A couple weeks ago, I was in San Diego with my family. Requiring my usual dose of alone time, I left my parents and brother at the beach and headed back to our rented condo. Sitting on the balcony, overlooking the far reaches of the sea, I glanced back inside to the living area. There, I saw a man. He wore a tank top, sported some facial scruff, and had the lean face and unmistakable Ashkenazi Jewish features of my brother. “Eric,” I shouted inside. No response. “Hey, Eric,” I tried a bit louder.
My heart skipped a beat as the information reorganized itself. The image I saw inside was not my brother, but my own reflection in the mirror. I am rarely jarred by the sight of the person I have become. And when it happens, I have only two words: Thank You.
This week celebrates my five year anniversary on testosterone hormones. It’s been a long time since I’ve been referred to as “she”; a long time since I toiled in fear over losing my hair and needles, over who I might hurt and what I needed to do to start living anything close to a life; a long time since I surrendered to this hormone, come what may, and watched in awe as my body transformed, a transition that many witnessed, and yet was mine. Precious. Private. A gift that only I could give to myself.
Five years. Five fucking years. Excuse me for the nostalgic sentiment. I believe that the wood anniversary (silverware is the suggested gift, by the way) requires some reflection, and I have been thinking long and hard about what I might write. I do not know. And so, I begin anyways, as we often have to, trusting that a first step will lead to a second.
Transition, any transition really, is exciting and terrifying, and often painful – the letting go, the exhale, the metaphorical death, all of the known left behind in the clearing of the ground for something new. Trans folks don’t speak too often about the grieving process. Some, I’m told, don’t experience a loss. But I did. I do. Enough time has passed that I will occasionally foist an old picture of myself upon new friends, or feel my heart might break just a little when I hear the name “Nina.”
And then, the transition period, it ends. It’s over. My zits faded out, my voice stopped cracking, beard maintenance became routine, and negotiating my way around the men’s locker-room, especially the showers, was just a part of my existence. I was about thirty-three years old when I noticed that the friction in my moment-by-moment experience had disappeared, the final settling of this interminable anxiety. Holy shit, I thought, is this what cisgender (non-transgender) people experience every single day? Possibility replaced survival, and I was just me.
Now, there are moments when gender is not on the forefront of my mind, times when I completely forget that I’m transgender. It simply doesn’t matter. That is the great privilege of being aligned, inside and out. And, still, in other moments, most moments, I know I’ll never forget I’m trans.
Sometimes the reminder is unexpected and jostling: deciding whether TSA is more likely to stop me if I take my “M” passport or my “F” driver’s license to San Diego; disappearing far into the woods on a hike so nobody can see me squat; avoiding questions about my childhood when hanging out with my two favorite kids; the male pregnancy jokes and the “back when I was a woman” jokes and every time transgender experience or gender non-normativity is good for a laugh; listening to so many assumptions about me based on my male presentation; all the ways society and even well-meaning friends render trans folk invisible, non-existent, and unworthy of inclusive language.
Sometimes the reminder feels like my gift to the world: noticing and quietly questioning every single time a gendered word – girls, he, dude, man, ladies, brother, ma’am – is uttered, an inquiry that inspires me to creates more freedom for all; investigating all systems of organization, all systems that marginalize and exclude; exploring my own relationship to various men in the healing of historical and personal traumas.
Five years into living as a man and I’m only beginning to see how deep my resistance is to men. I may fall in love with individual men, as friends. But I avoid (cisgender) men as teachers, leaders, in any position of power, and in any argument or even heated conversation. Show me even a hint of arrogance in a male form and the bile rises up in me. Men’s locker-room banter and even unintentional sexism makes me want to puke. My large scale disgust has long been apparent, but only recently am I noticing the small, lurking undercurrent of my resistance.
Recently, I attended a GLBTQ meditation retreat and found myself shocked to notice the constant stream of negative thoughts focused upon the men: “look how much food that guy put on his plate”; “could he possibly take up any more space and make any more noise with his mindful breathing”; “he meditates on his couch!? men are so damn entitled they think enlightenment will come to them while lounging?” On silent retreat, I was stuck with only my thoughts and some compassion, a very strong sense of isolation born of my own barricade, and the only out: a newfound curiosity to see what I might discover if I leaned in closer to men.
Gosh, there is so much more I want so say about gender, trans experience, male privilege (my own), men’s empowerment circles, and using George W. Bush in a metta practice (advanced practice, for sure). But, before I digress all over the place, I’m going to rein this back in to my main topic – 5 years on T, which isn’t so much a topic as a milestone, a check-in point, a somewhat arbitrary pause for a thought or two.
Trans or cis, man or woman or other, gender is an identity and a cultural institution that we all must engage with on a regular basis. I’ve never been in the camp of abolishing gender completely. I’ve always been more interested in loosening the constraints we all experience in our ideas of what it means to be man, woman, or trans. At five years into a new incarnation of my own gender, I’m pretty sure this is just the beginning of the work of a lifetime.