My transgender life: ‘Social transition is scarier than jabbing a needle in your thigh every fortnight’
The weirdest aspect of being in the early stages of transitioning from female to male is the unavoidably public “social transition”. I never had to come to terms with how I felt since I’d always felt trans – see my previous post. What scared me was telling everyone else. But if I wanted to get the medical ball rolling, on the NHS in my case, I had to be living fully ‘in a male role’ first, including being out at work and having official documents to prove it. Re-reading that sentence makes terms like ‘male role’ and ‘prove it’ sound absurd, but that’s a whole different can of worms. In the meantime, I’ll explain why social transition is infinitely scarier than jabbing a needle in your thigh every fortnight.
For me, transition is all about physicality and achieving the male body I’ve always felt I should have. Of course the outside world would notice, but that didn’t matter half as much as my own sense of congruence in mind and body. I didn’t really consider the social implications, or rather I didn’t think through how I would confront the fiery, many-headed behemoth known as society.
To make matter worse, I neglected to research the NHS timeline and criteria for prescribing the male androgens that would bring about the male secondary sex characteristics I craved. Firstly, I didn’t want to acknowledge the partial medicalisation of my life. Secondly, I assumed the prescription would come first, so I could transition socially once my voice was beginning to drop, or hips starting to shrink. In other words, when the world could see the mistake it had been making about my identity all these years and didn’t have to be told. The burden of proof would be on others if they misgendered me, not on me to prove my maleness.
Then, just as I was day-dreaming about disappearing for a year into the Australian outback, before coming back a bristling alpha male, my clinician main-lined a dose of reality. In the UK, transmen have to live successfully in a male role for several months before receiving androgens. I’m sure there’s sound medical reasoning for this but it sounded like a cruel contradiction in terms.
Sure, I’ve lived as a male for years in my own head. When I’m mistaken for a 15-year-old boy and admonished for using a petrol pump, it’s an odd victory but I have no responsibility to pursue the issue (“you’re right, I am a guy but totally not in the way you think…”). By socially transitioning pre-testosterone, I am essentially embracing awkward boyhood and agreeing to come out as trans to many more random strangers on a daily basis. I don’t want to come out as trans, I thought. I want to be read as male.
The specialist I saw probably did not know how much of a life-belt she was throwing me when she suggested a mindfulness technique to deal with the social anxiety of social transition. First, let me preface this by explaining why I’ve always loved going to the cinema. There, I can sit in the secluded, womb-like environment and escape for 120-odd minutes into the life of whichever on-screen guy I chose to adopt as my avatar. So, when the specialist suggested I practise visualising myself as an impossibly strong and resilient comic-book hero, she was, in a sense, legitimising and endorsing a survival tactic I’d maintained privately for many years.
At the end of last year, imagining myself as James Bond (Daniel Craig proves Bond can be short), I began the process of changing my name, official documents. I let everyone know, as quickly and efficiently as possible, that I would now be going by male pronouns. Let’s just say that I should never again bemoan the existence of Facebook.
I had to trust that my physical goals were part of the same process as outing myself to the world, and that it would all be worth the fear and unwanted attention. To a great extent, this is the same plunge a person must take when quitting a job they hate, leaving a long-term partner or making any other significant life change. Only a fool or a liar would claim to know exactly what to expect and that pure, unadulterated bliss is guaranteed.
Nearly three months later, anxiety and bliss maintain a lively détente, but overall, life as a grown-up teenage boy is going rather well. Admittedly, the knowledge that I’m, hopefully, weeks away from an androgen prescription is hugely important.
Socially-speaking, I’ve learnt that the idea of something can be much scarier than the reality, and that sharing a new name and pronoun dosn’t rattle many cages, not even those of 85-year-old grandpas.Tagged in: gender, sexuality, transgender
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