Expect Problems

A transition blog.

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.

Regenerating your whole goddamn body with hormones and lasers (fuck it sounds cool when I put it that way) is a strange experience.

But I'd imagine for others, especially those who aren't used to having trans friends, it can be a little stranger. I'm guessing so based off some of the more entertaining reactions I've gotten when I run into people who hadn't really seen me since before I began hormone therapy.

For something more or less light-hearted, I figured I'd bust out my top few hormone-therapy reaction lines (some are good, some are bad, some are just funny).

7) [on complaining about fitting dresses with my figure & bust] "Is this the time to mention that, look, you’re the one who went and got breasts?"

6) "So, uhm... the transgendering looks like it's working."
[note: don't ever use transgender as a verb]

5) "Would it be weird if I said your breasts were developing well?"

4) [someone I've known for years] "It's a pleasure to meet you."
[at first I thought this was a politeness thing - like, they were meeting me again for the first time - but it turns out they flat out didn't recognise me and quickly became deeply embarrassed]

[female friend gives me a hug hello] "So, how're you doing? How've you been?" "Pretty good." [long pause] "Men suck, hey?"


and my personal favourite...

1) [mate sees me at a bar, looks me up and down] "You've changed, man."