"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." -Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP, RCYT
ACE Personal Trainer
Certified Plant-based Holistic Nutritionist
Got a few questions about what it means to be Transgender?
Glad you are here.
Let's start with the basics.
I am a transgender man. Wait, what? Huh? Let's start at the beginning.
Whoah. Transgender? What?
Simply put, if someone is transgender, then the sex they were assigned at birth does not align with the gender that they are. I'm going to waaaaaaay oversimplify here but, basically your sex was (probably) assigned to you at birth as Male, Female, or Intersex, based on the physical appearance of your genitalia. When I was born, the doctor took one look at me and decided I was female ("assigned female at birth", or AFAB for short). But the way I feel on the inside, my gender, isn't female, its male. When someone's gender and sex don't align (like for me), they are transgender.
Wait. I'm confused. People are either male or female. It's science. You either have XX or XY, and that makes you female or male. period.
Nope, wrong. Sorry. I know our 5th grade science teachers taught us XX makes women and XY makes men, but it's TOTALLY not that simple; there is a ton of variation (even if you only want to talk chromosomes). And thats not how doctors determine your sex anyway. No one checks your chromosomes when you are born. They almost exclusively look at genitalia, which also, by the way, come in a huge variety.
So, how did you know you were a man?
I tried the girl thing for a long time, and it didn't work.
For real, it was like wearing clothes that were too tight. I tried, but after a while, it started to ache, and once I realized there is something that actually fits, so much better, there was no going back. I hate to use clothing as the analogy, because being transgender isn't about what you wear (although it can help make you feel a little bit better sometimes...), but I don't really know how to explain it. I always knew SOMETHING was OFF... but I didn't know what it was.
In popular media we are presented with a very tidy narrative of a transgender experience where the person "just knew" their whole life, and "felt trapped" in their body, etc etc etc. That's true for lots of transgender people but that wasn't my experience. I had body issues... but I chalked it up to other things. I had gender/sexuality issues...but I chalked it up to other things. I was a tomboy, yes, but lots of little girls are and that doesn't mean they are transgender. Our society is heavily misogynistic and values men much more than women, so lots of women take on traditional male traits and clothing and things for all sorts of reasons. I never thought about it past that. I can go back over my childhood and find a million things that point to this, but I can also find a million little girls who did the same thing and they aren't transmen.
I didn't figure this out until I was in my late 30s. I had to be in a place where I was really open to loving and accepting myself when I began to understand who I really am. Even then, as it became more and more clear, I struggled with it, fought it, questioned it, beat myself up. I didn't consider myself transphobic, but now I think I did have some internalized transphobia, and it can take a long time to figure out who YOU are- not who everyone else thinks you are.
First I identified as neither male or female, as nonbinary. And I really struggled with that for a while. Figuring out what that meant. As soon as I allowed myself to let go of the label "female", I felt like I had opened a window and so many things were more clear, but it also began to slowly sink in that I wasn't just "gender neutral" either.... When I began to present as more androgynous and get seen by strangers as male and not female, thats when it really started to become clear to me who I was. It's much longer and more complicated than this, but to make a long story short(er) basically, after that, the more masculine I presented, and the more successful I was in passing as male in public, the more "right" I felt. Looking in the mirror, I felt like I could actually really see myself, for the first time. I could see a man looking back, and now its just about pushing away the dust, making the outside completely match that inside. I think of it like those sculptors, like Michelangelo, who said the statues were already in the rocks, they just had to clear the marble away... I'm just clearing the rock away to uncover whats already there.
What does your family call you?
My family calls me Alex :)
I understand it's hard on people, after 38 years, not to say "sister", or "daughter", but they're working on it (and doing a FANTASTIC JOB).
If you are wondering how YOU should refer to me? The answer is- just like you would ANY OTHER GUY.
I am male. SO...
My mom calls me her son. My little nieces and nephews call me "Uncle Alex". My sister calls me her brother.
What do your kids call you?
(this is the #1 question I get asked)
I get asked this ALL THE TIME. I think this is the number one most asked question. My kids have two male parents; they have two fathers, by definition. But for ALL of us, "dad" felt like it was my husband's name, so my kids got together and decided on their own to come up with a name that wasn't "dad", and they chose "Abba", which means dad in Hebrew (we're Jewish). So they have "dad" (my husband) and they have "abba"- me. If you ask families with two male parents how they do it, you'll get lots of different answers, some have two "dad"s, some have a "dad" and a "daddy", some a "dad", and a "pop"... this is just what works for us. He's "dad", I'm "abba". But we are both fathers.
What bathroom do you use?
Unless I can find a gender neutral one, I try not to use the restroom in public. Going into the women's room seems completely inappropriate (cuz I'm a guy, duh) and going into the men's room feels unsafe (because even though I pass MOST of the time, I don't feel safe risking it, at all.)
OK. So, I should call you a HE now? But I've know you for years! Thats going to be hard.
Yes, and maybe you'll make a few mistakes. But, you can do it. We can do it! When people get married we memorize their new last name. When we get a dog, we memorize the dog's "gender". We can change our habits. We can do this!
And, as Schuyler Bailer (trans athlete and advocate) says on his website, "just because a task is hard doesn't mean you shouldn't do it." Also go check out Schuyler's webpage on pronouns for some awesome tips on how to practice using a new pronoun for someone.
If you are cisgender (meaning the sex you were assigned at birth matches the gender you feel that you are), then chances are maybe you haven't spent a ton of time thinking about your gender, so these things might not seem like such a big deal. You might not think too much about getting your words right. You might not try too hard, especially when the person is not around. But trans* people have spent A TON of time thinking about their gender. We think about gender ALL THE TIME. Constantly. In every interaction, with every choice, we think about it. We hear it, every time, when you say the wrong pronoun, even if we don't say anything. I promise we hear it, even if you think we didn't- even if you didn't hear it. It is like a punch in the gut- there is no way we missed it. Our culture has gender so deeply ingrained into it that if you've never had to examine it, you don't even notice it. You might think those little pronoun mistakes don't matter, but they MATTER, they add up. They're like little cuts that get deeper and deeper and deeper. So please try, just try, and if you make a mistake, just apologize and move on. Being seen, and recognized, for who you really are- having people look at you and see who you REALLY ARE- that is, I will truly tell you- THE BEST FEELING. For months, when I first came out, anytime anyone got my gender correct (called me "sir", or referred to me as "him" or "handsome" in passing) it stuck with me for days- literally that person made me feel good for DAYS. Be that person.
But you still sort of look like a girl!
Well, that is NOT my intention. Let me tell you that I am literally doing EVERYTHING I CAN to NOT look like a woman.
Transition is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes years. Testosterone is changing the way I appear on the outside- deepening my voice, changing my physical muscle structure, increasing body hair, etc- but these changes take time. It's essentially a second puberty- and it doesn't happen in a week, or even a few months. These changes happen slowly.
So in the meantime, some people think I look "feminine", and some people think I look "manly". And people have a lot of opinions about what I should/could do....
the truth is- it doesn't and SHOULDN'T really matter what I look like, or how I present- I just am what I am. How I wear my hair, or what clothes I am wearing any certain day- thats not what makes my gender- I just AM male. Thats it. And just like any other guy should not have to prove how male they are by dressing a certain way, or acting a certain way, I shouldn't have to either. Forcing any man to act like some stereotypical idea of "manliness", just because society says it should be that way, is nonsense. I don't have to prove my male-ness by growing a beard, or wearing more masculine clothes, or "bulking up", smiling less, changing my laugh, or changing/covering my tattoos (all things I've been told to do by "well-meaning" friends).
Why would I make myself less ME to prove to someone else how much of a man I am? Think about that for a second. That's the OPPOSITE of the point of coming out. Thats the opposite of everything I've had to figure out about myself. It's ridiculous. AND, here's the kicker- its just not the type of man I am. I'm not the man who is going to CONSCIOUSLY act a different way so that other people think he's more of a man. Even saying that feels cringy. And it's certainly not the type of man I want my daughters to see in the world.
Take a breath before you read this next part.
What I mean to be saying with all of this is, please, pause before you judge, or make any assumptions about transgender people. It is hard to live in a world that expects you to be a thing that you aren't. And it is hard to live in a world that has really set ideas of what a "man" and a "woman" are. Trans people have a catch-22. We are expected, on one hand- to be the gender assigned to us- and we FAIL. And then- we are told, over and over, by individuals, and society, that we aren't really the gender we know ourselves to be either. We FAIL AGAIN. We can't win. I can't even count the number of times I have been told "but you aren't what I think a man is". So. I either choose to accept that I am nothing ... or I stand taller in my truth. And I choose to stand. So, I say - if your box - your definition of "Man"- if it doesn't include me, it isn't big enough. Because I am a man. And when you tell a transgender person that they aren't "really a man" or "really a woman" because they don't fit into your idea of what a man or a woman is- the problem is NOT with the trans person- the problem is with YOUR definition of what a man or a woman is. When people don't conform to your idea of what a "man" or "woman" SHOULD look like, and we begin to make judgements around that, it's time to take a step back. And this isn't just about transgender people. It is not our place to tell ANYONE else how to be who they are. No one owes it to anyone to look or act or feel a certain way. When we start to push people into these boxes with our expectations, it hurts ALL of us.
What does it mean to "transition" from Female to Male (FTM)?
First. Let's get one thing clear. I am a man. No amount of transition makes me a man. I am a man and always have been one. A penis doesn't make me one, testosterone doesn't make me one. Any and all of these just make my body LOOK more male.
I'm small. But there are smaller guys than me. I'm not very tall (I'm 5'9"). But there are lots of shorter guys than me. I have "feminine" hand movements from 38 years of living as a woman. But LOTS of men also do these things. I also have really broad shoulders, a noticeable adam's apple, and huge hands (seriously people used to comment on it a lot). The point is- there are things about my appearance that are stereotypically "masculine" and things that are stereotypically "feminine". None of those things make me a man or a woman. What makes me a man is that I know I am one. Transition isn't "making me a man". It is only helping to uncover what is already there, and making it easier for other people to see.
Transition can mean LOTS of things. Someone can transition socially, medically, surgically, and/or legally. Transition, especially medical and surgical, can take months or years. It does not happen overnight. No type of transition is easy, or simple.
I socially transitioned first, by presenting and living full time as male. First at home, then to my friends and when I was out in public, then at my job, then to my extended family. This order is different for everyone based on their unique circumstances.
I began medically transitioning in October of 2019. For me, a transman, this involves an injection (a shot) of the hormone testosterone that I give myself once a week. Both men and women have testosterone naturally occurring in their bodies. This weekly injection just brings my levels more in line with the levels found in cisgender men, which leads to me developing "male" secondary sexual characteristics (the things guys get during puberty) - a deeper voice, increased body and facial hair, etc. There are other ways to get testosterone- like patches- but this method works well for me.
I began the long process of legal transition (think official name changes, gender markers on birth certificates, etc) in fall of 2020. Covid has made this more complicated by shutting down DMV offices, placing delays on passports, etc. This process is complicated and takes a long time and is tedious under normal circumstances, but now it has that extra added complication due to the Pandemic. I am absolutely not complaining though. I am lucky to live in a country where I am safely able to legally and medically transition. I am grateful for that every day. I've used the name Alex (which is actually my middle name) for almost 20 years, so changing my name legally wasn't that important to me (although I was so happy when it was official!), but getting my gender marker corrected on my passport and driver's license is important (and necessary) for me for when I travel, and so I'm working on those next steps.
Regarding surgical transition... that's going to be unique to every trans person and ALSO PRIVATE. As it was said in this article on MarketWatch , asking about a transgender person's surgical status is "essentially asking them to describe their genitals to you". Yeah... its super personal. I know it might seem like a natural thing to ask (see the next question) but it's REALLY personal.
Besides the "bottom parts", there are lots of surgeries that can be done for transgender people to help them feel more comfortable in their bodies. Facial contouring, implants, hysterectomies, etc... The decision to do these things is incredibly unique to each transgender person and many factors influence their choices.
It's important to remember that the decision to transition in ANY of these ways is completely personal and unique to every trans person. Everyone has their own path. Some transgender people choose to transition in medical ways and some do not. Passing (being read correctly as the gender that they are) is very important to some people, and not to others. I feel like I shouldn't have to say this, but I know I do; transgender people don't have to prove themselves to ANYONE by presenting a certain way. Everyone should be able to dress however they feel most comfortable. Trans men don't need beards. Trans women can HAVE beards. Non binary people don't have to look androgynous. Just like any random cisgender woman can choose to wear makeup or not, to wear pants or a dress, or to shave her legs or not- transgender people deserve the same freedoms and respect. It should just go without saying. I choose to transition because it's what is best for me. And I wear "men's clothes" because I am most comfortable presenting in ways that are stereotypically male, most of the time. But that is just my decision, and I don't decide for anyone else, and neither do you, because we aren't them.
Are you going to/have you had "the surgery"?
I don't always know what people mean when they ask me this. Sometimes they clarify and say "sex change surgery". This term is misleading. There is no "single surgery" that "changes" someones gender. As mentioned above, there are many surgeries one can have to change their physical body. There is no one "fix".
**If, god forbid, you are asking about "bottom surgery" ... don't. Just don't. Seriously. Unless you are a doctor or a sexual partner, there is really no reason AT ALL for you to need to know this. I know you probably think it's just a harmless question. But it's not. This type of question reduces trans people to our genitalia AND it reduces gender to genitalia AND, when you think about it- is also just super creepy, intrusive, and weird. It's not harmless- It's really private (come on- it's literally genitalia!!!!) and you are not the first or last person to ask. If a ciswoman lost her breasts to cancer she would still be a woman. If a cis man lost his testicles in an accident he would still be a man. Body parts don't make you a man or a woman.
But you are open about being transgender, and I'm just curious about XXX (insert specific genitalia/sex question, thought etc)...What's the big deal?
(this is the #2 most asked question I get)
Here's a good rule of thumb: If someone didn't talk to you about their genitalia, or their sex life, don't talk about it. SERIOUSLY.
I can't tell you how many people have argued with me about how they should have the right to ask me about my genitals. About how they should have a right to know. Think about that. COUNTLESS people. Argued. That it was their right to be told. About my GENITALIA.
I get it. I really do. There's curiosity. But thats just not enough. It's not.
Just because someone is open or public about being transgender does NOT mean that they are open to talking about every part of their body. Being public about being transgender does not mean that suddenly other people should throw manners out the window. I went through and am going through my transition publicly. But that does not mean I am in any way inviting this sort of question. And remember that if you ask a question like this to a transgender person, it almost certainly is not the first or last time they will be asked that question. It's invasive. Just because someone is open about who they are does NOT mean they want to share every detail about their body parts, or their sex lives.
To give you some idea what this is like...
Just because you knew someone to be a cisgender man, you would never ask him the length of his penis, right?
Just because you knew someone was single, you wouldn't ask them how often they masturbate, right?
These last two sentences PROBABLY made you uncomfortable to read. That was my intention. That was purposeful. But these are the sorts of things we as transgender people get asked about all the time. In supermarkets. At my job. In front of my children. It's not OK. Curiosity doesn't make it OK to ask people about private matters (unless they volunteer this information). Me being public about being transgender doesn't just automatically make it OK.
Asking someone about their genitalia or how they have sex with their partner is PRIVATE, and just because you know this ONE thing about that person (that one thing being the fact that I am trans), does not mean you should ask about something really private.
( OK I went on about that for a while but it's because it's a REAL issue. SERIOUSLY).
Also.... I can't talk about transition without mentioning privilege and disparity.
Transition is never easy and never simple, EVER.
But social transition is harder on some people than others. Specifically, black transwomen (people who were assigned male at birth but are actually women), and queer people of color. There is real privilege here that is important to talk about. I'm white. I'm able bodied. I'm (relatively) thin. Men's clothes are neutral, so even if sometimes I don't "pass", people just assume I'm a woman in men's clothing, which no one generally cares about at all. BUT- if they see what they think is a "man" in "women's clothes", people tend to think this is, at best, if they are open-minded, "gender nonconforming", but usually - they think its "weird", "freakish", or "disgusting". Think about this for a second. Also, I can not ignore how this misogyny intersects with my privilege as a white, thin, able-bodied, financially-stable man. All of this can make it MUCH easier for me to go through this than, for example, a black transwoman. Our society values men differently than women, values thin, wealthy, white, able-bodies more than just about everything else, and that needs to be addressed and fixed by all of us, but ESPECIALLY it needs to be addressed and fixed by those of us who are benefitting from it. Those of us who benefit from the system need to be the ones to do the work to fix it.
But I heard someone call you "she/they" and you didn't correct them!
Most of the time NOW, I correct people. But there are definitely situations where I haven't, and almost all of them I can remember. They are BURNED into my memory. That's how bad they made me feel. I wish I could say that I'm better than that, but I'm not.
Quoting Transtorah - "For myself, even though I HATE being called “she,” (it makes my skin crawl) if someone refers to me that way, I might or might not correct them depending on many variables: whether I’m going to have to see them again, how confident I feel, who I’m with, how much backup I have, etc. " ...
I promise you- if someone misgendered me- I heard it.
There are a few reasons I might not correct someone:
1- Because I am just so caught off guard that I don't know what to say. Like, one time two Starbucks baristas argued for over a minute (I'm not kidding) back and forth across the store about whether I was male or female. This is NOT as exaggeration. It went like this. Cashier: "Have you helped him?" Barista: "Yeah, I got HER coffee". (strongly emphasizing the her) Cashier (who is standing close to me who is now VERY confused: "You mean HIS coffee?" pointing at me. Barista: "Yes, HER". now barista is also pointing at me. Cashier is looking at me very uncomfortably, as if I'm going to do something. I tried to look like I was as confused by the barista calling me "she" as the cashier was, but not sure if my acting skills are good enough for 'cisgender man looks confused to be called female'. They continue to go back and forth. This continues for over a minute. I just waited til my latte was done and then left.
2- Because I don't feel comfortable/safe.
3- Because ultimately it doesn't matter. By that I don't mean that I don't care. I do care, very much. I HATE being misgendered- I'm not female. I love women, but I am not a woman. I am not speaking for all trans people here, but for ME- being misgendered makes me feel like a failure, and a phoney. It makes me feel like I'm faking something. Like I'm pretending to be a man. It makes me feel like I will never be seen as who I am. Like I will never be good enough. It brings up all my little insecurities. But, all that being said- if its some Starbucks cashier I'm never going to see again (see number 1)- why would I waste my energy correcting them? It doesn't matter what they think about me.
Remember, all of this is personal to me!- The experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people vary GREATLY. I can not, nor would I want to, speak for all trans/non-binary/gender non conforming people! I wrote this page so I would have something to point people to - to help answer their questions- when I first came out. It serves as a place for people to get to know MY trans experience a little better, and it has changed and transitioned as I have transitioned.
REMEMBER, always, OM MANI PADME HUM...Compassion and Wisdom....
Lead with your heart, always seek to learn. and you will probably end up in the right place.