“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
Simone de Beauvoir revolutionized our understanding of the self by detaching sex from an innate and essential way of being. With her lengthy study of the sources of women’s oppression in her book The Second Sex, she laid the foundation for our modern understanding of gender.
Feminist theorizing has defined gender as the socially constructed ways in which we are expected to act in relation to our sexual makeup. Our sex is determined by several factors, most notably in the womb when hormones are introduced to the fetus. After we’re born, a marker of Female or Male is given based on a doctor’s determination of what your genitals look like and correlate to. From there we are expected to behave in ways according to this innate sex.
Puberty hits us about ten years later, and we must face the reproductive changes our bodies go through according to how our sexual biology made us. We become more aware of ourselves, our bodies, and how our gender can make, break, and relate us. We also get to deal with the painful and awkward social relations that ensue, including the fun part of developing sexualities.
When my puberty started in 7th grade, I had recently moved across the country with my family to start a new life in Phoenix. My few new friends were all female and had already begun the process of puberty. They talked a lot about boys and makeup, but I just wanted to be at home playing Counterstrike with my brother. I’d get teased by boys on the bus rides home for hiding my budding female figure in baggy clothes. Everything around me and inside of me felt foreign, forced, and uncomfortable.
When I wasn’t faking sick before school to avoid social torture (and watch Sally Jessy Raphael all day), I pretended to like feminine things and faked crushes on boys to fit in with my peers. I didn’t have sex until I was 17, and it was with a girl who made me feel extremely shameful about it after. All of this hurt and confusion, just to play into a proper female role my body and society told me was fixed and right, but I knew was completely wrong and desperately wanted to change. I just didn’t have any understanding of how it could be any other way.
Ten years later, an education in gender studies lead to a self-realization of being transgender, and puberty began again. This time, it was completely consensual. I started injecting .5/ml of testosterone weekly at the conclusion that I would be leading a happier, healthier, life as a person with a male identity that displayed secondary sex characteristics more typical of men my age than women. When I began my hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I expected to lose body fat, grow a lot more hair, have a deeper voice, increase my sexual activity, and stop that bloody monthly disturbance once and for all.
I warmly welcomed the comforting effects of testosterone as it began to change my body with each dose. A deeper voice and facial hair growth meant I was being gendered correctly more often than not. I noticed every single new hair that grew from my upper lip and chin, down my stomach, and across my thighs. An increased libido and clitoral growth meant I could actually bring myself to orgasm and enjoy it. I expected physical changes to happen more rapidly than they did, but at 23 years old, my body was fairly distanced from its period of rapid adolescent growth.
I didn’t have a therapist to help guide me through the mental and emotional changes when I first began. My family didn’t want to talk about it, and while my friends were supportive, they had little understanding of transgender people. Like any person feeling vulnerable and alienated in this day and age, I turned to the internet for support.
I kept a log of my changes on Tumblr and followed trans blogs that allowed me to connect with people who were going through HRT. I posted and answered casual encounters ads and began having sexual experiences with men for the first time. But living at home with my parents didn’t allow for much freedom. I felt trapped by my past, as I couldn’t deal with having to constantly explain this new version of myself to everyone I grew up with. I was rapidly declining into a deep pit of depression, during a time when I was supposed to be metamorphosing happily into my own beautiful version of maleness.
After realizing how truly stifling and disconnecting Phoenix was for any transgender person, and needing to distance myself more rapidly from my former female identity in order to fully realize my male one, I moved to Seattle. The thrill of living in a new city where nobody knew my history and I could be a man without question was incredibly liberating. On the other hand, acclimating to this new male identity and dealing with people’s assumptions about how I should act because I am masculine and male was an isolating struggle.
After relocating, I begun to make friends with a diverse group of people who flat-out accepted me as the man I said I was. I kept my status as transgender a secret to everyone I encountered. Most people assumed I was gay because I had such an affinity for and understanding of the LGBTQ community. After having gone through my first year of puberty being subjected to deadnaming, misgendering, and educating myself and others about being transgender, it was a relief to be able to grow and experience life as just a regular rad dude.
I was now welcomed into straight male spaces as one of the boys, but I found myself unable to relate to their phallocentric, and altogether misogynistic and homophobic ways. I wasn’t straight before I transitioned, and didn’t want to identify as such after. Gay men took a bit longer to warm up to me, but once they saw past my ‘bro-y’ exterior, it was all just disco divas and drag queens. While we could relate on gay culture, the line was drawn firmly in the sand when it came to sex. If they didn’t explicitly state it, it came across in the form of microaggressions. Breasts were fun to wear and not have, a pussy was a mysteriously ‘fishy’ no go zone, and no penis meant I had no power.
While my views of myself weren’t changing, as I’ve always been who I am, people’s views of me were. It was a tough period of adjusting to being a man and figuring out how to interact as one amongst them. I was a physically unique man who carried a lot of dysphoria about it, and I lacked the history of maleness that had bonded men from the beginning. In order to develop myself further, I knew I had to be more open about being trans.
After about two years, I began to regularly bring up talk of gender and sexuality in conversations with friends and strangers. This would eventually lead to a disclosure of my transgender identity. I discovered that people were genuinely and respectfully interested in hearing about my experiences; in turn questioning their own beliefs about their sex, gender, and sexuality.
By sharing my stories of gender and sexual transition, I was able to relate to people in ways that I had never been able to before. I stopped trying to fit into any version of maleness other than the one that just flowed so effortlessly from the very essence of who I am. There is no one way to be a man, and having the ability to open people up to a more fluid understanding of the different ways in which we can become one has allowed me to let go of any anxieties I held onto in my process of transitioning.
March 12, 2016 will mark five years of being on testosterone (what I also deem as the start of my gender transition). Physiologically speaking, I am near the finish line of my proper puberty. Instead of woefully gaining breasts, I so joyfully had them removed. I hope to achieve access to a hysterectomy in the next year, which will bring about the definitive close to my true adolescence.
This time around, I’m much more keen on being able to construct a sexual identity that works for me, instead of for everyone else. I was born a woman to become something else, a sort of third sex. I know I will never be a male or a man like most are, and I am ok with that. All I wanted to do was feel right in my body and in how I present myself in this world–one that told me I was wrong from the start and held me captive until I was able to break free and transcend into the wondrously dynamic character you see today.