While I’ve alluded to my trans status and transition and how it’s affected me in previous pieces, I thought it was time to talk about the subject directly. After all, trans people are more visible than ever, and I hope to do my part to foster greater societal acceptance of my community. In the interest of keeping things within a sane word count, this project will be divided up in three parts- the first chronicling my personal journey towards self-understanding, the second detailing what went into my transition and the third, what I’ve learned from it.
So, strap in, and prepare yourself for a wild ride across the gender spectrum.
Once there was a boy…
I was born in 1987, the eldest (by less than a minute) of a set of twin identical twin boys . Surprisingly, my early childhood was fairly normal, at least in the gender department – people told me I was a boy, and I took their word for it. I wasn’t a particularly feminine child, but I wasn’t a very masculine one, either – possessing a very sensitive temperament and a tendency to cry easily. I do remember wanting – and being allowed – to wear my mom’s costume jewelry (my parents, thankfully, weren’t particularly invested in gender roles or expectations), but I also recall spending a lot of my time playing in the dirt outdoors with my brother, or building LEGOS. Had I been raised female, I suspect I would’ve been an incorrigible tomboy.
I did pick up some stereotypically-female hobbies – I rode horseback, played the flute (giving me the distinguished honor of being That One Guy In the Piccolo section in my high school and college marching bands, which I really enjoyed), and later, learned swing dancing and knitting. However, my development otherwise didn’t appear unusual, and my brother – who is 100% a dude – had similar interests and temperament.
It wasn’t until age eleven or so that I began to become aware that something was wrong (later, I would discover that such “late onset dysphoria”, as it’s referred to clinically, is quite common in trans people, often appearing around the onset of puberty). I had a growing sense of discomfort and dissonance with my body. I felt like I should be something else – but I couldn’t articulate what. I chocked it up to being the sort of weirdness that happens during puberty, and didn’t think too much of it.
Around age 13, I discovered that I felt better and more relaxed when I pictured myself as female. This lead to suspicions that I might be trans (after all, I can’t imagine too many teenage boys daydream about being girls). While I knew trans people existed – frankly, I was fascinated by them, and devoured whatever media I could on them – what little information was available then described someone I was very much not. I liked girls, hadn’t “always known”, wasn’t overwhelmingly feminine, wasn’t particularly interested in cross dressing, and wasn’t constantly suicidally miserable. It didn’t help that popular media tended to depict trans people, and trans women in particular, as either being painfully obviously trans (the so-called “man in a dress” trope), or the product of numerous surgeries (trans writer Julia Serano has suggested these tropes aren’t accidental, and are the result of social anxieties surrounding what trans women represent). Furthermore, at the time there existed a spurious psychological theory that suggested my feelings were purely the result of a sexual deviance, which didn’t help matters, either (the theory has since been largely debunked).
Thus, I assumed my feelings stemmed from something else, and did my best to rationalize it all away. I assumed it was some sort of sexual kink, personality quirk, result of social anxiety, or consequence of being single for too long. I noticed that it would (temporarily) go away when I was in a relationship, which lead me to conclude that whatever it was, it wasn’t that serious, and would surely go away once I got laid/fell in love/got married (later, I would find this form of denial – that “love will cure us”, as Jenny Boylan put it – is extremely common). If you would’ve asked me then what I identified as, I would’ve sincerely told you that I was a heterosexual male .
And so the matter sat for the next 13 years. In the mean time, I graduated high school, went to college, and then started grad school. I had a few girlfriends, but nothing really long-lasting – until I was 25, when I met the woman who would become my fiancée.
The first year and a half or so was amazing, and resulted in me proposing to her. Surely, I thought, that would be the end of the lingering fantasies about being a woman.
Things Get Weird
Soon, though, they began creeping back – and worse, the feeling of dissonance was gradually getting worse (this, too, is common). I had told my fiancée of my gender issues early on in our relationship, dismissing them as nothing serious – fortunately, when I realized that there might be something more to them, she was largely supportive and encouraged me to get to the bottom of it.
I started doing research, and discovered that the type of daydreams and fantasies I’d been having (sometimes referred to as cross dreaming) were sometimes the result of gender dysphoria – something which stuck at the back of my mind. I also began reading about toxic masculinity, which lead me to critically question how I related to masculinity, and lead to my eventual decision to distance myself from it (my first conscious act of gender rebellion was buying a pair of pink earbuds to replace ones I had lost – admittedly, it was also because I figured I’d be less likely to lose something brightly colored).
The question of my gender identity simmered on the proverbial backburner for a few months (I was preoccupied with other things, including sadly, my stepfather’s rapid decline in health and death). However, on Dec. 29th, 2013, it was thrust front and center. On a flight down to visit my fiancée’s family over the holidays, I suddenly and inexplicably had an epiphany sear through my brain: Oh my God, I need to be a girl.
Despite the seeming clarity of this revelation, it took close to six months – and a lot of help from my amazing psychologist – to fully accept my womanhood. At first, I toyed with the idea of being genderfluid or non-binary (which, in retrospect, was mostly me trying to see if I could be a woman without necessarily giving up being a man and all the sweet, sweet male privilege that goes along with it). However, as I did more research – which lead to me discovering that, despite what I had previously thought, there were many trans people who shared my experiences, sometimes even using the exact same words to describe them, and also that truly dramatic changes were possible from transitioning – my conviction that I would be happiest as a woman grew.
I gradually came out to family, friends, and colleagues (all of whom have been incredibly accepting and supportive – I’m a very lucky girl). There were times when things were a little touch-and-go with my fiancé (after all, this was an extremely traumatic change to our relationship, and she needed time and space to grieve for the man she’d fallen in love with), but she ultimately chose to stay with me (as she put it, “I fell in love with you, not your gender”).
On Sept. 23rd, 2014, after driving 4.5 hours one way to get to a trans-friendly clinic, I took my first dose of hormone replacement therapy, designed to lower my testosterone and raise my estrogen. Within days, I noticed that my mind was calmer, quieter, and more at peace than it had been in years, erasing whatever lingering doubts I had that this was the right decision. Six months later, on my 28th birthday, I legally changed my name to Theresa, got my gender markers updated on my legal documentation, and began living as my authentic self full-time. Tessa had officially arrived.
 Family lore states that my brother and I are actually half-identical – that is, we’re genetically identical on the mother’s side but not the father’s, due to the egg splitting before fertilization. However, we’ve never had a DNA test to confirm this, and practically speaking, we appear largely identical to most people.
 Admittedly, having a former Olympic-level equestrian as a mother, and growing up in a horse farm meant this was probably inevitable – after all, I was literally in a saddle before I could walk. However,
I’ve stuck to it far longer than many men I knew who grew up in similar environments.
 In retrospect, there were obvious signs – the discomfort I felt in all-male groups and happiness I had in otherwise-all-female ones, the fact that I felt the need to periodically grow my stubble out during my freshmen year (which I otherwise despised) to remind everyone that I was, in fact, a guy, the strange mixture of envy and yearning I had for lesbian relationships, my toying with the idea of going on herbal supplements alleged to encourage breast growth “to see what would happen” – it’s surprising how I missed it, honestly. Just goes to show how powerful denial can be.
 I also found out that trans lesbians were A Thing, which was truly revelatory – in fact, as it turns out, two thirds of trans women identify as lesbian, bisexual, or queer.
Tessa is a 28 year old PhD student, and perhaps the world’s only queer trans astrobiologist. A nerd going way back, her interests include science fiction, space exploration, sustainability, science communication, and feminism and gender. Her hobbies also include horseback riding, playing the flute, social dancing, knitting, and occasional attempts at writing fiction. She currently resides in Tempe, AZ with her even nerdier fiancee and a mastiff mix who thinks he’s a lapdog. She tweets occasionally @spacermase.