Your Frequently Thought but not Asked Questions on my trans journey

I have always said that I’m open to questions about my journey on testosterone. I really am. I don’t want my friends walking around on eggshells. Firstly, that’s uncomfortable and not a true basis for friendship. Secondly, it’s not authentic: it implies support for me when you’re unable to support me because you don’t understand. Please. Ask questions. Let me help you support me. My experience is that people don’t want to sound stupid. If only they realised that we’d much rather have their stupid questions than their silence. At least ‘stupid’ questions show an interest, an “I care about you”.

I’m drawing up this list of questions that you ask, and please keep asking:

Q: do I plan to have surgery or is testosterone treatment the only plan?
A: I plan/need to have top surgery. I am waiting to reach my goal weight as I have already had a reduction (2010) and I need to be at my goal weight so that the original scarring is easier to deal with in terms of the way the chest will look afterwards. This waiting to reach goal weight is a personal decision. My plan is to have the surgery this year. Medical aid does not cover it. I will have to save/borrow at least R30 000 for private surgery or have it done through a government hospital (very viable option) on a sliding economic scale (around R15 000).

Q: Are you on T forever, or does it balance out eventually?
A: If I want to maintain the effects, I’ll have to stay on forever. After a hysterectomy you can take less T. (Effects: Muscularity, fat redistribution, no period; effects that will not go away even if I stop T – any hair lost or grown, e.g. body hair, voice, enlarged clitoris).

Q: A while back you said you didn’t mind what pronoun we use for you – has that changed?
A: (I said that because I am genderqueer, not a trans man). Pronoun is still whatever feels comfortable for you. I’m noticing that people are getting less comfortable with gendering me as female, though. I also feel less comfortable with the female words, but am still going to go with whatever people feel comfortable with. Thanks for asking!

Q: Do you feel more rational, less “emotional” on T? I know the idea that men are rational and women all lune-y is the stereotype and I feel terrible even thinking, never mind saying that, but is there some truth in it?
A: The sad truth is that most of the stereotypes are true: a lot of my transguy friends have reported feeling more removed from their feelings; more able to step away from them, look at them, assess them. They feel less inclined to speak about daily things that come up the way they used to with their partners. A friend reported losing his empathy. Because he knew what empathy was from pre-T, he fought really hard to get it back. Men whose testosterone levels drop due to prostate cancer, struggle to navigate directions as well as they used to be able to. They cry less. There are many studies that show that testosterone, and oestrogen in the same way, literally shapes the brain differently so that brains driven by testosterone do think, and feel, differently than brains driven by oestrogen.
I try not to think about stereotypes and science and biology. I don’t cry less. I still feel empathy. I do feel more centred emotionally, more able to take a step back, but I put that down to going onto T as an assertive step in owning my life that has just made me more assertive in general. The same with the anger issue. Is T making me angry? Are men more likely to act out anger than women? No. T doesn’t make you angry. An imbalance in hormones makes one angry (therefore ‘roid rage’ when bodybuilders take too much testosterone). My testosterone is carefully monitored. It’s not that T makes me angry, but, as with the feeling more assertive, I’m able to feel my anger more. In being assertive enough to own my journey, I’ve allowed the fear to be replaced with sadness and anger about my past, and anger is a natural way to deal with pain. As women, we’re not allowed to feel anger. It’s actively discouraged, called unladylike. As women we don’t even know we’re feeling anger, and when we do, we don’t know what to do with it. Women recognise sadness more easily because there are so many ways we can acceptably express it: crying, depression, being withdrawn and quiet. Men are more likely to be able to feel anger because there are so many socially acceptable ways for them to express anger: from sport to fisticuffs to wife beating. Men who recognise sadness as opposed to anger struggle to know what to do with that sadness because there is no socially acceptable way of men expressing sadness. This is all very generalised, but there’s a lot of truth to it.

Q: Have your family accepted this choice, especially the elders?
A: My father and mother (both VERY Christian – my father is a Methodist Minister) do not understand the decision to take testosterone, but they’ve seen that it makes me happy, so they’re supportive. My sister is supportive. That is the whole of the family. I don’t see my extended family and am pretty sure, knowing my family, that this would not be discussed with anyone else in the family. We’re a pretty typical, sweep everything under the rug kind of family.
Many trans people are not this lucky. They get called ‘she’ when they’ve been on testosterone for years and have a beard; they get kicked out of the house as teens and have no choice but to pursue sex work for a living; they get taken to conversion therapy, which is illegal in most places; some of my trans friends have not seen or spoken to their parents in years; some, like Leelah Alcorn, have their lives as teenagers so thoroughly unsupported that they commit suicide.

Q: (from a trans woman) I think it’s a tricky one this G, I am all for open mindedness and also encourage my friends and acquaintances to be open with me and ask questions, but you get those people who go to fare… I am currently dealing with a person who’s line of questioning is getting very painful and is of a sexual nature specifically targeted at getting into my panties so to speak. I take offence to that. Some people are just uncensored and it’s like once you answer one question it’s open season on all your personal intimate details. There has to be limits. How do we communicate those?
A: It can be tricky, but it isn’t. As an activist I want to share my journey. As self-care, I will not let that sharing threaten me personally. If someone oversteps the boundary, I don’t do polite or social niceties; I tell them in no uncertain terms that their question has been inappropriate and I block them.

Q: I would love to know if there were any changes you felt after the first T shot. Any reactions within your body?
A: It’s difficult to tell how much of those first reactions are psychological and how much physical. I did feel a heat, like having drunk tequila (probably physical) and had a lot of energy and anxiety (probably psychological). That’s it.

Q: Can your treatment not possibly also have this side affect (A-Vascular Necrosis)? It is also surely a case of running steroids through your body, and on a continual basis. This is my question. I don’t wish A-Vascular Necrosis on anybody. Before it hit me I had never heard of it.
A: Like any body with testosterone ruling it, I am now more prone to heart disease, higher cholesterol, higher risk of diabetes and, yes, because of the decreased levels of oestrogen I, like someone going through and post-menopause, am more likely to struggle with bone density issues, so I’m on a calcium supplement, eat well and exercise.

Q: I don’t have a question, but I do have this to say: You are an incredible human for sharing your story and being so open with your journey, to the point where asking questions is welcomed. I applaud you.
A: If I, in any way, can contribute to making trans people more human and less of a moving target, I’ll make myself, in my relative safety, open to questions from those who can ask them to help those who can’t ask them for fear of their own safety. (And thank you).

Q: I am scared to ask you questions or comment on your statuses because, well, I’m cis, I’m privileged – why in heavens name am I fussing, comparing my journey to yours?
A: When I started blogging years ago about my journey with depression, my aim was not to just reach those with depression, and those with my particular story. Our stories are all different. But pain is the same. The way we can overcome pain is the same. I truly believe that all of our stories are interconnected. The best response I’ve had so far to my story is someone telling me that my bravery to follow my truth got them out of their fear of performing in public again, and they’re happier than they’ve ever been making music again.
We’re all human. Our struggles are the same, even if they’re completely different. Learning not to compare our pain and play Pain Olympics, not to compare our stories and ‘your story is so much more inspirational than mine’ is so important. Pain is relative and no one has a monopoly on pain. Our stories are our stories, and no one has a better or more interesting or more deserving one. The fact that no one on earth has the same story as you makes your story as important as mine.
Q: What does ‘genderqueer’ mean? Aren’t you just a trans guy?
A: No, I’m not a trans guy. I don’t see myself as a man or a woman. I’m genderless, both physically and emotionally.
Q: Okay, so I feel like I should now consider you a male friend – not in terms of stereotypes, but simply at the level of personal bonding. But, do I integrate your female past with this, or do we leave it behind?
A: I don’t leave my female past behind. I can’t. I can’t undo, nor do I want to, my socialisation as female, my experiences as female, the misogyny, abuse, rape, happiness, beauty and bonds I created with other women as female. Also, I don’t see myself as male. I see myself as both, neither. I present masculinely but my journey is about inhabiting and expressing the best of both masc and fem, while trying to throw out and avoid internalised misogyny, male privilege (at least be aware of it and speak out about it) and toxic masculinity. So no, as my friend I’d want you to integrate my previous self and my ‘new’ self. They’re the same person. The previous me was just read as male, the former female. The only real difference is I’ve grown as a person, am more integrated with my complexities, am more confident and assertive, and love myself more.

 

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