Expect Problems

A transition blog.

CW: Public attention from creepy dudes.

Most of my transition blog posts have been either general observations about an aspect of transitioning, or specific discussions of experiences I've had. This is... half way between the two. I'm going to describe it as if it was a specific, distinct event, but what I'll be doing is fictionalising something which has happened to me in some variation a small handful of times in the past year.

But first, for context I need to mention three things: I have a very mid-range voice. It's not very deep - so much so that during my pre-transition years I trained myself to lower my voice, out of fear I wouldn't seem "manly" enough (the irony of which once I accepted being trans hit me like a freight train). However, my voice isn't very high-pitched, either. So for a woman, my voice is... a little deep. Not enough that I wanted to do vocal 'training' to sound more like some person's idea of what a cis woman sounds like (in reality, cis women have hugely varied voices - many deeper and more resonant than mine - who knew?), but enough that I occasionally get self-conscious about my own voice.

Then there's my body.

I look feminine. A little tall, and "more tits than arse", but I have a fair degree of cis-passing privilege. This is, to be clear, a very good thing - at least from a personal safety standpoint. I get gendered correctly and rarely suffer much transphobia from strangers.

One final note before I begin the story: this is not something 100% unique to trans women. It's a little different, but very similar to stories I've heard my cis friends tell. Thing is (and this may surprise you if you're a cis dude) the core of this story is something that happens with enough uncomfortable frequency, in some form, that it's unlikely to be a thing your female friends will have told you about unless the subject came up. It can become not so much 'normal' as an occurrence that gets at least partly forgotten fairly quickly after it's over. It doesn't happen to everyone, either, but sometimes you're just unlucky and incidents like it happens a few times in a week.

You're walking down the street, minding your own business. You're not late for something, but still trying to walk with purpose. You look forwards and, if you ran into a friend, you'd probably get told you had a solid "don't fuck with me" or "resting bitch face" going on. One you've practiced, consciously or not, for a long time.

Then you hear his voice. "Hey, baby."

At first, you keep walking and hope he's talking to someone else. But no. He calls out again, "Hey, you with the [insert identifying characteristic here]!"

You keep walking, but out of the corner of your eye you can see him approach, and even if you're kinda used to it, your heart probably picks up a bit.

He walks up beside you. "Hey stop, I just want to talk."

You ignore him. You say nothing.

He is in your peripheral vision, walking along side you while trying to make eye contact. You refuse to do so.

Then his line of questioning gets more intense.

"Hey, stop walking, I just wanted to say you look cute," he might say. Or perhaps he thinks he's Not Being Creepy, and his line might be, "You look really interesting". Or even neg you. "You're kinda hot for a chubby chick." A back-handed compliment intended to make you even more off-balance.

You begin to walk a little faster.

"Hey, what's the matter? Slow down, babe."

Or, if you have headphones in (yes, this even happens with headphones in), "Hey, stop your music for just a sec - I wanna say something."

You think about where you're going. Without visibly reacting too much, you try to take stock of where you are. How close are you to your destination? Is the destination somewhere you'll instantly be safe? A friend's place? Is it one you MAY be safe, if he decides not to pursue you into earshot of others? A bar? A supermarket? Or is it somewhere he might just stay and talk to you, like a nearly-empty train platform you'll be waiting on for five minutes or so?

He repeats himself, this time sounding a bit more intense.

Then, finally, he escalates. He reaches out to put a hand on your shoulder.

This is where the story diverges a bit, if you're trans. Or, more specifically, if you're me. I know trans people who, when they hear this story, fully agree. Others less so. But either way, here's the thing:

The "you" in this story didn't respond. Didn't tell him to go away. To leave you alone. To fuck off. (Though, for the reference, saying this is like responding politely to a spam email - it rarely does more than qualify as engagement, and a reason to continue talking at you.)

"You" didn't respond... because once it's clear he isn't going to leave you alone, you worry what his response will be if he begins to suspect you're trans. He won't be hitting on you then. Will he scream the T word in your face and leave? Worse? What if, in this variation of the story, his friends are across the street, watching with amusement as this unfolds?

Or what if he's already clocked you're trans, and he's just fucking with you, waiting for a chance to say something abusive?

These things are all going through your head, and the whole time your heart is racing faster and you're asking yourself: will things be better or worse if I talk? What if I'm polite? What if I'm terse? What if I'm rude?

If you're very lucky, you never get to find out. After what seems like an eternity he'll say, "Fuck you bitch, I just wanted to talk!" or maybe "Fuckin' bitch! I just gave you a fuckin' compliment!"

Or maybe not. Maybe you'll be walking down the stairs onto a station platform with this guy following you.

But that stress - "Do I talk or not?" is made so much more intense when you fear, however irrationally, that somehow just talking, even a few words, will give you away.

For many of us, even if we haven't been misgendered or clocked as trans based on our voice for years, this kind of thing sticks with us. We are literally silenced by our own fears.

This event I'm describing? It doesn't "need" to happen often. Once or twice to this extent is enough. Enough that when you hear that initial, "Hey, baby" or similar being called from behind you, across the street, or from some dude standing half in your way with a sleazy grin on his face, your heart picks up and you pre-emptively begin to go over all the things I mentioned - where you are, where you're going, if he's alone...

These incidents make even otherwise-comfortable situations suddenly nerves-inducing at best, scary at worst. Once I heard someone calling out at me and approaching from behind, and I all but panicked before realising it was a friend who was running up in excitement to say hi.

When you ask for advice from other women, the most common response is... "you get used to it."

They're talking about the first part of the experience, of course, not the trans-specific fears that go with it, but that doesn't make it any better. I doubt it's much less scary and gross and uncomfortable for cis women than it is for me. This is something which we tell ourselves to just suck up and take. To get used to.

There's no training to deal with this, cis or not. Nor should there have to be. The practical part of my brain thinks that some useful tips of the psychology of dealing with Creepy Dudes Who Think You're Fuckable would be a useful thing for someone to write. But the idealistic part of me would rather, instead, that men are taught to respect personal space.

It'd be a huge shift, though. Trust me, I know - I spent my teen years feeling deeply uncomfortable as I was pressured to be assertive. Be strong. Be sexually forward. Mocked for the slightest "non-masculine" behaviour at a shitty public school. I've seen the social environment put that means certain boys grow up to be That Guy Who Won't Take No. I was there, and now I'm seeing the effects. I reckon I could even tell you, retrospectively and with reasonable accuracy, which of the dudes I grew up around have done this to other women - and genuinely thought they weren't doing anything creepy or wrong.

Because before anyone calls out, "Not All Men", no SHIT not all men. But it doesn't take ALL men. Just that one dude, out of literally thousands you pass every day in a major city like mine, is enough. That one incident happens, and it may not happen again for months, years - or even never - but you begin to look for it. It affects how you walk. How you behave in public. Where you choose to walk.

It feeds into other parts of your life, too.

You may wake up, like me this morning, having just had this precise incident play out in a dream, leaving you unsettled right from the beginning of your day.

When I go out for coffee today, I'm going to be thinking about that. Paying just a little more attention than usual to who I can see on the street and what his body language says, despite the fact that in all probability I will be ignored entirely by everyone but those I directly address.

Those small handful of creeps? Their behaviour has fucked up my Monday, a full few months after the last of them tried to "hit on me" in public.

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.

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.

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."