“Knowing all the terminology and medical facts does not a perfect transition make.” In this Featured Voices, Max walks us through the ups and downs of questioning gender identity: internal doubts, navigating hesitant doctors, imperfect options for hormones, and finding peace.
What To Expect When You’re Questioning
When I first started to admit that maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t actually a man, I had graduated from university and was still trying to put my post-grad life together. Between working a new job and preparing for grad school applications, my tolerance for uncertainty was low. I needed to find all the answers so I could get on with my transition, whatever that was going to look like, in the least disruptive way possible, armed with as much information as possible.
So, naturally, I obsessed. I spent every lunch hour listening to podcasts and video blogs, or reading forum posts and medical white papers. I came home to it, I wrote about it, and I dreamed about it.
I’m an analyst: I work with data all day and I’m used to dealing strategically with uncertainty. I like to think I’m proficient at drawing conclusions from limited information.
But dude, was I out of my wheelhouse.
Knowing all the terminology and medical facts does not a perfect transition make. I had no practice in being genuinely myself. Like, at all. Maybe this is something that a lot of trans folks can relate to, especially those who were pressured to perform masculinity by well-intentioned families. But I was finding that, rather than being liberating, transitioning socially was really, really uncomfortable.
I was subject to intense bouts of shame and doubt just discussing it with my therapist, and thinking about coming out to my housemates – who had all lived with me for years – made me completely shut down. I had spent so many years very carefully editing my behavior around others, trying to avoid drawing attention to myself. What I was trying to do now went against the grain of every instinct that had kept me alive since puberty, and it was really hard work.
Despite how much every inch of progress cost me, I was impatient. I felt the clock ticking, I kept looking for signs of increasingly masculine features in my face and my body. I worried about what not going on hormones would mean. Did it mean that I wasn’t actually trans? Was I just some weird cis dude who was trying to fix the wrong thing in their life? I had heard the word ‘transtrender’ enough times to be familiar with that narrative, and to know that it was most certainly directed at people like me: People who hadn’t really known their whole lives, who were afraid of committing to medical transition. And I was terrified that growing breasts would make me even more dysphoric. Something about the idea of growing breasts filled me with dread. Even so, HRT had some kind of allure for me. I wanted it, despite my fears that it wouldn’t be right for me.
Eventually, I decided that I needed to at least explore blockers and estrogen. So I made my appointment at Planned Parenthood, by a doctor that my therapist had assured me was extremely welcoming of folks who skewed non-binary. I didn’t have to lie, they said. I could be honest, they said.
It was a pretty awful appointment. My nail polish was chipped, I hadn’t shaved my face in days, I was still in my work clothes. I felt caught between not appearing “trans enough” to be taken seriously and feeling too ashamed to present as anything but a dude in public. I sat in the waiting room for 30 minutes avoiding eye contact. When I finally got in to speak to the doctor, one of the things she asked me was if there was anything I was worried about.
I decided to be honest. I told her that I wasn’t so sure about growing breasts.
I regretted it as soon as it left my mouth. Sure enough, she told me that she wasn’t sure if I was experiencing dysphoria. She thought I was experiencing body dysmorphia, and recommended I speak to my therapist about it. I asked her if I could get the lab work done anyways, just in case. She said yes, and I shelled out a couple hundred dollars and they took a few vials of blood. I got a phone call telling me the results came back fine, but I never went back in.
Since then, I’ve had a lot of time to think and explore. I’m no longer uncomfortable with my gender or my gender expression. I feel more at ease with my expression than I have ever felt in my life (getting that pesky beard shot off with lasers certainly helped). That doesn’t mean that some days I don’t feel the weight of self-doubt; there are times I want to rethink everything from the ground up. But I don’t worry that not being on hormones makes me fake, and day by day, I feel more confident in asserting my right to be gendered properly in my own house and in my workplace.
Honestly, I still think about starting hormones. Some days, they’re the thing I want most in the world, and other days I defiantly declare that hormones wouldn’t make me trans any more than my anatomy makes me a man. But I know that for some reason they’re in my future, whenever I’m ready for them.
There’s no rush.
Max is a fledgling transfeminine data geek and caffeine enthusiast living in sunny Santa Cruz, California. They adore the redwood forests and sandy beaches around their home and have a peculiar love of mismatched clothing.
Micah runs the blog, workshops, articles, and everything else in between. Contribute $1/month – only $12/year – and support these great authors by supporting the gears that feature them!
4 thoughts on “Featured Voices: What To Expect When You’re Questioning”
Thanks for sharing your story Max. You seem like a wonderful person. I’ve not struggled with whether or not to take hormones as you have, I think it’s in part due to the fact that I have a lower testosterone level because of my age (59). I’m sorry you had such an unpleasant visit at Planned Parenthood. I think the non-binary community in general and those assigned male at birth in particular, need to do a better job of educating physical and mental health professionals about our identities and the different ways we exhibit social or physical dysphoria.
I love your “look” I am finding a similar look fits best for me. Are you in touch with your local trans community? I have found the Trans community very welcoming of non-binary gender identities here in Santa Fe and am wondering if that’s true elsewhere. I wish you all the best. It is wonderful to meet a kindred spirit!
“I had no practice in being genuinely myself. Like, at all. Maybe this is something that a lot of trans folks can relate to, especially those who were pressured to perform masculinity by well-intentioned families. But I was finding that, rather than being liberating, transitioning socially was really, really uncomfortable.”
This spoke directly to me at such a deep level it took my breath away! Never had anyone spoken what I’ve been feeling during my transition. It was making me think that maybe transitioning was the wrong choice for me. I feel so naked and vulnerable when I’m out in public being “me”…the me that I’ve been hiding all these years. It does get easier but still makes me feel awkward and ashamed sometimes still. Good luck Max and thanks for sharing your story.