Category Archives: My life

Transition Timeline – 15 months HRT

Hey guys today marks exactly 15 months on HRT so I figured I’d celebrate with…you guessed it, a timeline!

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X-mas 2014.

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April 2015. This is officially the last picture of me ever with a beard.

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May 2015. I decided to start transition. I knew basically nothing about makeup or how to dress myself. Early days of experimentation.

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September 1 – 2015 – Day 1 of HRT!

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October 2015 – second month of HRT

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November 2015 – third month of HRT

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December 2015 – fourth month of HRT

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January 2016 – fifth month of HRT

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February 2016 – sixth month of HRT

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March 2016 – 7th month of HRT

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April 2016 – 8th month of HRT. Got my name legally changed!

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May 2016 – 9th month of HRT. Really starting to get into makeup more. This is one of the first pictures of myself I truly loved. I felt so on point that day.

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June 2016 – tenth month of HRT.

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July 2016 – 11th month of HRT.

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August 2016 – 12th month of HRT

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September 2016 – 13th month of HRT. I got my hair highlighted!

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October 2016 – 14th month of HRT. Met my current girlfriend.

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November 2016 – 15th month of HRT. Started injectables!

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November 27 2016

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Decemeber 1 2016 – Today! Got my second shot of estrogen. Finally bought a choker like a real trans girl.

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The Joys and Perils of Love

Love is risky. Love is beautiful. Love keeps you up at night but also helps you sleep when you need to. It’s paradoxical – being rational and emotional all at once. And the feels. It feels so good. The reciprocated affection, the longing in your eyes, the companionship, friendship, and the sex! Love fueled sex is heavenly. Heaven on earth is what love is all about. Is it available to everyone? Or only a select few. We have to find out for ourselves. That’s the journey of life.

Never let people reduce love to the shallow depths of mere feeling. For one, no feeling is a mere feeling – feelings are always intertwined with thoughts, beliefs, hopes, dreams, plans, imagination, memory, and everything else. Love digs deeply into our brains. It makes the world spin in its grave. Love is special. Is it rare? Hard to say. True love cannot be measured. It cannot be seen. And yet it’s real, oh so real.

Love is risky. You open yourself up fully. You expose old wounds. Old memories. Trauma. Everything gets opened. You put yourself out there. Who says “I love you” first? Will it be reciprocated? How will they react? And when they return the three words – oh my how that feels! Love can happen slowly. It can happen fast. It can sweep you off your feet like an avalanche if you’re not careful. But when it hits you finally it is all encompassing. It takes over your mind – shaping your thoughts, your feelings, your energy, your desires.

Love is fickle. Love fades and hence the ultimate risk. How to keep the passion alive? Hugs, kisses, affection – they all go a long way but it’s often not enough. Love ends. Love hurts. Love is tough. The knots in your stomach – that sinking feeling when things are over. The psychic pain is just as real as physical pain – perhaps more real in fact.

Is the pain worth it in the end? Ultimately, yes. Yes it is. There’s an old cliche: better to have love and lost than never have loved at all. Some cliches end up being more true than the most insightful prose. And yes it’s absolutely true. The risk of love is outweighed by the sheer joy. You never plan for heartache. It happens – such is life. But what would life be without love?

Love is risky. Love is beautiful. Fall in love and you will see: it’s worth it all.

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Filed under My life, Random

Embracing Ambiguity

When I get right down to it I am a mixture, a blend of both the masculine and the feminine. I have long hair but a deep voice, smooth skin but an adam’s apple, breasts but facial hair. I wear makeup while my face is androgynous. I wear women’s clothing while being tall and muscular. I am a contradiction. An anomaly. I challenge people’s expectations everyday. Who is this person before you who looks like a woman but sounds like a man? Why does that woman have a prominent adam’s apple? Why are her arms so muscular and her hands so big? Why is her hairline so high?

Like most trans woman, I often feel like passing is everything. We all strive for more of it. More blendability. More stealth. Less ambiguity. More fitting in. Not violating expectations. Safety. Avoiding being misgendered. Fighting social dysphoria. We all strive for it but few trans women ever get to 100% passability. There’s usually something about us that makes us clockable upon closer inspection. For trans women this is often our voices. In my experience few trans women ever achieve 100% passable voices.

So what do we do? We have to cope somehow. Regardless of whether we pass will still have to go out into the world and buy groceries and run errands. We have to strengthen ourselves to accept reality. To accept that we will like never live up perfectly to the cis-normative standard. Maybe one day I will afford to shave my trachea down. Or maybe I will be able to get professional voice therapy one day. But for now I need to come up with practical coping strategies to deal with the fact that I don’t pass 100% and yet I still have to live my life.

One such coping strategy is to embrace ambiguity as a positive ideal, to embrace the idea of confusing people, of challenging people’s expectations of what it means to be a woman. Or going even further, challenging the notion of what it means to be a person in today’s modern society where gender transition is a real phenomenon. Though I would prefer to be gendered correctly and seen as a normal female person I know this is not going to happen all the time. So how do I cope? I have been trying to develop the attitude of (1) not giving a fuck and (2) embracing my androgyny as a positive trait. Some people are actually attracted to androgyny so I tell myself even if I don’t pass 100% it doesn’t make me less attractive or valid. Some people like mixtures, blends. They enjoy the fact that my body is a contradiction. A field upon which competing elements battle. This knowledge of my body being ideal to some people is a great comfort because when I get into relationship it helps dispel my fear that they’re just going to abandon me for a more attractive cis partner.

Many men are attracted to trans women specifically because of their trans status. In the community these men are called “chasers”. But I have never liked that term because it erases the possibility of a category of people who are specifically attracted to trans people without that attraction being fetishistic, objectifying, or problematic. I call these people “trans amorous”. And it’s not just men. Cis women can be trans attracted as well. But I think women are socialized to be more polite about it whereas men are overly blunt.

My other coping strategy is actually indirect. It’s through relationships and friendships. If I am in a relationship or friendship and that person has only known me as Rachel it really helps battle the dysphoria because I see them unconsciously using “she/her” pronouns because people who know me know those are obviously the most correct pronouns – it’s what is the most natural if you spend time with me. And that’s a good feeling. It says: I see you. I know you. You are valid. Don’t worry about your ambiguity. It’s ok. I like you and see your womanhood as valid. Building up a social circle of people who automatically gender me female has been an important part of my transition. This is why I enjoy hanging out with trans people. They usually have an above-average ability to correctly gender people regardless of what they look like or how they present themselves.

So in a nutshell, my strategy is to embrace ambiguity. To relish in it. Will this strategy completely dispel my dysphoria and social anxiety? No, not really. That’s too much to ask. But it’s a weapon in my arsenal. It’s a useful perspective to keep in mind.

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Filed under My life, Trans life, Transition

Coming out as trans, pan, and poly

Today is National Coming Out Day. There are three things that I have to come out about: being trans, being pansexual, and being poly. The trans thing has long since been a non-issue. My coming out as trans went really smoothly – I did it on FB last Spring and got nothing but love and support and my parents have now accepted me as well. And I am not living stealth at all – I don’t pass well enough for that – so I almost never have to “come out” as trans in real life because people can just tell from interacting with me as soon as I open my mouth. On the internet it’s a bit different but in my online dating profiles I am always upfront and honest about my trans status. So these days I don’t spend much energy thinking about coming out as trans. Sometimes of course I get self-conscious especially when I am hanging out with cis women (I feel like an outsider) but for the most part my gender status has become a non-issue for most of my life (with the exception of the occasional misgendering that happens, which sucks but is not a big deal).

I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly come out as pansexual anywhere but transition changed my sexual orientation such that I would now be willing to date men (before transition I dated exclusively women though I hooked up with some CDs awhile back). I still prefer women largely and I am much pickier with men but I am interested enough to give it a shot.I think this change of orientation is something that happens often to tran women who spent most of their lives pretransition dating women. I almost never see the equivalent though, trans women who date exclusively men prior to transition rarely seem to become bi/pan after transition and start dating women as well – they stick with their original orientation. I think part of this is compulsory hetereosexuality. Living as men trans women might feel reluctance to date men but as transitioned women it’s a lot more acceptable in society – it’s normal for women to be “boy crazy”. Same thing with trans guys – it’s more acceptable to date women than it is men. Some of it might also be the hormones themselves changing deep preferences but my guess is that the change in orientation is more due to social/learning forces than it is changes in neurological function.

And everyone knows, the dating scene for men online is a nightmare. Men are for the most part not very good at online dating and it’s a chore browsing the same boring/short messages like “hi” or “what’s up” or “hey beautiful”. Then there’s the fetishists (chasers). But that’s a whole other post. So far I haven’t found a guy I’m willing to date but hopefully in the near future that will happen.

As for the polyamory, that is the last thing I normally come out about. I am not usually frank with my parents about being poly though part of that is that I am not seriously dating more than one person right now so it hasn’t been an issue. But sometime in the future it’s highly possible I will have two partners and I will have to navigate the politics of coming out. Poly is still taboo in American society. There are all sorts of misconceptions and myths surrounding poly. One myth is that poly relationships are doomed to fail. For one, that’s true of many non-poly relationships too. Second, many people are able to make poly work for them. In my most recent now-ended serious relationship we tried to make poly work after being monogamous for 8 months but it didn’t work out and we have gone our separate ways. But now that I’m free from that relationship I don’t think I am going to allow myself to get into another monogamous relationship anytime soon. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment right now.

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Filed under My life, Trans life, Transition

Introspective Non-binary Identity vs Political-pragmatic Binary Identity

There are two broad types of trans people: binary and non-binary. Binary trans folks identify as either 100% women or men whereas non-binary folks identify as neither 100% men or women, both, or identify as agender, lacking any association with gender altogether (this is my best definition of non-binary off the top of my head though I’m sure someone could nitpick on whether it’s the best definition). But in a nutshell non-binary folks identify as outside of the traditional male-female gender binary whereas binary folks identify within the traditional male-female binary.

Most people would probably think I am a binary trans woman. I often refer to myself as a trans woman in casual discourse. I present in a fairly traditional femme way. I love makeup, etc. But I want to make a distinction between introspective identity vs political-pragmatic identity. Introspective identity is the identify revealed to you through careful and deep introspection on your gendered feelings i.e. what is the gender you feel yourself to be upon reflecting deeply on your gender? In contrast, political-pragmatic identidy is the gender identity you adopt in order to face the world at large, either politically or pragmatically.

My introspective identity is non-binary. I identity technically as non-binary femme. What I really am is just a femme person. When I really reflect deeply on my gender I don’t think I’m a man or a woman: I am a third option: a trans femme person. I’m trans insofar as my gender is different from what I was assigned at birth and I’m femme insofar as that is my gender expression. But politically I identify as a trans woman in order to join in solidarity with all women-identified people who are fighting patriarchical oppression. Pragmatically, it’s just easier to identity as a binary trans woman. Non-binary identities are harder to understand for the average cis person and I don’t always want to get into a complicated discussion about gender and identity.

Some trans people might think I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Or that I am somehow being a bad representative of the trans community. Binary trans women might think I’m not “trans enough”. Non-binary people might think I’m appropriating their identity. But I really don’t think it’s that complicated. We all have a front we put on for others. We have fractured identities – presenting one way in front of family and another in front of friends and another in front of our romantic partners. My trans identity is similarly fractured. There is the “technical” definition of my gender and the “loose” definition of my gender. I don’t see why I need to present the technical definition in ALL situations. Sometimes it’s just easier to say “Yeah I identify as a woman”. I don’t feel conflicted when I use the woman’s restroom. And politically I don’t feel conflicted feeling myself included in the category of woman especially since this identification will help normalize the inclusion of trans women into the category of woman.

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Filed under Gender studies, My life, Trans studies

Why I Was Not Born this Way

The born this way narrative says that being trans is not a choice, that I was born this way. That I’ve always been trans, I just didn’t know it. The born this way narrative makes sense for a lot of trans people – and this post is not meant to invalidate their identities or their narrative. This post is about me specifically and only me.

I was not born this way. I chose to be trans. Or to rephrase it – autonomy and choice are very relevant to my current trans identity – not just biological determinism.

In May of 2015 I was identifying myself as a crossdresser i.e. a man who feels happier wearing women’s clothing. I was exploring myself, exploring my gender, playing with identity and appearance. But at the same time I was exploring my identity as a crossdresser I was starting to read online forums about transgender women – slowly soaking up information about those AMAB persons who “went to the next level” in their having female identities. And at the time I was discussing my gender exploration with my therapist. She recommended watching the Diane Sawyer with Caitlyn Jenner. This interview caused my “awakening” to the possibility of myself being trans. In the past I had contemplated the possibility of transition but always dismissed it as being something I didn’t want to do – it would turn my life upside down in ways that seems difficult and inconvenient – though at the same time it seemed so fascinating. The Jenner interview made me feel for the first time that – woah – maybe I am trans afterall. Maybe I do want to transition.

Was I trans? Was I not trans? Was I “just” a crossdresser? Or something else? There seemed at the time to be no way of really answering that question with any amount of certainty. Some trans women have felt like women since their earliest years. I couldn’t appeal to my feelings to help decide – I just felt like a person – I didn’t “feel like a woman” or “feel like a man” – I kinda felt like both – or neither. All I knew were my desires. The Jenner interview awakened to me the possibility that I wanted to transition – to live full-time or quasi-fulltime as a woman.

But upon realizing I wanted to transition, I could have just as readily shot down this possibility as being too impractical, too difficult, etc. I just wasn’t that confident in my trans identity. Was I trans? I couldn’t tell for sure. I was questioning. I was deeply introspective. Ultimately, I saw that if I did decide to start calling myself trans and transition it would have incredible consequences for my life. It would turn my life up-side down, affecting my work life, my social life, my relationship with my parents – it would affect my ability to just go to the grocery store without raising eyebrows. It was totally unpredictable. I had no way of predicting what it would be like to transition. It was like facing the prospect of jumping off a cliff, taking a leap of faith.

This is why the born this way narrative does not apply to me. Because there was a sense in which my current trans identity was not biologically inevitable. I could have easily continued my life living secretly as a crossdresser – I wasn’t depressed or suicidal. It was not a life or death choice for me like it is for so many trans people. I could have kept my feminine self contained. Or I dunno. Maybe it would have eventually boiled over years later. Maybe it was inevitable that I would have come to identify as trans. Maybe – maybe not. Perhaps there was an element of biological determinism in my trans identity, fitting the born this way narrative. But it seems undeniable to me that there was a tremendous amount of autonomy and choice in my identity. I had to choose to transition. And my decision to transition seems more relevant to my current identity than my initial awakening that made me identify as trans from watching the Jenner interview. The interview triggered something deep inside me that probably has it’s roots in my neurological profile. But if I told my story while leaving out the the elements of autonomy and choice it would be misleading. Maybe I didn’t choose to be trans. But choosing to transition was the decision that impacted my life more than my realization I wanted to transition.

The decision to transition was not made lightly. I frantically read research on the internet. I googled “transgender” and looked up all the facts and statistics I could. I desperately searched for narratives of other AMAB trans people who transitioned in their late twenties and didn’t want bottom surgery. I found stories similar to mine. Finding these stories was critical to my accepting myself as trans and accepting that transition was the right choice. I don’t think I’m alone in that. This is why representation in the media is so important. To find people that have walked this road before.

So while I can’t rule out biological determinism completely, my identity undeniably involved some element of choice. Perhaps I need a hybrid account – part biological, part social, part psychological. But I was not born this way. That’s too simplistic to account for how my questioning self came eventually to adopt a trans identity.

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Filed under My life, Trans studies, Transition

Metal Me vs. New Me

 

On the left: Me, in 2009, age 22, when I was at LSU doing a Masters in Philosophy. I was definitely going for the metalhead/white Jesus look.

On the right: Me, today, age 29, without any makeup, 9.5 months into Hormone Replacement Therapy, with 8 sessions of laser hair removal under my belt. 6th year PhD student at Wash U St Louis’ philosophy-neuroscience-psychology program.

It’s super weird looking at old pictures of myself. I recognize myself but at the same time I don’t recognize myself. I understand who I was in the past because I have memories of those times. I even partly still identify with that old person because we both share many of the same core values and beliefs. I’m still as atheistic as ever. I still have a philosophical disposition to question everything. I still love blogging and writing. I still love my long hair (though now I take much better care of it). We both still love metal. I am still disposed to occasional bouts of psychosis. Still a Zen Buddhist at heart. Still love cannabis (though I recently quit smoking). I am still very much a utilitarian at heart (though I’ve grown to be more deontological with a focus on autonomy).

But now I’m a much better feminist than I ever was. I am a better humanist too. I have a better appreciation of the true diversity of humanity, the wonder of humanity, the darkside of humanity. I have discovered a newfound solidarity with the LGBT community, especially with my trans femme sisters. I have found new purpose in life. My career ambitions have changed. I am focused more on my relationships (sounds sexist, but it’s true – gender transition made me care less about getting a tenure-track professorship and I realize I would be happy doing almost anything so long as I have the time to enjoy my relationships and write). I have a newfound love of makeup and beauty culture though I am approaching that whole culture with a skeptical but appreciative eye.

I’m both the same person and a whole new person. I changed my gender, which changed my brain at every level, but I still have a psychological connection to my past. My past as a “man” shaped who I am as a person and I will always be grateful to that man for not fucking things up too bad to get me where I am today, a very privileged, well-adjusted, confident, and happy trans woman in her late twenties.

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Filed under My life, Transition