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.
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.