Expect Problems

A transition blog.

Voices are really interesting things. For me, my voice was actually the one part of myself related to my body that I wasn't ashamed of. I liked the range of my voice. That I could go surprisingly deep when I wanted to, usually for comedic effect. That I had pretty good control over it, and could affect quite a few accents pretty easily. I realise this isn't a physical thing as much as a mental thing, but either way: I liked my voice.

That changed when I began to transition. Like most trans women I know, my voice is a cause of self-consciousness.

I'm incredibly lucky. My voice, despite me being able to go quite deep when I want to, is mid-range. The pitch puts it somewhere bang in the middle, and actually higher than some of my female cis friends' voices. Or, at least, a lot less gruff. In fact, I often artificially spoke deeper when I was uncomfortable in social situations. My dysphoria would hit, and out of paranoia that someone would "find out" or "realise I wasn't a guy" I'd subconsciously begin talking a bit more loudly and deeply. (Boy, how embarrassing in retrospect...)

In fact, when that bit of behaviour vanished I had a few people say, "Wow, your voice sounds different already!" prompting me to have to explain that oestrogen doesn't change your voice in the same way T changes the voices of trans men. It's one of the unique problems that we trans women have to deal with - potentially having very masculine-sounding voices, depending on the luck of our genetics.

A few other people suggested vocal coaches, but honestly, I was so insecure and terrified of leaving the house much of the time that the idea of seeing ANOTHER specialist, even if I could afford it, made it something I flat out ignored.

So I became more quiet in public - a common occurrence. I was less likely to talk around strangers, and avoided interacting vocally with random people in any way I could. Taxis VS Uber? No brainer. I was less likely to be forced into conversation with an Uber, and didn't even have to tell the driver where I was going.

It felt safer.

So I had begun to settle into feeling half-mute in public, and it depressed the hell out of me. Several times I considered 'feminising' my voice in some way, even if just practicing with youtube videos but... just acknowledging the problem AS the big issue it had become was too much. So I just kept on. I'd talk around friends, but keep quiet around strangers unless it felt like a genuinely safe space.

There was a certain irony to it. The "silencing of trans voices" had become in my case (as in many others) very literal.

So I was quite surprised when, a while back, a friend drunkenly admitted to me, "I had a bit of difficulty around you early on." I thought he meant when I was at that early point in transition when I looked kinda feminine but still had stubble, etc. But no, "It was your voice," he said. "Now you sound feminine."

I what?


I began to pay attention to how I was talking.

Firstly, I began to notice that my accent had shifted slightly. For those who haven't heard me speak, I have what I'm told is a "cultivated Australian" accent - one of the three broad categories of Australian accent. In short, the Aussie version of British received pronunciation. It's a slightly less common accent here, which means I sometimes get people furrowing their brow and asking, "Are you English?"

Personally, I love this. My associations with Aussie accents tends to be misogynistic, gross homophobic culture from where I grew up, so people taking me for English isn't something I ever took offence to.

I'd noticed that was a little more obvious. But more than that, when I asked friends "how I sounded different now", the answer I got more than once was, "Uhm... you sound more melodic."

Melodic? Huh. I began to look up the kind of speech patterns that are generally considered "feminine". And sure enough, I'd begun to affect some of them, even without meaning to.

It wasn't until I had a conversation with a friend of mine who's cis, female and works in the corporate world that I began to unpack it a bit more.

"Oh, I do that intentionally all the time."

"Do what?"

"Rising inflections at the end of sentences, slight shifts in tone at that point in a sentence, avoiding saying precise statements and instead make them more of a question... it makes men more comfortable with me. I get accused of being bitchy otherwise."

This kinda blew my mind. I had begun to feminise my speech patterns without intending to, and in a way that made me seem 'less offensive' to men. And that this was something many, many women do - sometimes intentionally.

Beyond how fucked this is, I'm left trying to figure out how I managed to begin doing this subconsciously.

I began to pay attention when ordering drinks at a bar, when paying for things at a store, etc. My friends were certainly right - I had begun to sound more lyrical, and it resulted in me being gendered correctly - even on the phone most of the time.

I'm torn between feeling slightly more secure now I feel comfortable talking in public and knowing there's still a reasonable change I will be gendered correctly, and feeling like the fundamental aspects of these vocal changes... just plain suck.

I can't help but escape the feeling that so many "feminine" traits are defence mechanisms in a hostile environment.

Even though I used to love my voice, I have seemingly begun to camouflage myself in every way I can, to avoid transphobia. Even if that meant compromising the way I might otherwise communicate with others.

Emotions are a major part of our lives. They inform how we react to situations from big (grief, loss or joy) to small (stubbing our toes or finding a buck on the sidewalk).

Precisely how much hormones affect the way we feel emotions is something pretty hotly debated. I've read quite a few papers and articles on it now, but even though there are many of us now who've for various reasons experienced major hormonal shifts in our lives changing which sex hormones are dominant, it's hard to be objective when the rest of your life is changing at the same time.

However, it's hard not to conclude, after living so much of my life 'on' testosterone and now almost exclusively oestrogen, that the emotional difference is, for me, huge.

I'd describe my emotional connection to things going on around me before as being filtered. Numbed. As if I was trying to see something through a semi-opaque window that let light through, but not the details of what was beyond.

Now my emotional reactions seem clearer, quicker and more powerful. At least, my responses to things like hugs, smiles, fragrances and the like seem more intense.

When I finally found myself crying in years past, it'd be like a dam breaking, and it felt deeply uncomfortable.

When I cry now it's a common occurrence - a nice little moment of catharsis that lets me feel better and then move on.

For me, this feels 'right' on a scale that's hard to describe. In retrospect, it almost feels like some part of my brain was expecting a response the other part of my brain wasn't giving up. In short: my emotions feel like they're in sync with my expectations of them. Before, there was an emotional dissonance between what I felt and what I thought (on some subconscious level) I should feel.

A few trans people I know have described similar feelings to me, making me increasingly sure this is a common thing. Not just for people on feminising hormone therapy, either. I've heard trans men describe feeling more 'attune' with their emotional responses once they began testosterone.

When I began hormone therapy, the first things I focused on were not physical changes (it took a month or two before they began, and that was pretty fast compared to what it often is) nor emotional ones, but side-effects. I couldn't not focus on those, really - I was terrified of hormone therapy, even though I felt I needed it (and was proven to be quite right).

But one thing I did feel more and more as time went on was how this emotional dissonance began to slip away. I perhaps didn't notice it as fast as physical shifts, but the more time has gone on the more I notice the difference. The way my reactions to things felt right, and how whether or I was crying, laughing or finding myself aroused by a partner, all these things now felt very different - and very right.

That emotional shift is something that I don't see discussed often enough.

It's important to me that I can be gendered correctly and that I feel physically comfortable in my own body, of course, but the emotional comfort I get from my brain reacting "the right way" to stimuli is something that's done wonders for everything in my life.

So much so that I suspect that, in retrospect, they may have been the most important part.

Breaking that emotional dissonance was amazing, and I've never felt more alive.

I was recently thinking back to my high school days.

I went to an all-male high school, which is a pretty shite idea at the best of times, but for a clueless trans girl suffering from cripplingly bad gender dysphoria it was REALLY bad.

Thing is, I used to totally freak out at the idea of having to go there. I'd just sit at home and cry until my parents let me stay.

I never knew what was "wrong" with me. It felt like anxiety, but it was worse at high school than anywhere else.

It was only a while back that I began to realise that how anxious and uncomfortable I felt in a place directly correlated to how gendered the place was.

So an all-boys high school was probably one of the worst places in the world for me in terms of dysphoria.

I'd sometimes want to go hide somewhere and cry in the middle of the day, but couldn't even go into the toilets because being in a men's toilet with (ew) guys urinating in a trough just made me feel worse.

I remember wandering around the suburbs with a friend during our high school years, and passing through the girls school - the sister school to our own. I remember seeing all those buildings and desperately wishing I could go there instead.

When school friends would talk about girls they liked - objectifying them and discussing them as conquests or 'prizes', I felt so absolutely disgusted. Especially because most of them would clearly fall in love with girls, and yet were seemingly trained out of admitting any feelings that they'd so often just slip into sexist, gross commentary on their bodies.

I remember, a few years later, watching American Pie and thinking it was very, very unrealistic. Those boys were very, very respectful of women by comparison.

To this day I have trouble trusting men, as my early experiences post-puberty with men were watching them say absolutely horrible things about women. I hated it then, and it's hard not to occasionally dwell now on them saying similar things about me.

That isn't to say that I thought (or think) that high school girls are clearly saints, of course - but I never interacted with any, for the most part, outside of a few close friends I had later on.

So I'm left with awful, awful experiences almost entirely focused on the way young men treated young women.

But somehow, I hadn't thought back to this all and made any sense of it until recently.

I think I was just trying not to think too much about it, as despite meeting a few good friends, for the most part high school was the worst time of my life, bar nothing. One of the few times I actively contemplated self-harm - even how I'd do it.

The only thing that stopped me was fear of failing and having to explain myself.

I can't open up my news feed right now without seeing article after article about trans rights in the united states. I can't escape it. At precisely the same moment it feels like all eyes are both on my trans siblings and I... and yet also entirely seeing through us. It's a new and horrifying experience for me to find myself talked about by Others as if I wasn't even there.

If there's ever an existential horror movie I think I'd find too uncomfortable to ever watch, it'd be about people debating your right to even exist.

I mention this to perhaps explain, at least a little bit, the emotional state I was in when I walked in on my housemate watching the Doctor Who episode "Deep Breath", Peter Capaldi's first episode as The Doctor.

I arrived to see the final ten minutes of the episode - an episode I'd seen numerous times before, albeit pre-transition.

Clara is scared of this strange and erratic old man who replaced her best friend and travelling companion. Gone is the young, brilliant idiot with the grin who she clearly had a bit of a crush on. Replaced by someone with his memories, his abilities... but little else the same.

At the end of the episode as she's at her most nervous she receives a phone call, folded through time, from The Doctor - her Doctor. Her friend. Not the new one. He delivers a monologue. He explains how scared the new Doctor will be. That he needs her help.

This new Doctor, the nervous man in the entirely new body, shuffles out of the TARDIS as she finishes the phone call.

He says, "You can't see me, can you? You look at me, and you can't see me. Have you any idea what that's like? I'm not on the phone, I'm right here, standing in front of you. Please, just, just see me."

At that point I began crying.

I am the same person I have always been. I have much the same interests, fears and desires (plus some new ones, of course) but I am fundamentally the same person, no matter how different I look, or even act.

Yet somehow I can't escape this confusion I sometimes feel.

From people I've known for years as they try to reconcile the bitter bearded guy they'd known for years and the girl getting excited about a new shade of lipstick she's about to buy.

From myself as I walk into a room and years of training have told me to expect one reaction and I get quite another. People talking over me. Staring at my cleavage. A bartender mansplaining why my choice of whiskey was wrong.

The entire world became hundreds of times more scary and confusing, in a time span so short it feels like like it was overnight.

I don't know what it's like to have a close friend transition. That's one experience I so far lack. All my trans friends are people I've only ever known as trans people, even if I got to see them go through hormone therapy.

So I can't imagine what they go through now. I can only know what it feels like to have my world upended so very fast and in such a strange way.

Our lives are so often defined by the way we are treated. It affects our reactions and our perceptions of the world. It IS the world to us.

So now I can't escape the feeling that the whole world has changed.

It may be me who's changed, and in ways I can't really see because I am the one who's changed, but from my perspective? It's the world that has changed.

And when eyes settle on me differently - when everything seems to shift - I am left wondering why so many people can't seem to quite see me the same any more.

Gender plays a far bigger role in our view of the world and in the way the world reacts to us than I'd ever imagined.

So that line will keep repeating in my head every time I feel something different: "Please, just see me."

I'm still here, even if it may not seem like it.

Before I began hormone therapy, my dysphoria could get very bad, and it was incredibly frequent (I've written about it several times in detail, but a good summary of my dysphoria experiences is here). At its best I'd feel slightly uncomfortable - at its worst I would break down crying (even in public) and find myself leaving quickly and desperately hoping nobody saw me.

In the time since then it's gotten better and better. Beyond one or two instances (related to physical intimacy with a partner) my dysphoria tends to be limited to mild feelings of discomfort in which I begin to get nervous that my body is "too masculine".

It's not uncommon for me to not even think about it for a whole month at a stretch these days. That's amazing. I'd never imagined, before I began hormone therapy, that I could ever be this comfortable with my body.

But something residual does affect me, even if dysphoria is uncommon now and something I have a good handle on how to deal with. (Even if that just means some time alone and a good night's sleep.)

I still feel nervous sometimes when I think about dysphoria. As in - years of dysphoria being such a huge, massive, common part of my social and even private existence have meant that even now it's rare, I occasionally have small panic attacks being worried that I might feel dysphoric in a given situation.

I often wonder if I'd transitioned earlier, would I feel better about this? If dysphoria hadn't been a running part of my life for at least 23 years before I began hormone therapy, would I find things even easier now?

I'm not one to get morose and play the what-if game or lament what's already happened in my life, but sometimes it's hard not to wonder how much easier my life would have been if I'd been comfortable admitting how I felt and had begun transitioning at an earlier age.

I think of this increasingly as the discussion of trans children comes up.

Because I was a trans child who was too scared to admit how she felt, so without the ability to transition earlier not only did testosterone have more of a chance to do things to my body I was uncomfortable with, but my near-constant dysphoria has left residual psychological effects on me, even now the worst of it has passed.