According to the facebook memorybot, June 13th is the day I started hormone replacement therapy, two years ago. I started taking anti-androgens to lower my testosterone levels so my body would eventually become receptive to estrogen and start feminizing itself, which I hoped would mitigate the incapacitating gender dysphoria that had taken over my waking life. Two months later, I was popping green estradiol pills under my tongue.
I expected there might be some felt effect. I mean, if I were really trans, this is a chemical my body has lacked forever and has cried out for, so I hoped I would maybe notice a subtle change. I didn’t expect to get knocked-on-my-ass, laughing-at-the-ceiling high. Within an hour, my mood had rocketed up. The world became brighter, seemed to glow. I felt loose and lucid. I wanted to call all my friends and tell them the good news. At that point, I lost all my doubts about whether I was trans or not, if sterilizing myself through hormone therapy and all the difficulties I would surely have with my family and finances and the lifetime of medical interventions and new issues (higher risk of cancer! blood clots! shrinkage!) were worth inviting into my daily. Estrogen buzzed me. It still does, but not quite like the first time. And the dysphoria is much more manageable. Clearly, this was the right thing to do.
I suppose the one thing I miss the most about the period of my life I spent lying to people about being a straight cisgender man (read: when I was closetted about being a transwoman) was the near-constant feeling of safety. I felt so safe so often I didn’t even know I felt safe. I felt I could go anywhere and do or say or look like almost anything I wanted to wherever I went. I felt people would always be nice to me, because they generally were, and people who were mean would be few and far between, because I’m awesome and people generally seem to recognize that and treat me like you would treat an awesome person. I could get as drunk as possible and the worst that would happen is maybe they’d ask me to leave the bar, and I’d throw up somewhere on the way home, where I would arrive without issue and sleep gloriously and safely and, if I were lucky, through the worst parts of my hangover. I felt I could be invisible if I needed to, sink into the crowd of other cisgender white guys always around at any given time and basically ignorable in their normativity and ubiquity.
Hardly anyone ever commented on how I looked, nobody treated me any differently after spoke, nobody ever told me I had to use the bathroom to try on clothes in department stores. I could talk over people at parties; I could cut them off and they would shut up (except for my other over-talker friends). The band would pack up their amps and cables and I would say “Go on home, I’ll finish up before they close” while taking apart my too-large drumset.
I didn’t consider where I would live based on nondiscrimination clauses and health insurance plans. There were no laws legislating that people had to treat me like a decent human being (or that they didn’t have to). Nobody cared where I peed as long as it made it into the bowl, and nobody cared what dressing room I used as long as I didn’t steal anything. When I went to therapy, I didn’t have to ask if the therapist had experience with straight cisgender white clients. I did not attend straight cis white male support groups. There weren’t any clubs known for being straight cis white guy bars–there were just bars.
One thing I’ve gleaned during my gender transition is an awareness of the scale and scope of privilege I was granted when people thought I was a straight cis white dude. When I say people here, I mean people I don’t know but have to interact with in public. Now that “people” don’t think I’m that way, our interactions are different, and the constant at-ease I was able to enjoy–which peoples’ easy interactions with me reinforced–isn’t really something I get to touch very often.
So I stay in a lot, and try to avoid talking to people I haven’t eaten with. I dress in a way that tries to make me not look like a man in a sundress. I wear big dangly earrings to help people refer to me by the pronouns I want them to (I have a pair of blue guitar pick danglies that are like 70/30 pass/not-pass). I shave before I leave the house if I’m going somewhere public. Sometimes I try to pitch my voice a little higher and speak with more melodic swings–this one sometimes works with waiters and cashiers and clerks. When I do have to speak and I’m alone, I talk quieter. None of this really works outside of the Pacific Northwest. Once, I went to a hotel in California with my aunt, and we were “You ladies” until I returned alone to the concierge to ask for more towels.
Recently, I’ve thought maybe the best way to deal is to simply accept that people will most likely Sir me, and let them think what they will. Ultimately, beyond the daywrecking crudfeels and crying alone while listening to “The Downward Spiral” and feeling like my appearance will never be good enough to afford me the passing-privilege of not being misgendered and outed and having to manage my gender in every little social interaction that used to be so not an issue, what does it matter? Were I gutsier, maybe I could be one of those badass trans people who don’t give a shit about passing and look like a gender train wreck on purpose, bringing more visibility to the fact that people like me exist instead of trying to hide inside a highly-managed perception of gender congruence.
I wonder: how different would my reaction be to learning of yesterday’s massacre of queer people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub if I were still pretending to be straight and cis and a guy? Would I be able to understand the type of vulnerability I’m feeling now if someone experiencing it tried to tell me how they were feeling? Would I feel safer than I currently do? Would I feel less outraged? Less helpless? Would it be as easy as it is right now to imagine my friends in the bar, suffocating as their punctured lungs fill with blood? To imagine myself there? My vulnerability must be so small compared to that of so many others closer to the event. I only read about it from a geography away.
Perhaps safety is a lie. As long as there exists the kind of hate that makes a person shoot up a bar over a kiss, it is certainly a luxury.
I don’t know what to do about any of this. I sit at my computer and type and feel safe enough to play a Calvin Harris house remix of Florence and the Machine’s “Spectrum” (“we are shining / and we will never be afraid again!”) over and over while a dog barks in the apartment across the hall and the owners yell at it to shut up. The cat crawls onto my lap and looks at me. I scratch him behind the ears because I think he likes it there. He falls asleep purring into the crook of my arm.
The internet says there is a blood shortage in Orlando right now, and many LGBTQIA+ folks can’t donate. If you’re around and have some blood, consider sharing.
The bullshittiest part about all this writing though: What is it going to do? Seriously, you’re sitting on your computer reading this. I’m sitting on my computer writing this. NOT DOING FUCKING ANYTHING TO HELP except selfishly thinking about my own safety and bemoaning my loss of passing privilege when in fact I am feeling pretty fucking safe compared to any other queer person in Florida right now.