So Do You Wish You had a Penis?

A secret is a kind of promise…. It can also be a prison. – Jennifer Lee Carrell

“So, do you wish you had a penis?” my therapist of a year asked me.

“I don’t know.”

“So, you don’t want a penis?” she pressed further with a slight re-wording of her question as if semantics would make me crumble and admit my most buried of secrets.

As her question hung in the air, suffocating me like a deep fog, I cringed at the word – Penis.  In a matter of seconds, my entire gender identity in question had been reduced to genitalia.  I couldn’t even look at her.  My palms throbbed and prickled with sweat despite being in a notoriously bone-chilling cold room that was now starting to cave in on me.  I was in too deep.  I wasn’t ready for this.  The most intimate of parts that had in secret, infiltrated in controversy, my every fantasy, was now the word by which my identity hung in the balance.

This was my first attempt to get help in understanding my gender identity and who I truly was.  I saw this opportunity to test the waters and bring up an issue that had, for over a year, been plaguing my mind- a stream of consciousness that had proliferated a confusing maze of circles in my head, a web of denial, fear, and confusion that at times made me question reality.

“Sometimes I feel more like a boy than a girl, “I had confided reluctantly to her, starting the conversation. 

I was stunned by how forthright countless hours of unproductive, fragmented questioning had slipped out of my mouth as such a direct statement and instantly I was drowning in vulnerability.  So many hours I had nurtured this secret and as it emerged, I felt as if my insides and their mysteries that I had not yet figured out, were painfully exposed.

“So, are you a boy?” she interrogated.

“I don’t know. Maybe I feel like a boy,” I stammered.

“So, you think you are a boy?”

“I mean, I’m not sure.  I look like girl.”

“So, you are a girl?”

“Yes, I think I am a girl, “I whispered. And just like that, I backtracked my way out of my own existence.  I couldn’t believe how silly it all sounded.  Totally mortified, I mentally descended back into my cave yet I felt a hint of relief that these few minutes could serve as motivation to push this issue so far down inside me that there was perhaps a chance that it would disappear out of existence for all eternity.

At the time, I vowed to never make mention of my gender identity confusion ever again.  

Looking back on this interaction, I realize how much we all still have to learn about transcending labels and definitions and I’d like to impart my knowledge to others who desperately seek answers.

Four years passed after this initial experience before I “came out” as a transgender male.  Gender is so much more than what is between your legs or fitting into a binary system.  My path to knowing was not a straight forward one; I did not grow up knowing that I was a boy inside.  After countless hours of research and sifting through videos on YouTube, introspection and fumbling through awkward conversations, I untangled the web of confusion and those insights, I want to share with you.  This blog isn’t just about being transgender, it’s about gaining profound compassion and understanding for anyone that is different from us and connecting to something larger than the self.   Humans are all really more alike than different .

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets. – Paul Tournier

The What-Ifs of Starting Testosterone

I crave it but I’m scared…

The decision to start hormone replacement therapy which entails weekly intramuscular testosterone injections into the thigh, was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.  It also remains the best decision I’ve ever made.  Testosterone makes me feel like my body and mind are running on the correct fuel. 

Explaining to people how, as a transgender person, I feel like I acquired the wrong hormone at puberty and had been operating off the wrong hormone ever since, has been no easy task.  The best way to explain it is:  If your body were a bicycle with a series of gears, having the wrong hormone is like trudging up a hill in the wrong gear.  The bike is moving forward, the wheels are spinning, but without the gears being perfectly aligned, the ride is bumpy, jagged, slightly askew.  You move through life yet something is just always “off”. 

A foggy resentment towards estrogen pestered my subconscious for years, an elusive feeling that was hard to put my finger on in the beginning.  Everything estrogen did to my mind and body, I hated.  Breasts, womanly hips and fat in the wrong places, periods, emotions and crying that were hard to control.  I watched trans guys who had started testosterone develop deeper voices, grow facial hair, undergo body fat redistribution to a more “male pattern”, and gain muscle.  These changes, I craved.

The decision to start testosterone was one interwoven with excitement and longing, fear, reservation, and uncertainty.  When facing a huge decision, a hint of uncertainty will probably always exist.  If you wait for the moment to feel 100% sure, that moment may never come.  Uncertainty about taking a risk, does not make it a wrong decision.  Rather, blindly taking the leap into the unknown brings the greatest reward.

It’s impressive how capable the mind is at concocting a million reasons not to do something.  I worried about regretting my decision.  I deluded myself into worrying, what if I regretted the changes testosterone made to my body but there was no turning back?  Aside from a few changes like voice, to some extent, hair, and any balding, upon cessation the effects of testosterone are reversible.  Of course, at that point, I’d have to admit to everybody that I had made the wrong decision, only reassuring them in their original disapproval, an utterly unbearable apprehension.

Always a highly emotional, intuitive and compassionate person, possessing an emotional depth through which I perceived this world, I feared Testosterone could steal that life force from me, reducing my ability to feel.  Testosterone has in no way reduced my ability to feel emotion.  I still save wounded birds and feed stray cats.  I smile at homeless people on the corner just to make them feel human.  I cry when nobody is looking.  The suffering of the world continues to affect me on the deepest emotional level and in fact, the challenges I’ve faced being transgender, have created an even deeper sense of compassion.  Testosterone only makes it easier to not cry or shove down emotions if preferred.

A weekly injection of testosterone keeps my testosterone and estrogen levels in male range.

On a similar note, I feared testosterone would turn me into a totally different person, either I’d look into the mirror and not recognize myself or my personality would undergo metaphorphosis. 

Would I become an aggressive, macho mutant, who was unable to feel?  I wanted my body to transform, but not beyond recognition.  I wanted to exist as a son instead of a daughter, a brother instead of a sister, a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend, a man instead of a woman; I did not want to lose the essence of what made up my unique personality.  What a terrifying unknown it was to think of my mind and body mutating in awkward distortion instead of becoming more refined but every change has been immensely worth it. 

I am undeniably the same me, just paradoxically a more authentic version. No, none of these fears ever manifested as reality.  In the end, I knew if I did not try testosterone, the idea would plague me for the rest of my life.  That potential burden weighed greater on my heart than any list of fears that my mind invented up to that point. 

I grew facial hair, gained muscle, developed a deeper voice, my facial shape has changed, my Adam’s apple became more prominent, I am consistently gendered as male and I am able to show up in this world, confident that people see the real me, metaphorically skipping rather than treading water.  I feel like a whole person as my outside matches my insides.  Most importantly, my mind feels at peace.  Perhaps testosterone re-wired my brain in the correct way but my genuine self is no longer hiding.

My Body, The Cage

The true miracle of the body is hidden below the surface and so easily forgotten.

I want my body to change so bad that my soul hurts.  Screaming inside, I feel helpless, inside this body that is my cage.  Stranded at a loss; I can’t move. I don’t want to talk.  All I can do is exist – an existence that seems like it is not mine to be had at all.  I cover things up. I hide things, I walk through life, the world seeing what I am not. 

Wake up in a costume.  Go to bed without out taking it off.

This Body– my outward appearance – it is not me but I’m hopelessly attached to it.  Rather, it is attached to me.  This costume: You’ve been fastened to my insides with tiny staples that pierce my skin and slowly bleed me out, painfully reminding me that you are not mine.  You itch, and prick, and rub my skin raw, yet keep my insides just barely living.  Escape, I cannot.   Comfortable, you never are.  Tiny beads of blood fall from the corner of my eye, tears that nobody sees.

It is as if there has been some huge cosmic mix-up and the difference between my image in the mirror and my image in my mind’s eye, is a glitch in quantum existence, and I’m looking at myself through a parallel universe.  And this is how I walk through life – a breach in perception, a fluke in human comprehension.

Take me away from this.  It hurts too much.  You trap me, BODY and I am suffocating!  Tears, take me away.  It hurts too much.   BODY, you grow on my soul like a cancer and you’re killing me.  BODY, you are a liar, a fraud, a delusion that makes me feel crazy.  

Music, take me away…

BODY, you generic, ambiguous, meaninglessly, meaningful word!

BODY, you are just my outer shell.

You might be the first thing that everyone sees, the thing by which they judge and gender me.

But,

EARS, you let me hear this beautiful music and for that, the rest of my body is forever indebted to you.  All these beautiful, musical moments of intensity, that music shared with my heart; BODY, you can’t take these from me. 

LEGS, you have walked me through many adventures, making me feel ALIVE in this world.  Millions of footprints towards my dreams.

BREATH, you have breathed into me, life.  Through you, I  have felt kisses that pulsated through my body, my senses making my body irrelevant.  

HEART, through you, I felt love and gave love to those who had none, and felt compassion and empathy that persevered through fear.

HANDS, because of you, I was able to reach out and shake the hands of those who were invisible to everyone but me.

EYES, thanks to you, this beautiful and hideously flawed world, I see through.  I notice everything, and through you, I paint a world that is unique to me and I see beauty in everyone.  I see tiny ants moving mountains then I feel the existential existence of all humanity.

MIND, you have given me the power of thought, decision, reflection, and introspection and through you, I can choose to inspire others, choose love over hate and imagination over stagnation. BODY, you are not my cage; you are a subjective vehicle by which I travel this world and you will not stop me from rising above. 

The world needs my EYES, my BREATH, my LEGS, my MIND, my HANDS, and above all else, it needs my HEART.

Being transgender before fully medically transitioning feels like wearing a costume that you are unable to take off.

Am I Transgender?

Cramming my Gender Journey into a Nutshell

Follow my journey and continue to read my posts to discover how the answer became clear.  Forthcoming blog posts may be fragmented, confusing, surprising, and empowering but that rollercoaster is exactly what transition is like.

For me, trying to figure out where i fell on the transgender spectrum was like being trapped in a dream, unable to decipher my own thoughts from the collective concious and norms of society.

People usually think of “coming out” as an external thing – having to tell family and friends, but for me, “coming out” to myself was by far the hardest and most confusing battle and can’t be summarized in a single blog post.

Growing up, my brother and I lacked strict gender expectations from our parents.  I was a tomboy and played with barbies as well as Ninja turtles and GI Joes.  My brother played with dolls and sported long hair.  There was never anything I couldn’t do because I was a girl and there was nothing he couldn’t do because he was a boy.  The fact that I was not raised to rigidly “be a girl”, and therefore did not suffer the discomfort of not being able to do boy things, was probably the most significant reason that kept me from realizing sooner that I was transgender.  As I got older, it became clear to me that, no matter how tomboyish, butch, or masculine I was, I did not want people relating and referring to me as female; I wanted people to interact with me as male.  


Learning that every transgender person has an individual and unique path, cleared my head of the misconception that in order to be transgender, I had to fit a certain stereotype.  So many people knew they were trans from childhood, plagued their whole life by the certainty on being born into the wrong body.  Most people felt like outsiders in groups of the same sex.  I’d heard uncountable stories of sad childhoods, suicide and life-long discontent.  My life had not mirrored these same experiences.  Once I opened my mind to the idea that one could be transgender without having the same history as all other transgender people, my confidence in my new identity as a transmale, grew.

Always obsessed with weight lifting, wanting muscles, broad shoulders and more narrow hips, I chased this physique for decades which was an unrealistic dream for as long as my body ran on the incorrect hormone.  In my mind, I saw my body as male-looking and in that body, I made love in fantasies, endowed with correct “male parts”.  The masculine bodies and deep voices of men, made me jealous.  Browsing the men’s underwear isles and seeing beautifully full crotches made me envious. For a long time, presenting myself as male in society seemed daunting and even awkward but there was never a time in my mind’s eye that I did not appear male.  For 30 years of my life, I did not truly know what being transgender even meant.  The more I learned about it, the more I identified with the concept.  Having new mental constructs developed from the experiences of other transgender people and research into the medical process of hormone replacement therapy, allowed me to expand my understanding of who I was. 

Cis people- people who identify with the body/ gender into which they were born do not question their gender.  Everyone has insecurities about their bodies, but cis people do not have insecurities about their gender. 

As a kid, I was obsessed with being Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Praire and dressed in homemade costumes sewn by my mom (I thought I was the luckiest kid on the planet). How could I be a boy if I liked to dress up so much in girly costumes? Well, boys can dress up as praire girls too.

Confidence in feeling male was a series of baby steps and experimentation – playing with pronouns and name changes and seeing how those changes made me feel inside.  As a transgender guy when someone called me sir and my heart sparkled inside, those immediate reactions were gold.  Pay attention to them as something that immediate can’t be reasoned with or analyzed out of existence!  I used to say to myself, “There is no way I am trans.  I loved dolls, dress up and putting on make-up with friends.”  Our minds can always rationalize our way out of something, especially when the implications of that something are monumental! But when someone calls you the right pronoun and your heart smiles because you feel as though your true self has been seen, how can you deny the authenticity of that heart feeling?  As time went on, the discomfort of being called “she”, “lady”, or ma’am” became more apparent to me.  “She” felt like a different person, someone other than me. “He” just felt genuine.

Sometimes the golden moment is not figuring out who you are, but who you aren’t.  I knew I was not a girl nor could I live the rest of my life as one.  Wary of existing on the opposite end of the binary, subject to negative male stereotypes and gender expectations, I hesitated for a long time to identify as a transman.  Over time, I accepted my transgender identity but that did not mean that I had to adopt any gender norm that I did not value.

I truly believe there is a nagging voice in all of us that admits to ourselves exactly who we are, but layers upon layers of societal expectations, fear, and denial, distort that voice.  It’s a matter of peeling away those layers and deciphering what you want by filtering out the bombardment of expectations of who others push you to be. 

And fear, this is the true enemy. 

Fear masquerades as uncertainty towards change and reassurance in current comforts.  No matter how unhappy I was with my current body or existence as female, at least I was adapted to the current situation, at least there was safety in the known as opposed to the unknown which made no such promise.  Days, months, years passed as everyday life marches on but I never could completely get rid of the sense that something was “off”.  GIRL felt like a definition, imposed upon me by my own body and by the general consensus of society. I set out to create my own definition of what it means to be ME.