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.


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.

Addendum

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 have a medical condition which, were I born in another time, would have killed me, most likely before I was 40. But due to advances in science, it's easily treatable with a few blood tests and a monthly venesection (in plain english: I donate blood).

This isn't uncommon. I know two or three others with my condition, never mind many dozens of others with different things that'd have killed us over the course of our lives.

Then there are those of us who were saved from childhood illnesses, even without knowing it, because of vaccination or various other practices that have, all in, meant that my previous likely lifespan (~40 years) which would have been pretty standard centuries ago, would have instead had me dying 'young'.

We're lucky. Very lucky.

It's not like this is perfect, of course. There are many, many more conditions or problems that medical science doesn't yet have an effective answer for. The kind which would cause a snide comment like "What is this, the dark ages?" from Bones in Star Trek were he to see what we have done to us to save our lives.

(Random aside: a little girl I grew up with had a heart condition that was then untreatable. I've no idea if it is now. But it meant her lifespan was to be measured on a few hands. And, indeed, she died, if some time later in life than anyone expected her to live.

I remember her because she was the happiest child I'd ever met. A few years younger than me, and seemed entirely unencumbered by the neurosis and issues that most of my other friends dealt with. While I realise she was too young to have come to some epiphany about her short life and have been happy as a result of that, I do wonder if it was those of us around her that did this for her. Knowing she had a very short time on this planet, we were perhaps kinder?)

Beyond zero-sum 'alive or dead' medical science, you have something else - you have antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications... lots of things which are pretty demonstrably things that make many of our lives bearable, or even pleasant in a way that we aren't without them.

Thing is, I increasingly see this - medicine and science saving and extending our lives - also being true as a trans person.

While not the same thing as my medical condition and the simple solution of donating blood, I thought about ending my own life more than I ever wanted to admit to people. It's not that I thought I was depressed - it's that I knew I wasn't. I knew precisely why I found life so tough, and why I so frequently found myself "over it all". And I was ashamed of that reason. I'd had masculinity beaten into me and forced onto me by society, and this despite a family who never did anything of the sort.

There's an awkward joke in Monty Python's Life of Brian where "Stan" (Eric Idle) sheepishly admits that he wants to have babies. It's awkward comedy, but something I found hugely, hugely uncomfortable to watch. Because it's how I felt. Not just 'having babies' explicitly (although I can't describe how jealous I am of my friends who get to bear children themselves), but feeling that my life was 'wrong'. It wasn't the way I was supposed to exist.

I tried to imagine being a father, and it horrified me. Something about that particular 'role' as it was defined felt fundamentally wrong to me. So I told people I didn't want children. It was easier, and being that the world saw me as male, I didn't suffer the same pressure to have children that I would were I seen as a woman.

I'm still not sure I actually want children, but at least my complex feelings on the subject make sense now, and no longer loathing my body and the way people treat me has made my life better. It's made the idea of self-harm a distant memory. I have bad days - even terrible days - but it's no longer because of a gnawing self-loathing that wouldn't go away.

Hormone therapy isn't a simple process. Even today, in Australia, it's not that easy to attain - and medically it's uncomfortable, complex and takes time. It's not perfectly effective, either. Even if I get reassignment surgery, I (almost certainly) won't ever have a womb or be able to give birth, and I won't ever have had the experiences my cis woman friends had growing up female - for better or for worse.

But it's responsible for saving my life as much as my monthly blood donations are.


There were a lot of decisions I had to make when I began HRT. One that occurred to me pretty early on was a practical one. I figured there'd be a point where I found myself slightly uncomfortable presenting too femme and still being misgendered with some frequency. I had no idea how long that would last, and even when it'd occur, but I used a lot of blog posts and questions of other trans women to guestimate when it might be.

I ended up being wrong. Quite wrong. I didn't expect HRT to affect me so much and so quickly. But either way, I was kind of right about one thing: around now, six months in, I am still getting used to some of the less comfortable aspects of being a woman in public.

How I dress / present is a huge factor, but while I'm getting used to it, one of my original ideas about the timing proved true: it's winter, which means when I'm too uncomfortable or anxious to cope with the bullshit that comes so often from presenting particularly femme in public... I can hide.

It's a luxury I have. It makes me feel shit wearing a baggy top and even presenting kinda masc, but on some days it's so stressful just imagining being on a crowded train or wandering through the city that I choose to take the shitness of potential dysphoria.

I hate those days, and I feel like I've failed... but they're an option I have.

The other day, our I-can-wear-really-kick-arse-jackets kind of winter briefly subsided with a yawn, spitting out a 24 degree day. Warm enough that while I was out in public I really, really couldn't deal with wearing a jacket.

So that came off and I was a t-shirt. A tight one, because I love how they feel. But it still meant more looks than usual, guys staring at my top and various other things that were just enough to raise my level of discomfort throughout the afternoon.

Today it was raining and the temperature bottomed out again, but it still sticks in my head.

In six months, it'll be summer, I'll be a year into HRT, and if six months is anything to go by I'll be looking even more feminine.

This is good, of course, but there is still this building dread in me that for several months I will be presenting in a way that should be comfortable for me (and is, in theory) during months where layers are potentially problematic.

Where I can't hide my body, and I'm going to wander around with that gnawing fear that I might get either horrible sexual comments at best or transphobic comments at worst.

It's not like this is some once-off, either.

I live in Australia. I'm going to have to deal with this like most women do.

But it'll be the first time for me, and it's actually kinda scary, even six months out, to contemplate.

It really amazes me how many times I've heard men refer to women dressing in specific kinds of clothing as 'attention-seeking'.

Like low-cut tops the like.

It's a bit insane because I don't think much thought went into it. Ignoring the sexism and assumption that our bodies are for public consumption generally, there are simple facts about women's clothing & undergarments that you have to factor in.

For many women, it can be impractical or flat out uncomfortable - even painful - to not wear a bra. It is for me right now not due to my size, but due to hormonal soreness.

The result is I tend to wear padded bras. Anything else and it's too easy to hurt myself. It needs to be tight, but not too tight, and with enough padding to stop bumps or mis-judging the distance to a fridge door or a corner from leaving me wincing or cursing.

I don't do it for attention, although certainly in the right company I do enjoy how they make me look.

But even if it's not padded, in hot weather bras are still another layer.

It's sweaty and hot.

So low-cut tops, or sleeve-less tops with room to breathe in the side? Jesus hell, that slight breeze can make a huge difference to how comfortable it is in hot weather.

So, yeah, guys? Just because a woman is wearing a low-cut top doesn't mean she's looking for attention. At. Fucking. All.

It was bad enough in the few warm-ish days we've had so far.

I am not looking forward to summer.

The second one will be easier, I'm sure. And the third. And the fourth.

But right now I just have to work up to Summer #1 as a woman.

(And don't even get me started on swimwear.)


I've found that hormone therapy has had distinct stages. I'm not going to go over some of the early psychological ones, but in this case focus on the way I began to feel and what my concerns and fears were, leading up to where I'm at now.

Early on, changes were exciting. How could they not be? Even just feeling things, like sore breasts and realising "oh my god, they're growing!". That was really something - a great feeling.

My face feminising was tougher to pick, but friends who weren't seeing me every day certainly did. "Your face is softer," they said, and it made me feel amazing.

Then came the huge weight loss and re-distribution. And at that point - the point where I needed to wear a bra of some sort every day, I began to feel closer to 'right'. Like my body was finally mine, not something unpleasant my mind was shackled to.

But with that realisation that I look quite feminine came the beginning of insecurities about it. At first, every change was amazing... but then gnawing fears like "What if I don't change enough? What if this is it?" arrived.

Even as I became really very comfortable with my new body, I kept noticing parts of me that didn't seem 'feminine enough'. Forcing myself to get over having broader shoulders. Trying to focus on angles that made me face look more feminine than masculine. Playing with makeup.

Then about a month ago I noticed that my hips were starting to curve a bit. I nervously took out several form-hugging dresses I'd bought months ago, tried and given up on due to my still-too-masculine form.

But this time they fit, and looked good on me, I thought. A great feeling!

But the further along I go into HRT, and the more feminine I look, the more I find myself affected by micro-pressures and fears. My shoulders. My face. My breasts. Instead of just being excited that I look feminine at ALL (and not being mis-gendered all the time) I began to fixate on all the parts of me that didn't quite look the way I wanted them to look.

Finding I'd be wistfully staring at gorgeous friends of mine, or total strangers, wishing I looked more like them.

It's not healthy, and it's not good. I went from being incredibly happy to dwelling on small details. Nurturing a fear of being 'too masculine', and it's a concern I've spoken to lots of other trans women about.

Having to remind myself how lucky I am - how effective HRT has been. That microscoping on minutia was not a good idea, and I should instead be just focusing on how my body makes me feel now.

Of course, it's easier said than done. It's hard to shake 30 years odd of feeling that your body is masculine, and that's terrible. I don't want to keep telling myself, "things could be worse, stop being unhappy", too. That's equally unhealthy. So I knew I need to face these concerns and find a way to work through them usefully.

Then I moved house.

It's several days at the new place, and the major difference is this:

Mirrors.

Tons of them. My room has a built-in wardrobe that dominates the space, and I can see myself in the light more clearly now. In a lot of ways it's helped.

I can still feel stubble on my face sometimes if I don't shave every few days, but I can now stare in the mirror and prove to myself that it's very light hair and simply not visible in all but a few cases. I can carefully shave those bits off and feel comfortable.

I can, whenever I get a moment of slight dysphoria, stand up and stare at myself in the mirror. That may sound a bit narcissistic, but when you're dealing with the insane body issues I'm still coping with, it's to me just a good way to remind myself, "No, THIS is your body now. Stop thinking you're in a body you aren't. That's gone. Love who you are now."

But there's another side-effect. Due to the positioning of my desk, glancing to my right I can see something I have almost never seen before: my new profile.

Staring into a mirror or taking a selfie gives specific angles.

But out of the corner of my eye now, I see my legs, my bust and just generally a very literal side of myself I haven't seen yet.

When I see that, it's hard to dwell on fears of being too masculine. I'm clearly bloody well not.

I have hips and breasts. I have curves.

This is incredibly clear to me. I can't wear most of my old male clothing. I've had to get rid of most of it, or use it as weird baggy at-home-clothes.

Accepting this consciously, I began to think more about what was causing my subconscious fears or what specific attributes were triggering these moments of dysphoria.

It's two-fold:

The features I have that I perceive as being 'too masculine' are really not. Many of my cis woman friends have broad shoulders like mine - they've given me tons of tips for drawing attention away from them. Same with any number of other features. But for me, with years of built in concern and dysphoria, it's hard not to see all of these are insurmountable flaws, when they really aren't. They're just me, and on balance they're not a problem. (Just tell my subconscious that.)

No, it's not that they're too masculine per se... it's that they look too much like me. The old me. Pre-transition me. Any features that look like old photos of me trigger me feeling uncomfortable.

I know I had a very feminine face even years ago - I know because, ironically, I was self-conscious about it. I was so scared of accepting my gender dissonance that I grew a beard and did whatever I could to NOT look feminine.

Now it's the reverse, and I just need to remember that.

I need to remember to glance in the mirror sideways occasionally, catch my profile for a moment and just remember I am quite beautiful, and unique. I'm not a perfect airbrushed cis woman model, and I won't ever be, and that doesn't matter.

I am a female version of the person I was before, and that means that as much as I'd like it to be otherwise, part of my old body is still here.

I am fixating on things that remind me of my old self, and not all of those are bad.