Friday, August 12, 2022

The Boy Returns


Look at the history of this blog. Across its reach, strewn over this improbable fourteen years, you'll find trauma and abuse and upheaval and tumult of a sufficiently visceral quality to make your hair stand on end. Some of what I chose to share here is shocking, both in its quality and in its honesty--so much so that I've been dimly aware for a few years now that I might want to go back and do some judicious editing of the more jaw-dropping entries. I came to you all in the spring of 2008 as a literal teenager, and, basically, as a child, one who carried with him the legacy of intense and unrelenting hardship.

Is it any wonder, then, that I didn't entirely know myself? Any wonder that healthy processes of exploration didn't happen? Any wonder that escape into the opposite gender looked more attractive to me than did accepting the version of me who already existed? How could it not, when society had done so much to tell me that that version was distasteful? Disgusting. Contemptible. Wrong.

This is not to say that I wasn't on to something or that I'm not transgender. If one takes "transgender" to mean a person whose physiology and neurology are out of sync in terms of sexual presentation then I'd still say I more of less am a transgender person: my body is male in form whereas my personality, world view, communication patterns, and overall orientation are, always have, and always will be essentially female. That will never change. But to unambiguously be the opposite gender is one thing and to have substantial elements of it another, as I discovered to my own surprise and chagrin. 

I was looking for easy answers. A single checked box that would put me squarely in the category of "normal" when for my entire life I'd been an asterisk on every single list where I appeared. The exception. The anomaly. The odd one out. And as a woman, I thought, I'd simply make so much more sense. 

That was how, after four years of personal reflection and more than two years in therapy, I made the choice to begin a month-long trial of estrogen at the end of May. I'd explored and explored, and all I could do beyond that was take the leap. Granted, I took that leap with life-preservers firmly attached. I began on a low introductory dose of the hormone and planned from the beginning to assess where I was at the month mark. And then I waited.

Waited for the peace, clarity, and sense of rightness that so many transgender women report upon beginning a course of hormone-replacement therapy that floods their bodies with the substance they believe they ought to have had all along. 

It didn't come. 

Instead estrogen was, for me at least, a rollercoaster ride of emotions that saw my inherently anxious and neurotic nature ramped up dramatically, with the lows but not the highs enhanced and the overall volatility of my moods heightened in a way that made me feel as though I was constantly driving down a rickety country road with no seatbelt or shock absorbers. Which is not to say that nothing about estrogen was positive, because other changes happened. My, oh my did they happen.

Over a course of weeks I experienced developments that every medical guideline I'd consulted said would take months to occur. My body hair thinned to the point of being basically gone around two weeks in. My skin had softened and grown far more sensitive by about the same juncture. My libido died within literal days. And one day, three or four weeks in, I caught myself in the mirror and did a double-take.

Who was that? That person who looked so soft and beautiful and so clearly, unambiguously female? All my life I'd longed to be a pretty girl. And there she was, staring right back at me. A pretty girl. Her eyes were slightly more prominent and almond shaped than mine. Her skin was clearer and lighter. Her lips were fuller and their color a touch more vibrant. The face was mine, still, but mine in a way I'd never seen. Friends made comments. My gender therapist, who'd been seeing me for two years by that point, expressed outright shock. 

"My daughter has long blonde hair like you," she said in a text. "When you sent me that photo of you I thought for a moment that it was her."

Medical guidelines are unanimous in saying that changes to facial composition on estrogen should not manifest before about a year. I was at less than four weeks. 

The moment of truth for me came days before I completed my first month on HRT. I was getting dressed that morning, trying on a cute new slinky pink thing, when I realized that my nipples could feel every groove in the fabric as it slipped over my head and fell down my chest. That increased sensitivity, which an inspection immediately verified, was the very first sign that my breasts were beginning to develop. As with so many other things, this wasn't supposed to happen for half a year at minimum. But here we were.

If you let this go on much longer, I told myself. You'll have to buy a bra. And you'll have to wear that bra for the rest of your life.

And that did it. I stopped estrogen within days, and within a few more days had flushed my remaining supply down the toilet. Which begged an awful question: Where do I go from here?

For years I'd pinned my hopes, my validity, my self-actualization, on moving forward through life as a female, but the moment she began to come out I panicked and slammed the lid shut on the process. What did that say about me? Did it make me a fraud? Deluded? Someone, as I feared in the darkest and loneliest moments following that choice, who was incapable of happiness in either gender?

At some point in the days of crying and cataclysmic depression that accompanied the end of hormone therapy I remembered words that a friend, Raven, had spoken to me when I was living in Point Goldlace.

"You know, it doesn't have to be one thing or another," she told me when I confided that I was struggling with gender identity and considering transition. She was Athabascan, the mother of two of my students, and informed by both ample life experience and a cultural grounding that saw past traditional Western views of male and female. "We have a word for people like you: Two Spirit."

Two souls in one body. Not wholly one or wholly the other. Not in between. Both.

I think I knew on some inherent level that Raven was right even back then. I didn't want to see it because I associated malehood primarily with all the ways in which I'd failed to be a man, and femininity offered a welcome framework in which so much about me made sense and met cultural expectations. 

But the thing is, I liked certain parts of being male. Fit with certain parts of being male. And always had. My cluttered, messy nature. The ability, as a guy, to get out of bed, throw something on, and stride forward into the world with absolutely no fucks given. And my sexuality. God, my sexuality.

Male genitalia is fun. Gay sex is fun. The feeling of vigor, power, confidence, and vague arousal that comes after a session in the gym is fun. The way that lust can, in moments, absolutely overpower you is fun. 

So much of who I am interpersonally is female and when I was considering transition I naturally focused on that. But that focus caused me to overlook very real fears about not being female enough in certain particulars and equally valid fears that the male elements I'd have to sacrifice wouldn't be worth the trade-off.

What if, I asked myself in a moment of startling clarity about two days after stopping hormones. You're just a really feminine man? And what if it's okay to be that?

And I cried and cried and cried. Tears of joy--and of relief. For in that instant it was evident that the male form was indescribably more beautiful to me than the female form could ever hope to be and that I'd very narrowly avoided robbing myself of that form forever. I wouldn't have to move forward as a transgender woman, passing but always wondering whether I'd be girl enough for a man to love me or a crowd of people to believe that I was who I claimed I was. I'd move forward as a gay man. Boyish, soft, youthful, androgynous. As I always was before.

And good Lord, isn't that a glorious thing? To be the asterisk? To be the homosexual male who's a shade too pretty? Not many people sit in that spot, but I do and it's what I was made for.

This beautiful self-acceptance does not, to clarify, mean all facets of me are now resolved and that gender ambiguity won't--or doesn't--raise its head. The deep dive on transgender science I did in the many months prior to my course of estrogen led me to believe that the condition is basically an intersex disorder affecting neurology, and I still feel that way. I still feel, likewise, that if you popped me into an MRI machine and took a look under my hood you would see an engine that looked a whole lot more pink than blue. I don't think I'm not female. But I also don't think I'm not male. And I certainly don't want to undertake the course of surgeries, procedures, medications, and overall lifelong clinical intervention that would be required to let me live as a functioning woman.

All of that could one day change. Now, having experienced what I have, I know that estrogen therapy is always there and that I'd achieve extremely rapid feminization if I ever undertook the regimen again. But for now...I like my genitalia. I like the male hormonal experience. And I'm learning to live happily--maybe even, one day, proudly?--with my asterisk held firmly in hand. 

The path back to manhood is probably not as simple as a moment of profound personal revelation, if only because I don't seem to have quite made it to manhood in the first place. Even before estrogen I was smaller, weaker, softer, lovelier, than the other men I knew. Losing weight was like pulling teeth. Putting on muscle had always been impossible, even with rigorous diet and exercise supervised by personal trainers. My soft face had gotten me called "ma'am" since I was a teenager, which made sense given my female skull shape and lack of brow bone. My voice, androgynous and breathy when low, sharp and womanly when high, led to similar things on the phone. All of that felt incredibly validating when I wanted to become a woman. But all of it was still there when I decided to live as a man.

"The good news," my new doctor told me as she surveyed the blood results taken about three weeks after my estrogen therapy ended. "Is that your testosterone is already back to the baseline you had before you started estrogen. The bad news is that that baseline was not very good."

A gender doctor whom I'm likewise consulting scrunched her face in concentration as we discussed my situation over a Zoom appointment. 

"Have you ever been assessed for an intersex condition?" she asked. "I'd be really curious."

The path to male health has been eye opening and will have more developments yet. 

But I'm here. 

Me. BlackenedBoy who became BrightenedBoy, who's now a man but who will always carry something of boyhood--and girlhood--inside him. No path in life is perfect and mine has, perhaps, had more pitfalls and peculiar off-ramps than most, but I feel at last able to walk it in peace with how and who I was made to be. And I can find my calling, my partner, my place, without the immobilizing ambiguity that made these last years an agony of trying and failing to fit molds both male and female.

I'll return, soon, to offer details on how other parts of my life have evolved since the entry I left here last May. Thank you so much for your patience.

It's good to be back.


naturgesetz said...

Congratulations on your fuller awareness of who you are. I'm looking forward to yourfuture posts.

Leigh said...

A beautifully written post. I am truly happy for you and admire your honesty and the trust you have in yourself. That's priceless, especially in the discovery of self-awareness.

I think we humans do one another a great disservice by wanting to stuff everyone into some definable label or another. The truth is, we humans are richly diverse on all levels. We fill a spectrum, not boxes. Yet, when people don't understand something, they seem to try harder to find a box to stuff it into.

Discovering and accepting Self is the hardest task we have in life. And I say, the opinions of others really don't matter in this process. It's a joy to see someone with the self-confidence to be oneself.

Ed said...

As someone who always felt heterosexual and male, I can't say I understand all that you are feeling but I do agree with Leigh's comments and hate when people try to fit me into their predefined perceptions of who I should be so I can empathize with you on that point.

As it has always been, it was a pleasure reading your words again after a long absence. You really have a gift of writing.

Debby said...

I am so glad to see this post. You are sorting through some pretty big stuff and writing about it beautifully. You are an aware soul, and the world needs more aware souls. Welcome back.