"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 about Miss/Mrs/Mr/Mx?
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. Because I went through a time of identifying as nonbinary, a lot of people in my life got comfortable using gender-neutral terms ("spouse", "sibling").
If you are wondering how YOU should refer to me? Here it is... I am male. SO- Because I am male- I am Jim's husband. I am my nephew's uncle. I am my parents's son. I am my sister's brother.
My little nieces and nephews call me "Uncle Alex".
What do your kids call you?
I get asked this ALL THE TIME. I think this is the number one most asked question. My kids got together and decided on their own to come up with a name that wasn't "dad" (they already have a "dad"- my husband), and they chose "Abba", which means Dad in Hebrew (we're Jewish). So they have "dad" (my husband) and they have "abba"- me.
They do slip up sometimes- they're kids. We're just all sorting it all out together.
The truth is that we are all finding a new normal. We're figuring it out together.
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.
TO "PASS" *(i e , be read as, or look like) a man, I have to flatten my chest. This is done by wearing what is called a "Binder"- a SUPER tight undershirt that flattens breast tissue for people who don't want to have breasts. (If that sounds uncomfortable, YES it really really is! But not as uncomfortable as having body parts that aren't right). I wear it every day, EXCEPT, when I am sleeping or at work, because I work in a gym. It is not safe to wear a binder while working out- it can restrict the ability to take deep breathes, the ability to sweat properly, and the ability of the ribs to move the way they need to properly- all things that are really important for my job as a fitness instructor. The fitness industry expects form-fitting clothes that show off the body, which, combined with my female body parts, make it hard for me to look as 'male' at work as I do the rest of the time, so, my body "betrays me" at work...
And this is just my situation. There are a million possible scenarios and reasons- family, cost, etc etc...why trans* people might present (dress, act etc) in a variety of ways. .
The truth is- it doesn'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 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. Thats like 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 cringey. 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 (MTF)?
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. Transition doesn't make me a man. Any and all of these just make my body LOOK more male.
I'm thin. But there are thinner guys than me. I'm not crazy 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 have feminine gestures. 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 "masculine" and things that are "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 won't "make me a man". It will just help uncover what is already there, and help other people see it too.
Transition can mean LOTS of things. Someone can transition socially, medically, surgically, and/or legally (think name changes and birth certificates). 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. 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 just brings my levels more in line with the levels found in cisgender men, which leads to me developing 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 plan to legally transition in 2020. I've used the name Alex (which is actually my middle name) for almost 20 years and it is unisex so I don't feel a huge need to change it officially. I care more about getting my gender marker corrected on my passport and driver's license so that when I travel I am not misgendered.
Regarding surgical transition- 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 "gender reassignment surgery". This term is misleading. There is no "single surgery" that "reassigns" 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 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.
Here's a good rule of thumb. If someone didn't talk to you about their genitalia, don't ask about it. 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.
I just got used to using "they/them" for you and now I have to call you "he"? What??!
Yup. Sometimes life works that way. To be completely cliche, it's a journey. We don't always know what something is going to look like when we get started. We don't know where we are going to end up. Sometimes people need a stepping stone while they are figuring out their gender, or their sexuality. This is valid, and OK. It's OK to be figuring out who you are. It's OK to realize that who you are has changed over time, or that your understanding of who you are has changed over time. I am grateful and glad that I don't think about myself or other things the same way I did when I was 20. That's a GOOD thing. We should be critically thinking about things all the time. We should question things. Our thoughts should be changing and fluid. We have to allow space for that. It's messy sometimes, yes, but sometimes you find good things when you sort through a mess.
But I referred to you as a "she/they" and you didn't correct me!
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 have said this quote almost word for word. Sometimes correcting someone who doesn't know means I have to interrupt the conversation and out myself to them AND the 5 other people standing around. And that puts me in a really awkward position and also means finding out just how OK those people are with transgender people . And sometimes it means doing this at work- which is incredibly intimidating. And/or potentially dangerous. But I DO want people to know me. I also want to keep it light and not annoy people. I don't mind correcting people, and I absolutely don't mind mistakes, but there's a difference between people who I correct every once in a while because they slip up, and people who "know" but NEVER get it right. That type of correction is really hard, especially when they use the wrong pronoun over and over. I honestly don't know the right way to correct people sometimes, so then I just stop doing it, because I don't want to make THEM uncomfortable, and then I just leave feeling beat up and deflated.
If I am in a space where correction is appropriate and safe, I am so grateful when people who know me jump in with a correction- it takes the weight off of me and puts me in a less vulnerable position. If you know someone's correct pronoun/gender and you overhear a mistake- you can ask them privately if they are ok with you correcting other people. I know I, personally, LOVE knowing there is someone else on my side.
And remember, not all people are out with their pronouns/gender in all parts of their life (for lots of reasons), so make sure to get their OK first!
Also, know, if you are reading this-
Thank you. Really.
And, you have my permission and my wish that you
a) use my correct pronoun/gender in ANY and ALL spaces and
b) correct anyone who does not use the correct pronoun for me,
if it feels safe to you to do so.
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.