For some of you who know me in real life, it may seem like I have just... vanished. I very rarely go out to bars any more. I'm not at many parties. Even some of my closer friends I've seen maybe twice or three times this year.
If you still follow this blog, and my social media posts, it may seem a little like I'm avoiding you, as I seem so confident as I blog about transitioning and all the other things going on my life.
That's not the case.
I want to talk a little about my rollercoaster-like experience with self-confidence as I began transitioning.
I suppose everything can be marked back to when I accepted I wasn't male. The day I realised I wasn't cis. The weeks and even months that followed were intense. To acquaintances it probably seemed like not much was going on, beyond me shaving my beard off and beginning to experiment with slightly abnormal (for me) bits of personal style, like nail polish.
At this point, my dysphoria was getting worse. Much worse. Because in recognising what it was, I also destroyed my usual (and unhealthy, I'll add) coping mechanism. So going outside was stressful for me.
I remember going to a bar with a few friends near Christmas last year. All the friends I was with knew. I was presenting as male. I hadn't started HRT. But just being in public was triggering the most crippling dysphoria I'd felt in ages. I could barely function, and sat there nearly-mute until I broke down crying when I got home.
Once I began HRT, and my emotions began to shift from the oestrogen & dramatically lowered testosterone, the dysphoria became less problematic. Especially as I began to ditch the hyper-masculine parts of my presentation and behaviour that I'd built up as a coping mechanism over the years.
But I still looked - and generally presented - pretty masculine. I was still only out to close friends and family, so this worked pretty well for me.
However, while my presentation probably didn't give much away, I was also dealing with the insane emotional rollercoaster that being carpet-bombed with oestrogen (and later progesterone) takes you on. That aside, I really did feel more confident. I went to bars just as... myself. Apart from nail polish and a crop top to make my developing breasts less obvious, I was more comfortable presenting as a slightly effeminate tomboy, even if people still gendered me male all the time as a result of not going hyper-femme from the start.
Still, dysphoria doesn't just vanish when you start presenting differently or begin hormone therapy, and different things would trigger me often enough that I was still a bit cautious going out.
Once I began progesterone and raised my dosage of oestrogen, though, physical changes began to change things very fast for me. Thanks to lucky genetics and whatever other bits of random chance, my body's response to hormone therapy was fast. I remember vividly when I was still wearing baggy men's clothes, hiding my budding breasts and drinking at a bar.
To my absolute shock, the bartender gendered me correctly. I think that was the first time I began to realise just how lucky I was, and how effective HRT was proving.
That's great - don't get me wrong - but it's meant that the process of getting used to how differently the world treats women has been a lesson I've had to learn much faster.
I still wear pants much of the time. My clothing is almost always bought from the women's section. I often wear tight, low-cut tops, as I love the way they make me feel and look.
But my body, if I'm not in really baggy clothes, is distinctly feminine now. I can't hide my breasts any more without wearing absurdly baggy tops. Even sans makeup, I get gendered correctly more often than not. In that way, I'm incredibly lucky. Not because it's some perfect aspirational goal - but because it does make social interaction easier.
So why am I still so incredibly timid when it comes to going out? Why am I still spending so much of my time in small, close-knit groups and avoiding the kind of public nights out I'd so frequently enjoy in years past?
I've suffered very little transphobic backlash or abuse, frankly. And given how bad that can be, I consider myself phenomenally lucky.
But here's the thing: it's not just people picking you as trans that can be problematic and stressful.
I've had to adapt to the world seeing me as female.
If you're a cis male you'd probably be quite surprised to realise just what a major shock and what a massively different experience this can often be.
It certainly was for me. I thought I had a pretty good handle on what I'd be facing. And intellectually, I was conceptually aware of quite a bit of it. Most, even. In a way, I was right. The things that I deal with now were not fundamentally surprising to me. But how much that can affect you psychologically was.
Just walking down a street and getting screamed shit from men in cars or cat-calls if I make the mistake of passing (usually groups) of men. That's if I'm lucky, and they don't pick me as trans. If they do that, it's much worse.
At one point after a loud fuckwit in a car called out "hot arse, bitch!" at me, an acquaintance said to me, "Well, look on the bright side, you're a hot chick!"
Honestly, it's a bit hard to just try to see a bright side to this when a handful of times a week I'll get reminders of how surprisingly juvenile groups of men can be. It can not happen for a week now, but I'm still defensive and uncomfortable out in public. Not much I can do about it except, as people say, "get used to it".
But it takes time.
It's the ultimate in ironies that years of male privilege make this tough to get used to. But cis women grow up being forced to get used to this horrific horse-shit. Over years cis women grow 'into' being a physically mature woman who the world sees as a sex object. Or, to use more clinical words, "Most transgender people going through a gender role transition have to learn how to be in the new role without the benefit of a long period of socialization typical for non-transgender people." [Fraser, Lin (2009) 'Depth psychotherapy with transgender people']
"You just get used to it. You learn to tune it out."
I've heard that dozens of times now, and I'm sure it's true because some days I feel it.
I prefer to think of it as just getting numbed by it.
I'm in constant awe when I'm out with a female friend, we get some crap screamed at us from a passing car, and it seems to just roll off her back.
But just thinking about 'getting used to it' makes me angry. Why should this kind of behaviour be so prevalent and so accepted that it's us who have to get numbed to it, rather than these human dumpster-fires that need to accept that their behaviour makes us feel unsafe and objectified?
Then you've got drunken guys in bars...
This is why I stick to small, expensive bars when I can now. I have less money than ever, but I'm happy to spend it on hideously expensive cocktails & wine if that means I'm unlikely to be surrounded by raucous blokes who've just consumed $2 schooners of Generic Bitter.
In a sense, I feel like I'm on the "home stretch" now.
I remain on an emotionally insane rollercoaster and my body is still feminising more and more each month, but I'm now firmly in the "androgynous at absolute best" camp, and can't ever go back to the social privilege I had before.
As happy as I am with my progress, and as genuinely amazing as it is to finally be approaching the point of not feeling trapped in my own body, I'm still a long ways off having the confidence I'd worked up before - even after my hormones stop making my brain a stormy hellscape.
To all my trans friends who go out so confidently? You're amazing. <3