For the first time in forever*

*Yes, this title is quoting a song from Frozen. That’s how comfortable I am in my masculinity. ;)

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m terrible at consistently updating this blog. However, I figured I was due a post to commemorate my 6 month testosterone anniversary (only a couple weeks late!). The time has passed so quickly, and it’s hard to believe it’s already been 6 months!

Since I started T, there has been an incredible amount of change that has occurred (physically and emotionally), and I’m sure even more great changes to come. In general, I feel like I’ve finally moved into the gender ambiguous phase where half the people I interact with read me as male, while the other half read me as female. This is most apparent at the cat shelter where I volunteer. I work a three hour shift every Saturday, and during that time I’ll interact with anywhere from 5-20 different people. The last couple weeks I’ve noticed more and more people acknowledging my male status, though there are still a handful who still see me as female. Just for kicks, I also tried out Microsoft’s free age-guessing webpage, which will guess the age and gender of a picture that you upload. I used a pre-T image of my face (which was correctly guessed as female), then tried an image of my face 6 months on T. Surprise! The app was able to correctly gender me as male (though for some reason thought I was in my mid 50s…).

In terms of more specific changes, most occurred very gradually, but at this point there are noticeable changes in a lot of different place:

  • Voice: This is definitely the most noticeable change so far. My voice has dropped a lot, and still continues to give me some trouble with speaking, though it does seem to be starting to even out. See my previous post on this topic. I’ll just add one more observation to that post. I very much dislike dealing with bugs that I find in my apartment, but since my cats enjoy hunting them down, I figure it’s win-win: I see a bug, call my cats, and the bug is taken care of (unless it’s a cockroach, which for some reason my cats enjoy dropping still living at my feet). However, lately I’ve noticed that my cats are unresponsive when I call. I call and call, make weird noises with my voice, and my cats just look at me like I’m crazy. I finally realized, my “bug voice” was very high pitched and excited, and I used sounds that I can no longer produce! Definitely an unexpected side effect of the transition.
  • Body: Lots of subtle changes here. My shoulders have definitely bulked up, and I feel like I’m less curvy and more blocky now. I’ve also noticed a definite increase in muscle mass, even though my gym attendance has been fairly hit-and-miss. Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve gone up about 20 pounds on all of the upper body weigh machines that I use. Pretty cool! I’ve also noticed that I can do more before I run out of breath. I’m sure this is mainly a result of simply working out more, but I think the hormone related increase in red blood cells also has had some effect.
  • Body hair: Nothing much of note here. There’s been some increased hair growth on my chest and thighs, but nothing that would be obvious to anyone other than myself. Thankfully, I don’t think I’ll end up super furry, but will instead land on the fuzzier side of things.
  • Facial hair: My facial hair is starting to come in, mostly around my chin and upper lip. I’ve also started noticing some hair on my neck and checks, but absolutely nothing along my jawline. It takes about 3 days for me to get a “5 o’clock shadow”, and I tend to shave about once a week. As exciting as this sounds, unfortunately I doubt anybody else has noticed. I’ve always had blond hair, which hasn’t darkened much as I’ve gotten older. And I mean really blond, so much so that my eyebrows and eyelashes are practically invisible. My facial hair seems to be following this trend. I had hoped for some red like my father, but no luck yet. I’m sure eventually the color will darken enough to be noticeable, but I don’t anticipate any sort of visible facial hair anytime within the next year or so.
  • Energy level: Overall, I don’t think there’s been much of a change with my average energy level. When I first started increasing my T dose, I would be jittery for a day or two after my shot (similar to the feeling of being overly caffeinated). Luckily this side effect has gone away as I’ve adjusted to a steady dose. During the first couple months I was also tired all the time. I seriously slept for at least 10 hours each night, plus napped in the afternoon. I wasn’t drowsy when I was awake, but I wanted to sleep all the time. Thankfully I had a schedule that could accommodate this. Again though, this side effect has practically disappeared, and I’m back to a 6-8 hr/night sleep schedule (with some afternoon naps too, of course).
  • Sex and sexy-bits: Since I have family that read this blog, I’m not going to go into specifics here. Suffice it to say, changes here were the first thing I noticed after starting testosterone.
  • Misc: Driving to work the other day I was passed by a sporty convertible driving with its top down. I live in California so this isn’t an unusual occurrence. However, on this particular instance (and on several instances since) I caught myself thinking that it would be pretty cool to have a sports car. I’ve never had the slightest interest in cars, so needless to say I was shocked by this desire. Somehow I’d completely passed the teenage male years and transitioned straight into a middle-aged guy going through a midlife crisis!! Oops. Of course, I don’t actually think this is transition related. Rather, it’s probably just a function of my enjoyment of driving fast paired with having lived in California for too long. Amusing though, nevertheless.

Overall, I’m incredibly happy with all the changes that are occurring, and trying to maintain my patience with the speed of the transition. Looking in the mirror, even though I still have breasts and am overweight, I’ve never been happier with my appearance. I’m finally starting to find myself attractive, and am optimistic that each day is taking me closer to having a physical appearance that I can appreciate and enjoy.

Rumbles from the deep

With the exception of growth in certain *ahem* areas, vocal changes were one of the first things that I noticed when I began T. Within two weeks of my first injection, I experienced about a week of slight hoarseness. It wasn’t anything that was readily apparent to others, but I could feel it every time I opened my mouth. This went away as suddenly as it came, but since then my voice has been steadily dropping. Interestingly, this drop hasn’t been linear, or even piecewise. Rather, it seems to oscillate quite a bit, with a mean downward trajectory. That is, especially when it first started changing, some days it seemed like my voice is incredibly deep, while several days later it would feel like it was back to a normal female range. After about 4 months on T, however, I could tell that, even with the oscillations, my voice was always in the lower ranges. This was also when I first started being able to detect non-subtle changes in the recording that I was making of my voice. Awesome, right!?

More and more often now, when speaking to people on the phone, I’m addressed as “Sir”, up until I’m forced to give them my legal name. This always leads to the person I’m speaking with becoming flustered and apologizing profusely, as I hasten to reassure them that, no, it’s perfectly OK. I’m not offended! I promise! I usually leave the conversation feeling amused, with a fairly significant boost to my confidence. Also, during conversations where I don’t have to give the other person my legal name, I often feel as though I’ve been inducted into a new form of communication. For example, I was speaking to a male Comcast rep the other day, and as soon as he heard my name, his speech became much more informal, interspersed with “alright bud”, “hey man”, and other very bro-friendly phrases. I can’t recall a single conversation with a stranger on the phone where I felt such a sense of camaraderie. I also can’t recall a single conversation where I had to call Comcast that ended with me feeling happy, but I was so giddy about being completely read as male that I couldn’t help grinning.

It’s also been fascinating to observe how my vocal range has shifted. I do a lot of singing along with musicals on my commute to work (alone in my car, of course, since I can’t actually sing!). At first, I could tell that my range was expanding to fill in the lower notes. I could still hit most of the high parts that I could before, but suddenly I could sing so much deeper as well. And it’s been awesome to feel the deep rumbling sounds I can begin to make. Some days, I’ll just start talking to my cats as low as I can, just to feel that deep rumble. Gradually, of course, my upper range has become reduced. I can still shape my mouth the same way, and use the same muscles I did before, but instead of a sound coming out, there’s instead just a painful squeak, or simply silence. It feels a little like I’m running into a wall with my voice, where things I could do before are suddenly outside of my abilities.

Along the same lines, as my voice has been changing, I feel like I’ve been required to learn how to speak all over again. For the past month or so, I’ve never known what was going to happen when I open my mouth to speak. Sometimes my voice is normal, other times it’s too hoarse for people to understand. Sometimes it’s a whisper when I was trying to project, and other times a squeak. And I’ll tell you, it’s sure been fun to stand up in front of a room full of students and try to teach them something when I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to speak clearly! Luckily, the sounds my voice makes seem to be getting a little less variable, so hopefully things will start smoothing out a little. (Though if it means I’ll end up with an even deeper voice, I’d gladly take another couple months of unexpected vocal noises!)

From the mouth of babes

For one reason or another, I’ve recently found myself interacting with children on a handful of occasions. And over and over I’ve been struck, not only by how observant they are, but also how willing they are to speak their minds.

The first incident that occurred took place this past February. I do quite a bit of outreach work, and one position I have is to mentor undergraduates as they develop and present science-based lesson plans for 1st graders. I attended a classroom visit with my group, and unfortunately my presence there seemed more of a distraction than a help. The 1st grade students were incredibly confused about me. The only question they were willing to ask me was: “Are you a boy or a girl?” I could tell though, that they really didn’t care what the answer was. Rather, they were young enough and inexperienced enough that they were questioning their own ability to distinguish gender. I had tried my best to appear as masculine as possible (this was validated when one boy told me proudly: “I knew you were a boy because you’re wearing a boy’s shirt!”), but having only been on T for four months, I was understandably ambiguous. I remember at the time becoming incredibly dysphoric after this event. I have a clear sense of the trajectory my body is taking, and most of the time it’s easy to ignore that I’m not there yet, but will be eventually. This event just showed me how far I still have to go.

That said, the more recent interaction with children showed me that I am gradually getting closer to where I want to be. There are quite a few children that live in my apartment complex, and most days I always see a handful outside playing. There were two, maybe 5 and 7, playing near my carport when I got home one day last week. I smiled at them briefly as I was getting my stuff from my trunk, and our following conversation went something like this:

Girl: “I’m not going to smile at you because you’re a stranger!”
Me: “It’s okay. It’s good to be safe about these sorts of things.”
Boy (whispering): “Don’t say that to her! That’s rude!”
Girl (to her brother): “No! I’m not going to smile at him!”
Me: (as I head inside): “Have a nice day … even if you won’t smile at me.”

I left this conversation with two major take-aways. First, even though the boy first stated that I was female, the girl obviously read me as male, enough so that she didn’t follow her brother in referring to me with female pronouns. I’m taking this as a major win!

Second, after the conversation was over, I started wondering whether the reason the girl immediately marked me as “stranger” was because she read me as male. I don’t generally have much to do with children, and have never given them much thought (seriously, I think the first time I even held a baby was last year). I never know how to act around them, so I end up just treating them as I would an adult – which means smiling politely at them when I walk past (even if they’re strangers). This has never previously led to a conversation like the one above. That said, I also recognize that I grew up thinking that men were more dangerous than women. Even though all strangers are bad, male strangers are definitely much worse than female strangers.

When I first began thinking about transitioning, I came across a lot of online posts about how trans guys had to learn to interact with children differently. Again, I never thought much about it since I’ve always been wary of children and do my best to avoid them. But even with that, I think adopting a masculine appearance likely will affect me in subtle ways. Not that I’m necessarily going to stop smiling politely at people when I walk past them (children or adults), but I think it will be good to remain cognizant of how these actions might be perceived.

Becoming a visible role model

Earlier this week was the International Transgender Day of Visibility. I’ve been thinking off and on lately about “living stealth”, and how open I’ll ultimately be about my trans status once I’m finally read as male 100% of the time. On the one hand, it’d be nice not having to constantly assume that people look at me and wonder, immediately making judgments without knowing anything about me, even if they keep said judgments to themselves. But the educator in me wants to be able to set an example for others. As a science graduate student, I was always a little happy that I could set an example as a “Woman in Science” (even though I begrudged the fact that I was a woman). That is, of course, no longer an option, as I’m gradually becoming yet another white guy in the field. However, I can still serve as a role model for other trans and/or LGBT individuals who are going through what I am currently. I certainly was reassured when I came across openly trans individuals in my intended field. I want to be able to show others that, yes, you will get through it, and it is possible to be successful and respected even as a trans* person (assuming, of course, that I’m eventually successful and respected ;) ). I do want to provide my students with a safe space where they feel confident and able to be themselves without fear of judgement. I’m even tempted to pick up a “Safe Space” sticker from my campus’s LGBTQ resource center to put on my office door, but I’m not sure if I quite have the courage yet. I also want to be confident enough to ask my students for their preferred pronouns when I take role at the beginning of each quarter. Even though it was supposedly a day of visibility, I still chickened out earlier this week and didn’t end up asking my students this. I was too nervous about what they were thinking, what they were wondering. Were they annoyed that they got stuck with the strange TA who claimed to be a male, even though she was obviously female? Of course, no one said anything, and I doubt they will, but I was still incredibly self-conscious the entire time.

Though I don’t yet have the courage to be explicit about my trans* status, I hope that someday I will. And two recent incidents helped me move in that direction. The first occurred with another trans guy in a similar graduate program on my campus. He came out about a month ago now, and just barely started on hormones. We got together over coffee, and at one point during our discussion he commented on how when I came out last December it was such an inspiration to him. I still get warm feelings when I think about it. Obviously, when I came out I was terrified, and not thinking at all about being an inspiration to others. The only thing I was thinking about was how others would negatively judge me. But, I’m glad that there was positive judgment from others as well, and that my visibility could help someone else on their own journey.

Second, I finally came out to a group of high school students that I worked with last year. I’ve been working with them this past year to get their research project published in a journal for middle school and high school students. Since we’re resubmitting, I needed to change my name on the manuscript, and finally sucked it up and told them about my transition. I wasn’t worried about them, but having attended high school in Utah, I was concerned about things that are “appropriate” to discuss with minors, and worried about backlash from their parents. The last thing I wanted was for their parents to get upset and no longer allow them to work with me! But, (not surprising in retrospect), the students were completely cool about it. It didn’t seem to phase them, they included smiley faces in their emails, and seemed completely supportive. I’ve been happy all day thinking about how I’ve been able to shape their perceptions of trans* individuals based on my interactions with them. I know they’ve valued the experiences I’ve given them, and I’ve helped them grow as students and scientists. And to give them someone that they respect, then show them that that person can go through something like a gender change – it helps makes trans* people more real.

All this to say, I value being able to serve as a role model, and (when I’m not doubting myself and my self-worth), I feel as though I can provide a great resource to others. Assuming that one day I’m comfortable sharing my trans status (because who knows how I’ll feel once I can fully pass), it seems like it would be a disservice to myself and others if I didn’t take the opportunity to provide others (trans, or simply non-normative) with whatever visibility I can offer.

I’m back!

Apologies for the lack of any post since last December. After spending the better part of 2014 thinking about gender constantly, going through some fairly substantial soul-searching, deciding to and beginning my transition, and coming out fully at work and at home, I needed a break from gender-related topics. It was nice, and necessary, but I did find that I was letting a lot of things happen without keeping a good record of all the experiences. I know that one day I’m going to want to look back on all this, so I’m going to make an effort to start posting again. I have a couple posts already put together, so stay tuned!

~ Jacob

Out of the closet, just in time for the holidays

I emerged from the closet around thanksgiving, and the reception I’ve received had been incredible. After reading all the coming out horror stories online, I didn’t know what to expect, especially from my more conservative and religious relatives. Though I hoped for the best, I still expected some negative fallout and I count myself incredibly lucky to have received only support and acceptance, even in the face of complete surprise and limited understanding. Of all my relatives, coworkers, and friends, I didn’t receive a single negative response!

The process has, of necessity, been somewhat lengthy, and I’m still not 100% out (more like 95%). I sent most people an email, and staggered the emails so some people (grandparents, advisors) heard the news first, while others (aunts, cousins, coworkers) received the news a few days later. Since then, I’ve been coming out to different groups in intervals, mostly structured around the end of the fall quarter.

The reception at work has been good. It helps that in my field of ecology there’s a couple well known people who transitioned after they became known, and many of my colleagues knew these people during their transition. I’ll find out after the holidays how well people do with the name and pronoun switch, but so far the change has been smooth. I can’t describe how good it feels to be signing my name now as Jacob, rather than feeling like I have two parts of myself, one for work and one for everything else.

The switch has understandable been less smooth with the extended family, as they’ve known me as a name and gender longer than I’ve been aware of it myself. I spent the last week with family in Louisiana, my first holiday since coming out. The first couple days were a little awkward as I felt that people didn’t know what to say or how to act. The use of my new name was uncommon, and I think my extended family felt so uncomfortable when they realized they said the wrong name that they just stopped talking, rather than try to correct themselves. But I tried to be patient and just laugh it off, and by the end of the week everyone was much better about calling me Jacob, even if correct pronoun use still has a ways to go.

However, I find that having people mix up pronouns doesn’t tend to bother me that much. I don’t really care that people keep calling me she, since I still feel like I look and sound very obviously feminine, and I’m not going to fault people for following subconscious cues that have been instilled in them for their entire lives. I figure, too, it provides a good metric for how well I’m passing, at least with strangers. Family, of course, will always be another matter, since they have not only subconscious cues, but a lifetime of habits to contend with.

I think that it helps me remain laid back about pronouns since there are so many other ways that people can show support for my decision. For instance, one of the best Christmas presents I got was waking up to see that my mom had changed the stitching on my stocking to reflect me new name. Additionally, my aunt got me a t-shirt that said ‘Real men love cats’ (I volunteer at a cat shelter and have two cats of my own that I treat like children). It’s little things like this that show me that I am still supported and loved, even when names and pronouns are mixed up.

Overall, I’m glad I came out when I did (rather than waiting until after the holidays as I’d originally planned) and gave my relatives the chance to interact with me on a more genuine level. I put a lot of stock in honesty and trust, and for the past couple months I’ve felt that I’m deceiving everyone around me that doesn’t know that I’m not really Julia anymore, but am Jacob instead. Obviously, at my core I’m the same person, but how I’ve been representing myself has been false, and I hate the feeling of lying. I feel a confidence in myself that I haven’t felt before. I have a strong sense of who I am, of who I’m going to grow into, and it’s good to finally be able to share that with other people. Being true to who I am, and presenting myself as such, is more important to me than having to deal with any potential discriminations or prejudices.

Now that I’m through this hurdle, there’s no more big things in my future that I’m dreading. Instead, I get to focus on all the new and exciting changes taking place, both internally and externally. Today marks two months on T, and I’ve already scheduled a date for top surgery (June 16th with Dr. Satterwhite, the newest surgeon at Brownstein & Crane)! I am so excited it’s sometime hard to contain it (or maybe that’s the T? :P). All in all, I can’t think of a better way to see out 2014.

Waiting for my next fix

I got my first injection of testosterone on Friday Oct. 24th, and I find that by Monday of each week, I’m already looking forward to my next shot. At times I feel like a junkie, always ready for my next fix. And not because of any immediate side effects that I can notice. With my lose dose, there’s not any jolt or kick immediately following an injection.  Rather, it’s knowing that with each shot my body will continue to change: my voice will get scratchy and start to drop, my muscles will become more defined (especially if I can keep up with going to the gym), the fat throughout my body will redistribute in a more masculine fashion.  And with each of these changes, I can finally start to move forward with growing into who I am and who I will become. It’s exciting and energizing, and I can’t wait to see my “new” body start to develop.

Of course, when it comes time to actually inject myself, I get really nervous. I got checked off by the nurse to do the injections on my own after my third visit, but I’m still worried I’m going to do someone thing wrong and hurt my body in some way. Or, god forbid, I’ll hit a nerve and experience intense pain (which is what happened on my second shot). I know it will get better with time, but for now I’m left to deal with shaky hands and lots of deep breaths.

Last Friday I increased my dose to the lower end of the normal range, about 50mg/wk. After about a month at this dose, I get to start playing around and see what works beset for me. Once I find something that works, that will be my dose for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping it feels best to get a shot every 10-14 days, rather than every 7, but I’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

For now, I’ll continue to look forward to the shots, and to the changes my body is going through. As much as puberty sucks (and I haven’t started to experience any of the more annoying side effects yet), it’s been fascinating to approach the process from the perspective of a mature adult. I figure, knowing what I know now about life, and people, and biology, and myself, I’ll be able to better enjoy and embrace the changes, rather than flail around in a quagmire of confusion and angst. It helps, too, that these are changes that I want (or at least inevitable, unfortunate side effects of said changes), rather than changes that I begrudge and resent. In what other circumstance can one recreate oneself in a manner of ones own choosing? I feel powerful and strong and confident. I don’t know for sure what I’m going to become, but I know it’s going to be amazing.

Along those lines, a blog I follow recently posed the question of whether the goal of transition was to become something different, or simply become more comfortable with oneself. I thought it was an interesting question, and wanted to take the time to share my thoughts.

For me, this transition is not about recreating myself as a perfect man. I knew going into this that I would never be a cisman. Rather, I would always be transgender, and have to accept everything that goes along with that. There are, of course, things that continue to bother me (particularly my height), but I have never expected, or really even wanted, to be a hunky stud of a man. Instead, my transition is about becoming  a version of myself that makes me confident and happy. I am striving to make myself better, but that, I think, is a necessary action of a fully lived life, regardless of whether one is trans or cis.  I want to change external parts of who I am in order to better realize who I am inside. But to do that I don’t feel the need to start taking an interest in cars or sports, or give up my more ‘feminine’ hobbies.

When I first began thinking about transitioning almost a year ago, I was initially obsessed over what it meant to be a man. I felt that, in order to justify a medical transition, I needed to be a man internally, but given that I have a female body, how was that even possible!? But, I eventually realized that those sorts of questions weren’t overly productive.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how we classify gender, sex, sexuality, race, or culture. These classifications are human constructs, and necessarily flawed and context dependent. And because of this, my transition is not about trying to become something, because to do that I would first need a definition of what I was and wanted to become, and that could take an entire lifetime to figure out! Rather, my transition is about doing things that make me happy and comfortable with myself. It’s about exploring and finding what feels right to me. In the end, no matter what opportunities or people I gain or lose by making this choice, I am the only person that will remain with me throughout my entire life, and so it’s myself that I need to be happy with. Taking testosterone, wearing men’s clothing, cutting my hair short. These are all things that have given me a renewed confidence in who I am and what I can achieve. And it’s this feeling that tells me I’ve made the right decision, not some arbitrary definition of what I am or what I am striving to become.