I am almost 50 years old. I thought I had settled into myself a long time ago. Yet I find that I am now at least as insecure as I was as a teenager, if not more so. I’m going through another adolescence, zits and all. It’s as painful as the first one was.
It’s taken me a few months to formulate this clearly but I think I have it now: I’m changing my body to make it feel more natural to me. That part is easy and it feels utterly right. The hard part, the part that makes me anxious, is the social transition.The idea that suddenly I have to “be a man.” That part scares the crap out of me.
I can’t have spent 49 years as a woman and then suddenly turn into whatever it is I think that a man is. I don’t have a lifetime of male socialization behind me to support that change. Yes, I see myself in a male body and have presented, for my entire life, on the masculine side of the spectrum, but I have always claimed the privilege of femaleness. Let’s face it: When I get a flat tire, I call the Triple A. I’ve never had to prove myself in a fight, on a ball field, or with a machine. I know these are stereotypes but they capture my feeling that I lack the masculine experiences that turn boys into men. Therefore I am not a man and I never will be; it’s just too late for that. That’s my truth. I can’t speak for anyone else.
A few months ago, when I first decided to change my body, I had some unrealistic expectations about how long it would take. I thought that I could begin the process over summer break and return to teaching in the Fall looking significantly different – different enough to identify and present myself as male. I figured that between the testosterone and the top surgery, the summer break would have created enough space for me to return to campus and have people see me as male. So I went ahead and changed my pronouns and my name and started living openly as a transman.
I returned to work a few months later, still looking decidedly like a butch lesbian. I feel like a fool. If I had it to do again, I would wait to come out until my body had changed significantly enough for people to start really wondering what was going on. But alas, I changed my mind a very long time before my body was ready to follow. So here I am, looking like the masculine woman I’ve been seen as all my life and struggling desperately to present as male.
It’s a public battle. I have an audience of hundreds bearing witness to my awkwardness – my students. They see me getting used to myself, slipping up with my own pronouns, while I bumble about crafting my own modified version of male identity. They’re curious. They want a narrative, an explanation, an interview, an insight. Some of them, students of psychology, want to discuss gender dysphoria as a mental illness. Some of them, student journalists, want to write a feature about me.
I feel like a curiosity. An item of campus gossip. A role model. A hero. You name it.
I have nothing to give them. I have no answers yet, not even for myself. I only have questions. Like: Will I ever get enough facial hair to pass convincingly as a man? Like: If one day I find myself alone again, will anyone else ever love me? These things keep me awake at night.
In the meantime, my voice drops. My armpits stink. Welcome to being a dude, bro.