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A Young Man’s Guide to Becoming a Nerd Girl, Epilogue: Fight for Your Rights

After I finished my previous series on my transition and what it’s taught me, I realized that while there was much to celebrate about trans identities, I hadn’t really gotten into the darker aspects of trans life. After all, in addition to the often-exhausting psychological struggle of gender dysphoria, trans people also still face considerable oppression, both legally and socially- and the numbers are truly staggering.

According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality in 2011[1], 90% of trans people faced harassment in the workplace,  78% at school, and 53% while trying to use public accommodations.

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Statistically, we are twice as likely to be unemployed, and 19% of us have been homeless at one point in our lives due to our gender identity (with 11% being evicted from our homes and apartments for being trans). 19% have  dealt with police harassment (particularly trans people of color)- a specter even more alarming when the near-universal policy of housing trans people with their assigned-at-birth gender (e.g., trans women with men) is factored in.  57% have reported significant family rejection, exacerbating much of the difficulty trans individuals face.  Finally, the cumulative effects of this intense discrimination is clear- 41% of trans people have attempted suicide, an order of magnitude above the general population.  Worse yet, an alarming number of trans people are murdered each year, with trans women of color being especially vulnerable.

SuicidePrevention
Click for International Hotlines

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a comparatively easy transition- my family, friends, partner, and colleagues have all accepted, and often even celebrated, my identity- but even I have been subjected to my share of hatred.  In 2014, when I started my transition, my fiancée was in her final year of veterinary school at Washington State University.  After word of my transition began to circulate, we discovered that at least three of her fellow vet students had spent some of their break time between shifts at the veterinary teaching hospital having rather involved conversations featuring gross speculation on both my anatomy and the nature of our sex life.  The matter was serious enough that she  filed a complaint with the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity, which subsequently launched an investigation into the incident.  Unfortunately, nothing came of the investigation, as none of the other students who witnessed it directly were willing to come forward (something that is all too common in these scenarios).

After three and half years of being told that her fellow students would have her back, the fact that no one would speak up for her was a tremendous betrayal- one that was honestly traumatizing for her, and which she has only recently begun to recover from.  For me, it was a rude awakening to the fact that I was now part of a marginalized community. It may not seem like much to the outside observer, but it’s hard to describe how crushing it is to be dehumanized in such manner- to have an identity that you, or someone you dearly love, have fought hard to accept and embrace, only for it to be reduced to a spectacle, a sideshow, for the entertainment of others.  And that’s the best case scenario- after the incident, we never really felt safe at the university, since casual Othering can easily evolve into more overt forms of discrimination, or even violence (for example, we had genuine concerns of whether or not it’d be safe for me to go to her graduation ceremony, since what if some of those students’ family members considered me an abomination that needed to be purged?)

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And yet, this only a minor example of the transphobia my community faces on a regular basis.  It doesn’t just come from our coworkers or fellow students, either- we see it in the media (where we’re often portrayed as either mentally ill and dangerous villains, or pathetic, deluded victims), in the punchline of jokes, and in our places of worship.

More ominously, we’ve seen it coming from our governments- in the past year, an increasing number of anti-LGBT legislation has been proposed in state legislatures (often under the guise of “religious freedom” bills), with actual laws being passed by in North Carolina and Mississippi.  Many of these target trans people in particular- so-called “bathroom bills”, which, if passed, would legally require trans people to use the sex-segregated facilities of their assigned-at-birth sex, regardless of how they identify or where they are in transition [2].  The rationale for these bills is based on the myth that trans people- and trans women in particular – are dangerous sexual predators, who dress as the opposite sex in order to gain access to gendered spaces so they can commit sexual assault.  This is despite the fact that no such incidents have ever been reported: as John Oliver aptly observed, it’s like dragon rustling- sure, it’s terribly, but it doesn’t really happen.  Additionally, these bathroom bills make life even more difficult for non-binary trans people who don’t necessarily identify as male or female, and for people who are cis but gender-nonconforming.

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Other proposed bills would make it harder for trans people to change their legal identification or birth certificates (which is often already difficult as is, since many states require proof of sexual reassignment surgery, which many trans people cannot afford or simply do not desire in the first place),  or allowing therapists to refuse service.  The timing of these bills suggests a coordinated effort- one that is at least partially the result of election year politics and a backlash to same-sex marriage- but which has the potential to become what trans writer and activist Brynne Tannehill has described as the cultural genocide of the transgender community.  This may seem like an exaggeration at first, but Tannehill cites a policy white paper published by the ultra-conservative Family Research Council which explicitly call for anti-trans legislation, in an effort to make it as difficult to be trans as possible[3].

These policies, if enacted, would push an already marginalized community to the brink of destruction.  If we are to survive, we’ll need to actively fight for our right to exist as we truly are.  The trans community has never been more visible, even if this visibility has come at the price of increased vulnerability.  This is our moment to seize- to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we really are just normal people, who deserve a shot at normal, everyday life, just like everyone else does.  We are your neighbors and coworkers, friends and family members, and all we ask is that you just accept us in our authenticity.

visibility infographic update 2015

So. This election year, regardless if you’re trans or cis, do something.  Vote against transphobic politicians or referendums.  Educate your friends and coworkers, and remind them that we’re human, too, even if we do have a somewhat unusual condition.  Support trans leaders, artists, business people, and activists.  Like those who have fought for their rights before us, the trans community has come to the point where history will be made.  Do your best to be on the right side of it.


[1] Incidentally, the NCTE conducted an updated version of this survey in the Fall of 2015- results will hopefully be available later this year.

[2] For those of you keeping score at home, these bills could potentially require a post-operative trans woman- who might be physically indistinguishable from a cis woman by everything short of a detailed gynecological exam- to use the men’s restrooms and locker rooms, in the name of preventing sexual assault.

Infuriated yet?

[3] As far as I can discern, the rationale of the FRC is that trans people are just mentally ill, and that making it easier for us to transition is enabling our delusions.  From their point of view, making our lives hell is doing us a favor, since it’s presumably would encourage us to seek out “real” treatment to help us “accept” our assigned-at-birth gender, instead of transitioning.  Keep in mind, these are the same people that still think gay people can be “cured”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.


TessTessa 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.

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A Young Man’s Guide to Becoming a Nerd Girl, Part 3 of 3: Life on the Other Side

Part 1 | Part 2

Given that I’ve lived as both a man and as a woman at various points in my life, I’d like to think that the experience has given me a relatively unique perspective on how men and women interact with, and are treated by, society. Some of these differences are minor, even subtle; others are quite striking. In the process of transitioning, I’ve had to learn first-hand what it means to be a woman in our culture, allowing me to compare and contrast those lessons to what I learned living as a man. While sometimes surreal[1], my journey has been utterly fascinating from a sociological point of view.

Amongst some of the more notable things I’ve learned in my transition:

Male privilege is totally a thing, and very real

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Lest ye doubt that women are just making it up, or exaggerating the pervasive societal bias towards men, let me assure you, we’re not. While men certainly do face unique struggles of their own (I’m no stranger to toxic masculinity), women have to deal with far more widespread difficulty in navigating the world. This has ranged from minor annoyances (suddenly I’m getting talked over a lot more, especially when men are involved in the conversation) to dealing with rather frightening scenarios (making sure I would be able to get an early ride home from an overnight New Year’s Eve party if I didn’t feel safe staying there- something that would’ve never crossed my mind before I transitioned). While I knew that women had to deal with a lot of crap that men didn’t (my fiancée had made a point to get me more educated on feminist issues, even back when I still identified as a man), and had been warned about it by other trans people, nothing prepared me for the sheer ubiquitousness or insidiousness of it.

Women’s personal space isn’t as respected as men’s is

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This is arguably a subset of male privilege, but it’s one that particularly sticks out to me. When I presented male, people usually gave me a respectable berth. Now that I’m seen as woman, people tend to get much closer, and sometimes will even casually touch me during conversation or while walking by, even if they’re complete strangers. I suspect this is because, as a man, I was seen subconsciously as a potential threat; as a woman, I’m not. There is one upshot to this, however, and that is

People are friendlier to women

It’s not a huge difference, but I have definitely noticed more smiles and casual conversation, especially from other women. It’s definitely been one of the more positive social changes I’ve had.

People are more likely to open up to women

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This goes hand-in-hand with the above- people (men especially) seem to feel safer being more vulnerable around women then men. Previously, when I was still seen as male, people (again, men especially) were generally more hesitant to discuss more personal and emotional-laden topics, sticking to more impersonal subjects such as politics, current events, shop talk, and the like. One thing I’ve really enjoyed since starting transition is that now it seems like people are much more likely to have actual, real conversations with me, conversations that feature a much higher degree of emotional intimacy.

This difference does have its downside, however: for example, many women in science have noted that there’s a tendency for students and colleagues within their departments to preferentially come to them when they’re dealing with emotional or psychological struggles, since it’s expected that as women, they’ll be better suited to handling it, even when they’re not.

The reason it takes women so long to clothes shop is because nothing fits

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Seriously. The sizing system for men is pretty straight-forward- you measure your waistline, and that’s your pants size. Shirt size isn’t much harder.

The sizing system for women, however is nothing short of capricious and arbitrary. For example, depending on the manufacturer and cut, my dress size can literally be anywhere from a 4 to a 16. Bra sizes are an even more eldritch madness. It took a while for me to actually figure out what would be likely to fit me, and even then I usually have to try things on to know for sure.

The astrobiology community is actually pretty gender equitable

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Given the difficulties faced by women in science, the first time I went to a science conference after socially transitioning, I was really bracing myself for a sudden onslaught of sexism that I’d hitherto been shielded from. However, I was very pleasantly surprised- even amongst people who had no idea I was trans, I never felt like I was treated differently than I had been when I was presenting as male. I’m not sure if that’s because our field is young and has a very high percentage of women, or because the people who tend to go into such a cutting-edge area of research are more likely to be open-minded, or both, but whatever the reason, I’m very grateful for it.

Conclusion

Of course, there have been plenty of other, smaller things I’ve learned along the way- how to put my hair in a ponytail, that there’s a qualitative difference between male and female orgasms [2], the indescribably exquisite feeling that comes from taking off your bra at the end of the day, and so forth.

Overall, however, the whole experience of transition has been not quite like anything else I’ve done in life. Despite the hardships and challenges it sometimes entails, my choice to transition, and to live my life as the woman I truly am, has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.


[1] Something that trans people rarely mention about transition is that, while it’s often a liberating and empowering experience, it also is pretty weird when you stop to really think about it (particularly if, like me, you spent a large part of your life honestly believing you weren’t “really” trans). I have at least one very strong memory from the early stages of my transition, of thinking to myself “My fiancée just explained to me how to put on a sports bra. How did my life get here?”

[2] Since I know you want you want to know, but are afraid to ask: male orgasms tend to be sudden, intense, and highly localized- kind of like you’ve been struck by lightning. They’re also accompanied by a feeling of pressure being released. Female orgasms, on the other hand, feel more diffuse through the body, have a better build-up, and tend to linger- it’s like when you’re swimming out in the ocean, and a swell slowly picks you up and puts you back down.

There’s also quite a bit of variation in quality compared to male orgasms: with weak male orgasms, you can generally tell that at least something happened, but with female ones, you can’t necessarily even tell that; middling orgasms are about the same for both genders; and for really good orgasms, well, let’s just say there’s a reason women tend to be screamers and men don’t.


TessTessa 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.

A Young Man’s Guide to Becoming a Nerd Girl, Part 2 of 3: Hormones and Other Magic

After reading part one, you may be wondering what exactly goes into transition. Well, as it turns out, a lot – and while it is a time and energy consuming process in the extreme, the results can be nothing short of astounding.

Popular media might have you believe that getting a “sex change” is a single procedure- you walk into the hospital male, and walk out female (or vice versa). Alas, if only it were that easy.

The truth is that transitioning has a number of components to it (including hormone replacement therapy (HRT), changing names and pronouns, dressing differently, and surgeries, amongst others), and often takes years before completion (however that’s defined by the trans person in question). The nature of the transition reflects the identity of the trans person – whether they identify as male, female, both, neither, or something else all together. Furthermore, which components a trans person includes in their transition varies widely – many, for example, may just take HRT and socially present as their identified gender, and eschew surgery (whether it’s because they can’t afford it, aren’t satisfied with the results, or simply don’t feel it’s necessary for them to be happy).   The order often varies, as well – some going on HRT and then changing their social presentation, while others do the reverse. Excluding one or many of these components doesn’t make the person any less trans- ultimately, it’s their body, and their decision.

Here are some of the common elements of transitioning:

Counseling

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While not all trans people feel the need for counseling, it can be helpful to many of us. After all, you usually don’t spend years or decades trying to be something you’re not without developing a few issues- not to mention having to cope with a culture that, while it’s gradually improving, is still often hostile to trans people. Additionally, some doctors require a note from a mental health professional before administering transition-related procedures, though there has been a movement away from this “gatekeeper” model towards one based around informed consent, at least when it comes to hormonal treatment (surgery still requires letters from not one, but two therapists, one of which must be a licensed psychologist with a PhD, who certify that you’re mentally fit for the procedure, and that you’ve been living as your target gender for at least a year prior- it’s quite a number of hoops to jump through).

Hormones

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Many trans people seek to transition medically- that is, to modify their bodies to reflect their identity, and so that they can (quite literally) be comfortable in their own skin. Hormone replacement therapy is the keystone of transitioning medically and results in dramatic and pervasive changes.

In my case, I was put on the standard HRT regime for someone transitioning from male to female, as I felt I would be most comfortable in a female body. This typically includes estradiol (a form of estrogen, which can be injected, absorbed through the skin via adhesive patch, or dissolved under the tongue in pill form). However, since testosterone “competes” with estrogen for binding with cell receptors and will overpower it, the regimen usually includes one or more testosterone-blockers, which prevents testosterone from binding. Additionally, estrogen, once it reaches sufficiently high levels, will greatly lower testosterone production.

Some of the effects of my HRT treatment have included:

Breast development

Probably the biggest and most visible change, and honestly, the one I’ve enjoyed the most – watching myself go from being completely flat-chested to a C cup (and still growing!) has been rewarding on a deeply visceral level. As a side note, with the right hormonal treatment, lactation can be induced, allowing me to breastfeed – something my fiancée and I plan on doing when we get around to having a kid, so we can split the midnight feeding runs.

Reduction in body hair

My body hair has thinned considerably, and what’s left is much finer and lighter colored. I still have a bit more than I would like, though, especially on my chest. I’m hoping that’ll eventually thin out, too.

Softer skin

My skin is a lot smoother, softer, and clearer than it was before. Oddly enough, this- along with my change in scent[1]- is one of my fiancee’s favorite aspects of my transition.

Body fat redistribution

This is a subtle, yet extremely powerful effect of HRT. Not only have I started to develop curves (previously, I was basically a rectangle), my facial appearance has changed as well- my cheeks have filled out and become more prominent, my lower jaw has thinned a little, and my face overall is now much softer and rounded.

Reduction in muscle mass

My overall figure looks more feminine now as a result, though my stamina and strength have definitely taken a hit. I can still open most jars, though.

Increase in my sense of smell

While I’ve never had a particularly strong sense of smell, I do notice scents more than I used to. This, apparently, is widely reported amongst trans women, with many experiencing a much greater enhancement to their olfactory acuity than I did.

Emotional changes

While I was always pretty emotional, the speed at which my moods change has greatly quickened (in technical terms, I have higher emotional lability). While previously it might take me a bit to get angry, sad, or joyful about something, now it feels like my moods go from zero to sixty in milliseconds. I also occasionally have to deal with mood swings, which took some getting used to. With that said, overall I feel much calmer and confident, and far happier than I ever could’ve imagined- in fact, I’m not sure I really knew what happiness was before I transitioned.

 I should note hormones don’t do everything- they can’t change your skeletal structure, for example. Nor, in the case of trans women (but not trans men!), do they really affect the voice – I had to go through eight sessions of voice therapy and months of practice to be able to speak with a female-sounding voice (I also recently started taking singing lessons, which has also helped). And while my beard grew in more slowly, to actually have it removed I’ve had to undergo numerous sessions of laser hair removal and electrolysis (which, somewhat frustratingly, is still ongoing- though I have gotten to the point where I no longer need make-up to hide my beard shadow).

Social and Legal Transition

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This is a fancy way of saying of changing how you dress, act, speak, and so forth, as well as having your legal documentation updated to reflect your identity. In my case, once I had been on HRT for a few months, I gradually started dressing more and more androgynously, until I switched over to wearing women’s clothing completely. My style remained somewhat androgynous for a few months after I started living as Tessa full-time, but over time I’ve gotten more femme (I heart sundresses! And sweater dresses!).

Getting your legal documents updated varies from state to state- I was lucky to live in a state that all was required for changing the “M” on my driver’s license to an “F” was a note from a doctor verifying that you are receiving the “appropriate treatment” (as deemed by the doctor) for your gender transition. The Social Security Administration and the State Department (for passports) have similar requirements. Other states, however, require that you’ve had surgery, and in some cases, when it comes to birth certificates, won’t let you change them at all. Which is horrible and those states should feel bad about themselves.

Surgery

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There are actually several surgeries available to trans people – some trans women elect to have facial feminization surgery to make their facial appearance more womanly. Breast augmentation/removal is another, and voice surgeries and Adam’s apple reduction are also an option for trans women.

The one that gets everyone in a tizzy, however, is referred to variously as sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), genital reassignment surgery (GRS), or simply “bottom surgery”. For trans women, the results are often highly satisfactory[2], in terms of sensitivity (many surgeons boast that 90% or more of their patients are orgasmic post-surgery), function, and appearance; the resulting vulva, clitoris, and vagina can often only be distinguished from that of a cisgender[3] woman’s by a gynecological exam. For trans men, unfortunately, the results are often less satisfactory and require painful skin graphs; consequently, most trans men elect not to get bottom surgery

A caveat: asking a trans person their surgical status (if they’ve had it and/or if they plan to) is considered highly offensive (since it’s basically a roundabout way of asking what’s in our pants).   While I’m pretty open about such things, it’s often best to just not ask.

With that said, I personally haven’t had surgery yet, but I’m currently scheduled to in July 2017. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the surgery or the recovery process itself (which includes three months of convalescence and activity restriction, plus another three to nine months of healing before you’re fully back to normal, as well as daily maintenance [4] for the first year or so), I am definitely looking forward to the end result.

Conclusion

So far, transitioning has been the most audacious, scary, exciting, demanding and ultimately rewarding thing I’ve done in my life. While it’s a little mind-boggling to think how much I’ve changed in such a short time (three years ago, I was still convinced I was a straight dude), I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Part 3


[1] Apparently, I smell way better than I used to. Make of that comment what you will.

[2] If you’re morbidly curious as to how this procedure works, there’s an excellent (and bloodless) CGI animation of it here.

[3] If you’re not up on the vernacular, cisgender (or simply cis) is how you refer to someone who’s not transgender.

[4] Specifically, you’re required to do what’s called dilation. You know how when you get your ears (or other body part) pierced, you have to at least periodically leave the ring or stud in so the body doesn’t treat like it a wound and heal it shut? Yeah, same idea, except with what are essentially medical grade dildos instead of piercings. Thankfully, like a piercing, over time, you have to dilate less often, first multiple times a day, then only once a day, then only once or twice a month.


TessTessa 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.

The Young Man’s Guide to Becoming a Nerd Girl, Part 1 of 3: Wait…Tessa is Evolving

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…

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I was born in 1987, the eldest (by less than a minute) of a set of twin identical twin boys [1]. 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[2], 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.

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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).

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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 [3].

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[4], 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”).

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 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.

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 [1] 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.

 [2] 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.

 [3] 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.

 [4] 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.

Part 2 | Part 3


TessTessa 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.

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