On (Not) Sleeping
May 2016: The third week of May in 2016 will go down as one of the wildest, most turbulent ones in my life. First, we were on vacation in Knoxville for the wedding of good family friends. This would be stressful enough, what with meeting and being around tons of new people. Second, I was starting my first real job in my field of study the day after we got back home. I was incredibly nervous about this as well. The icing on the cake, though, was that May 2016 capped off a whirlwind of self-exploration and introspection into my gender identity.
This was the end of a period in my life, lasting from October of 2015 to that May, that was the first time since maybe middle school that I would call myself truly happy and unplagued by a series of mental issues. My own anxiety and depression had initially first reared its head after I started attending a local Catholic boys high school and lasted until the end of Junior year of college (this is a story that I might get into at some point down the road, but not in this post. It’s too involved, and honestly very personal). Long story short, I legitimately felt like a different person after finally beating my anxiety to the point where it was manageable. Now that I wasn’t so preoccupied with what was hindering me, I could focus my attention on finally getting to know who my adult self was.
I set out to revamp my wardrobe and find my own unique style, trying to reflect who I was internally in what I wore on the outside. It was a gradual process over months and I noticed a certain progression in my clothing. I began wearing skinny jeans, but it got to the point where any men’s skinny jeans I tried on were too baggy and rectangular for my taste. I was perpetually dissatisfied with t-shirts and other tops, and the only men’s clothing that I liked wearing were things like flannel shirts and other things that gave off a more androgynous vibe. I visited a salon instead of my old barber shop for this first time, getting the first of a series of progressively more feminine cuts. In general, a lot of masculine fashion and presentation just didn’t interest me. As I came to realize over the Winter and Spring of 2016, my fashion sense just gravitated around feminine.
I took the plunge one Friday morning in April 2016 and went to a local outlet mall. It was a super hot day and I was so incredibly nervous walking around the women’s aisles, but I just focused my eyes on the racks and explored. I found myself surrounded by piece after piece of clothing that I wanted to try. The vast majority of what I saw I refused to try on, though; my face and body were still pre-hormone, so I knew I wouldn’t be super impressed with how it looked on me. I came with a plan though and I found pretty much exactly what I had come in for: women’s skinny jeans, a cowl-necked black sweater, and ballet flats. I thanked my lucky stars that the store had a unisex changing room and tried them on. It all fit, amazingly, and I didn’t look half bad!
I happily bought the clothes and wore them that night when I went out for dinner with my mom and then to a friend’s graduation party. Thinking back, I must have been insane with how brazenly I went about in these clothes, even in front of my parents. I saw virtually all of my close friends that evening at the party and everyone was on board. Most accepted the clothing casually, some even complementing the look.
Coming back full circle to May of 2016, I’m in my hotel room in Knoxville, not sleeping. My mind is running feverishly, the only light in the room coming from my laptop screen. Countless tabs lay open, covering random topics like information about medical transitioning, before and after pictures of other transgender people, and the personal accounts of people coming to terms with their gender identity. I was nervous and anxious and borderline freaking out, but it was a positive anxiety. I knew for the first time what direction I wanted to take my life. The impetus of all this was that a few hours ago, I had first actually read how straightforward and, in all honesty, how simple medical transitioning was.
Until then, I had just thought that I was experimenting; that I was just trying new things and seeing how I felt about it. I said to my family that I was genderfluid, just to give them a word to hold on to. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was “transgender” because I felt like that would come along with all the baggage of an incredibly arduous and complicated process of transitioning. But I hadn’t actually done the research. This all came to a head on this vacation because while we were in Knoxville, I read a novel called Nevada by Imogen Binnie. I really recommend the book, because it delves deeply into the mind of an established transgender woman as well as the struggles of a young man who was resisting his gender identity. Among other things, it goes into the hormone treatment process of the main character. While I was reading, I actually had to take a break and Google it for the first time.
“There’s no way it is this simple.”
And yet it was. From about 4:00 in the afternoon onwards, I spent our last day in Knoxville just reading everything I could on the subject. Through dinner and hanging out with friends, I kept stealing looks at my phone. When we finally went back to the hotel, I shut myself in my room and researched in earnest on my laptop, literally all through the night. I was blown away by how, well, doable it all was. I mean, once you get the prescription for your meds, just take them on schedule and they work their magic. So to speak.
I had written off not only medical transition, but also being transgender in general partially because I didn’t understand that hormone pills were even really a thing. I thought all that was available for transgender people was expensive and painful surgeries to make your body more like another gender. While sexual reassignment surgery, facial feminization surgery, top surgery, and other procedures are certainly well known and common for transgender people, it’s really all based on the foundation of hormone replacement therapy. Hormones work to smooth out all the little details in your body. These changes, on their own, do more than most surgeries can in making you look more like your gender identity. For example, the treatment for an MTF trans person would smooth and soften the skin, reduce muscle mass, lessen body hair, and cause many changes typical of female puberty.
Once I discovered the process, I saw the path to transition, and then it was like the lights just flipped on in my head. There was no great epiphany, no more attempts to fight back and rationalize against being transgender. It was just the culmination of months of introspection and experimentation that led to “Yeah, I guess so,” and “So what’s next?”