As of today, I have been consuming little blue hormone pills and large beige androgen receptor blockers for exactly one year. On January 21 I quietly celebrated one year of being out in the workplace as a transgender woman (coincidentally, the one year anniversary of the release of Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues). A year prior, at the onset of 2014 I was in full-speed-ahead planning for transition, freshly out from under the weight of a rather dysphoric year of self-evaluation and gender experimentation. I faced nine long months ahead of me according to the official “rules” before I could meet with a gender-specialist psychiatrist in Edmonton who would be able to prescribe. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get hormones ahead of schedule but I knew for sure I needed them ASAP and would exhaust every possible option before succumbing to so long a wait.
As fortune would have it, I did not need to wait long before a friend pointed me in the direction of a walk-in clinic doctor who had started to make himself known in the community for his willingness to provide treatment to transgender patients stuck in the queue. With a name-drop of my psychologist, overview of my past, and informed consent, I was given my first prescription and a requisition for blood tests. Since then I’ve had my dose boosted once, and I currently (quite happily) sit at typical cisgender female hormone levels.
To steal a wonderful idea from a wonderful person, I’d like to address some things I’ve learned and observed so far over my transition.
Nail polish makes a reasonable parachute
In the year before I affirmed that I was a woman and decided to medically transition, I began my experimentation with gender expression with nail lacquer. The more I unearthed from the depths of my repression and denial, the worse my dysphoria became. While it may in some ways have been a catalyst for me, nail polish was also my solace. I did my nails twice a week that entire year and often spent hours at a time working on nail art. Few activities were capable of allowing me an escape from my thoughts like an afternoon spent working on my nails while Murder, She Wrote or Supernatural episodes played in the background.
Before I was able to admit I didn’t fit into “man” as a gender, I built a safe-haven for myself on reddit in the form of the /r/malepolish subreddit. Apparently it provided a much needed enclave for others as in two years it has grown from nothing to over 1400 subscribers.
Since socially transitioning and starting medical transition I have done my nails irregularly and worried very little about the state of repair of my nails. A casual observer might think this to be a problematic omen, but I know it as a sure sign my dysphoria has been largely alleviated.
One friend’s loss is another friend’s gain
I worried about an immediate loss of friends when I came out. Unexpectedly, it actually didn’t happen all at once. Instead, as I have grown, and learned, and expressed myself on fronts that matter to me directly like feminism and human rights for transgender people, I have experienced the shedding of unsupportive friends from my life. Not everyone is upfront about their lack of support but not everyone feels my issues are worth listening to or acting on. Many leave silently, some leave in a huff, and others overextend my tolerance for their assholery and need to be actively jettisoned from my life. It turns out I don’t need people like this in my circles of friends.
It’s certainly not all a loss and probably not even a net loss. I made and continue to make many new friends through the LGBQ, transgender, and feminist communities. I have been able to surround myself with truly supportive people.
Comedy is terrible
This realization started after finally coming out about my bisexuality over three years ago. Prior to that I hid from this aspect of my identity and was able to avoid feeling directly affected. Figuring out I was the setup or punchline to a great many jokes hurt, and that trend escalated with acceptance of my gender and status as transgender. Transgender folk and especially transgender women are disproportionately an object of ridicule. A lot of comedy is now completely unenjoyable for me and an otherwise great show can be ruined for me by homophobic, biphobic, misogynistic, and transphobic humour. Rewatching old favourites reminds me how little I once paid attention to marginalized groups, as show-after-show reveals itself to be problematic.
Business casual is an abstract concept
The requirement for business casual clothing has clear parameters for those who express themselves through more traditionally masculine or unisex clothing, and has very little definition for women. Which is to say for the uninitiated it’s something of a tightrope. Requirements on dresses, skirts, shoes, tops, hairstyles, makeup, nailpolish, and accessories are generally poorly specified (appropriate length dresses, reasonable amounts of makeup, no plunging necklines, not too bright, etc.) and subject to the whims of those who are most offended by one’s choices. Developing a workplace-friendly style is an iterative development process.
Further, women face additional social scrutiny in and out of the workplace for their appearances. Unlike men who can generally wear the same clothing every day without social consequence, women are judged for their day-over-day changes in appearance. The first day in months I opted not to wear makeup, I was told I looked sick and was asked if I felt alright. Apparently this is exceedingly common.
Happiness is easier when you’re happy, go figure
Ups and downs aside, this has been a happy year. While I’ve led a good and in many ways privileged life previously, in hindsight it feels like I was living in a fog. Even as emotional a person as I was when it snuck up on me, I hid so much from what I felt that I was relatively numb contrasted with how I feel today. I have many good memories of my past, so that’s not to invalidate my past experiences, but I spent so much mental energy maintaining a cover and compartmentalizing thoughts and feelings that the experiences I now have without all that pretense seem more real, more true. The hurt hurts more, I’ll grant, but the joy I now feel can be tearfully overwhelming at times.
Living as a transgender woman, I now have more things to worry about than ever before, and more things on my plate than I can chew, but remarkably I feel confident about myself and my life.
Relating my experiences can help others
Just as I sought information online in my groups of friends and communities I know there are many others both visible and hidden, inside and outside my circle of friends, looking for answers in much the same way I was. While I certainly don’t have all the answers, and am still very much in process of rediscovering myself, I feel more and more like I need to be vocal about my experiences and be a positive presence in other peoples’ lives.
Already, I know my presence and voice have been able to help other transgender people, and I am being presented with more and more opportunities to speak up and make a difference. I met this year with Education Minister Gordon Dirks to defend children’s right to form Gay-Straight Alliances in schools and more recently I’ve been asked by a local collective of organizations to assist them in drafting a Code of Conduct. I’m hopeful for more opportunities to speak against discrimination and in favour of protection of rights for transgender Canadians.