Today I reached the end of a difficult semester. When I returned to campus back in August with a new name and a new preference for male pronouns, I didn’t yet look any different. I’d had my so-called “top surgery” a few weeks earlier, but it wasn’t like anyone had noticed my chest beforehand. I’d been on testosterone for two months and the only visible changes were under my clothing. It was an awkward situation, sharing the men’s room with my male colleagues, still looking like the butch woman they’d known for years. I immediately took it upon myself to change the sign on the single-occupancy women’s faculty restroom to “Gender Neutral.”
Now it’s mid-December and I’m looking in the mirror at a mustache (admittedly thin) and a waistline four sizes smaller. My previously bodacious booty has melted to the point of flatness where the cell phone in my back pocket hangs below my ass, rather than pressing against it. I’m surprised at how different my body feels in my jeans, now that they are hanging loosely around me as opposed to clinging like shrink wrap. I love testosterone.
Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t free and magical weight loss, courtesy of “Vitamin T;” this is a continual state of self-denial. I knew that on testosterone, all of the fat in my lower body would migrate to my gut if I didn’t try to lose it. So at least a month before beginning hormones, I began a rigid regimen of carb and sugar avoidance. The only way to burn fat, I learned, is by avoiding carbs and sugars. I mean all sugars, including fruit and non-fat dairy. As a consequence of hunger and longing, I have returned to a state of carnivory I haven’t known since childhood. This is, of necessity, accompanied by enough greens to keep a small island regular.
Testosterone may be helping me to lose weight faster and more easily than I could without it. In that sense, it seems like an unfair advantage. Or maybe that’s just the guilt from my increasing access to White Male Privilege bleeding over into body shame? In any event, the weight is coming off my ass, my hips, and my thighs – precisely the opposite of what happened the last time I lost weight, back when my metabolism was dominated by estrogen. I’m losing weight like a man this time.
Since my students see me at least twice a week, I have to wonder if they have even registered the change. My friends think they don’t pay that much attention to me but I know better: They compliment me on a new watch or a new pair of jeans because they notice everything. Whether they are conscious of it or not, something has definitely shifted during the course of the semester. Where they were inconsistent at the beginning, now they never get the pronouns wrong. I think it helped them to see it happen, day by day, before their eyes. Maybe it made it seem natural?
As for me, the semester was a nightmare. My voice cracked regularly; frequently it was gone by the end of the day. I was continually exhausted and in need of more sleep, courtesy of the hormones, than I have been since I was a student. Every time I was foolish enough to refer to myself in class in the third person, I screwed it up (“You’re all thinking, ‘What does she want us to write?”) – UGH! I could have curled up into a ball and died of shame right there. The third person and I are not currently on speaking terms.
I’m grateful, then, for this holiday break and a chance to focus a bit more on myself for a little while. When I return to campus next month I’ll be even hairier and narrower than I am right now and it’ll be that much easier for everyone to see me as “he.” Students I haven’t seen since before the summer may not even recognize me.
That ought to be interesting.