Expect Problems

A transition blog.

It's easy sometimes to focus on the stress and problems of being trans. There are bad days or bad moments that stick in your memory. Moments of loneliness or feelings of isolation. But a lot of the time I want to focus on the positives. The complexity of being poly and queer on the super-fun, depressing, hetero-normative day of Valentine's Day doesn't help, either.

So I wanted to take a moment today to write down a list of things - big and small - that are cool about being trans. Things that make me glad I finally went, "No, fuck it, I can't do this any more, I'm going to transition."

I've occasionally posted things like this before, but fuck it: I feel I need this today, even though this V-day is better than the last in a lot of ways.

(Caveat: some of these are specific to me. Some are specific to privileges I still have. Others are just pretty dumb. But they're things that make me happy, and that's what I want to focus on today.)

1) I got the unique (if mostly unpleasant) experience of seeing the way the world treat cis, het, straight men while I still presented as such. It's given me an appreciation of the positives and negatives of the world seeing you as male, and the inverse for how my culture treats women.

2) I've copped transphobic abuse... but not too much. Why is this a positive? Well, because it's given me a perspective I didn't have before. I will almost certainly, barring major sci-fi level social changes, never have to deal with racism. I do have to deal with homophobia. But previous to this, I had to deal with... none of that. Which meant that while I could be an ally and try to do my best, I had no concept of what that kind of irrational hatred levelled at you feels like. I do now, and while each experience is different and each form of bigotry levelled at you is unique, I will never again take for granted what it's like to experience none of that.

3) Having nail polish and lipstick with me has been amazingly helpful on occasion when I need to MacGuyver a solution to a weird tech problem. (No, really.)

4) I increasingly love this body. I feel excited and empowered by my ability to look good in dresses, play with makeup, and just generally do things that I always wanted to do before but never felt comfortable doing (thanks, social gender role bullshit!). In another hundred or so years maybe dresses fitted for men and lack of social abuse at men who want to use makeup may be a thing, and my pre-transition life may have been better, but right now? These small aesthetic things can make a rough day that much easier.

5) My friendships feel 'right'. My girlfriends are everything to me, from ones I see once a year to ones I see nearly every day. It feels like I'm suddenly in the right social place, even if that social place is sometimes dismissive and depressing. (Thanks, systemic sexism!)

6) "Power" is something I can enjoy now. I don't mean in a Donald Trump way, or a Nikola Tesla way, either. I mean... the kind of latent social power I had pre-transition made me feel... uncomfortable. As bizarre as it may sound, the lack of it feels 'right' now, and the slightly different ways I've had to learn to exert power in socially situations feels more natural to me.

7) I feel no need to dominate. My coping mechanism of being a raging faux-macho douche-nozzle on occasion is gone. I'm happy just listening. I'm happy being me.

8) My skin is super-soft and sensitive. daydreams about more time with cute sensualists

9) Being with women, as another woman, feels so right now. I see lesbian romances and squee in a way I've never done before over any romances. I suddenly find there are people whose life experiences I can relate to. I no longer feel alone. I have found my identity - I am trans, and I am a lesbian. This is me, and I am totally cool with that.

10) I can ask celebrities to sign my tits.

It's not uncommon that trans people find it a little uncomfortable to see images of their pre-transition self. This is definitely true for me. For the longest time it was uncomfortable as hell for me to so much as see a picture of my grumpy, unhappy, bearded previous-Doctor.

Being misgendered or called my deadname by accident didn't bother me so much, but seeing pictures? No thanks. It's part of the reason I started fresh with a new Facebook account - no more tagged pictures of me smashed on whisky at a bar and looking like I hate everything. (Well, that and the fact that people would have to actively choose to add my new Facebook account, thereby quietly excising conservative, transphobic sorts who weren't comfortable with me being myself.)

What made this a little more tough is this: I used to make movies. Before I jumped into game development, I spent almost every second weekend or so filming things. In fact, I wrote, directed, produced or featured in 47 different shorts, features and webisodes-of-things. It's the featured-in part that's uncomfortable.

But last night, while quite drunk, a friend asked to see the last big project I did pre-transition. So I sat there, awkwardly at first, watching something in which I play a lead role.

It was weird at first. Very weird. But... not uncomfortable.

It was very tough the few times I'd seen video of myself before, but now I am more comfortable with my body I keep staring at this weird person and going, "Huh. How strange."

It's a person I recognise, but can't quite remember. Of course, I remember clearly being on set and making that project a thing. But remembering performing those lines or sounding like that... not so much.

By ten minutes into this feature, I was comfortable watching it. I found it easier to critique my own acting. "Oh, that line worked." "That one was stepped on." or "Jeebus, that was TERRIBLE."

It was probably helped by the fact that the person I was watching it with didn't know me pre-transition, and was more amused by someone she DID know in it having actual hair than the existence of this weird person who, she said, "kinda looks a bit similar to you, but like a male twin or something."

And she's right. It no longer feels like it challenges my sense of self or triggers dysphoria seeing past-me.

It's kinda sad sometimes, as I see someone who was so deeply unhappy and yet not in the right emotional place to accept something really fundamentally important about herself. But it's not really comfortable.

And that's a wonderful point to have hit.

(This is effectively a continuation of my recent blog post on "always knowing you were a woman".)

I've had a growing sense of loneliness and isolation that's been hard to shake. I'm not quite sure when it began, but I know I started becoming aware of it some time in the past month.

I've come to the realisation that it's part of a process.

It began accepting being trans.

It continued accepting the concept of "being a woman". At first, that seemed very tough being that my pragmatic brain saw a male body in the mirror every morning.

I knew that psychologically, pronoun and name change was something I needed to do, and doing it all at once (and before I got too uncomfortable 'hiding' the physical changes of HRT) were important. But it did mean I came out a little before I was ready.

People were calling me Elissa and she/her when I still felt like I looked... wrong.

Over time (and thanks to hormone therapy) my body began to change and in the process my body began to become one I was comfortable with. It made me more comfortable with my behaviour and in the process I kept getting comments on "being feminine". I'm not performing a part here; I act the way I am now comfortable, and I'm told that presentation is "feminine". It's a side-effect of being comfortable in my body.

Being gendered correctly by people who didn't know I was trans was a huge step, and it made a big difference.

Then came the (oft-blogged about) social discomfort as I began to experience first-hand the feelings of sexism and homophobia, alongside the transphobia I'd begun to experience some time before.

But women helped. I quickly found tons of support from other trans and cis women. Ones I've known for years, and ones I only just met. The cliche of "sisterhood" became something that felt very real and present, and one of the most important things in my life.

However, some part of me couldn't help but feel a sense of imposter syndrome - a new feeling for me. And that happened despite a surprising level of cognitive dissonance. I could (and did) get catcalled, have homophobic crap spewed at me from a passing car when out with someone I was being affectionate with... and yet come home to the uncomfortable feeling that somehow it was fake.

Thing is that what began to solidify my identity came out of this gross behaviour directed at me. The sense of not feeling safe. Of being objectified.

Being abused began to make me feel my sense of identity was real, and I hated myself for that.

A sense of fear and resentment and hurt began to cement my sense of belonging with other women in a way I'd never fully expected.

I was torn between elation at feeling a sense of rightness I felt with my previous conscious identity... and a gross feeling that this feeling came partly for all the wrong reasons.

To be clear, I got no negative reactions from any cis friends of mine. They were ready to accept me as a sister before even I was ready for that.

And yet over time the uncomfortable feeling of disassociation began as I became more and more aware of feminist (and properly intersectional feminist) activism.

It's something I'd heard other trans friends of mine lament - especially trans men.

The conflation of genitals with gender.

Of course, it made sense why it was a particularly big thing this past year. It's a specific reaction to gross statements by one of the most powerful now-heads-of-state. And yet every time I see it, despite understanding the importance of both this-as-a-symbol and just how fucked the fact that reproductive rights are still being debated, it feels a little disempowering.

I get twinges of jealousy over my trans sisters who've been able to afford lower surgery already.

And yet even then, if everything went well, I'd still get this feeling. Always will.

My lived experience may have a huge overlap with women and almost no overlap with men any more, but the quiet discomfort of seeing ovaries and vaginas as the singular symbol of womanhood remains something that makes me want to hide in my room and never leave.

It'd probably be easier if I thought it was unwarranted. But of course it's not. For the majority of women, one way or another being vagina-havers and uterus-havers is a huge issue in their lives. I suppose, in a way, it is for me too - but inverted.

Just thinking about lower surgery makes me nervous as fuck, and I hate the feeling that a factor in me eventually finding a way to make it happen might be related to that feeling that I can't be a "real woman" until I at least manage that. There are better reasons, of course - sexual discomfort, dysphoria... but the idea that I might be affected in any way by that stings a bit.

So, in the end, that discomfort meant I didn't march yesterday. I stayed at home and tried to focus on something else.

I hate that I feel like I've taken a step backwards, mentally.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am a minority within a minority within an oppressed group. While I may still have a lot of privilege, my experience is going to be different to others and I will still sometimes be forgotten or ignored.

I'm sure a lot of other women get this feeling. Whether it's being a woman of colour, trans, or any number of other things I know it's not uncommon.

I wonder when I'll feel comfortable marching or engaging in more political activism again.

Hopefully not too long.

Because this feeling of isolation and invisibility is awful.

Note: this is based on my experiences with feminising (oestrogen-base) hormone therapy. It's also intended to be fairly light in tone. As always, remember these are my experiences, even if they're written in the form of a user's guide intended for myself. If you are going through hormone therapy or will be, please remember that as always your experiences, your life, your identity and your body are your own.

Congratulations, Elissa!

So you've got a brand new body of the opposite gender thanks to hormone therapy and/or some form of regeneration.

Now here are some important tips about your new body.

Yes, it's pretty feminine. You probably knew you'd grow breasts. You know, give or take some mileage depending on your genetics and a handful of other factors.

But there's more.

Part 1: New Shoes

You've bought new shoes. You saw them in the store and they were amazing. You tried them on and they fit fine. You bought them.

Now you're wearing them and... they feel... off. Not quite right. A bit uncomfortable. You may get blisters. They take some getting used to.

It's not that your old shoes were somehow better, mind. Or even better-shaped for your feet necessarily. No, it's that your body gets used to things.

Small aches. Pains. Your body adjusts to the bits of your shoes that dig a little too deep or press against your muscles too roughly. Your skin grows used to it, and they begin to feel comfortable.

Same with your body.

See, your body is more different than you realise. Your skin is thinner. Sub-cutaneous (immediately below the skin) fat is shifting and growing. Your bladder is shrinking. It's why your face looks different. It's why people might just be gendering you correctly sometimes now. (If so: lucky you! Don't take this for granted.)

Weight sits differently. You're probably losing fat from your middle and it's being re-deposited on your now-heavier legs and even your bust. Muscles are dropping from your upper body. You're weaker than you've ever been.

Which is all fine - this typical for a feminine body. You just need to remember that your brain isn't quite used to this yet.

So you can expect to mis-judge your centre of gravity. You might not realise your gait (how you walk) might shift slightly. Then there's the space your body takes.

You probably don't realise it, but your brain has been adjusting for your body shape all your life. You know what spaces you can fit through. You know how far to turn your body when passing by someone.

Well, not any more. Just how much your body will change depends on you, of course, but you may be adjusting to thicker hips, a more prominent bust, or just generally not being able to move in quite the same way you could before. (Ask a pregnant woman if you aren't sure just how tough fast & major body change can be when it comes to small things like walking.)

It'll take your brain a while to adjust. Like new shoes, you have to give it time. But unlike shoes, you can't just put a bandaid on the bits where it rubs you wrong. So be kind to yourself. This is one of the most major body changes you can go through. It's like puberty, but often faster and with potentially decades of being used to another body.

Give yourself time.

Part 2: You're All Brain

Like we just covered, your brain drives your body, and it may have had anything from years to decades to be totally used to the body you previous inhabited.

But it covers more than just physicality. It's true of your looks.

Your body is changing faster than you've probably ever had it change before. Expect your brain to constantly lie to you. It thinks you look a certain way. It is increasingly wrong.

Look at yourself in the mirror. Take a selfie, even if you don't post it. Trust your eyes, not your brain.

Adjustment to major body change is tough, and ignoring how you move and feel, how you think of yourself is going to change.

Part 3: Extremely Fast And Extremely Close

You may have heard cis women talking about putting on weight in a way that seemed foreign to you. Rapidly putting on a few kilos in a few weeks, or complaining about bloating.

Just because you're trans doesn't mean you are going to be immune to this.

Your metabolism is changing too. You may find the same diet as always affects you in different ways. Putting on or dropping weight fast is probably your new bag. And even if you don't find that, you're probably carrying less weight around your middle.

Which means a big meal may be more noticeable for a while.

You may want to pay attention to what you're wearing in more ways than usual when you go out for dinner.

Part 4: Joy Bits

Body changes are not limited to aesthetics and muscles. Love or hate it, you may have noticed that you still have Boy Bits(tm).

Which is fine, of course, but there are a few things you're going to have to keep in mind.

Firstly, your brain doesn't know that. Yes, your good friend Brain is probably doing its darnedest to keep up with your hormone changes, and the best way to think of it now is this: your brain thinks you have a vagina.

Congratulations on your new phantom vagina!

So don't expect your bits to work quite the same as before. Between hormone shifts, fat redistribution and thinner skin, you can expect your sex life to be different.

For most of you this will probably be a good thing, and, as always (repeat after me) your mileage may vary.

Oh, and after a while you'll stop ejaculating. No, really. Climaxing will stop requiring a cleanup.

Part 5: It Never Ends

You may have heard of people talking about "having transitioned". But most likely, you hear people talking about "started transitioning". That's because in a sense, it never quite ends.

At least, the body change part. Many doctors will tell you transitioning is "about a two year process". What they mean is that most of the fastest (and potentially most noticeable & physically uncomfortable) changes takes place over this two year window.

But that doesn't mean your body remains stagnant, any more than it did before. Did your body stay the same from age 18 to whatever age you are now? What about your friends?

No. Bodies put on weight. Lose weight. Hair patterns shift. The broad aspects of your body may settle down, but remember that just because you're a size 10 and fit comfortably into a commensurately-banded B-cup bra after 24 months doesn't mean you'll stay there forever.


When you read about the experiences of other trans people going through similar hormone therapies, remember the staggering amount of factors that will determine your experience - and theirs. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Your age
  • Your genetics
  • Your pre-transition hormone levels
  • Your diet
  • Existing conditions of various sorts
  • Which hormones and hormone-blockers you are put on
  • Other lifestyle factors
  • Which incantations and offerings you have made to Baphomet over the years

Anyway, once again congratulations, and may your physical and social transition be as painless and helpful for you as possible.

I always knew something was wrong. Something was different about me. I remember a thought when I was very young - maybe 4 or 5 - thinking that I wanted to be a woman when I grew up. I was just beginning to grasp that this wasn't a thing that I could pick, like a job or a partner or a house or a flavour of lolly.

Later on I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable and hurt when female friends treated me differently once we began to hit puberty and gender became a part of our lives. Same thing again when male friends would talk to me about women like I wasn't there. That's the way it felt, though it took years to unpack that. I felt uncomfortable, and began to try and make "sense of girls". In a sense that was like most boys my own age. But I also saw it as a very confusing problem.

I verbalised it later on as "I wish I was a girl", even if just to myself.

Thing is, I kept seeing sentences like "I always knew I was a woman".

These kind of sentences threw me, and actually fed into my fear of being 'found out'. I felt, "Well, I know I am not a woman, so that means I can't possibly be trans." Of course, I was looking for reasons to ignore it because I knew (or, thought) it'd be a devastating life change, and something I didn't think I could handle - or even actually do.

While everyone's experience is, of course, very different, I keep feeling that this kind of sentiment being parroted (especially in articles by cis people for cis people) can be problematic.

So many people I know struggling with their gender dissonance now say things that amount to, "I'm not sure I'm trans enough".

Like I did.

I spoke about this a bit in my post "I Can Cope".

But the fact is I didn't "think I was a woman". My rational brain prohibited that. I could clearly see that physically I was male. Which meant that I would write off dreams where I was female, finding myself unable to get off without picturing myself in a female body, or even occasionally accidentally walking into the wrong gendered toilet. When the rational part of my brain telling me "you are male because all evidence points to this, don't be silly" was having a nap, my subconscious took over and did it for me.

Once I met trans people, read papers on it (even psychology ones) and began to understand what gender dissonance was, I began to realise that because I "knew" I was male didn't mean that what I was experiencing wasn't gender dysphoria, or that I "coudn't be trans".

If I have one wish, it's that I'd had this explained to me earlier.

That yes, you can still be trans yet not "know you're a woman" either in the past or in the present. Gender dissonance doesn't work that way, and if you're desperately trying to talk yourself out of a difficult truth about yourself... that may be an extra reason you can't make that mental leap.