Keeping Your Secrets

I’m sure most dykes have experience with feeling like their mere existence is a “dirty little secret.” When I look back through the past couple decades I can see a lot of these instances for myself. It always seemed that someone needed to be kept in the dark about my relationship with a woman, and sometimes it needed to be kept quiet that we knew each other at all. For a long time I liked to pretend that these types of things didn’t bother me, but now I’m sifting through them and letting myself acknowledge the pain and hurt.

I was out young – I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I was a very visible young dyke. The few lesbian acquaintances who confided in me when I was very young were generally not quite so easily identified, and there was always an obvious fear that should anyone connect us their secret would be out. Later, when I had my first few girlfriends, we never told either of our parents and had to keep it a secret and sneak around all the time. I’ve fooled around with “straight” girls who didn’t want anyone at all to know about us, ever. I’ve even dated a woman in my adult life who was not out to her parents, and not only never told them about our relationship over the course of two years and living together, but also kept my entire existence a secret because I was too obvious while bringing our extremely campy gay male friend to family gatherings and leaving me to sit home alone through multiple holidays.
I don’t know why I’ve continually put myself through this.
I’m only really just starting to unravel how deep seated I have it that a relationship with me is something to be hidden.

Even when I was a teenager, and out to my parents, they would tell me that they loved me no matter what and that they recognized that it wasn’t a choice, but then would plead with me to not be so obvious. They would implore me to keep my hair long, as if that would’ve made me look less awkward than I already did with my athletic structure under one of the very few dresses I’ve ever worn. They wanted me to keep free of romantic attachments with any other girls and I was terrified to bring any female friends home who might read as gay, lest our friendship be forced to break off (and I am speaking of strictly platonic friends, here). My dad sometimes told me of how difficult life is for someone who is so obviously gay, who sticks out so clearly. He said these things to me as if I didn’t already know and as if I had a choice other than to try to embrace it. I stuck out no matter what I did.

I can now recognize wanting to escape this othering as an appealing factor of transition for me, but I didn’t see it in nearly the same way then as I do now. I know that I saw it then, as well, but I related the sense of “othering” and being so obviously different in this seemingly shameful way as being a symptom of my transsexuality rather than a causative factor in my male identification. By the time I started calling myself male, I had already figured that there was something bodily different about myself from females that was somehow proof of my body leaning “towards male.” Therefore these physical, inescapable differences that made me so obvious were just symptoms, further clues that my self-diagnosis was spot on.

28 Years Later

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with feeling broken. I look around me and feel like everything is broken, and it’s directly my responsibility. I tend to get a little rough when I’m sad and angry and alone and no one can see me, and yesterday I took it too far and accidentally smashed the Badger plate my mom gave me when we moved to Florida so that I would “remember where I came from.” I really didn’t mean to, all I did was throw a wooden spoon at the counter and it must’ve hit the plate just right. Then I felt like where I came from is broken, and where I’m going is broken.

So I’ve been sitting with this and trying to figure out what’s been worse and how I can fix it. I know that I’ve been engaging a lot more with my dysphoria and my sadness in the past year, which is scary but I think for the best and certainly better than continually sweeping it all neatly under the rug. However, in order to face this all head on I think I need to work on some new coping strategies. I haven’t been taking as good care of myself as I should be. I’m constantly under pressure and stress and not eating right or staying hydrated. Strangely, I am not stressed by talking about detransition or dysphoria. In fact, it’s almost nice to feel like there is something that I can speak on clearly and logically and be appreciated for talking about it. I don’t feel very competent or valued that way anywhere else in my life these days (outside of my relationship with my partner, of course).

My birthday is tomorrow and although I don’t think about my birthday much or do much to celebrate it, I wonder if it’s sitting on my brain anyway. I don’t necessarily dislike having a birthday, it’s just that I’ve never been in the habit of doing anything for my birthday. When I was 18 I bought myself a pizza and put my own candles in it because I didn’t have any friends to share the sheet cake my mom bought me for my first birthday in the dorms. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents that I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. When I turned 25 I had to call my own parents to remind them it was my birthday (to be fair, birthdays aren’t a big deal to anyone in my family and it wasn’t malicious, they’re just busy). Unsurprisingly, I’m in the habit of treating myself for my birthday, usually getting a cheap used video game and letting myself order delicious greasy vegan junk food and spending the day alone (I like my solitude, and I’m a creature of habit).

I think part of my propensity for taking care of myself during my birthday stems from the fact that I’ve never felt like I could adequately express excitement or gratitude for the kind gestures or gifts from others. As a child, whenever I received a present I would be overwhelmed with feeling like the person giving the gift would think that I was ungrateful, because I never felt like I could show enough gratitude or that I showed it “right.” I was the five year old who looked adults straight in the eye and tried to tell them in the sincerest way possible that I appreciated what they did for me, but then never felt like it was enough and felt guilty that I wasn’t able to express myself the way I wanted. I watched the other kids just rip open gifts with reckless abandon and run away screaming gleefully with new toys and I carefully removed each piece of tape and gently cradled each book or K-NEX set. I felt like I was defective for not feeling this joy that other kids felt, for not expressing myself the same way they did. Watching videos of myself as a child in these instances now makes me so sad. My parents have gotten very quiet when we’ve watched them together.

Now I’m going back and forth in my head about whether I should send my yearly Happy Birthday text to A tomorrow. I know that I probably will, and I know that I will probably not hear back. I am trying to steady myself for this blow, but I feel it necessary to at least try to reach out. We spent the best birthdays I’ve ever had in my whole life together, and really the only ones that I’ve celebrated properly with a party. Birthday Parties with A were the only way that I ever had actual parties as an adult, and A’s girlfriend always took great care to make sure that I felt like the parties were for me too even though it was 95% their friends. I miss her a lot too, she was a true friend to me when A and I were still speaking a bit and she heard me out when I needed to talk about reclaiming Butch for myself without judgement.

Last year for my birthday I found a recipe for tofu “lox” and made homemade cashew cream cheese a few days earlier so that I could have homemade “lox” and cream cheese bagels for breakfast (an old favorite of mine before I stopped eating meat and dairy – so a very nice treat and comfort). My love and I woke up early to work out and have breakfast together, and then I came to work for a horrendously long day and cried the entire way home. She got me beautiful wonderful thoughtful gifts of food and beer (she knows my excitement for consumables is much higher than material goods, although she also got me a super cute bowtie) and in return I cried the whole time.

I have not prepared anything for myself for my birthday this year, although I know that my love has plans to make me a special dinner. I’d like to stay home and keep all the windows shut tight and to spend the day in sweatpants playing escapist video games and cuddling with my dogs, but I’ll have a very long day at work instead. I worry that work will go so late that I will disappoint my wonderful girlfriend making me a nice meal to come home to. I worry that I won’t be able to express my gratitude appropriately if my birthday is recognized or alternately that I will be disappointed from not hearing from my other loved ones. I’ve been crying every day lately.

My love did surprise me with absolutely beautiful Fest Prayer flags on our camping trip the other weekend as an early birthday present. We hung them next to our tent and I wish that I had taken a picture to look back on now. It instantly felt like home. I think tonight I should put some time into hanging them at home so that I can look at them flying proudly tomorrow, and maybe light some candles and spend some time reflecting on how I want to move through this next year and what I can work on to bring myself more into balance.

No trick, no secret

There’s no trick, no secret. It is only possible to fight through day by day.
When my dysphoria was at its worst, pre-medical transition, I tried to cultivate a mindset of taking every day as it came. It helped me move through the world rather than stewing quietly alone in my room, but it only helped because there was a clearly defined light at the end of the tunnel. These days I still manage my dysphoria by working through day by day, but I am much gentler and more open to wherever this journey takes me. The only end point in sight now is to not care or notice at all.

My dysphoria grew from the time I began wrapping my head around the idea that all of my childhood issues could be due to not really being female at all, and it amplified steadily. Prior to these realizations at the age of 17, I had a persistent idea of my body as fundamentally different from the bodies of the women that I was interested in, but did not have the words for it. I loathed the idea of my body being penetrated, but related very much to being the dominant aggressor and the way that it allowed me to place my body “off-limits.” Some of my earliest memories are of being a young child (4-5 -ish) and thinking about the girlfriends I would have someday, and I remember thinking about making out with them and I would get this sense that there would be something extra in my pants that would fit with them. I do not really know where I got this rudimentary understanding of sex, but I do know that I was already firmly in the camp of being the one that “fit in” rather than the one that got “fit in to.”
When I learned that there words for this persistent experience and disconnect with ones given genitals, it was a quick trip from there. I latched onto the idea that I had never been able to connect with my peers or make friends because I couldn’t relate to other people as a woman, because I was a man! There were answers to what I was dealing with and with Modern Medical Technology could correct this very simple birth-defect that I had recently diagnosed myself with. My discomfort with my body would be eased and the world would suddenly know how to relate to me!

It all seemed way too good to be true, so I eased in cautiously. I had already been wearing clothing from the men’s section for awhile, but I discontinued use of anything from the women’s section regardless of aesthetics (really all I had was some super dykey flannels and such, but if the buttons went up the “wrong way” they were out). I thought about different names, and tested a few online and with close friends, but eventually settled on sticking with my birth name partially because I thought it would ease the blow for my parents. I cut my hair shorter. And shorter. And shorter. I don’t even really remember my first buzz, but I know it didn’t come long after I named my discomfort. Soon after, I bought a buzzer and started asking friends to shave my head so that I wouldn’t  have to deal with the looks in the salon or the barbershop, because I got them in both. I bound my chest and marveled at just how flat I could get. I considered myself very lucky.

I began passing fairly easily as male, which was fun and being treated like a full human being felt right and good. Passing did not do anything for my sex dysphoria, however, which had been growing with every single day. I became increasingly frustrated with the function of my genitals as I became increasingly recognized as male with my clothes on. I was putting on muscle from hauling band gear around a few times a week and was very comfortable in my social relationships with “other” men. I got a lot of validation for what I looked like when what I looked like was acknowledged as “male,” which is very different from the reaction of horror that one sometimes gets when one looks like this but is read as a Dyke instead. After so many years of trying, It seemed to me that testosterone was the next logical step in attempting to mend these feelings of disconnect and finally give myself a body that functioned in the way I wanted it too, as well as solidified my appearance as male to the outside world.

The thing is, testosterone did help alleviate some of my sex dysphoria, at least to a point where I have been able to reconcile with my body. I still do not have answers for what I would do if I had not chemically modified my body. I often wish that I had different tools so I could have given myself a longer time to figure out if I could have been happy with my function “as is.” Testosterone is a hell of a drug. However, it eventually dawned on me that my experience on testosterone would not be a continuous growth curve in terms of the way the function of my body was changing. I would never reach the end point that I had decided would “feel right,” because it was and remains biologically impossible no matter the medical intervention. Testosterone alleviated some of my sex dysphoria by modifying the function of my body, but at the same time it exposed my dysphoria as a moving target and brought the medical limitations of my self diagnosis and essentially self-directed treatment into sharp focus.

This clarity coincided with my growing discomfort with living as a stealth male and led to a perfect storm for detransition and learning new ways to exist and thrive within my body. I still experience sex dysphoria in the sense of a feeling of phantom genitals at times (very similar to what I remember as a child, but the mind does play tricks so who knows), which was worse in the first few years off testosterone and is much less frequent now. I have a partner who I am functional with in a way that works for me which, let me tell ya, does wonders for sex dysphoria.
Sometimes I experience intrusive thoughts related to my female body that circle and circle and can throw me off for weeks or months, but I deal with them as they come and remind myself that just because something comes out of my brain doesn’t mean it’s true in terms of material reality. At times I’ll call these dysphoric thoughts because it feels the easiest way to explain them, but they’re not always related to sex dysphoria – sometimes they’re more related to bullshit expectations of the female body that I have ingrained so deep inside of me that they shake my known reality to the core when they surface (you’ll never be as big and strong as you could be in this weak female body, etc).
I no longer experience what a lot of people term “gender dysphoria” because these days I expect to be treated as a human being and accept no less. When someone treats me poorly because I am a woman or a dyke, I do not get mad because I should be treated “like a man,” I get mad because I should be treated like a human being (which is to say, treated like a man, in practice). At this point I decide if it is possible to brush this interaction off (a cashier I would have no contact with again, etc), or if I need to directly confront the situation (someone I am working with, etc), and proceed appropriately for the situation. I approach it logically from the expectation that I am to be treated as an intelligent, capable, complete human being. Changing my understanding did work for alleviating the entirety of my “gender dysphoria.”

Community Lost & Found

I’ve been trying to write this post for days.
I’ve always struggled with friendship and community, and feeling like an outsider. I have had difficulty forming deep connections and a lot of social anxiety to contend with, and consequently have had very few friendships that lasted more than a year or so. The first real friendships that I ever had were with two other females who were also trans-identified, who I’ll call A and E. For the first time in my life I felt like I had people who really understood me, and who really cared about me. We had lots of shared interests outside of being trans, but my feelings of closeness to them stemmed from the fact that I could talk to them about the way I experienced myself and my body and have it reflected back at me in a positive and affirming way. We related to each other in a way that made sense to me. We had all been lesbians, and we had all been butch, but at some point butch stopped feeling like it could accurately describe or contain us – so we had similar backgrounds prior to transition.

One of the main divergences that A, E and I had in experience was that my friends had difficulty passing as male and did not have community with men. I had been a part of the local metal/hardcore scene for years in various bands, which meant that my community outside of these two friends was almost entirely male and pretty aggressive. I was out as trans to my bandmates, and with their company I was able to remain pretty stealth to anyone outside of our little group. I passed in context with them more than I did on my own, at least. Mostly people assumed I was just quite a bit younger than my bandmates, and my band would always jump to my defense if anyone was ever shitty to me or questioned me. I was very well protected, and my male identity was constantly affirmed by my male peers as well as my trans friends.

There was no fanfare about my medical transition. I had socially transitioned years prior and a lot of folks assumed I was already on hormones before I started. I only really started telling people that I had started when they noticed the changes themselves. I didn’t talk much about being trans to anyone except for A and E. I dealt with my transition as a private medical issue, which is the way I saw it.

When I stopped testosterone after a little under a year, it was supposed to be temporary. I had quit the band and moved to a new city, one that my friend E had moved to a couple years prior. We moved in together and initially it was really great; we called our flat the man cave (of course) and put waterbottle holders on every piece of furniture we could find in order to accommodate our habit of drinking way too much beer. In this new city I experienced truly stealth life for the first time. It didn’t take long for the excitement of being unconditionally accepted as male to wear thin. I got to see up close and personal the way men really think about women, and it disgusted me. I tried like hell to convince myself that I didn’t see women that way, and at each step I had to confront some truly ugly internalized misogyny. That shit is insidious. When my second vial ran out I decided to give myself pause to sort out what these feelings were before proceeding. I got really into thinking about words like “woman” and “mother” and trying to dig deeper into why I didn’t feel like they fit for me. I recognized myself as biologically female, I didn’t believe in brain sex, and I was starting to realize that all of the social identification with males that I had was born of internalized misogyny. I had significant sex dysphoira, and it had gotten better on testosterone, but it had also been dawning on me that no matter what I did to my body medically, I would never function as a male. I think that I had deluded myself into thinking that I could, at some point, have a functioning phallus that would be indistinguishable from the real biological deal – that if I held on for long enough the science would come and I could grow one for myself. When it really, truly settled on me that I could never even be a functional male proxy, I gave up the idea of transition entirely.

I was off testosterone for a few months before I told anyone other than my girlfriend at the time, and over a year to start asking people who knew me as male to please refer to me with female pronouns. In that way, it was much like the beginning of my physical transition – slow, careful, no fanfare.
The first person I told was my friend A. A had identified as butch when I met her, and we had the exact same birthday. A came out to me as trans about a year after we met, when we were about 19. A was not yet on testosterone when we talked about my decision to stop. I told A that I had been racking my brain about the science of transsexuality and having all of these internal battles about misogyny. I couldn’t find scientific evidence that there was anything male about me at all, outside of social identification with males and other transmen. All of the science was very small cohort studies, and it seemed to me that if this was a true medical condition that it must have existed for centuries prior to the type of medical intervention we now see – and how did those individuals survive? If our only choice was transition or perish, how did they make it? I told A that I was exploring alternate ways to deal with my dysphoria, and that I just couldn’t see myself as male any longer. I said that I needed to figure out a way to live with my own body that didn’t involve medical intervention for the rest of my life. In hindsight I realize that I was probably a little pushy about the science, but the science is what finally opened my eyes and I wanted my friend to see what I saw. I wanted to have the same understanding and reflection of each other that we had had for years, because I was feeling so alone.
After that night we didn’t talk for months. I reached out several times, and got nothing in return. I cried a lot. I never pushed for A to change anything about their life, but I know that just the fact that I was dealing with my own life this way, outside of medical transition, was threatening enough. We’ve spoken a few times since, and even spent one more birthday together after I had come around to recognizing myself as female. Last year when I moved closer to A, we texted and planned to meet up somewhere in between for coffee. A has never responded since, and last year even my annual “Happy Birthday!” text went unnoticed. A is now several years on testosterone and entirely stealth. I miss A constantly, and still feel as though I lost a sibling.

It took me longer to tell E. I actually stopped testosterone while E and I were living together, but I was too embarrassed to say anything. I felt foolish and like a fake as I started changing my mind about the way I wanted to live my life, and I didn’t feel like I could share it with someone that physically close to me all of the time. Eventually we had an unrelated falling out (entirely related to the very abusive relationship I was in at the time) and I moved out. We didn’t talk for almost another three years, and when we did, I was shocked by the way that this person acted even less mature and more entitled than when we were living together. There was a lot of “woe is me, the world is out to get me” talk that I just don’t really have patience for. We were texting about what had led to our falling out, and I didn’t particularly want to rehash my abusive relationship so E accused me of being emotionally unavailable and having “assimilated into dominant white male culture,” so it was quite a shock when I told E that I was 100% detransitioned and had been for years. E was on T for a year and a half and wanted to talk about how great testosterone was, and couldn’t understand why I would possibly be powerlifting to shape my body this way if I was detransitioned. I couldn’t remember how we used to understand each other so well. I felt numb and angry and cut our conversation short. I’ve haven’t spoken to E since, but think of E often and would be there in a heartbeat if I thought E was coming home.

Telling my friends who were not trans-identified was worlds easier than telling E and A. It helps that I’m not used to maintaining friendships for longer than a year, so I never really had much of anyone to tell. I moved again and started fresh all over.

I’ve only recently discovered Lesbian community and community with other detransitioned womyn that finally feels like home in the way that my friendships with E and A felt like home. I feel stronger and better than I ever have, even after convincing myself for years that I didn’t need anyone else to reflect or understand me. I still hold a bit of hope that some day my friends might join me, and every day I remember to leave the light of kindness on for them.