A reader writes: “I turned 33 and for all my life, I’ve always tended to dress and act in a manly way. I don’t like the traces of femininity on my body but I learned to live with it. The last nine years I identified as a lesbian and was quite content, although I always felt something isn’t right.
“Half a year ago I realized that there is something as ‘transgender’ and it felt like the solution to my discomfort. I went to therapists and got my paper to start testosterone. I told few friends. First they were like, ‘No problem, that’s cool,’ but now when it turns serious, they tell me that they don’t see me as a man and that I’m doing a big mistake, I would mutilate a perfect body now and still not be a real man.
“I had myself a breakdown thinking about a new male name – everything felt ‘ridiculous.’ I know I have to know what is right for me, but some of the points my friend told me are torturing me. I am biologically a woman now. I am perhaps the outsider in look and behavior, but completely accepted among my female friends. In fact, I have only female close friends.
“I feel at ease around men, but they look at me as a woman and so I still don’t belong to them, which discomforts me again. I was socialized for 33 years as a woman and was always trying to fit in as best – I can’t cut out this part and I don’t want to lose my female friends.
“How was this transition for you? As I understand you had the bigger change from ‘girly girl’ to man. Did you never doubt you were on the right track? Did you lose your friends? How did you cope emotionally?”
While I think there are many people who have no doubts whatsoever about transition, having doubts is not uncommon. It can be a very scary thing. Many of the changes that come with testosterone are permanent, and changing a body that might not fit you, but that you have lived with for a long time, is a big deal.
But I honestly think that the body can be the least complicated issue for many people (and correcting a body that is absolutely not right is not mutilation, by the way). The social aspects of any transition can sometimes the most difficult.
You “own” your body, and what you do with it to feel more comfortable for yourself is your business. Our friends, family, and society at large in many ways “own” the social side of us, because we have been socialized by them, and we tend to form at least part of our personality and identity based on how other people respond to and interact with us.
So your doubts about whether or not this is the right thing for you, based on what your friends say and on your concerns about future social interactions, makes a great deal of sense. I don’t think that you should base your decisions on what others say or how they will respond, but I don’t think it’s abnormal or wrong to at least toss those things around in your mind and come to terms with them.
I’m not a real social person (I’m an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Personality Scale), so I didn’t have a lot of friends. I had a close circle of friends, and most of them were female. I didn’t lose any of them. However, our interactions are different now – we don’t go to the public restroom together, we wouldn’t go into the same dressing room together or change in the same room if we were on a trip, and our conversations are different sometimes, but we’re still friends.
The thing that I don’t like is that when I’m out with a female friend, we are often assumed to be a heterosexual couple and treated as such, but that’s minor. That involves people who I’ll never see again, so I just have to get through that. I think I care about that more than my friends do. But that seems to be the worst of the difficulties, and it’s really a non-problem.
I can’t say that I had a lot of major doubts when I was in the process of medical transition. I was really excited about it and wanted to get the “big things” out of the way, like hormones and chest surgery. Of course, I had fleeting doubts.
At first, I was afraid that I would lose friends, but that didn’t pan out, although some people certainly have lost friends. I was afraid that I would be hated by people “out there” in the world and that someone might want to physically hurt me. And I am hated by some people, but no one has hurt me yet. I have some privilege in that I’m not seen as trans when I walk through the world, so I have not experienced threats or danger in the way many trans people, particularly trans women, have.
So doubts are normal, but I had a very strong desire and need to do this, which outweighed any doubts that I had. I was a “girly girl,” as you say, and there are times when I miss things like wearing certain clothes or picking out makeup. For the most part, I really enjoyed that. But missing something like that here and there is not really difficult for me. It’s more like nostalgia. It is not like regret.
The hardest thing for me was, and has always been, overcoming or mitigating certain types of “female” socialization. I am most comfortable around women, other trans men, and most gay men. I have never been particularly comfortable around straight men, because they are the hardest for me to relate to.
Because I was heterosexual, I was used to relating to straight men as a woman. I had intimate relationships with many straight men, so I have an idea of how they think – or at least how they are expected to think based on their socialization, because no two straight men think alike – and how they interact with others. But I don’t feel a connection, for the most part, which makes interaction uncomfortable for me.
I feel particularly out of place interacting with straight men my own age. Although we have a shared history in the sense that we lived through the same larger cultural events and eras, we lived through them very differently. And older men tend to be a little more conservative (but not always), while younger men, even younger straight men, tend to be a little more open-minded and accepting of differences (but not always).
The fact that you feel at ease around men is a positive thing, but, as you say, there is a different relationship there. You might relate very well to men after transition, when you will be relating to them man to man – or you might not. When I am with straight men, I don’t feel like one of them – but that’s okay for me, because I’m not.
One problem of living in the world is that you don’t always get to choose who you will interact with, but you at least get to choose who you will interact with privately – as a friend, a lover, or whatever. So even if you feel like an outsider in some situations, if you are lucky, you get to leave at some point and go to the places where you feel comfortable and at home.
Transition is not easy, whether it’s medical, social, or both – but anything worthwhile rarely is. Thanks to the Internet, there are multiple means of support and community for trans people. But I also bet that most of your friends will stick with you if you decide to do this.
The fact that your friends appear to have “changed their minds” about your transition is not unusual. Many people’s initial reaction is not the one that they will have forever. People who appear supportive can do a complete turnaround when things finally get real, as can people who have rejected you or told you that what you’re doing is stupid or wrong. There’s no way to predict someone’s long-term response, and even these change over time.
While some parts of your relationships with your female friends will probably change, the enduring friendship, in most cases, probably won’t. And you will also make new friends in the trans community. For all the fear and doubt that can accompany transition, there are many positives – not the least of which is living authentically, as the person you really are.
I can’t tell you whether or not you should transition, and you know that. But I can suggest that you let go of the things that your friends have told you and look inside of yourself for the answers. Picture yourself in five years, ten years, twenty years – what do you want that life to look like? Who do you want that person to be? What will make you the most comfortable overall?
You can always make new friends. You can’t get the life back that you should have or could have lived. You just have to decide what you want that life to look like for you.
Readers, what are your thoughts and experiences?
(Possibly beneficial post to read: Is it Normal to be Scared?)