Every morning that the weather is anything other than abominable, I go for a walk around my neighborhood. It’s a pocket of time for myself and for Jet, my German shepherd, as I sort out my thoughts for the day. Most of the time I keep moving, Jet matching my pace as we go. But sometimes I see something that makes me stop. Like a chrysalis.
The capsule wasn’t naturally-occurring. The translucent enclosure was inside a wire-framed box, the kind you’d get at a children’s toyshop. I didn’t recognize the species, but I know what it was — shelter for a butterfly to-be. And I envied it.
I wished that I could have holed myself up for a while as my body reformed. I could wrap myself tight, turn into soup, and emerge totally new, made of the same parts but in a beautiful new body.
I didn’t have that option. At the time, I was living by myself as my girlfriend and I started to plan a way for us to move in together. I had no connection to my biological family. I had no friend I could crash with for a while. There were bills to pay and obligations to meet. I wouldn’t be given the privilege of a serene dressing room to change in. I’d have to do everything out in the open. On that morning, about a year ago, I took a deep breath and kept walking.
There’s no way change could have come fast enough for me. Nothing short of waking up a woman — whatever that even means — would have been enough. I yawned and took my pills every morning, touching my chest, my face, my hips, hoping to feel some kind of difference, grumbling at how slow my hair was growing and how far I felt from how I wanted to be. I hadn’t done much to play with my expression before starting hormone replacement therapy, and, in those early days, I felt like almost any femme clothing I bought only highlighted what I wanted to change.
Hormones are slow magic. I had to be patient whether I liked it or not.
When the change happened, I’m not entirely sure. I still want more. I still say “Do you think so?” when my girlfriend cups my breasts and tells me they seem bigger. I still can’t quite believe it when someone sees me for who I am. But with the redistribution of fat, softer skin, and the fact that powerful emotions — happy or sad — now make me weep, something else shifted that I didn’t notice.
I’m not going to stop changing. Estrogen is a growth hormone, after all, and it’ll keep altering my body for years to come. But if my doctor told me today that I’ve been through all the expected changes and the major changes are over with, I’d be ok.
Don’t get me wrong. I want more. But at some point frustration with the slow grind of transformation turned into acceptance. I went from being severely unhappy as Brian to fairly content as Riley. Looking in the mirror each morning changed from “Come on, please” to “Ok, that’s not half bad.”
There will be bad days. Dysphoria still stabs when I least expect it. But I feel like I can weather those moments now. When I start to feel crunchy about my voice, my shape, how people see me, or any number of things, I try to ask myself whether the focal point is really a bad thing or has to do with centuries upon centuries of expectations about gender. Guess what? It’s usually the latter.
In those moments, when I feel the ache, there’s something I tell myself. Just a little phrase to center myself and remember that I am living, today, as the person I wanted to be. “Just be the best Riley you can be.” I’m not always successful, but I’m trying.