Everyone’s on a Journey — What I Learned From My First Year as a Trans Woman
Forty two. One year of hormone replacement therapy and my bust measures 42 inches around. My band size is a 38. By the illogic of online advice about bra sizes, that would make me a 40D. Bralettes are my biggest supporters most days, and the only sized bra I have is a 38B. I still feel like there’s a fair amount of wiggle room there. Another on the list of contradictions involving femme bodies and fashion. But the numbers are just superficial things. I’ve got breasts. I’ve wanted them for a long time.
Last year, early in March, I set up an appointment to see a doctor about transitioning. I was terrified. I wanted to leave with a prescription to start metamorphosing as soon as possible. Living as a man felt awful, an endless grind of hating my body. But I feared being told that I wasn’t trans enough, not valid — that my dysphoria wasn’t really oppressive, or that I wouldn’t otherwise qualify for treatment. The fact that I still looked and dressed like a guy didn’t make me feel any more confident. I dressed and acted as I always had, down to only shaving every few days to avoid irritation from my mail-order razors. Anyone who saw me walk into that hospital would have seen a man, and I was afraid that’s all anyone would ever see. And I dreaded revealing the fact that my longtime partner had left me just a few months before for another woman. I had yearned to have a feminine body for years, but was caught in the strange place of living with someone who insisted they needed a queer relationship while they undercut my feelings about my gender at every step. Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
I left that initial meeting with a half victory. I almost fell out of my chair when my new doctor said that I qualified to start hormone replacement therapy. But I wouldn’t get the pills that day. I’d have to come back in two weeks to start the process. The date was set for March 19th, the first day of spring.
I felt about the same as a kid does two weeks away from their birthday. You just want to let everyone know. I went out for drinks with friends and broke the news, sitting there with just a touch of eyeliner and my midsection smooshed into a corset. They listened and nodded, but it didn’t take much to read the room. I found more concern than support. Some feared I was trying to change myself to get my old partner back. Not to mention that I’d never shared how I felt with them before. It wasn’t safe to. They were hearing everything all at once, and didn’t know what to do with it. Maybe it was just as well. This was a choice I had to make myself, for myself. I had to do this. If I didn’t at least try… I didn’t want to even complete that thought. I knew where it led.
On that first day of spring, 2019, the clinic visit was fast and unremarkable. There wasn’t an exam or a blood test or anything more. Just some paperwork. A few forms for the permission to change my life. One, two, three, I scribbled a degraded version of the signature I hated — a name that belonged to someone now gone — and the prescription was sent over to my supermarket’s pharmacy.
I started to spin out chaos scenarios on the way over. What if I walked up and the pharmacist declined to give me the pills? What if I couldn’t afford the androgen blocker and estrogen? What if I took them and my body reacted poorly? The answer was the same every time. I have to do this. When I stepped up to the counter, the pharmacist asked if I wanted him to tell me what my prescription of spironolactone and estrogen would do to my body. I could see from his expression that he didn’t want to. I didn’t want him to, either. I paid him and took the pills home, waiting until the next morning to start my treatment. That night, as I showered up before going out to meet a friend, I looked down at my body and ran my hands over my chest and my hips. When? When will I see the changes I want? I wanted to know what it’s like to have curves. I wanted to have breasts — the joy of having my girlfriend touch them and even the pain of bumping into a doorframe, just anything to know what they were there. The gender marker on my prescription said “Male.” I wanted something tangible to show how wrong that designation was.
The next morning, I took my meds. When I opened the spironolactone bottle, it smelled something like doob with a faint whiff of long-forgotten cat pee. At least it didn’t really taste like anything. The estradiol was blue and chalky. I clamped my molars together lest one molecule of the medication escape from under my tongue. I wanted the full effect.
I joked to my friends that I would have boobs for Christmas. “All I want for Christmas is my two front tits, my two front tits…” Humor was the best thing I could muster to moderate my impatience. Trying to find any information on what to expect was usually met with a shrug from the internet and the depths of medical journals. I wanted something to hold on to, especially during the early turbulence. As the drugs started to do their work, I became sluggish. I was tired all the time, to the point where one day I seemed to nap two hours for every one I was awake. I debated ending the treatment. If this is what transitioning meant, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. I had to think. I had to work. I wanted to make the most of the short trips with my long-distance girlfriend and not spend our weekends zonked out. And yet I took my pills every morning and night, the subtle scent of cat wizz in my nostrils and the grainy feel of estradiol under my tongue becoming just another part of my routine.
I started ordering more femme clothes. My efforts were scattershot. For every one thing I liked on myself, there were three that I felt accentuated everything I didn’t like. My shoulders felt too broad. My chest felt too flat. I’d been graced with a little bit of an hourglass, but I still felt like I was made up of sharp angles — a box-shaped man, or a man-shaped box. I didn’t hide my identity. My friends got used to calling me Riley, and over time they got used to my new pronouns, too. But I know how I looked to the rest of the world. And I knew what I was waiting for. I already felt I had been robbed of too many years. Even when my nipples started to feel sore from early breast growth and my skin started to soften, it only made me want the changes faster.
The in-between stages were what I feared the most. It’s the same as a werewolf transformation. The end result is surely impressive, but the transitional phases can be awkward. I feared that feeling trapped in-between — not who I was but not who I wanted to be — would only make my dysphoria worse. There were some days like that. But for every dark day, when I thought about calling my therapist in the middle of the night to do anything other than think about the knives in the kitchen, there were moments that brought me joy:
The first day my hair was long enough to fall in front of my eyes.
The day on a fossil expedition when I woke up in my tent and found that the laser hair removal on my face was starting to get rid of the stubble I hated.
The day I was resting on my side and noticed enough fat on my chest to make a little crease, that I could push together something resembling cleavage if I wanted to.
I got better at makeup. I found clothes that fit. I started to see curves in my shadow where there had once been hard lines. I could work with this.
Sometime during the fall, a few months after my girlfriend moved in, something changed. When I started my transition, I was so afraid that my body would always be painfully out-of-sync, a wall of dysphoric static overlaying everything. I was desperate for change. But as the hormones went about their work, I asked myself what I was moving towards.
I think it was the phrase “Good luck on your journey” from acquaintances and strangers that did it. I usually said “Thank you.” What I wanted to say was “Everyone is on a journey!” And there’s no end. Not for me, at least. I knew that facial, top, or bottom surgery wouldn’t come with a certificate of authenticity and make all feelings of dysphoria disappear. I knew that there wouldn’t be a day where I would be fully complete, finished, just as there never had been before. I would always change.
Right now, the changes are significant. Most mornings, as part of what’s become something of a ritual, my girlfriend stands in front of me, a concentrated look on her face, and takes each of my breasts in her hands. “They feel bigger again today,” she often says, followed by my usual “You think so?”, countered by her “Yes!” as she shakes the fat on my chest and I laugh. From what I understand, I still have at least a year of significant shifts ahead of me. My body hasn’t fully settled yet. I may be in for about as much transformation as I have in the previous year. I’m just as hungry for it as I’ve ever been.
Skin to bones, we’re all changing every moment. I could either embrace the change or hobble myself trying to squeeze into a set image, and I had already spent too much of my life doing that. Change is the rule. The difference is, now I get a say in how I change.