Tag Archives: LGBTQ

Fake it ’til you make it

Katherine Hepburn in a man's suit and tie

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.

I agree but please shut up

fist punch

I was riding in the car the other day with my wife and two other women. Stuck in slowly moving traffic, they noticed that the man in the car next to us was texting. Disgusted, my wife yelled out her window to him, “Put the phone down!” My immediate reaction was to tell her to be quiet. “If he gets pissed off,” I said, “who do you think he’s going to take it out on? The three women, or the dude in the car?” Silence descended.

I sat back, knowing that I’d overreacted. Still, the incident shocked me into the realization that women get away with a lot simply because they’re women. A woman can say anything she wants to a man and he will never be justified in striking her. Set up the same scenario between two men and it will likely come to blows.

If my wife and are are walking down the street hand-in-hand and she decides to say something aggressive to a strange man, his reaction will depend in part on whether he thinks I’m a man or a second woman. A man with any sense of decency at all will leave two women alone, but if he reads me as a guy, then I’m fair game. This means that the nasty comments my wife, my friends, and I have heretofore delivered to men without consequence will now put me at risk of physical violence.

I’d better take a self-defense class.

Batting for the other team


My “top surgery” (read: double mastectomy) is in 9 days. My wife, my friends and I, all women aside from – very recently – me, are all sitting around the pool, making plans. The group decides on an outing just a couple of days after my surgery, while I’m still certain to be homebound and some degree of helpless. “Wait a minute,” I say, “that’s right after my surgery. I need someone to keep me company.”

The athletic one among us stares me coldly in the eye and tells me, “Come on, you can handle it. You’re a man now. Deal with it.”

I know she’s (half) joking but it stings, nonetheless. So this is the way it is now? You see me as a man (THANK YOU!) so you’re going to lump me in with all of the other men in your life and however you feel about them. This is not a good feeling. Expectations are rising up like so many pointless, snarky challenges.

As a lesbian, I thought I knew women. Ironic.


My big sister holding me as a baby.

My big sister and me.

Begin at the beginning:

Heartbeat thump. Warm. Enveloped.

Then into bright light, and cold air, and rushing sound.

Hard plastic. Soft cotton.

I’m in my body. I feel it.

My legs and my arms, my torso and my genitals; this is me.

I am naked. I am strong. I am endless.


Then come the expectations:

Pinks and blues. Rules. Confinement.

And I am foreign to myself. My mother’s child.

Hard inside. Soft outside.

I leave my body. I tell it:

You keep me alive; expect me to ignore you now. You’re not me.

I am naked. I am wrong. I am monstrous.


I am not my encasement.

Flesh and bone? Stone. Fossilized.

This is the cage and the condition of my life.

Hard border: Head/Body.

I am ambitious. I play it:

I’m really a guy inside this female body, right? This is me.

I don’t say it, but it’s heard. Somehow it works.


There are no limitations.

Gender roles? No. Not really.

The modern era lets me do just as I wish.

Hard headed, soft hearted.

I move through phases. I try on:

The hard rocking chick who’ll fuck you and ignore you, twice. But it’s not me.

I find women and it clicks; I must be gay.


I give up playing music.

Tits and ass were essential.

I cut my hair and throw away my makeup kit.

Hard choices; soft landing.

I find a partner. I believe:

We’ve fallen in love and it will last until I die. Then she cheats.

Seems I’m not quite butch enough, ironically.


I get an education:

Everyone wants a penis.

Read de Beauvoir and turn into a feminist.

Hardcovers, paperbacks.

I find a partner. I believe:

I want to be loved and she is there to play the part. It won’t last.

Eight years in, we burst apart explosively.


I move to California.

Nothing left to hold onto.

One resume and suddenly I’m teaching class.

Hard binders. Paper stacks.

I meet my wife and I believe:

My luck has kicked in and I have settled into life. At last love.

Fourteen years go by before it gets to me.


The momentary traumas:

Lavatories, fitting rooms.

They double check the posted sign when they see me.

Hard staring. Paper towels.

I hate my body more and more.

Now I’m growing old and I am running out of time. My fate’s sealed.

There’s no reason to go on repeatedly.


I’ve loved my way through living.

Done the best that I could do.

I’ve been the person I could be inside this shell.

(Hard pressing, paper thin.)

I face my body. I tell it:

I’ve had a good life and I am finished with you now. I can’t eat.

I am ugly. I am wrong. I am in pain.


I want it to be over.

Damn this constant social stress.

Just fuck the world and fuck this life because I’m done.

Hard pressure from within.

I feel my body. It tells me:

I’m saving your life. You need to get up off your ass. Keep breathing.

Tell the world it’s time for you to be yourself.


The conversation started.

So my body told my mind:

You know I really am a prison for your soul.

Hard choices make it right.

You have the power. You can change.

No need to give up. There is a medical solution. Move forward.

You’re not dying; you’re becoming who you are.


I’ve always been this person.

Fully male identified.

I’ve worn a coat of femininity, just so.

Hard layers of soft paint.

And now I get to strip it off.

It didn’t work well. Almost nobody ever saw it. Extra weight.

Nearly killed me; makes good sense to let it go.


My body gave permission.

Told me fully, through my gut:

The mutilation that you think is horrible?

Hard scars of your healing.

I have a lifetime left to live.

The power is there. There is a way to fix the problem. Why suffer?

Let’s bring Lucas to the surface for a breath.

Back to my future

the author in 1999 in male drag with facial hair

The author, from a brief attempt at drag in 1998.

My 1999 Master’s thesis in cultural anthropology was called Gender Pretenders: A Drag King Ethnography. Focused on a set of women performing in drag as men in NYC, it explored the idea of gender as a set of signs, rather than a fact of biology. My recent personal website update caused me to go back and look at the work again, 16 years later; the first paragraph rang like a bell in my head:

I have never taken gender for granted. As a very young girl, I was convinced that I’d grow up to be a big, strong man; needless to say I was somewhat disappointed when puberty hit and made it quite clear that was not going to happen. As a short-haired, overweight tomboy, I grew used to adults calling me “son” and, “young man,” and as a masculine woman have come to expect the occasional “sir.” But I am not transgendered; I’ve grown to love being a woman, to appreciate my female body, and to value my identity as a lesbian. I do not feel”like a man” and do not want to be one; still, I am often accused of harboring such a desire. I am told that I dress like a man, I talk like a man, and I look like a man; surely I must want to be a man?

I’ve obviously been thinking about my own gender for a long time. What stands out here is the description of my childhood, accurate now as it was then. It’s the first thing I tell people when explaining my recent decision to transition. What follows, however, is a strong statement of denial. I said four things which now require reconsideration:

“I am not transgendered” – The more honest statement at the time would have been, “I don’t want to be transgendered.” I didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t, but I did harbor a suspicion. Why else was I focusing on gender in my graduate studies?

“I’ve grown to love being a woman” – This was and is still true. I believe that women have a more flexible range of cultural expression (for example, in terms of dress) than men do; women are also encouraged to have and communicate emotions more so than men. This worried me until I realized that it’s okay to be an expressive man. And I admit that I grew, over the years, to believe in a sort of female superiority — in a “if women ruled the world, then there wouldn’t be any wars” kind of way.

“…to appreciate my female body” – This is a flat-out lie. I’ve never appreciated anything about my body below my neck. I’ve never really been in my body to begin with. I wrote the statement because I knew it was the most important thing to say if I were to convincingly deny that I was transgendered.

“…to value my identity as a lesbian” – This was and is still true. It’s one of the things I’ll be giving up in my transition. This troubled me for a while until I realized (a) I’m still queer and (b) I’m still a feminist.

There are straight men who claim they are “really just a lesbian in a man’s body.” I will be.


It’s not okay to bully us anymore. Thank you, SCOTUS!


Perhaps the greatest impact of the gay marriage ruling today will be the normalization of “alternate” sexuality/gender in America. What that means, I hope, is an end to bullying because parents will no longer be raising children to believe that it’s okay to abuse people who do not conform to the gender role binary. So if you were an “effeminate” boy who was tortured in grade school or a “masculine” girl who never fit in, then at least you have the comfort of knowing that your grandchildren will live in a country where they simply feel normal.

No longer anonymous.


You can follow my FTM (female-to-male) transition on Twitter @LWHasten; I’m also on Instagram.

The blog and podcast will resume after the summer.  While the focus will still be on culture and politics, I’ll certainly be seeing things through a new lens.