building dread in me that for several months I will be presenting in a way that should be comfortable for me (and is, in theory) during months where layers are potentially problematic.

Where I can't hide my body, and I'm going to wander around with that gnawing fear that I might get either horrible sexual comments at best or transphobic comments at worst.

It's not like this is some once-off, either.

I live in Australia. I'm going to have to deal with this like most women do.

But it'll be the first time for me, and it's actually kinda scary, even six months out, to contemplate.

It really amazes me how many times I've heard men refer to women dressing in specific kinds of clothing as 'attention-seeking'.

Like low-cut tops the like.

It's a bit insane because I don't think much thought went into it. Ignoring the sexism and assumption that our bodies are for public consumption generally, there are simple facts about women's clothing & undergarments that you have to factor in.

For many women, it can be impractical or flat out uncomfortable - even painful - to not wear a bra. It is for me right now not due to my size, but due to hormonal soreness.

The result is I tend to wear padded bras. Anything else and it's too easy to hurt myself. It needs to be tight, but not too tight, and with enough padding to stop bumps or mis-judging the distance to a fridge door or a corner from leaving me wincing or cursing.

I don't do it for attention, although certainly in the right company I do enjoy how they make me look.

But even if it's not padded, in hot weather bras are still another layer.

It's sweaty and hot.

So low-cut tops, or sleeve-less tops with room to breathe in the side? Jesus hell, that slight breeze can make a huge difference to how comfortable it is in hot weather.

So, yeah, guys? Just because a woman is wearing a low-cut top doesn't mean she's looking for attention. At. Fucking. All.

It was bad enough in the few warm-ish days we've had so far.

I am not looking forward to summer.

The second one will be easier, I'm sure. And the third. And the fourth.

But right now I just have to work up to Summer #1 as a woman.

(And don't even get me started on swimwear.)

I've found that hormone therapy has had distinct stages. I'm not going to go over some of the early psychological ones, but in this case focus on the way I began to feel and what my concerns and fears were, leading up to where I'm at now.

Early on, changes were exciting. How could they not be? Even just feeling things, like sore breasts and realising "oh my god, they're growing!". That was really something - a great feeling.

My face feminising was tougher to pick, but friends who weren't seeing me every day certainly did. "Your face is softer," they said, and it made me feel amazing.

Then came the huge weight loss and re-distribution. And at that point - the point where I needed to wear a bra of some sort every day, I began to feel closer to 'right'. Like my body was finally mine, not something unpleasant my mind was shackled to.

But with that realisation that I look quite feminine came the beginning of insecurities about it. At first, every change was amazing... but then gnawing fears like "What if I don't change enough? What if this is it?" arrived.

Even as I became really very comfortable with my new body, I kept noticing parts of me that didn't seem 'feminine enough'. Forcing myself to get over having broader shoulders. Trying to focus on angles that made me face look more feminine than masculine. Playing with makeup.

Then about a month ago I noticed that my hips were starting to curve a bit. I nervously took out several form-hugging dresses I'd bought months ago, tried and given up on due to my still-too-masculine form.

But this time they fit, and looked good on me, I thought. A great feeling!

But the further along I go into HRT, and the more feminine I look, the more I find myself affected by micro-pressures and fears. My shoulders. My face. My breasts. Instead of just being excited that I look feminine at ALL (and not being mis-gendered all the time) I began to fixate on all the parts of me that didn't quite look the way I wanted them to look.

Finding I'd be wistfully staring at gorgeous friends of mine, or total strangers, wishing I looked more like them.

It's not healthy, and it's not good. I went from being incredibly happy to dwelling on small details. Nurturing a fear of being 'too masculine', and it's a concern I've spoken to lots of other trans women about.

Having to remind myself how lucky I am - how effective HRT has been. That microscoping on minutia was not a good idea, and I should instead be just focusing on how my body makes me feel now.

Of course, it's easier said than done. It's hard to shake 30 years odd of feeling that your body is masculine, and that's terrible. I don't want to keep telling myself, "things could be worse, stop being unhappy", too. That's equally unhealthy. So I knew I need to face these concerns and find a way to work through them usefully.

Then I moved house.

It's several days at the new place, and the major difference is this:


Tons of them. My room has a built-in wardrobe that dominates the space, and I can see myself in the light more clearly now. In a lot of ways it's helped.

I can still feel stubble on my face sometimes if I don't shave every few days, but I can now stare in the mirror and prove to myself that it's very light hair and simply not visible in all but a few cases. I can carefully shave those bits off and feel comfortable.

I can, whenever I get a moment of slight dysphoria, stand up and stare at myself in the mirror. That may sound a bit narcissistic, but when you're dealing with the insane body issues I'm still coping with, it's to me just a good way to remind myself, "No, THIS is your body now. Stop thinking you're in a body you aren't. That's gone. Love who you are now."

But there's another side-effect. Due to the positioning of my desk, glancing to my right I can see something I have almost never seen before: my new profile.

Staring into a mirror or taking a selfie gives specific angles.

But out of the corner of my eye now, I see my legs, my bust and just generally a very literal side of myself I haven't seen yet.

When I see that, it's hard to dwell on fears of being too masculine. I'm clearly bloody well not.

I have hips and breasts. I have curves.

This is incredibly clear to me. I can't wear most of my old male clothing. I've had to get rid of most of it, or use it as weird baggy at-home-clothes.

Accepting this consciously, I began to think more about what was causing my subconscious fears or what specific attributes were triggering these moments of dysphoria.

It's two-fold:

The features I have that I perceive as being 'too masculine' are really not. Many of my cis woman friends have broad shoulders like mine - they've given me tons of tips for drawing attention away from them. Same with any number of other features. But for me, with years of built in concern and dysphoria, it's hard not to see all of these are insurmountable flaws, when they really aren't. They're just me, and on balance they're not a problem. (Just tell my subconscious that.)

No, it's not that they're too masculine per se... it's that they look too much like me. The old me. Pre-transition me. Any features that look like old photos of me trigger me feeling uncomfortable.

I know I had a very feminine face even years ago - I know because, ironically, I was self-conscious about it. I was so scared of accepting my gender dissonance that I grew a beard and did whatever I could to NOT look feminine.

Now it's the reverse, and I just need to remember that.

I need to remember to glance in the mirror sideways occasionally, catch my profile for a moment and just remember I am quite beautiful, and unique. I'm not a perfect airbrushed cis woman model, and I won't ever be, and that doesn't matter.

I am a female version of the person I was before, and that means that as much as I'd like it to be otherwise, part of my old body is still here.

I am fixating on things that remind me of my old self, and not all of those are bad.