Trans Awareness Week 2021 My Experience
It’s Trans Awareness Week at the moment. Inspired by the words of other trans people who have written stuff this week (including the amazing Sandy O’Sullivan) and I wanted to write something to share in more detail some of my experiences. Every trans person’s experience of transition and affirmation is different and all are equally valid and important, but there are often overlaps, and it’s always nice to read about someone’s experiences matching yours. It’s a bit of a long read, but I find the experiences we have before we transition shape the process and how we think about ourselves quite a bit, and I thought it was powerful to include.
// Content Warning: Suicide, Self-harm, heavy themes around self-hatred and gender
I’ve never had the whole, “I’ve always known I was a girl” experience, but I was fortunate to be aware of trans people for enough of my life. I don’t remember exactly when I first found out about trans people, (I’ve written sort of about this here). The first time I really started thinking about stuff relating to my gender, and where I suppose I’d say my “trans journey” began, was the middle of high school. It was around this time that I started becoming more aware of gender politics and feminism, brought on by that most vile of movements, gamergate. The completely awful mess around gamergate, and my new learnings about gender, made me realise I HATED being male. I didn’t have the self awareness (I was 15) or the maturity to understand what I was feeling, but oh boy did I feel it.
I started building up a bit of a word view based on this dysphoria. It was easy. I deluded my teenage mind to attribute all harm in the world to cis, white, straight men. From there, it wasn’t a far leap to say that vileness and harm where intrinsic traits of cis, white, straight, men, and I felt completely trapped in that identity. I really believed that I was evil and awful by default, and that nothing good I do will ever make up for that. My responsibility was to suffer and to hate myself, as that was the only thing I could do to reduce the harm to the world I was doing by merely existing. To make matters worse, I started to realise that I had a tendency to be attracted to gay women, which to my lonely testosterone fuelled brain at the time, really did reinforce the self loathing.
These intense emotions become stronger and weaker throughout my teenage and high school years, until my first year of Uni. Being at uni helped, and having that distance from like high school and past stuff was nice. I made new friends doing theatre stuff at uni and was enjoying doing industrial design and making things. At this point, I started talking to a girl who later that year I would ask out and begin a fairly long, toxic and complicated relationship with. That relationship would be a major factor in my life for the next three years and leave me with plenty of issues that affect me to this day. Around this time was when I started accepting that I don’t want to be a boy. I still wasn’t quite at the point where I believed it was something I could stop being, but I knew now that this was something I should be getting help with.
I’d seen psychologists before, but since a lot of my issues stemmed from dysphoria and none of them had experience with trans people, it never really helped. At the time, started to at least appear to be less depressed because I had a new way of coping with being male. I had a girlfriend, who was a girl, and who was ostensibly attracted to me, and I ostensibly made her happy. From this, I built a new coping mechanism. My new mechanism was that If I was making this girl happy, then I was less of a monster. I become very fixated on this idea (NEVER DO THIS by the way, this mindset is probably one of the most harmful things for both parties that can happen, and oh boy I think we were both negatively affected by my behaviour around this). I also confided with her all the difficulties I was having with my gender, including my growing desire to transition. At the time there were two things stopping me: one, I still couldn’t frame it as wanting to be a girl, instead focussing it on hating being considered a boy (many medical professionals dislike this framing), and also because my girlfriend was attracted to boy me, and I needed to keep her happy to feel like I deserve to exist (There is a huge amount of irony here as you’ll soon find out).
At this point, I started discussing this stuff with my parents. Thankfully they were supportive, but in an INCREDIBLY skeptical way, so it was always super tough to discuss it with them because it straight up felt like they didn’t believe me. I did, however, go see a psych with a trans speciality though (this was around the start of 2016, so I was 20~ish). Unfortunately, this psych was a bad fit. Remember how I said that the “I don’t want to be a boy” framing wasn’t popular, this caused problems here. In the first session, the psych told me to read an article about people who detransitioned. While detransition stories are important, this had A MASSIVE negative effect on me. After reading this, I was entirely convinced that going on hormones would destroy my body and I would become an ugly monster. I believed if I socially transitioned I’d become a pariah, everyone would hate me, I’d have no friends and nobody would ever love me. So, that delayed my transition for quite some time, and thinking back on it now, it still hurts so much to have lost that time.
Over the course of my 3~ year relationship at the time, and due to a combination of both our insecurities, I became more and more dependent on my girlfriend. I started severely limiting my social connections outside her and her friends (don’t do this, for the love of all that is good, don’t do this). I still went to uni, I still studied hard and was doing fine there. For better or worse, she was really busy with her uni work which meant it was rare for her to have much time to spend with me, but at least it meant I could still devote time to uni as well. But this all came to a head in early 2017. I had gone home from uni early because I’d been feeling quite sick. I was at home lying in bed feeling nauseous when I got a long text from my girlfriend breaking up with me. It detailed how she knew that she was gay (This stung the most), was never really attracted to me, and even if I transitioned she wasn’t sure she would ever be able to see me as a girl. She also talked about how she wasn’t sure she ever really loved me. She did, however, say that while she wasn’t attracted to me, I never made her uncomfortable when we did… things, and she did enjoy them at the time. This was comforting as it was something I had a lot of anxiety about, but that’s a whole other thing I won’t get into. She finished by explaining that she had to do it over text because she was too shy to do it in person.
This, of course, did not go over too well with me at the time. I had my first major heartbreak, I’d lost essentially all my social connections, I’d lost the only reason I thought I had to exist, and I’d had my trans identity invalidated by one of the only people I’d trusted with that part of me. It was baad, but I still had a few things. I had my uni work, which was at least a distraction, around that time The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out, which was also a ridiculously good distraction, and I had my Dog, who was what kept me going through all this. 2017 was a dark year for me, certainly the worst year of my life, but my dog Minna I owe so much to. Looking after her and being there for her was the one thing that stopped me going through with a plan I had made to end it that year. This is a major reason why, to this day, dogs are incredibly important to me.
Even with the restriction of that relationship gone, I was still terrified of actually properly considering transitioning, but nearing the end of 2017, I stumbled upon the transgender episode of the ABC’s phenomenal “You can’t ask that”. The episode is pretty good, but didn’t really mean anything up until the very last question. The final question of the episode was “Do you regret transitioning” and hearing the panelists all give their emphatic and unanimous “No” gave a wash of relief over me that I didn’t even know I needed. I immediately just burst into tears as I’d been holding on to so much absolute terror and fear of transitioning and hearing that so many people don’t regret it was life-changing. The next day, I came out to my parents, and booked an appointment to see a doctor about starting on hormones.
I went through a full informed consent process with a psychiatrist, (which I don’t know if even is the going strategy these days, things change (for the better) pretty fast at the moment when it comes to best practice with trans folk). In March 2018, I got my first prescription for oestrogen tablets, and an anti-androgen (medication that suppresses testosterone). For me, it was incredibly freeing taking oestrogen. Even before I started feeling any effects, I was already starting to feel a lot better, just from the mere fact that it was much easier to tell myself I wasn’t a man when I was taking oestrogen.
That first year was a big one, the hormonal changes started taking effect, my skin cleaned up, I started growing breasts, rapidly losing muscle strength, along with some other changes. I started caring more about my appearance as it started to feel like mine, I bought more makeup and used it more often, I dyed my hair, and I started shaving my legs along with my face. Hormones started having an effect on my mental state as well, I became MUCH more emotional, and my mood would change quite dramatically all the time. I was highly strung at times, and had temperamental amounts of energy and concentration. I also had some issues with some of the medication and was really light-headed for ages while I worked with my doctor to figure out good doses.
In the middle of 2018 I finally chose a new name, Ruby! I was originally pretty hesitant about changing my name. In many ways I actually liked my deadname, it was pretty unique, and I used it in the internet pseudonym that I’d been using since I was 12, that was the hardest thing to let go of. To this day, I still have tonnes of accounts, and an email address that still use that pseudonym. But, my deadname is very male coded, and if I wanted to be read as a woman (which I most definitely wanted to be) it had to go. Hearing people use my new name was fantastic, I originally wanted to slowly change, but after hearing some of my friends call me Ruby, I never wanted to hear my deadname ever again.
2018 was an incredibly exhausting and rewarding time. Unfortunately, it was also the year when I did my design honours project. As anyone who’s done an industrial design honours degree knows, it is a gruelling process at the best of times, and I was doing it at the same time as a massive life change. Do not do this, I cannot over state this enough, do not do this. Numerous people talk about transitioning being a full-time job, and there’s a lot of truth to that. This is especially true near the beginning, where everything is changing quickly, and you’re trying to figure out how to exist and function as this new identity. It was also such a beautiful year. It was the first time I truely experienced gender euphoria. I was looking in the mirror wearing one of my friend’s beautiful dresses, about to go on stage to play a lesbian character. Did I pass? Hell no, I looked very much like a man in a dress, But I didn’t feel like a man in a dress, I felt, like a woman.
Things started to get easier at the end of 2018. I started seeing my current partner, and started properly building out a wardrobe that I felt represented me. In 2019, I started being able to be more comfortable in public. While I still didn’t really pass, and was misgendered fairly often, I started to feel confident that I was presenting something closer to what I feel I truely am. I started doing voice training to feminise my voice (I am still Terrible at this, I blame my year 11 music teacher just short of blackmailing me to sing bass in choir). I also started going through the process to change my name. Unfortunately, I was born in Byron Bay, in NSW, so their law governed my birth certificate, rather than Victoria (which that year, started allowing much more progressive and easier rules for changing gender). In NSW, you’re required to have a gender-affirming surgical procedure (for trans women, this often means an orchidectomy (removal of testes) or full vaginoplasty (construction of a neo-vagina), it needs not be said that these are expensive and intense procedures), which to this day I haven’t had (but someday soon hopefully). I could still change my name, and I could change my gender on my passport (DFAT are far cooler about this than the NSW government for some reason) so I still have one (pretty important) piece of photo ID that shows me as a woman, which is very nice.
2020 obviously slowed things down a bit, what with a massive pandemic going on, but I got my first real full-time design job which was wonderful, and started getting laser hair removal on my face. Last year and this year are the first years when I’ve started to feel like I’m pretty. It hasn’t really translated into any attention of the kind that pretty folk get (curse you pandemic), but it’s something that I’m starting to feel like I could receive. That maybe, I could feel pretty, and the broader public would see me as pretty too… Well, they would, at least until they realise I’m trans, but take the wins when you can. There are very few major things I experience that feel important to my transition anymore, but almost every day there’s something that helps. Sometimes it’s something about my body, sometimes it’s something about the way I’m treated, sometimes it’s something about how I see myself, but it’s always something.
In the same way that hearing it was significant to me, I think it’s critical for me to say: I don’t regret transitioning. Transitioning is the best thing I’ve ever done, and I’m unequivocally happier now than I ever was. It’s not all perfect, Society still treats trans people like shit, and you feel it, every bit of violence, every joke, every slight microaggression, even if it’s not towards you, it hurts because it could so easily be you. Similarly, I still feel distance from the woman I feel I should be. I often feel ashamed of not being attracted to men. in our patriarchal society, men are the arbiters of gender, and I can’t really engage with that truthfully. I also have been feeling really clucky in a “I don’t really know if I want to have children, but oh god do I wish I was/could be pregnant” which is painful. Sure, it could be a case of moving goalposts, and I don’t think white male cishetero patriarchal capitalism will ever truely make it easy for someone like me to be happy. But transitioning has gotten me so much closer, and for that, I can only be eternally thankful.