My First 3 Months on Testosterone

3monthsonTgraphic

Trigger warning: thoughts of self harm and suicide.

Wednesday marked my first three months on testosterone and although it’s only early days I felt I should catch everyone up on what’s been happening. So, here is a blow by blow account on everything I have gone through from coming out to the pre-T days to medical transitioning to now.

Unlike others the first time I heard about the word transgender it wasn’t a light bulb moment for me. It was around 4-6 years ago when the world was hearing about Kaitlyn Jenner for the first time. I had suppressed the transgender side of myself (my real self) so much just to appease everyone around me that the only reaction I had to finding out why I wanted to be a boy for all of my childhood and teen years was ‘oh, that must have been me as a kid.’
I can even go back several years to when I was 12 and a girl at my church said to me ‘you’ll probably get a sex change.’ I was taken aback and completely dismissed the idea.
Those were the two times it was revealed to me why I liked dressing like a boy, having masculine interests and secretly wishing I could be a boy.

It’s December 2016 and for the last couple of years liberal social media has exploded with stories of transgender people. I’m still in denial but still go out of my way to defend trans people to the growing list of haters. Part of me thinks wow, I can’t believe there was this much hatred towards something that made me so happy as a child. I used to spend countless hours dreaming up vivid film-like stories about a young male protagonist, often when I was stressed out and the plot often centered on my own issues or preoccupations. Another part of me was happy I had put it all behind me. Or had I? I passionately defended trans people, often brining up my own childhood to show some level of relatability. The transphobics treated me like someone who was trans and therefore ‘mentally ill.’
I’m not exactly sure when it happened but I started to wonder whether I still was transgender. After all I was still making up film length stories in my mind about a male protagonist who was now around my age and the plot still centered around an issue I was having or trying to work out about myself.

While I still hadn’t worked out whether I was or not I had my first confrontation with a TERF: a Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminist. She was just another angry person on Twitter. I looked at her cover photo perplexed: why did she think that men were trying to take over women’s bathrooms? I knew about the bathroom bill, I didn’t really have an opinion on it at the time. I never thought trans people posed any danger. But here was a cover image that said men were trying to take privacy away from women. It didn’t make sense to me so I asked about it on Facebook. Turns out a long term friend was also one of these TERFs. We had a bit of a back and forth argument, growing more aggressive as it went on. I brought up my childhood, again referring it to as something I was in the past and certainly am not now. She said that the patriarchal society made me that way, because of how women were seen as weak. I said I never realized anything about society or social rules because I’m autistic and was completely preoccupied with my world in my mind, but how silly of me to think that I could convince her of anything. This was all in front of my friends in family who were slowly working out that I was transgender before I was even 100% about it. Then a very old friend joined in and the argument became very heated, too heated for my friend to continue in. They DM’d me, said the conversation was too triggering. They told me they would hook me up with resources and scientific studies and told me they were non-binary.
From that moment on I was officially out as transgender. I tried using he/him pronouns but at times still couldn’t see myself as male, not nearly as strong as a did in childhood so went with they/them instead and called myself non-binary. But that was creating far more gender dysphoria than I anticipated so I went back to being a binary trans male with he/him pronouns. This was all over a couple of weeks. I felt very uncertain about everything but I had connected to the trans community and things like starting hormones and top surgery had not even entered my mind.

During this time it was the most successful time for me as a band photographer. I was applying to take photos of my favourite bands and every time doubted I’d get approved, but I did. I was on cloud nine. I was living the dream. I was unstoppable until the anxiety started to seep in. I started to hate being around people, crowds, and I started to lose confidence in my photography. I had made a mistake by buying a heavier but high quality lens, and I wasn’t as quick as I used to be when taking photos. I felt uncomfortable in the photo pit (front of the barrier) with my fellow photographers. I felt they weren’t as courteous as they were 7-8 years ago. We used to work together. We’d only take photos from one side of stage for a few seconds and switch positions with the other photographer to give them a chance to take photos from that side. We were constantly moving around and making sure everyone was able to have a turn. Now there is pushing, cold stares and a photographer spend a full minute in one position which when you only have 15 minutes to shoot 3 songs can feel like an eternity.
The horrible thing was the worst of my social anxiety happened in front of my favourite singer Cam Boucher of Sorority Noise. I was so excited to them live and when I was there I just felt everyone staring at me, even Cam. It felt Cam didn’t want me there. I know this wasn’t the case but this is the nature of social anxiety. I was so nervous and rushed that night to make sure I got down the front to take good photos that after I left the bathroom my belt was left unbuckled. A guy noticed this before me and just smirked at me. I still didn’t notice until the curtains went down on the stage. I wanted to punch that asshole. Anyone could have politely pointed it out to me but not these days, when even the punk scene has become cruel.

This would affect me more than I thought.
The next gig for me to shoot was Pennywise. This night was a disaster. I had enormous anxiety which I tried to calm by having one beer. The Bronx was supporting and I was happy to finally get a chance to photograph them because when they headline shows they don’t allow photographers. But as I started to take photos of them my confidence fell apart. I hadn’t photographed an energetic punk band in a long time and I wasn’t prepared. Pennywise may have been easier to photograph but at that point I gave up. My anxiety was so intense I couldn’t get back into the photo pit. I remember there was a section of under the stage exposed and I just wanted to crawl inside it. I went to the back of the room to have an internal breakdown in peace but there wasn’t anywhere there weren’t people. The concert hall was at max capacity. I’m usually excited to photograph a sold out show but now I was suffocating.
And that was the end of my career as a band photographer. I could get into any gig I wanted but I couldn’t function inside them. I contacted my editor and told them I couldn’t take photos of Pennywise and asked to take time off for my mental health.

It took a long time for me to realise my social anxiety was caused by my gender dysphoria.

In my on and off 12 years of being a band photographer I had totally lost confidence in myself. I decided to focus more on looking for work, my screenplay and transitioning. I went to a few gigs in the new year. My social anxiety was still huge at Jen Cloher that I couldn’t use the men’s bathroom, and it was Transgender Day of Visibility, and all I wanted to do was disappear. At Thursday a girl gave me an odd look when I used the ladies’ bathroom. I stopped using public bathrooms and stopped going to gigs.

I kept deciding to go on hormones and putting it off. After an extreme reaction to the latest anti-depressant I further delayed starting hormones. But my gender dysphoria was at a catastrophic level. I wanted to cut off my breasts myself and stab other areas I didn’t want repeatedly. I was constantly having suicidal thoughts. As I began to go to lengths to get on hormones the gender dysphoria dissipated, I was also obsessively preoccupied with trying to get rid of bed bugs.

Getting approved took only a matter of weeks and that was only because I kept putting off the date to start. When I finally bit that bullet I started on a daily gel. Previous to this I was trying to get the smell of pesticides out of my room, my clothes and towel and overcome a swelling face because of this. But the alcohol in the gel had the same effect on me. I tried to stay on the gel for over a month but my OCD over getting a face rash from the gel led me to stop drying my face and hands on my towel entirely and I started using a face washer and dried my hands on paper towels. I decided to go on injections even though I was still scared about how much they would hurt. It actually wasn’t that bad. It did hurt for a few days after I got the injections but I ease this pain my wearing loose underwear and jeans. Yes, it’s a butt injection.

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When I had the changes start on the gel I thought it wasn’t as slow as people said. First thing I noticed was my face begun to change within a few days and my hairline went back. I actually thought my face was getting swollen again. Within a few weeks my hair got coarser and drier and I had to move onto a shampoo that kept it soft. My skin started to get thicker. I remember looking at my side and wondering WTF was happening to my skin. I’ve always been hairy but that didn’t stop more hair growing on my shoulders and back. I also experienced a bit of bottom growth which is the clitoris becoming phallic. It can grow up to 3 inches. It’s pretty nice. After a month my voice started to drop.

The day after I got my first injection my biceps, which I thought had grown well on the gel, blew up. I had been working out before I started testosterone and the changes between them growing not on testosterone, on testosterone gel and testosterone injections was noticeable. My stomach began to shrink a bit, more muscles grew over my body – some areas I didn’t even think muscles could grow – light hairs covered my torso and spread to other areas of my face, I had more bottom growth and my voice got deeper.

But the most noticeable changes were the changes to mood and energy. When I got that first shot I was kinda loopy for a bit and then tired and agitated. Over the next couple of days I became a lot more impulsive. I have ADHD and over the years I have trained myself to get some control over them but with the increase in energy my decision making no longer seemed to be up to me. I got very ranty and aggressive on social media. Eventually I did calm down due to exhaustion, and I was still having depressive episodes. They seemed as normal as they usually were. It just felt strange getting one as I thought they’d stop on testosterone. I did make a lot of stupid decisions such as almost getting on two TV shows without thinking about how this would affect my social anxiety and fear of change. Eventually the 18 day period I got from my injection decided that for me, and I pulled out due to my fear of having to use public gendered restrooms.

I’m in my third month of taking testosterone and things seem to be going pretty smoothly. The changes have slowed down a bit, although I still think my face is changing and every few weeks and my bottom growth looks bigger. My voice will continue to drop, and my acne will stick around until about February. My torso will continue to straighten out and my hips will shrink.

It’s been hard for me to talk about my transition to people in my life, even though they are supportive. My mood problems get especially hard to deal with because of that fact. Earlier in my transition I said I didn’t think I needed a gender therapist to talk thing through with, that I could be strong enough to medical transition but I was so wrong. Having someone to talk about my physical and emotional changes to has helped me so much. It’s worth every cent I pay. I might feel poorer after I pay my therapist but it’s so worth it. I really wish I could find the strength to feel validated for my gender within myself but it’s a harsh world out there especially to trans people, and we need to be told every now and then that we’re brave and that we are who we say we are. My family is supportive but they don’t know all the language to use and what to avoid to say so us trans people don’t feel triggered and become dysphoric. The words people say and how they say them can really affect someone emotionally, make them think, make them re-evaluate themselves and may affect what decisions they make in the future, so choose your words wisely. This is basically what I think of every time I try to respond or confront people.

The next steps for me are to overcome my fear of using public bathrooms, either gender. I’ll have to do this soon as I want to start seeing live bands again and get back into my photography. I also need to decide whether I want to learn to stand to pee using a prosthetic. I spent $200 on one but I so far have failed to pee standing up. I tell myself I could probably stand naked with a full bladder for 3 hours and no pee will come out. The only time it has is when I had two beers.

So, here’s to being on testosterone for one more month..two, five, eight, a year, life.

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A Trans Boy Outta the Closest

A few things have changed since I wrote my last post about being transgender. I’ve decided to call myself Sanjay instead of Shaun because I really don’t want to be ashamed of being Indian. It would just feel weird having all my brothers and sisters with Indian names and me with the most western name you can think of. I have a thing about given names too. So I’m Sanjay Upendra Roy. Nicknames SJ, Jay, Sans, Suhn and the Big SUR. Ha, I’m kidding about that last one. My middle name was my dad’s given name but he went by Acharya because he was a spiritual teacher and I hold no such position to take that name, even as a nickname. I’ve since seen a girl who has Acharya as a surname though.

So, I still haven’t taken hormones. I keep delaying it over skin breakouts and any slight sign of illness. I’ve come to the point where I have realized that my skin and health will never be perfect and I may as well just see what hormones do to me when I am in less than perfect health.

The worst part about medically transitioning I think is waiting. Waiting to get approved, waiting to get prescribed and then wait for all the changes to happen. I think I have made it to step two. But there’s still a lot of waiting time in between. I’m just trying to stay patient and preoccupy myself with other things.

I’ve sort of made a short cut with getting approved for hormones. The clinic I go to shows lenience to people who are so desperate to get on hormones because of the intense dysphoria they feel. But it’s still not a complete approval. But I’m told my psychologist can do the psych eval and I’ll probably have that on Tuesday.

The transgender community has been really helpful with helping me feel wanted and loved and valid but I think it focuses on too many negatives. I mean if arguing and sometimes mocking transphobics helps them then all power to them, but I find it more triggering hearing those people’s opinions so I’m backing out of any discussion about it. I don’t have to prove my worth to people who hate me. I don’t have to prove the science behind being transgender. They can think I’m mentally ill. I’m mentally ill in other ways so it’s not the worst thing to be told.

Not all of us in the transgender community agree on the same things and it’s disheartening to see people stamp all over your views and treat you like you’re as bad as the haters. We all have had different experiences and have different opinions. I’ve grown tired of people telling you how to think and the word policing on social media. I know I’ve done it myself and I just think it really starts more arguments than ends. At the end of the day it’s how you treat people that should be more important than what words you use. There will always be someone over sensitive to word usage. I’ve seen that in the autism and disability community and it’s in the trans community as well. I often ignore it because no one can tell me what to do. I’m a respectful person who believes in diversity. I’m not sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist etc. Speaking of ableism I think people call anything that they feel slightly offended by as ableism. There comes a point where you just need to realise the problem is you’re just too sensitive to words and it’s your own problem. And I’m saying that to myself as well. I once tried to stop or de-educate the ‘eugenics mindset’ but it’s far too late for that. The damage has been done over 80 years and now we just need to treat those with mental illness and disability better than our ancestors did. I’m taking myself out of the eugenics debate.

I’ve also come out as gay. It’s hard for a trans guy (and even trans girls) to live as a gay person particularly when pre-hormones because you’re not yet ready to start dating your preferred romantic partner. At least I’m not. It also makes me wonder whether I want to be stealth (not revealing I’m transgender). In the trans community I feel stealth trans are looked down on, because they’re not really out about being trans. But there are many types of trans who don’t fit the mold of your typical transgender person and those people are constantly told they are valid, so I’m here to say stealth trans are valid too. We all express our identities in our own way and even before joining the community I knew I didn’t want the label as transgender. I don’t think I’ll be stealth just yet but once I feel I pass enough I will, because it’s my own damn life.

I’ve held in a lot being on social media so what you’re reading here is some brutal honesty. Why can’t people just accept you as you are and not try to change things about you just to fit their image of how you should be? People have always tried to change me. They tried to make me seem more feminine, neurotypical, less nerdy and now an acceptable version of transgender.

But because of my pathological demand avoidance syndrome I reject them all. But I in no way identify with my PDA as fellow PDAs want me to. PDA is not me; it’s the monster inside me. The monster makes it hard for me to get along with people, start romantic relationships and it severely limits my experiences in life.

The post is a jumpy ADHD mess but it’s all I’m capable of writing at the moment, so it’s the best you’re going to get.

Fixed Fantasy & A Trans Kid In the Closest

Sometimes I think people might think it’s strange for me to choose to call myself Shaun, a Western name, than choosing an Indian name, but there is a story behind this and it goes all the way back to the year 1990.

I was five years old and just starting my first year of school in a new town. I moved up from Old Erowl Bay, an isolated town in the South Coast of NSW, Australia with a population of 800 to Nowra; one of the main South Coast towns with a population of 25,000. Everything was new to me: a house with doors, streets of shops, houses lined up side by side and a massive school for kindergartners up to year two – don’t even get me started on the Primary school down the road, and the high schools seemed like big islands of brick buildings that reached up to the sky. It was all quite overwhelming for a little five year old autistic kid.

Just over a year ago I had been, not quite of a talker but I at least talked. I think I was overwhelmed by my massive school that made me crawl back into myself and not talk for the next ten years. So, I didn’t make any friends. In those days it didn’t really bother me that much. It just wasn’t my thing.

Also a year before I started school I began to experience feelings of being born in the wrong body. It was subtle at first, more of a preference for male things. I absolutely despised being dressed in dresses. As I was only four and a late bloomer I was still unable to dress myself. In those days in the old sea side town close to Aboriginal refuges I used to dress in a t-shirt and shorts and walked around mostly barefooted. I watched a lot of films and I mean a lot of films and fast become a little film buff. Over the years films would become my greatest teacher especially during the period where fear had taken away my voice.

In my first year of kindergarten I found myself roaming laps around the schoolyard alone and completely absorbed in my thoughts. I had a very vivid imagination. I could dream up images that seemed so real I could just touch them. As I grew the need to live as a male grew stronger. Most of my interests were being dominated by subjects in those days that seemed masculine. I was asking my mother personal questions about my only male friend’s body. Derek was my only friend who I had known since I was a few days old. Our mothers had gone to the same church and gave birth to us in the same hospital. We were in the same church and went to the same school, often in the same classes. Friendship was inevitable and he was the only person outside my family I actually talked to.

That was another thing I did: I got along with boys better than girls. It might have been the interests or just that desire to be one of them or a combination of the two. I was one child in a family of three girls and one boy and I looked up to my brother a lot. My mother used to say I worshiped the ground he walked on. And because my interests were similar to his he didn’t mind letting me hang out and play games with him. I think he liked that I seemed more like a brother than sister. I was still closer to my sisters which meant I was picked on more. My brother did pick on me but he even picked on me like I was a boy. I can’t imagine him ever picking me up and throwing me over his shoulders if I was more feminine. That’s how he greeted me one day when I visited his primary school. He and his friends played rough with me but I didn’t mind because I got to hang with the boys.

Some days I was really uncomfortable to be in my body. I hated my long hair which was too much work to take care of. I turned back to my films, the majority of which had a male lead around my age. In the 90s the main character in a children’s film was mostly a lonely boy who was an outsider and that was somebody I could relate to. I never picked up much from the children around me as my social skills were underdeveloped, almost non-existent in those days. The only children I could actually watch and learn from were characters on the screen. It was easier to focus on them because there wasn’t as much going on the screen as in real life. I felt more connected to those children in films more than I did anyone in the real world. I started to copy their sense of dress and mannerisms.
I’m not sure when it happened but one day at school I started to dream up my own male characters in my imagination as I roamed the schoolyard. I made up stories much like the plots of the films I watched. My imagination was now able to conjure up pictures so vivid I could close my eyes and watch a film of my own creation. Over time these films had a setting, a synopsis, well developed characters and themes that related to my own situation. When I was bored I could just think up a story to pass time, pause it when I needed to get back to the responsibility of being a child which was usually avoiding doing homework and spending the whole time drawing or exploring the outdoors or playing with my siblings. Then as soon as I was done and was left alone I could continue the story from where I left it. Sometimes I would zone out while watching TV and start ‘watching’ my own story. During one day when I was off sick from school I was able to play a film in my head from beginning to finish. It lasted an entire school day.

Psychologists call this Fixed Fantasy and it’s viewed as more of a personality disorder usually affecting those with social anxiety. I prefer to see it as more of a gift and something one could even make a career out of.

My characters were kind of like character actors or an actor who played different roles yet were basically the same person. Sometimes I had the same character in name and appearance for five or so years, but over the years I would come up with a different character. Lately, I have come up with a different character every few weeks.

When I was 10 and under there was a sandy haired boy named Matthew. Prior to that I wandered around the half built brick fence of a church and came up with a character called Josh. When I was 13 I was really into gangster films so I started coming up with stories set in the 20s and 30s, usually about a boy my same age. When I was 16 or 17 my gender dysphoria was so bad that I was addicted to my imagination. I was unable to stay in the real world while I was doing classwork. I literally had to stop making up stories for a while so I could finish high school. I started it up a year later. In my early 20s to 30s a 14/18/22 year old boy with a black mop of hair called Alex took up most of my time. I even got some of his stories down on paper when I tried to write my own science fiction. He was based on Dennis Lyxzen, the singer of Refused and a boy I danced with at an emo/punk club called Hot Damn who was actually called Alex, who my friend tried to hook me up with but we were both too shy to talk. Around this time it was seriously common to find an autistic male called Alex, so I began to write my own screenplays about an autistic character. This was at least a decade before the trend of writing in an autistic character made it to mainstream films and TV drama.

Focusing on these stories in my childhood in particular was my safe space. It was the only place where I could explore being a male, where I could live as one without facing ridicule from strangers, family members and even friends. In those days everyone gave me grief for it because transgender just wasn’t a term we heard. I didn’t even know such a thing existed and no one around me knew either. There was no option for me to live as a boy, to live as the real me. It was just too weird. On the bright side there was no hateful transphobia. No one wanted me dead. I would enter a girl’s bathroom and people would think oh, they’re a tomboy. I liked that term for me because it made me feel like people were seeing in me what I felt inside.

When I was living through a stressful time my film stories would give me a quiet alone space to work through them, to see the absolute worst result but also reach a solution, a choice that often was too difficult to make in the real world. When I was half-way through them or almost finished them I had gained a much better understanding about certain issues I was having. All the time it was being played out by a boy, someone in the body I so desired for myself.

At least 98% of these stories were set in America, while others were in England. Only two were set in Australia. It was mainly because of what I grew up watching on the screen: children’s movies mostly out of Hollywood. I was also for a time homeschooled through an American text book. I understood more about American geography, history and culture than I did Australian.

The reason I called myself Shaun was that it sounded similar to my given name of Shanti, which I think is such a great name for a female and I am definitely going to use it again for a character down the road, or maybe even name my own child. I felt it would be easy for people to remember to call me that. Also, one time my history teacher once mistakenly called me Shaunti and I thought it was interesting as it was the only time someone had accidentally called me a kind of male name. But it’s basically because it makes me feel connected to those boys I created in my mind and those boys are an extension of me. They allowed me to express myself fully in a time where doing so would paint a target on my back and result in me being ridiculed by siblings, parents, teachers, mailmen – you name it. I’ve lived in my head with these boys who I have known more intimately than any person – I’m basically their God – and I’ve grown up in a western country, so I feel closer to the culture here than I do Indian, though one day I hope to become better acquainted with Indian culture, and maybe then I’ll be comfortable with an Indian name. I may also wait until hormones change the shape of my face because as a writer I need names to fit the face. Scientific research has found that the name we’re given as babies can influence the shape of the face, but someone who renames themselves in adulthood just won’t go through that.

I had never come up with a character called Shaun though so I made one. These days it has been harder to come up with complete cinematic stories in my head and I think this is because I don’t need them as much because I’m out and proud. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is my homosexuality and dating so I’m currently fixated on a story about a gay autistic on the aro spectrum.

I’ve come close to getting these stories down on paper. I’ve self-taught myself how to write novels and screenplays and I’m taking this opportunity to create awareness about what it’s really like living with autism, ADHD, pathological demand avoidance syndrome, bipolar and other mental illnesses, and have been thinking about creating my own LGBQTIA+ stories. I’ve always felt writing your own novels and films are good way to educate others and maybe even change some preconceived notions about how people see the world.