I stared dejectedly at my nipples in the mirror. I sighed, and noting the toilet paper to my left, I reached for it. Knowing this was not the smartest move I’d ever made, given the less-than-sanitary state of my room, I bunched up a small portion of the toilet paper and dabbed it gently on my left nipple.
Nothing, no feeling. Not that I expected any. Slowly, carefully, I removed the blackened skin that lay around the outer edge of my nipple. If it had been a hot day, the skin would have been crisp. Now it slipped soggily off, compliant with me as I removed it. Dead. Dead skin. Likely an after effect of having been brutally snipped off, placed on a petri dish, and then unceremoniously dumped back on my chest. Ok, perhaps not unceremoniously. That wasn’t giving enough credit to my surgeon, Andrew. I’d like to believe that he cared deeply, and had taken great care as he placed each nipple back on my chest. However, admittedly I was cynical of that line of thought. Not that I thought that he had done the surgery recklessly, rather it was that I knew of the large number of people he performed on. And I thought it unlikely that I was treated with any greater importance than those who had come before me.
My eyes focused back on the task at hand. I removed as much of the skin as I felt comfortable before surveying the results. Revealed beneath the dead skin, my nipple was a light pink. Lighter than it had been when it was 6 cm further away from my chest. Relief coloured my thoughts as I saw the healthy flesh. I had feared that the whole graft would die, and I’d be left with … well I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be left with. Nothing good.
Pleased, I cut up and gently positioned the Bactigras on my freshly revealed nipple, completing the process by covering the entire thing with Primapore; an over-glorified Band-Aid. I repeated the process on my right nipple, foregoing the removal of the dead skin. I hoped it would just fall off eventually. As I pulled my compressor tight about my chest, I reflected on the past two weeks and ruefully thought that I’d perhaps claimed too early in a Facebook post that I considered myself not brave for transitioning. But then, I also hadn’t really expected at any stage to be standing alone in front of a mirror every four days, replacing tape and padding by myself, desperately trying to ignore the small flecks of scabs that came off with each inch of tape I painstakingly peeled off. It was distressing. And moreover, I hadn’t expected to be so distressed by it.
Truthfully, I considered myself a fool for not expecting this. Yet how can one plan for something they had not yet experience, something so unknown to them? I guess I could have just googled it.
However, in the end no amount of research can prepare you for life. Despite having long trolled Tumblr tags for ‘ftm’ (female to male) and ‘trans’, watched an endless amount of transmen blogging on their experiences, and attempted to be as informed as I could about all aspects of the T in LGBTIQ, I had often found myself stumbling through my transition. Why? The human aspect of course.
Logic and information are all very well and good, but humans are complex, emotional beings, and react in ways that sometimes cannot be explained logically. And I am no different. Transitioning from female to male, for me, has therefore been an illuminating journey where I had to learn self determination and patience.
It was early in 2014 when I first connected the dots. The information on transgender people that had passed the periphery of my knowledge translated into understanding in my mind. Before that moment I had felt so broken, incomplete. Something was missing and I didn’t know what. My confusion and hurt at feeling so broken pierced through to my core, I felt I was being torn apart from within. And I was frustrated, deeply so, as I’d spent much of the previous years battling depression and self harm. Yet I still felt so uncertain despite having survived through my mental illness.
That was until I watched a video by Skylar, a young transgender man who blogged about his transition on youtube. From that first moment I suddenly felt infused with life again. Excitement thrummed through my veins and suddenly I felt complete again. Well, sort of. It actually took me some months and plenty of confusion before I completely accepted that I was in fact, transgender.
I was hesitant to label myself instantly. Aware that it was no small thing, I spent what felt like long periods quantifying my own thoughts and feelings against those that were being expressed by other transmen. A major stumbling block to my own certainty was the stereotypes that clung to trans-men. It was expected that transmen had once been lesbians, preferred masculine fashion and ideally had known at a young age that they weren’t actually female as society would like to paint them as. I however, although having had a ‘tomboy’ phase between 7 to 13 years of age, genuinely enjoyed feminine fashion, loved boys and literally had no idea that I could be anything but female until I was 17.
I had to confront and slowly remove the stereotypes around the ‘transgender man’ until I was faced with the truth. A simple one really; that every damn person is as individual in their transgender identity as any other person is individual in their own identity. So, by the end of 2014, I knew not only that I was transgender, but that I also wanted to transition physically in some form as well.
Originally I had grand plans to start hormone injections as soon as I was able to. I fantasised about starting them in early 2015, and to have had top surgery by the end of 2015. It was not to be, and not least because I had yet to tell a single soul about my new reality. Truthfully being confident and believing the truth of something yourself is all very well and good, but conferring it to others is never quite as easy.
Coming out as transgender at first was a frightening, stressful experience that I struggled to do each time. The words would stick at the back of my throat, refusing to make themselves known. When I told my mother, I could not utter the words aloud at all. We played a guessing game as I curled about my body protectively, until she got close enough to the truth for me to nod my head, and then elaborate from there. Thankfully after some months in my new identity, I was able to lean on Facebook to make coming out an extraordinarily easy process. Thank the lord! Although at the time I feared greatly what people’s reactions would be, I also couldn’t stay silent any longer and continue pretending to be female. I also made this decision in part because I thought that by telling all those I could that I was male, people who cared would instantly begin to gender me correctly. They didn’t. Not because they didn’t care, nor respect that I was male, but because of habit.
All thoughts of physical transition now pushed aside, I was confronted with the reality that socially transitioning was to be a longer process than I first anticipated. Que the emotional reality of humans. During this period I had to struggle not only with my own emotional reactions, but also with those who were closest to me. Guilt plagued me often. I love my family, and some expressed to me that the loss they felt by ‘losing a daughter/sister’ was a difficult one to come to terms with. That hurt. It also hurt when close family members claimed, in hope that I would remain unchanged, that my transition was no more than a ‘phase’. In my opinion now, I believe that this is a truly destructive term to use on anyone. Why? Because by implying that someone’s experiences are something they’ll grow out of, you devalue the person’s thoughts and emotions and therefore don’t respect the whole truth of the person. In my case my family, after the initial shock, banded behind me in respect of my truth. I do believe however that if there was more education in general on the topic, some of my emotional challenges could have been avoided.
Overall, misgendering was my biggest problem. If you yourself are not transgender, then you may find it difficult to understand how large an impact a single pronoun can have. ‘He’, as it slips past a person’s lips and permeates the air, would have the instant effect of infusing me with a warm glow, a calling to my very being. I would thrum with the rightness of that one word. On the other hand, each time my higher voice or my body betrayed me to someone as a person of female sex, I would cower away from the ‘she’ that would be liberally applied to me. Sickness, doubt, and wrongness engulfing me from within. Truly words can be terrifyingly powerful. I did come to see very quickly however that people did not gender me incorrectly out of spite (well most people) but rather due to the automatic nature of our pronoun usage. It’s rather fascinating actually. The way in which the brain analyses certain aspects of a person’s physique and instantly prescribes a gender to them based upon characteristics our society has deemed as male and female. Sadly, knowing all this didn’t make me feel any less disgusting each time someone slipped up, but it did make me feel better knowing that eventually these times would be behind me. And indeed, eventually my family and friends adjusted. Although it felt an eternity, likely drawn out by year 12 madness, I was also eventually approved to start hormones.
As of the 19th of November 2015, I am 1 year and 4 months on testosterone. And what a journey the physical transition has been! For those who have had no exposure to a trans-masculine individual, I essentially lived through a second puberty: Another round of acne, the lowering of my voice, hair cropping up everywhere, fat floundering from my hips to my stomach – and best of all? More muscle! The result is astounding from my perspective, not at a physical level, but at a spiritual one, in which my mind and body is at peace with one another. I feel tethered to my body in a way I never had before. The harmony I now feel with my temple seems incomparable. I am not the captain that steers the boat, but rather the boat itself. I know this husk I wear and it knows me – we are one. Where once my eyes had roamed my mirrored reflection, critiquing, uncertain, and finding an incomplete form, now I see me.
I think that being transgender is something very special. Largely because of the perspective it has given me. I have undergone a transformation in mind and body. I have learnt more than I ever could have thought, and I am humbled to possess this knowledge and have experienced all I have. Deeply so. I am also entirely grateful to have been born into an era where I could be as open and truthful of my reality as I have been. I am proud to say that not once has anyone spoken to nor treated me with ill will because I am transgender. I wish I knew it were so for all other transgender people out there. But my transition gives me hope for the rest of us. If our society can continue to progress to the point where all transgender people can walk amongst people, celebrated, accepted, and most importantly treated equally (and not just transgender people like myself who choose to exist within the gender binary), then I think this would be a wonderful thing indeed.