6 Awful Lessons I Learned Transitioning from Female to Male
If you're a man and want to throw your office into turmoil tomorrow, all you have to do is show up in a dress. If you're a woman and want to utterly disrupt the lives of everyone around you, just grow a beard. What we're saying is that people cling so desperately to gender roles that when anyone colors outside those lines, the world freaks the fuck out. No one knows this better than transgender people.
We've previously talked to a trans woman -- that is, a woman who was designated male at birth -- about what it's like to make that transition in a society that fights you every step of the way. But the other side of that equation is even less visible to society. While there are at least a few highly visible trans women in pop culture now, such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, trans men are even more of a mystery to the average person. So we talked to Roman Jones, a trans man and American expat living in the Czech Republic, who told us ...
Your Daily Routine Becomes Ridiculously Complicated
When your primary objective in dressing yourself is to make your body look as unlike your body as possible, shit gets complicated in a right hurry. I could write entire books about the process, but I settled for a webcomic (as I am wont to do). First, you start with the chest binder, which is a garment used to conceal those unwanted boobs. Many trans men use Ace bandages to flatten their breasts, but that can cause a lot of problems, because it shoves all the fat directly onto your stomach and eventually causes loose skin all over your torso. Looking like a Shar Pei isn't an appealing prospect to me, so I go with a good old-fashioned sports bra. If you're not terribly sporty or bra-y, you might be surprised to find out that they have more utility than preventing black eyes, but what breasted people have always known is that the right sports bra can turn Christina Hendricks into Justin Bieber.
And can turn Justin Bieber into an attractive stock photo model.
Next comes the "packy," or prosthetic penis, which is absolutely a real thing. Many of us like to wear them because it feels right, so packies are often entirely cosmetic. But sometimes, they function more or less like a real penis, with apparatuses for urinating and even inserts to simulate an erection. Technology these days is wonderful. I just got one of these dealies, which is exciting. Possibly the best part is that it's called a Pee-Cock. I wish I could have been present at the meeting of whoever made that decision, if only so I could shake their hands.
"Remember, if you shake either more than twice, you're just playing with it."
Then comes your actual clothes, and this is where the magic really happens. Hiding your curves is a simple quantity game, layering several items of loose-fitting clothing on top of each other. Some people who have big butts wear binding pants, which is like a sports bra for your booty, and you can wear inserts inside your shoes to appear taller without high heels. That's right, women aren't the only ones who are master optical illusionists. Top it all off with a big thick hobo coat and an ugly-ass hat, and boom, you're Eminem.
Add mom's spaghetti on your sweater for extra authenticity.
Dating Is Next to Impossible
When you're transitioning, you occupy an ambiguous space between genders to the outside world. That makes something as simple as finding someone to mush faces with a real quandary, since most people prefer one or the other. I went and made things even harder for myself by being gay, 'cause I'm difficult like that. So I've got a very narrow subset of potential partners to work with (allow me to link to one last webcomic, about that specific thing).
Oh hey, look at all these people who won't be sexually attracted to me!
Surprisingly, it's been my experience that gay men are especially cruel in how discriminating they are -- you'd think they would know better. Believe me, I get not being down with vaginas, but I've been called a "two-holed freak" more than once. Straight men, on the other hand, also won't touch you because you're too assertive, with probably a fair amount of homophobia thrown in for good measure. Weirdly enough, straight women are the most receptive to dating trans men, but that doesn't really help if you're into dudes. Basically, my sole options are other trans men or trans-friendly bisexuals. If you know one, can you loan me some money? I assume you've also found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Also, if you see the leprechaun, ask what they're into.
Because of the crippling loneliness and feelings of worthlessness that can result from this struggle, trans people are far more likely to enter abusive relationships, feeling like it's the best they can do. Luckily, this story has a happy ending for me: I met my current fiance, another trans man, rather boringly through my work. Who knew that even still happens?
Medical Care Is a Nightmare
While reconstructive surgery is not always part of a trans person's plan, if it's something you want, you're gonna find a lot of horror stories in your research that will make you think twice about it. I would love to have a real working phallus, but the reality is way too horrifying. I'm begging you, if you take one thing away from this article, it should be to never, ever Google "phalloplasty complications" with Safe Search off. Although the standard of care has improved in recent years, the rate of complication for phalloplasty is still absurdly high, and your brand new dick probably won't even work. Think I'll stick with my good old Pee-Cock.
It looks like this, except it's a penis.
Even mastectomies can be carelessly botched, resulting in delightful things like permanent nerve damage and goddamn nipples falling right the hell off. Now, I don't know for sure why this procedure, which is routinely performed on women with breast cancer without a hitch, goes so much worse for trans men, but I have my suspicions, and they rhyme with "schmucking schmasshole schmoctors" (the previous link includes anecdotes about outright neglect from supposed medical professionals, including half-assed followup care). Even if you're perfectly happy with your sports bra -- and god I hope you are, after hearing that -- we're at higher risk for a number of health issues, particularly suicide. Trans men specifically are at higher risk for ovarian cancer, an issue that was raised by a documentary about trans man Robert Eads' struggle with the disease after he couldn't find a single doctor who would treat him.
This shit is super scary, because as a community, trans men don't like to talk about medical problems. Going to the doctor before the last possible second is for girls (yes, the gender roles that have been hammered into your brain follow you to the ends of the earth). We're also more likely to be unemployed, because people are weirdos about hiring us, which means we're less likely to be insured, so we can fill out our patient information forms and then crumple them up into a ball and light them on fire for all any doctor cares.
"Of course we care. Printing all those new forms costs money."
That's why there's a huge black market for things like testosterone. I won't tell you where you can find it, because I can't afford legal fees either, but let's just say the stuff you get on the black market really brings out the animal in you. Specifically, the horse in you. Fortunately, my fiance can get it for free, due to the Czech Republic's socialized medicine, but until recently, I couldn't ride that sweet healthcare train. Without insurance, I couldn't even afford to see my therapist as often as everyone would have liked. It could be a lot worse, though, because ...
Some Countries Are Worse Than Others
For a trans person in the US, it's incredibly difficult to find a doctor who will even see you for routine medical care, much less advice concerning transition. Even if you find one, they can deny you access to hormones or surgery if for any reason they decide you're "not trans enough." It's important for doctors to use their best judgment in these situations, but they don't have a great track record with earning our trust (what with the whole "nipples falling off" thing above). Trans-friendly doctors do exist, particularly in larger cities, but too many of us don't even make it to that level because of the terrifyingly high risk of suicide and violence for trans people in the US. I once read an interview with an American doctor who said, "I would love to treat more trans people, but they keep dying on me."
BTW, only eleven states recognize violence against trans people as a hate crime.
That's why I originally decided to move to Canada. Even in the land of queers and beers, though, trans-friendly doctors were difficult to come by. The only one I could find mostly saw hookers, so I was treated like a prostitute (I once sat in a waiting room for two hours surrounded by bleeding hookers, almost like Saul Goodman's office from Breaking Bad). I heard that South Korea was trans-friendly, so I gave that a shot, but once I got there, I realized that by "trans-friendly" they meant "trans-woman-friendly," as they so often do. Unlike the rest of the world, which simply ignores or kills us, they actually don't even believe in trans men. The hooker connection, which needs to be the name of a William Shatner drug-smuggling thriller, is also bizarrely prevalent there. For some reason, Korean prostitutes wear men's clothing, so I found out the hard way that appearing to be a female dressed like a man is a good way to get mistaken for one. The hijinks that ensued were not what I would call wacky.
Now this is what wacky hijinks are supposed to look like. Pay attention, Korea.
It was pure luck that found me in the Czech Republic, which is where my now-fiance happened to live. You don't get lynchings here, you don't have people beaten in the streets here, and the suicide rate is much lower. People don't even yell at each other. The first week I was here, I saw a gay couple holding hands on the train and nobody gave a shit. Everything is still expensive, because I've only been here for one year and I'm not a citizen yet, but it's significantly less expensive than in North America. It's like leaving your horrible small-town high school for college in the big city. I used to get bullied all the time, and now I'm the Fonz.
Testosterone Changes Everything
Considering how much hormones can do, and how much safer they are than surgery (I really cannot stress that whole "dangling nipples" thing enough), a few shots seems like a breeze in comparison. It's literally something babies can handle. It's not all sunshine and sexy voices, though. I'm just now gearing up for a ride on the testosterone train, but my fiance is a veteran passenger, so I've seen how it goes. You head in once a month and get stabbed with the Great American Challenge of needles, because the testosterone has to be preserved with oil, which requires a bigger needle to pass. So you stand there with a giant needle sticking out of your ass for about a full minute before they send you off with a complimentary sore spot that lasts the next few days.
"Exactly how big are you on that whole 'sitting' thing?"
You wouldn't think a simple chemical could do much more than generate some strange new hairs and an increase in BO, but the changes are so startling to behold that if they told you they hadn't had surgery, you would immediately call bullshit. Your entire body reconfigures itself. Your hips and butt become less pronounced as your fat migrates to the beer gut of your dreams. Your jawline gets more defined, your neck gets thicker, and your face becomes a brand new man-shaped face. My fiance looks like a completely different person, but luckily, that person is also pretty cute.
It's not only physical, either -- transgender people who have undergone hormone therapy are a goldmine of information about the differences between men and women because of the effect different hormones have on your mind. Describing his experience with testosterone on This American Life, one trans man flat-out says "I felt like a monster." He completely stopped thinking about the random women he encountered as people, and a nice-looking one would turn his mind into a pornographic View-Master. That guy was on an irresponsibly high dose, but most trans men on testosterone agree that it increases libido and aggression, which can be a shocking revelation for someone who's spent their life chasing the estrogen dragon.
You Are Invisible
Western culture has come a long way from portraying transgender people as nothing but villains or sight gags. People win Oscars for that shit now. That is, as long as they're tucking a bulge rather than packing one. Go ahead, name a movie that features a trans man character. Did you say Boys Don't Cry? Do you know how many reviews at the time referred to Brandon Teena as a butch lesbian? Okay, now name another. I'll wait.
There's a reason that the Wikipedia page of transgender characters in movies and TV lists five times as many trans women as trans men. There actually are about three trans women for every trans man in the population, which is kind of weird, because there appears to be no biological basis for that or anything. In my experience, it's because many trans men simply choose not to identify themselves. It's a lot easier and more socially acceptable to identify as a butch lesbian, because homophobia is hard enough to handle without the added stigma against the transgender community. People also tend to be a lot more accepting of masculine women than feminine men, which says all kinds of fucked up things about everyone. Girly boys are going to get the side-eye no matter what, so that sort of forces their handbag.
This is why I didn't even know what a trans man was until well into adulthood. Neither did my fiance, or many of the trans men I know. Trans men simply aren't visible in the public eye, and I think that's why they won't come forward, so it's impossible to even know how many there are, which contributes further to our lack of representation. It's this weird vicious cycle of invisibility, like a snake eating its own tail, except it can't even see it. That's why it's important for us to stop being afraid to announce our manhood to the world. What are you, some kind of girl?
If you liked Roman's comics, kindly consider supporting his Patreon. When Manna isn't interviewing terribly interesting people, she spends her time yelling at no one in particular on Twitter.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Bizarre Realities of Being a Man Who Was Raped by a Woman and 5 Things People Don't Get About Borderline Personalities.
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