Category: August 2012


I got called ‘hot’ the other day, by a guy. And not because he thought I was a girl, and goes for the butch type, but because he’s a lover of men. All of this caught me a little bit by surprise, because I’ve never considered myself to be ‘hot’ in my life. Not in that way. On a good day, when my self-confidence is above its usual ebb, and the wind is blowing right, I think of myself as ‘ok looking’ – more ‘luke-warm’ if you will. Definitely not sexy, or anywhere near it.

I wrote about this before, in I’m so vain. I lived for a very long time as someone who was unhappy with their body and dismissive of any attempts by loved-ones (or strangers) to reassure me I really was attractive. It’s really hard to get out of that mind-set, so being called ‘hot’ was, well, a bit nice!

Being complimented by a man was even nicer, I think, because it’s a very long time since my gender presentation screamed ‘pretty, sexy available girl!’ so I’ve not been at the receiving end of a male sexual compliment for well over a decade. In many ways my recent encounter made me feel that I had been recognised as a man, and even more so, an *attractive* man. I have no real idea what I will look like once the Trans Popcorn Maker has popped all my kernels, and whilst, let’s be honest, I’ll be happy to live my life as a man as the most ordinary looking chap around, it’s good to know that something is going right. Saying that, though, feeling sexually attractive is very unusual for me, and something that will take a while to get used to.

When embarking on transition, there’s lots of things you expect, difficulties catalogued by those who have gone before, and a zillion and one websites, blogs and YouTube videos to help you know what’s coming. But there’s some very odd, quite subtle things that no-one ever seems to talk about.

Size, for instance. Not all transguys are short, but a lot are. Short for men, that is. I’m 5’5″, which made me an average sized ‘woman’. However, I now find that I am ‘small’. That sounds so obvious, and unimportant, but going from average to small in one fell swoop takes some getting used to. I’m having to reposition myself physically in the world. Some years ago I used a walking stick to get around from time to time, and I found that a similar social process went on when I had my stick. Physically, and on a deeper level, I related differently to the rest of the world.

I have also had to realign things like shoe size. I’m a 7, which used to be considered quite big  (“Shoes like barges”…you know who you are!). Just as suddenly, I have small feet. It’s not something that seems even remotely significant in the grand scheme of things, but it is a clear example of the ways in which trans people have to redefine themselves: to others, to themselves and in their core ‘story’ or beliefs. Just as I am having to consider that I may be more attractive to others than I have ever believed in my life.

Transition is not just about the big, obvious changes. We are also faced with a myriad of repositionings. It’s hard work!

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There’s often quite a long period between ‘coming out’ as trans, and actually receiving any sort of medical help with transition. In many cases this is intentional, as doctors like us to complete a period of ‘Real life Experience’, that is, living full-time as your identified gender in a ‘normal’ variety of social situations. I believe this is intended to make sure we know what we’re doing, mean what we say and appreciate the difficulties that may lie ahead for us. Much as I see a need for doctors to ascertain that a trans person isn’t just some sort of fantasist, the RLE is extremely controversial, and can put trans people into a position of rejection and danger at a time when they are extremely vulnerable, and yet still receiving no medical intervention. Trans groups in the UK are appealing to those who “write the rule book” to find a robust, safe method of working with trans people pre-transition, but this is going to take years.

Fortunately for me, the period of my RLE was a matter of months rather than years. Going into a new social situation armed only with the knowledge of your own gender identity, an extra-short haircut, a male name and clothing bought in the men’s section is terrifying. Let’s face it, after 18 months of testosterone and chest surgery I am STILL taken as a woman more often that not, so what chance did I stand back at the beginning?

I remember a colleague of mine saying some weeks after I started, that when the supervisor brought me over and asked if there was a seat for Mark, she looked around and behind me to see where Mark was. People’s minds are not sufficiently nimble to work out what’s going on, however kind they might be. Part of my decision to be very out and open about who I am stemmed from situations like this – I’d rather if people are talking about me behind my back that they’ve got their facts right.

So how do you cope with this interim period? In my case I tried extra hard to match my behaviour with what I felt was ‘male’ behaviour. Yes, I tried to match my walk with the men I saw in the street, and tried to squash 39 years of social conditioning as a woman. The trouble is, I wasn’t very good at it, and I was told (much) later by a friend “We thought you were trying too hard, but didn’t want to say anything”.

Going on testosterone, whilst having had a dramatic effect in some ways, has not made me look as undoubtedly like a man as I thought it would. It’s early days yet, and my age does count against me. Youngsters transitioning ‘ping’ into shape much more quickly, as their bodies seem much more susceptible to hormone treatment, and change generally. Transitioning at my age still “works”, of course, but this not-quite-middle-aged body has been set in its ways for much longer. No ‘ping’ing for me!

In many ways, then, I face the same trials I had before I started medically transitioning. I helped a woman off the train yesterday, and she was keen to tell her son all about ‘this nice young lady who carried my suitcase’. What can you do? I smiled and wished her a nice holiday.

I guess the difference now is that because of the hormones and surgery I’ve had, I feel a lot more comfortable in my body. I also feel that if questioned, I’ve had more time inhabiting the male sphere than I had at the beginning, so feel less defensive over my right to be there. In truth, though, I just can’t be as bothered as I was to try to look, act or sound a certain way. I’m told I’m rather camp, which doesn’t bother me. I’m told I’m hard to read, as I seem to fuzz between male and female, which is fine. I would love to start looking more definitely male, but if my behaviour doesn’t fall into most people’s definition of ‘manly’, well, who cares.

I am in the privileged position of having male hormone levels and a flat chest. I am also fortunate enough to know exactly who I am, and I am not being forced to prove it on a daily basis. Others earlier in their journey don’t have it quite so lucky.

I was in the pub last night with a friend – a gay bar, no less. It was quiet, but there were enough people in to people-watch which, for me, is one of the best bits of going out.

So here’s the thing – even though I have a very lovely partner at home, I still like to think that I “still have it” in sufficient quantities to be eyeballed when I go out. Go on, admit it – we all like to get a bit of attention.

As previously mentioned, I’m not attracted to people because of their gender, or to be more accurate, I don’t rule people in or out of being attractive because of their gender identity. I guess that’s why I get a bit peeved if people pass me over because of what they perceive MY gender to be (or lack of it).

Now of course I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I can take being dismissed as unattractive because of physical traits, people thinking I’m boring, etc. etc. You know the sort of stuff that puts you off someone. But what I do find depressing is receiving the kind of look that might be translated as “what IS that person??” and people not bothering to stick around long enough to find out.

It’s ironic, really, if you consider that I see my own gender and sexuality as very fluid, that I really don’t like being physically ‘unidentifiable’. I know some people enjoy that state of physical flux, but I would rather be seen as male, and yes, seen as an attractive male.

Ok, there’s only so much I can do to change what Mother Nature gave me, and the changes testosterone is making are ongoing, but my transformation into that gorgeous hunk of burning love that I just know is right there and ready to meet the world are very, very slow.

I’ll put my hands up, I’m impatient, but I’m really looking forward to turning heads for the right reasons on a future trip to the local gay bar.

When discussing our experiences as trans people with a friend, she suggested that me being a man with the emotional intelligence of a woman is a valuable thing. I tend to agree, though it would be a very controversial argument to get into that a trans man was ever emotionally a woman. Some trans men argue that they have grown up wholly male in their thinking and emotional responses. Others, like me, recognise that X years of socialisation as a woman do lead to a difference in thinking from your average man.

Any trans man, though, will have experienced the disadvantages of living in a patriarchal society at some stage. Sexism and misogyny have been built into our lives  like ingrained dirt built up over centuries. Sure, “things have improved”, but not by a whole lot, if you scrape off the shiny surface and look at what actually goes on in most women’s lives, in our cultural expectations and in the way we use language.

We’re quick to take the moral high ground and criticise the sexist practices of other cultures, perhaps satisfied that we’re much more emancipated than them, but that’s always struck me as a coward’s way out – rather than actively pursuing change at home, find someone who’s doing it worse somewhere else to campaign about.

Rather foolishly, I now realise, when I came out as trans, I expected that other trans men, having been identified by others as women, and lived and treated as such for a large chunk of their lives, would have the decency to treat women with a little bit of respect. Instead, I’ve come across more sexism, more careless misogyny and more dismissal of women’s interests than I’d ever imagined possible amongst those who identify as trans and male.

At first I thought this might be to do with some sort of warped oneupmanship – some idea that in order to be accepted as a man you have to talk endlessly about tits and how stupid women are. Or perhaps there really is a sense of hatred towards women stemming from that time when we were unable to escape from being identified as female, and were downtrodden ourselves as a result? Revenge? Really? Even if it’s on a really subconscious level, surely that’s too horrible to think about.

Are some people a little too eager to sample the male privilege  we hear so much about? I’ve heard it suggested that we trans men only really want to transition so that we can leapfrog to the top of the social heap. Don’t hold your breath, guys. Even if that was my motivation, I can’t say I’ve been admitted to the Promised Land of Privilege just yet. I’ll let you know when I’m presented with the Golden Key and taught the funny handshake.

If some trans guys think that talking about women as if they are below them, doing that whole “Yeah, what do you expect from women, they’re so crazy, I’ve never understood them” at every opportunity, and expecting women to ‘do them right’, be it in the bedroom, the kitchen, or wherever, they are going to end up resembling the worse kind of man. And more to the point, they will be perpetuating the thinking and actions that normalise oppression.

Every trans man evolves and learns from those around him. I certainly have – after 39 years of life in a female role, changing my role in society is a steep learning curve.  Surely, though, all of us can recognise that emulating the lowest common denominator of stereotyped masculinity is a mistake. We are in the rare position where we can take the people that we have always been, and develop them, changing them into the people we want to be. Do we really want to become the oppressors, perpetuating age-old patterns of gendered misery? Or the sad-act who thinks that putting women down will make him look manly?

Feminism and the trans man are not very comfortable bedfellows, but my way of looking at the world is not going to evaporate just because of a shot of testosterone every few weeks. Similarly, I guess it’s naive to expect people who have always held misogynistic views to miraculously drop them when they transition. As I think Lucas Silveira once said “An *rsehole before testosterone will be an *rsehole after testosterone”. We can only try.

Those of you who know me may have noticed that I haven’t really been myself recently. Even the online me has been a bit subdued, though I’ve tried to keep things upbeat. After all, who wants to go on Facebook and read a load of mopey statuses (statii??) about how down I’ve been feeling? At work I’ve tried my best to get on with my job and not make too many stupid mistakes, but all in all, the last couple of weeks have been a bit of a slog.

I’m bipolar, or manic-depressive if you prefer that term, and having periods of bleakness rather comes with the territory. Saying that, as the years have gone by, and I’ve been happier generally, more able to manage the downers when they happen, and the pills have done their job, I don’t get as horribly sad as I used to. Maybe that’s why this last fortnight has been so hard, wondering why on earth I felt like this when everything is going so well in my life.

Now let’s cut to ten and a half weeks ago, when I had my first Nebido injection. Doctors recommend having this every 10-14 weeks, and I was told to make an appointment for 12 weeks later. Nebido is a depot form of testosterone, which means that the ‘good stuff’ is released slowly without a really big peak. It does, however, start to peter out towards the end of the dose.

I had a blood test a week or so ago. I have these every 3 months, checking all sorts of levels. It’s kind of nice to know on a regular basis that my kidneys are still doing their job, my Lithium levels aren’t too high, my body is still welcoming the thyroxine I feed it, and so on. More to the point, it gives me a chance to make sure my testosterone levels are in the normal range for a male. Which they have been steadily for the last 17 months.

I got a call from the GP surgery a couple of days ago saying I had to see a doctor ASAP, as they’d got my blood test results back, and something was amiss. They wouldn’t say what, so I was eager to see what the doctor had to say. Lo and behold, my testosterone levels are really low – it would seem that 12 week doses are too far apart for me. The symptoms of low testosterone, in both bio-men and transmen who take testosterone as part of their transition can be, amongst others:

  • depression
  • mental fogginess/fuzziness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anxiety
  • a general feeling of not caring about anything
  • feeling like you just “exist”
  • a decrease in feelings of pleasure and desire

Look at all familiar? No wonder it felt like the Black Dog was in my life again. Fortunately, I have a good GP who made sure I had a right buttock full of Nebido within an hour of me walking into her office. And strict instructions to come back in 10 weeks, not 12. Getting the Nebido from the chemist next door over a week early, and squeezing me in with the nurse did briefly turn into a bit of an Ealing Comedy, but I shan’t bore you with the slapstick details. Suffice it to say, I have now got my preferred fuel back in my system, and I hope all those horrible feelings will soon disappear. On the first anniversary of taking testosterone, I got 4 stars tattooed on my arm, representing my feeling that after a lifetime of running on  unleaded fuel, I have finally found my 4 star. Going through the last couple of weeks has reminded me just how much I rely on getting the right fuel, and the disturbing consequences of it running low.

If there’s a moral to this tale, it’s twofold: rely on your feelings, and get regular bloodtests. If you’re feeling down, weak and hopeless, it might not be ‘just you’. It’s difficult for me because if I feel down, it’s natural to assume it’s the bipolar kicking me in the teeth, or even my hypothyroidism rearing its ugly head. Many people have *something* in their lives that they can blame for feeling that way, but if you’re on T, get your levels checked.