Wonderful, Radical Transsexual Acceptance

A darkened doorway

I wish I could say my path to masculinity followed a straight line from A to B.

I thought it should have done that. But in retrospect, how can any path of identity, particularly a transsexual one for which  we have few landmarks and fewer roadmaps, follow a straight line?

Identities move back and forth, shoot out in one direction for long periods of time, only to return to some earlier beginning, but with a renewed understanding of origin stories.

I like my body now. But this hasn’t always been true.

* * *

About two years after I started hormones, I decided to stop taking them. The future I imagined when I first started hormones never materialized. The ease I thought I would feel in my body eluded me. The confidence I saw in other FtMs missed me.

My sexuality was muddled. I had no idea how to date women as a man. They all seemed wary of me, in ways I saw physically, but had no idea how to address.

How do I date women now?

My only positive sexual experiences had been as a butch woman and may have influenced my desire to stop taking hormones.

At least I know how to be butch and date and have sex.

The recriminations began. I taunted myself.

Was I even a man?

If I was, what kind of man was I? Who would want to date a man like me?

Stopping hormones seemed like the only way to resolve my dilemma. Walking further and longer on this path of becoming a man, the road had narrowed. Ease and relaxation were distant points on an ever-receding horizon — one I could never reach.

It would only be many years later when I understood these dilemmas as part of living as a transsexual.

* * *

Changing genders has been a source of great spiritual inspiration, when I let it.

The narrowing of the path sometimes requires me to turn sideways and inch my way through, or step off the path into the brambles, or stop.

Of course I had no idea how to date women. Dating another lesbian as a lesbian differs from dating a woman as a man.

Now I know this. Then I didn’t. Little information existed for FtMs outside of a small forum on AOL and FtM International’s newsletter. FtMs weren’t keen to talk about this topic. Maybe we feared chatting about feelings of inadequacy or the losses of never having had a penis.

We talked instead about facial hair and the medical consequences of hormones on our bodies. We never discussed these in-between spaces — I like to call them interstitial — shot through with fear, confusion, and anxiety that have made up a lot of my transsexual life. I thought of manhood as a destination rather than a process. Any misstep on the way to my goal meant I was a failure rather seeing the missteps (if it’s even fair to call them that) as part of the ongoing, sometimes difficult, always beautiful process of being a female-to-male transsexual.

* * *

For reasons still unclear to me I changed my mind and continued taking my hormones.  Maybe something as shallow as refusing to give up shaving my face drove me to keep injecting testosterone every two weeks. I can’t recollect any particular reason for continuing. I just did.

The acceptance of contradictions, dead ends, and false turns seems to be very much a part of living as a transsexual. I see that now.

A black and white image shot by Jay Sennett of postal truck with a very blurry vortex achieved by pulling focus.

But then, with the cudgel of the straight line from A to B, I beat myself up. It wasn’t even my body that drove me. It was some existential need to find fault with everything about my transition.

It wasn’t perfect. Nothing ever is.

Radical self-acceptance means living in the middle of a mess sometimes (maybe a lot of the time) while trying to keep a beginner’s mind about the process.

As I struggled with the decision to stop hormones, I remembered the excitement and pride I felt when I first began testosterone and the thrilling fantasies I had about dating women as a man. Of course these fantasies got tempered by the fear I saw in women’s eyes when they saw me as a man. Instead of banishing the fantasies, which I had been doing, I tried a different approach, one that included holding both truths inside of me.

Intimate terrorism and sexual assault make women fear men. But I am a different kind of man, one who understands that my penis is not a weapon.

* * *

Each step on this journey has asked me to make my circle of self-acceptance a little bit larger, to practice a kind of spiritual acceptance of the contradictions and conundrums living at the heart of FtM transsexuality.

Now I see wrinkles above my knees, reflecting my aging body.

Rubbing testosterone gel on my shoulders once a day thrills me, a feeling I’ve never experienced with injectables, probably because I hate needles. But still. How many people relish taking a daily prescription of anything?

Each major surgical change — top surgery, then bottom surgery — has altered my perceptions of myself in my body and myself in my gender. Last year I tweaked my hormone dosage with great result.

Now I find myself in the midst of another technological change: weight-bearing exercise. Now I have aged to a point where I must work to keep some mass on my muscles. Now I endeavor to complete ten full push ups and ten assisted pull ups. I fail, every day.

I keep trying and I keep taking hormones.

In 1996, no charts could point me in the direction of transsexual true north. I winged it, never revealing my ambivalence and fear.

I can know some things only as I go through them. Ambivalence shouldn’t surprise me. It frightened me then. Now it seems ordinary, a natural part of the transitioning process.

Today I take great joy in what my body, and my body on hormones, can do. My heart continues to beat, my lungs expand and contract.

My eyes scan the gym and what a wonderful thing it is that I am a man. Two decades since my first hormone dose, and I still get a thrill.

Now I’m glad I kept taking hormones even when I wanted to stop on that long-ago night on the freeway, glad one part of me refused to listen to another part of me. I’m glad to be me today, stumbling towards ecstasy and the profound gifts transitioning has given me: my life, my beloved, my words.

I’m glad to be in this body, this lovely transsexual body.