Expect Problems

A transition blog.

There's a joke going around at the moment on twitter, similar to other observational jokes I've seen for a while, but done particularly well:

Male Writers Writing Female Characters:

“Cassandra woke up to the rays of the sun streaming through the slats on her blinds, cascading over her naked chest. She stretched, her breasts lifting with her arms as she greeted the sun. She rolled out of bed and put on a shirt, her nipples prominently showing through the thin fabric. She breasted boobily to the stairs, and titted downwards.” [original post]

Every time I see that joke I cringe, but it also makes me think of the experience of going through hormone therapy.

Feminising hormone therapy can produce some pretty major body change, and in some cases very fast. Just how and to what degree is obviously going to vary dependant on your roll in the genetic lottery, the type and strength of your therapy, and various other environmental factors.

Facial shape changes make for an odd experiencing getting used to the new person you see in the mirror. Fat redistribution and dramatically reduced upper body muscle mass can alter the entire shape of your body, and your gait.

Even in cases of pretty huge body change (like, flat-chested to B cup in 6 weeks, or getting used to your legs being much heavier over a similar amount of time) I found I got used to them incredibly fast. In fact that was the problem - my subconscious sort of ignored the changes, even in situations where it matters - like manoeuvring through cramped spaces.

The number of times I banged my chest painfully into things or even misjudged something as simple as power-walking was enough to leave me bruised and annoyed, and it took a good few months to adapt to that and stop hurting myself.

Which brings me to what I wanted to discuss: conscious awareness of my body.

I don't have much of it now. I'm aware of what I look like in situations where it's relevant - such as if I'm out on my own late at night - but here's the thing: it's not that I've become more aware of my body, but less aware of it.

Before, my body felt wrong. Like I was trapped in something embarrassing and misshapen. So when I went out I was aware of it. I tried to cover it up at all times, even going so far as to swim in t-shirts for absolutely no reason, despite the weather rather than because of it.

Now that it's changed to something much closer to what my brain seems to expect, the amazing thing is that lack of awareness outside of intimate or sensual moments where I'm made aware of my body.

That kind of self-awareness goes beyond the physical for me, though.

Even being 'aware' of my gender is now something that's subsiding.

Before, I 'knew' I was male and felt a constant pressure to perform / behave as one. I watched other men, noting how they did various things and trying to mimic their behaviour, like an actor trying to put on an accent.

Now... I just do what I do. My mannerisms or physical behaviour are very rarely consciously chosen. My vocal patterns have shifted, and while I've no idea where a lot of them came from, I know they weren't conscious.

Whatever stresses now exist from systemic sexism, the fundamental stress of constantly trying to be someone I'm not is gone, and that's a huge thing.

I get to be me now, and with limited exception and in a twist of irony given how media often portrays us... now is the first time in my life when I DON'T feel monstrous.


I've been thinking about the complicated nature of relationships. And for a moment forget the "relationship = partner / girlfriend / boyfriend" thing. I mean relationships as in the way to define how we relate to anyone we're aware of. We have 'relationships' with everyone from our local cafe's barista to our parents to our sexual partners.

There are unspoken boundaries in all relationships. (Well, if you're lucky, they're clearly spoken and defined - but in most relationships we'll ever have they're definitely unspoken.)

We usually don't recognise them formally until someone crosses a line, and even then it may make us pause and go, "Hey, uh... is this weird?" to a friend. "Am I over-reacting?"

This wasn't a thing that happened often at ALL before I transitioned. It was very rare I saw men talking with other men about the appropriateness of something they had experienced.

I sometimes saw men discussing, "Hey, would it be weird if I said [x] to [female friend]?", but I now realise more often than not men tend to ask female friends this.

Those are the good men, I guess. But it's interesting that it's almost THAT way for men - asking if a specific action is okay.

For women, it's the other way - if we're "right" to find somebody else's behaviour uncomfortable.

The number of times I've had female friends post in safe spaces, or ask in small women-only groups, "Hey, uhm... can I check something with you? Something happened the other day..." is pretty big.

The other month a pizza delivery guy I'd seen once or twice arrived, and when I came out to get the pizza he looked me up and down and said, "You're looking really good tonight."

That was it.

I paused just a moment to process what he'd said then, "Thank you."

Another time, I went in to my local cafe and the manager/barista smiled as usual. "Hi, Elissa. How're you this morning?"

I hadn't told him my name.

He had learned it, as it turned out, when my housemate came in and somehow that came up in conversation, that he was "Elissa's housemate". Connections were made from there. "The redhead that always comes in here."

If you're a cis guy, I suspect these two tiny anecdotes sound like nothing.

But each one made me slightly uncomfortable, despite that in isolation and without the context of body language and situation neither one was overtly unpleasant. This wasn't abuse or catcalling or something very clearly about social power over someone.

Each time, I asked my girlfriends, "Hey, uh... so, am I overreacting? Because this thing that happened made me uncomfortable."

The thing is, the answer to all these is always "your feelings are valid".

As I thought more about it, here's what the outcomes of those two anecdotes were:

The pizza guy knows where I live. He'd been there maybe 2 times before. Not enough for me to be a regular, or enough to be social with me. But just enough that what he said, the tone of it, the precise wording, him staring me up and down and judging what I look like... it made me uncomfortable.

I haven't ordered from that place since.

My barista, I realised, I would gladly tell my name to. He never asks things outside the usual "waiting for him to make my coffee" smalltalk, and has never made even slightly inappropriate or sexual comments. Not even simple compliments.

So I still go there, and he still greets me by name - which I now find quite comfortable.

The thing is this: the actions of these two men are not, in themselves, creepy. What gave me pause in each case were specific aspects of their context, and my relationships with the people. Boundaries they crossed.

Often, it's hard to tell where these lines exist, and even now I second-guess what was clearly not intended to be anything other than a nice compliment from the pizza guy.

I am not saying that my feelings and my decisions in each case were somehow 'right', either. There's no 'right' or 'wrong' in a clear sense - just "do I feel comfortable continuing to interact with this person, or not?"

Depending on your relationship, this may be something you can simply raise with the person (friends taking liberties re: hugging or touching or talking about your body is a common thing here), or it may, as in the case of the pizza guy for me, be something where the only real choice is to stop ordering from that same place.

And the latter isn't always an option.

-

Power dynamics are a factor in all relationships. It isn't simply a male/female thing, either, but that's primarily the lens through which I'm discussing it, and the aspect of relationships I tend to notice most clearly, being that my gender presentation and the way people react to me has so clearly changed in the past few years.

Years ago, I read some advice for men that made sense. But now, being in that situation where instead of applying to me it affects me in the inverse way, it makes even more sense:

The advice was, essentially, this: let the person in the least powerful position take the lead. Always. Not sure if she would be okay with you hugging her? Wait until she does. It may seem easier to ask, and maybe that's fine, but essentially, you can't go wrong by just following her lead.

There are a ton of other little guidelines I'm sure that could be raised, but that one makes more sense to me than ever before, and is, generally, the one I'd probably dish out the quickest when men ask me about their interactions with another woman.

It'll be useful if more people do this, of course, but in the interim... I'm sure there'll be many, many more "can I run this by you?" conversations in the future, either by me or with me.


Every trans person had their own ways of coping before they transition. Some have "always" shown behaviour somewhat reflective of their true gender identity. I, on the other hand, got so mercilessly mocked as a child for any perceived non-masculine behaviour that in most situations lived by a rote-learned set of "masculine" behaviours - in retrospect rather superficial, almost toxic ones.

What this has meant is that the process of transitioning has meant jettisoning a lot of that behaviour. Which began to happen fairly quickly. It was wonderfully liberating to just... drop it. To act in a way that comes naturally, and to have people read it as "feminine" is more interesting than anything else. As much as anything else, I suspect a good chunk of that is that they're just auto-coding my behaviour as feminine because it's neither distinctly masculine nor feminine - but they see me as a woman.

Unsure about someone's behaviour? We tend to think of it as related to their gender, even if it absolutely isn't (and even if it "is", our concepts of gender are mostly social constructs, anyway - even though constructs can be as real as tangible things).

However, there's a flip-side to this for me: being fearful of ANY of my behaviour being or seeming "masculine".

I spent so long afraid of "seeming non-masculine", only to volte-face and be terrified of seeming masculine. Part of this was definitely a defence mechanism: I was scared of what'd happen if people gendered me wrong or clocked me as trans. All it takes is one or two horrible experience to make that a built in fear, even for those of us lucky enough to largely avoid those transphobic experiences.

But another part is just having so much baggage from when I was trying desperately to "be a man".

It's been a huge part of my life in the 20+ months I've been transitioning. And lately, I've begun to notice it shifting.

As I become comfortable just being me in a very true sense, I become less scared that certain mannerisms or interests or behaviours will be taken as 'masculine'. Because none of us are 'perfectly masculine' or 'perfectly feminine', no matter how strongly you identify as one of the binary gender descriptors.

It's nice to feel I'm hitting this point, because it affects everything. So many things, be they sexual, social, vocal or anything else, we fear are coded in a gendered way that doesn't "fit us", and in a perfect world that'd bother nobody.

This isn't a statement on gender identity, either - while I do identify strongly as female rather than a non-binary identifier, I am also sure that having serious conversations about not judging people for "gendered" behaviour that doesn't fit our assumptions of them is one that must be had.

For many of us, a binary gender is empowering and comfortable.

That doesn't mean we have to bow down to dangerously loaded concepts of how we "should" act as women, or men.

I guess I've known this for years, but it's nice to slowly build up the comfort to genuinely not care, as much of our coded gender behaviour is toxic.

Every time I found myself keeping quiet in groups, I realised on some subconscious level I had been internalising sexist ideas of 'women should be seen and not heard'. If men spoke over me, they had a reason.

And when men keep quiet, don't cry, don't admit they're hurting... same thing.

Gender assumptions can be toxic, and a dangerous thing for me transitioning has been how easy it has been for me accidentally take onboard anything I perceived as "feminine", even if it's something coded as such just to subdue and diminish us.

It's going to take me longer to fully excise this subconscious thinking, and it may never fully happen, but it's nice to see progress.


My own social anxiety never made much sense to me. It was so specific and so seemingly-random (pro-tip: it wasn't random; it was when I was treated in a gendered way or segregated from others in a gendered way) that I began to dismiss it.

Years ago I described it, and the stress I often felt, to a GP. I was told, it "didn't sound like anxiety or depression". I mean, she was right, but it didn't help much at the time.

Early on in my transition I used to tell people that my dysphoria was mostly physical. Because that's how I saw it. And while it is in large part due to my body being something I was so uncomfortable with, it's increasingly apparent the effects it had on my ability to be social.

There are so many things that were, I felt, "just me - just things I'm nervous about". Over time, though, as I transition and begin being treated in a way that seems natural, it's been amazing and delightful for me how many of these go away.

To get an idea of what I'm talking about, just the act of walking into a bar and ordering a drink used to make me incredibly uncomfortable.

Same with baristas or wait-staff at cafes.

Any situation where I had to talk to shop attendants? Yeah, no.

In fact it occurs to me that the irony of it was my dysphoria meant that I often steadfastly refused to talk to a shop attendant, wasting time while my girlfriend got understandably upset at how much faster it'd be to just ask. I ended up engaging in some cliched masculine behaviour, for entirely the opposite reasons.

These days, it's amazing to me how much more confident I am socially. That just walking up and talking to someone if I need help with something is now so incredibly easy for me.

I still get the odd twinge of nerves, but it's dropping away so fast it's amazing.

It's as if a constant stress has begun to lift from my life.

It became apparent to me the other day, as I sat nervously in a bar waiting for a woman I hadn't met in person before, that being "nervous at a bar" was actually a rare thing now. That were it not for the specific situation I was in, I'd be quite comfortable there.

So while some of my privileges have sure slipped away as I transition, my ability to enjoy and make use of the freedoms I have in the world are better than ever - and it's the most lovely feeling I've had in a long while.


A year ago, I wrote this facebook post (slightly modified for re-posting here)...

16 September, 2016

A year ago today, I broke down crying.

It was in the morning. I had gotten up at the usual time. My partner left for work. I methodically showered while being careful not to stare at myself in the mirror, made my breakfast and then walked across our apartment - the best of a series of nicer and nicer places I'd lived in an attempt to feel "complete" - to work at my desk.

I put off working for a few minutes to drink my coffee, and found myself staring intently at a picture a friend had posted of her trying on dresses after going clothes shopping with her mother. Five minutes passed, and I was still staring. I wasn't fantasising about her sexually, even though she's an absolutely beautiful person. I realised, after a while, that I had spent the whole time wishing I could ~be~ her. To have just gone dress shopping. This wasn't some glorified idea of it being perfect, either. I wanted the experience of going shopping, finding things that didn't quite fit right or being annoyed that they didn't have a size that fit because some part of my body not fitting a dressmaker's idea of what a woman should be shaped like. I just wanted an experience that felt more right than the one I'd had every day of my life so far.

For years I had alternated between knowing as a young person I "should have been a girl", to denying it completely, to suspecting it again as I thought back on my life, to what had become my "current" state at this point - actively reading about trans people, and finding any reason I could for it not to be me out of fear of what accepting it and transitioning would entail.

But I caught myself staring at my friend's dresses, and I realised I did this sort of thing all the time - still somehow telling myself I wasn't doing it. I caught myself wishing, and all my carefully-constructed denial and specifically-tailored behaviours to work around crippling dysphoria & self-loathing just came crashing down around me.

I'd tried everything to make myself happy, always sure that finishing this novel or making this movie or finally making a game or having a bigger tv or a nicer phone or a better apartment or whatever else would be The Thing Which Finally Made Me Content, despite all evidence pointing to the fact that none of these things did. I didn't even want to be ~happy~ - I was sure that wasn't possible. I just wanted to be able to enjoy small moments, and not live in constant stress and discomfort, unable to function. A year ago today, I broke down crying because I knew that either I was going to have to do something about this, or I couldn't keep going.

I curled up in a ball on the floor for half an hour, until my face hurt, I was sneezing between tears from the dust on the carpet, and standing up made me feel dizzy.

I messaged one of my best friends.

"I’m actually really nervous discussing this, even with you," I began.

I came out to her. Then to my partner. Then to my brother. And my sister. The order was as much pragmatic as anything else. Whoever I saw in the small group I knew I wanted to tell right away, I told. I wanted to make sure that I would be held accountable. I didn't want everyone to know; I just wanted close friends knowing - ones who wouldn't let that conversation pass. I knew I couldn't slip back into hiding, but that fear might make me try to do that.

A few people told me that they thought I was "very brave", and that threw me completely. Because to me, nothing about this was brave. It was the end of what I saw as decades of cowardice, refusing to accept myself and instead becoming a bitter construction. I only made the choice I did because I knew it was that or... I don't want to think about that.

I knew a lot of things were likely. I knew I'd lose friends, possibly even some of my best friends if they had more difficulty with it than I imagined it. I knew it'd be expensive and tougher than anything I'd ever done. I knew I'd lose my royal flush of social privilege and go rocketing somewhere down the rungs of "people old white guys treat as sub-human".

Some parts were easier than I feared, and others were even harder than I'd imagined.

Within months I was single for the first time in a decade, and while my friends stood up around me and supported me to an extent that still blows my mind, regardless I found myself in a terrible, lonely place. I was so emotional I didn't go a day without crying. My body ached and yet I wasn't even close to being in a position to really feel I looked "like a woman". I just felt uncomfortable.

I came out when I did because it was getting harder and harder to hide physical changes, and when I did I had a friend by my side with tequila at the ready for when I pushed the 'post' buttons and activated [my] new Facebook account.

However, despite everyone's support, some part of me was sure I'd be this lonely, single, strange-looking girl forever. And I was prepared to be that. I would take any form of loneliness and pain, if I didn't have to keep pretending to be a man.

It still hurts sometimes to think of some of the things I lost, and even more to think back on the people I hurt while lashing out in confusion over why the world - and my place in it - never made sense.

Despite this, though... I was wrong. Completely wrong.

I just wanted to end the pain, and I would have been happy with just that.

Instead I've found incredible relationships springing up, some who never knew me before and others who've known me for most of my life. I spend more days than not enjoying small moments, no longer feeling the need to desperately obsess over whatever the next superficial goal is.

It hasn't all been roses. I was right that it was the toughest thing I'd ever do. Some of it I've blogged about, and some is still too personal. But on balance...

I really am happy.

Little moments with friends matter. Whether it's cooking absurd "desert" pizzas with housemates on pizza night, watching your family almost lose a soccer ball over a fence, makeup-and-wine parties, or a gentle kiss & feeling your limbs intertwined with a partner as you watch a movie or a TV show.

I don't hate myself any more. I've got a long way to go, and I still find so many social interactions scary as I re-learn so many things that I felt comfortable doing before... but I'll manage it.

Even on days where I poke myself in the eye with mascara and my bank balance laughs at me and some shithead misgenders me and my breasts ache so much I can't focus on work... it doesn't matter. It's all transient background noise that'll pass, and I know - really know - that things are only getting better.

Relationships - of all sorts - feel honest now, and sex no longer feels like something confusing that I keep being told I need to do a certain way.

I'm not scared of growing old now, and when someone says my name I smile.

I own my emotions and my sexuality, and I'm slowly becoming the kind of person fifteen-year-old-me daydreamed about being. (And not just because I'm a blonde game developer who doesn't look terrible in lipstick and a black dress.)

I'm not ashamed or upset about being trans any more, either.

Not even close.

There are some experiences I'll never have that many of my cis friends have had or will have, but I increasingly see the value in my own experiences - in learning from them, expressing them, and enjoying what unique moments I get in my life.

The next year is going to be better than ever before, and it's all because of my friends and family being amazing people.

-

I was right. I went through more things - both trials and pleasures - and lots has changed. (I'm a redhead now! And to my delight it suits me.)

I've become more conscious of my sexuality, grown comfortable being poly, and have enjoyed months of often just enjoying the relaxed feeling of lying in bed, looking forward to the next day.

I don't recognise the girl in the mirror even a little bit as the person I used to pretend to be, and that fills me with so much delight, because while I don't think I was an awful person before, I was never happy, and I hurt more people than I'll ever be comfortable with.

A new friend who hadn't met me before told me after we went out for drinks last week said that she thought I looked young, but couldn't be much younger than her if at all, as I seemed to confident in my body. That blew my mind.

She was right.

I tried to imagine past-me being 'confident' or comfortable in my body, and it just wasn't possible. I could feign it, not always effectively, but just walking into a bar to order drinks before my friends showed up used to fill me with dread.

But last week it barely factored into my thinking. I found the bar we'd agreed to meet at - a bar I'd never been to before - ordered a drink and sat at the bar waiting for my date. My only real concern was that a cool & stunning woman asked me to meet her for drinks - the small social interactions and even the 'being out in public' part didn't bother me one bit.

That may not seem like much, but it's an enormous step forward for me in terms of my ability to not feel like just being in public was too difficult a task to be worth it.

Two years and my whole life has changed. It took more or less entirely changing my body to do it, but it was worth it, even during absolutely horrid times like those our government is currently putting us queer people.

Anyway, short version: gonna raise a glass tonight to past-me, for finally making the toughest decision ever, and turning out to be absolutely 100% right to do so.

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