Post-Transition Dissonance

I got an interesting question from a reader about feeling discomfort after transitioning.

I’m not what my body says I am, but I know I’m not wholly male either, just transmasculine because it’s comfortable and clearly-not-female. But I’ve recently come to the decision to start taking hormones, because this world/society is one-or-the-other. I’ve begun looking forward to building muscles, to maybe having a beard one day.

Somedays though, I don’t know what to do about being read as male more often than not. I mean, mostly that’s a good thing, I welcome it, I want it to happen. Sometimes, though, I want to scream I am not, I am neither gender, I don’t want a gender – but I remain quiet because I know the world can’t really conceptualize that. The dissonance makes me nauseous and I start to doubt myself, even though I also remember that when I decided to make the first doctor’s appointment I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day and it felt so right to be taking that step.

Do you ever experience this? If so, how do you handle it?

Getting used to new name and pronouns takes time. Even though we’ve thought it through to exhaustion and are at ease with the idea, hearing these out loud, expressed by someone else, is a distinct experience. This can be the first thing to make us feel shaky, prompting to ask ourselves “should it still feel this awkward?” or “am I doing the right thing?” Even though it’s been almost a year, I am still not totally accustomed to being called “he” or “Micah” and it does throw me off sometimes.

I’ve also noticed that I’m called certain gendered words now that weren’t used for me before, like “dude, guy, sir or young man.” I guess I took these words for granted because I never heard them directed at me, so had never associated myself in direct reference to them. It can take me by surprise when somebody calls me that. “Who, this guy? Wait, are you talking to me?” I certainly don’t think of myself as a “young man” (I’m not so young, and I’m not a man).

I do experience dissonance when hearing this – it’s not me! Then I start doubting myself. “What the hell am I doing? Who do I think I am to be called sir, to demand being called “he” when I’m clearly not? People aren’t fooled by this; it’s all a sham; I’ll never feel ok with anything. Is this even worth the trouble?” My subconscious sympathizes with yours.

The bouts of doubt haven’t gone away, but what I can tell you is that the nagging gets quieter every time. I just repeat to myself the reasons why I’m doing everything I’ve done. I have to continue to trust myself because my decisions so far have made me very happy, much happier than I was before. You said this yourself: keep thinking about that smile you had after that first doctor’s visit. Consider it scientific self-suggestion based on prior evidence. 🙂

If you’ve been reading most of my journey, you’ll know how long it’s taken me to get to this point, meaning it doesn’t happen instantenously. In the end I’ve decided to be (seen as and treated as) fully male in society because it’s where I’m more comfortable, given the options. But it’s not where I’m most comfortable – that ideal is not realistic, at least not for me, not today, and maybe not ever. I relish in situations where there are no pronouns, no gender, just a chance to be me. Although those are few, they are ones which I have carefully cultivated.

The urge to shout out “but I’m not a man!” hasn’t dissipated entirely either. I think this antsy discomfort stems from the idea that, despite being more comfortable by transitioning to the other side, we’re still not being 100% ourselves, and we might never be. This, I believe, is the crux of living with a non-binary identity in a world where an inescapable gender binary permeates our every moment.

I used to want to sit down with every single person I came across and explain to them my entire identity. I would concoct sneaky ways to create an opening that would prompt people. I would proudly wear my Legalize Trans* shirt to the office in hopes this would ignite some sort of conversation. I called it my “badge” – I literally wanted to walk around with a name tag that said “I’m trans* – ask me about it.” But in most cases, people don’t ask, either because they’re too polite or too naive.

What has helped for me is seizing every opportunity that does come up to shed a little light on who I am, and letting that be enough. Nobody really sees the entirety of what goes on inside me except me. In the end, we always reveal only one facet of the many identities we embody.

17 thoughts on “Post-Transition Dissonance

  1. I’m very early transition, but I am definitely not used to it. (I’m misgendered more often so…) Anyway wanted to say also liked your comments on being “out and proud”. Most people write about being stealth, so it’s nice to see someone’s take on this. Esp your take. 🙂

  2. I frigging love the way you discuss the non-binaries of gender and how absurdly difficult it is to be between/beyond them. I love how you acknowledge the queer aspect of trans and that it’s NOT an easy, straight-forward (so to speak) path.
    You don’t need a badge–you’re reaching the people who need your words the most. 🙂

    1. Thank you thank you thank you. It seems I’ve been able to decipher and put those fuzzy experiences into actual words, but it did take a few years.

  3. I relate so much to this, except I feel like my “slightly more comfortable as male” isn’t significant enough to be worth the effort to go through transition for. So I live with the body I was born with. Sometimes it makes me feel like an imposter claiming to be non-binary and not going through transition. But then I feel like, what the hell, why should I have to get surgery or go through hormone therapy just to prove that I’m not the thing our stupid binary world is trying to force me into? It’s not my body I hate – it’s all the meaning my stupid binary world assigns to it. In an ideal world I would prefer to live in a more androgynous body but since an androgynous body wouldn’t actually GET me recognition for androgynous gender, like I said, it just seems like the cost/benefit ratio isn’t in my favor. *sigh*

    1. Our gender identity is no more or less valid with or without transitioning. We all get that “impostor” feeling, even though we know this to be true. Emotions and identity are often invisible, and it’s so hard for “us” to internalize the invisible as real (and by “us” I mean both society and our own inner voice, sometimes our biggest enemy).

      I really really really love this comment, as it sheds light on the “not trans enough” mental straight-jacket we throw ourselves into. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    2. I’m in exactly the same boat, with all the doubts and self assertions. Its nice to hear someone else is on this journey and NOT having surgery. There are a few blogs written by non-binary folks who do take steps to medically transition, but with the resources out there I’m often plagued by “Am I non-binary ENOUGH to claim this identity? I mean, its not like i’m on hormones or planning a surgery…” gah- I am my own worst enemy sometimes.

    3. So much this! The fact that (for now, and for the foreseeable future) I’m not on hormones or considering surgery has so regularly made me question the validity of my non-binary gender. It’s like I’m not androgynous *enough* so somehow I don’t have the right to identify that way. (Side note- change the word androgynous to queer or trans* and it still applies). I’ve found stories such as Micah’s online, yet even more rare are the ones who, like me, don’t take steps to medically or socially transition, yet live a Neutrois life. Thank you for commenting! You helped make my world a little brighter knowing I’m not alone.

  4. I feel your anguish because I have been there. In the book “Healing the Shadow” by Ross Bishop, the author defines “attachment” as “a created dependency on something external to compensate for inner feelings of inadequacy.” How people regard you is external to the person that you are, micah, and until you can come to the realization that you are adequate enough, no matter what anyone else thinks, you will use any attachment you still may have as a crutch, which you need only because you say so. I have seen that promised land, micah, but I haven’t gotten there quite yet, but I’m getting closer every day. Be happy!

  5. Thought provoking post. I think the gift and the curse of being consciously trans is the perpetual search for authenticity of self, and not sticking to the conventional narrative (whether it be cis or trans). I understand why people choose to transition and go stealth, but it wouldn’t be authentic for me. I’m still muddling through.

  6. I love your badge. I have a button I wear on my hat that reads “Don’t assume my gender.” I both fear and anxiously await for someone to ask about it.

  7. I’m genderqueer, and I go through the conversation in my head every day- do I want to go on T? Do I want to have surgery? Do I want to buy a binder? Do I need to tell my friends and family that I dress like a “tomboy” because I feel male, or tell them that I label myself as genderqueer?

    I’m getting closer every day to figuring out what I want, but it saddens me that for people like us, the dysphoria never really goes away, because what we are doesn’t have a possible form. I’m getting ready to take on a unisex-sounding name in the real world, and I very much want to ask for neutral pronoun use… but there’s always that fear of being judged and not fitting, you know?

  8. I just read this now, but I love it. I’m a masculine leaning genderqueer person who is really only just now starting to figure this all out, how I want to be seen and what I want to do, what steps I want to take, and it’s just so great to read about someone who has gone through the things I’m going through. Thanks for writing this.

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