I’m a simple but determined man*. Who wants one thing. My shirts to fit right. This little thing, this small desire from when I was 12, has set off a chain reaction. One that leads me, begrudgingly, to this present moment. I didn’t know what a trans person was, all I knew was that my time of just throwing on a T-shirt was ending for reasons I didn’t understand. And I hated it. I’d avoided the skirts and dresses, learned to pretend that I could be a good girl — or at least not stand out too much — and sit with my legs crossed. I’d allowed the constant preening, styling, and modification of what a girl was “supposed to be like” wash over me when it had to. Otherwise got into fistfights, played video games, and was as likely to be with the boys talking about girls as I was with my head in a book.
But this? This was too far.
My mother brandished a training bra I didn’t want and felt I didn’t need. She tells me my nipples are showing, I don’t care. That I need to start wearing this to get used to it. I tell her it doesn’t *do* anything, so why bother? Why add a step? She says it’s inappropriate not to, too distracting…. And with this, the battle over my body begins.
All I wanted was to continue exactly as I was. A “Tomboy”, even though most had outgrown it by this point or started shifting towards that man-ish look some folks aunties had. They was still aunties, but, also didn’t act like my mother. But of course, my body was changing, despite my protests, and the expectations on me changed with it. I was supposed to care about bra straps and the length of my shorts, my hair and shaving, periods and grow into the young lady everyone assumed I’d be.
I didn’t care.
It was THEM and my BODY who had changed, not ME. *I* was the same, so why everybody suddenly expect me to be someone else? Why did everyone expect me to change? Was my body now owned by the people around me so much so that I couldn’t just be myself anymore? Everything got filtered through this lens. Throw in some trauma and rape, and by college, I’d given up.
I couldn’t join the fraternity I wanted. I wasn’t allowed the clothes I longed for. I wasn’t supposed to have the blue mohawk I been wanted. I was often split from my friends to be forced with the girls. People made assumptions about my fitness level and sent me to do “easier” tasks than lifting heavy things. My first boyfriend broke up with me because he realized he was gay after cheating on me. I sobbed because “what does this other guy have that I don’t!” A pain I couldn’t explain to everyone around me. Because as much as I supported him being gay, I couldn’t wrap my head around why I wasn’t enough. What made me so different from the one he cheated with?!
I had a major meltdown. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I meet these expectations? Why was it so hard but no one else seemed to be struggling? As I joined the social dance community I, for the first time, tried to make it work. I could do this.
I wanted to fit in. I loved following (traditionally feminine role) but noticed if I didn’t dress and act like the others, I ain’t get dances. So I borrowed dresses and skirts from friends, wore the dress I wore to prom to appease my mom, attempted to learn makeup, and how to walk in heels. I tried to learn what to do with long hair beyond pulling it into a ponytail. Which I typically did to mostly keep it out of the water fountain. But in the end, often found myself drinking beers and whiskey with the men at the dances, shooting the shit, arguing about music, getting passed over for dances.
I got sick. A reproductive disease. Estrogen literally creatin’ major problems in my body. I had one ovary removed. I knew I was not having kids. Mama tried to reassure me that I was still a woman if I couldn’t. It really ain’t help. I never wanted to be pregnant, that just felt *wrong*. But… I did want to maybe fill the role of… well not a mom. Even VERY young I never wanted that but… oh well, it’s not happening anyway.
I was sick with a cold, watchin’ YouTube. I was on a documentary kick. A show comes on. It’s this guy talking about how he was “born a woman”. I became obsessed. Laughing at bits that felt relatable, feeling weirdly understood. A friend came by to drop off some food and noticed what I was watching. He looks on suspiciously. Later I was calling him. I related to the stories of these guys. I was concerned. I wasn’t sure what I thought, it seemed weird, but I did want to wear men’s clothes. I always felt weird. He says well maybe you should just do that. Maybe you aren’t trans but just like men’s clothes…. So I did.
Still, the expectations were there. People started assuming I was like them aunties and a few of them girls from high school…. The ones that dated women. I liked women, but it always felt like the wrong thing. I flip-flopped between men’s gear and women’s, deciding to say fuck it unless I had to play a role. Moving to Denver I met non-binary people and although it made no sense to me, I respected that “hey! I can’t explain what I’m about either so I should listen”. Complaining about shirts not fitting, a friend got me a gift, a binder. I put it on and cried. My shirt fit the way it used to. The way I liked it. The way I expected.
Then I got really sick. I made the choice to have a total hysterectomy. Torn between what I needed and my desires, I struggled with it. I wanted the choice. The choice of if I’d have kids if I’d go through with the horror (for myself) of pregnancy one day. Before I was 22 it was ripped away from me. Eventually, it was time for the other ovary. Into menopause, I went. They put me on oestrogen to offset the menopause. A patch later and I discovered oestrogen caused me to not only be depressed but suicidal. I took it off. And settled back myself. Tried again. Maybe I just… need to cheer up and be patient. I got this. What I know? This should be fine. That’s what everyone says… Again it happened. The estrogen trashed me. I trashed them. I guess I would have the body of an older lady…
My pain was better but my body wasn’t mine. I gained weight rapidly, looked into the mirror one day, and saw my mother. Distressed, I called my doctor. This… was unacceptable. There was a treatment we hadn’t talked about because most don’t want the side effects. Testosterone.
I wasn’t sure I wanted the changes. I’d rather use the very low dosage and be pain-free and maybe, just maybe, at least get back to how I looked before. At least that, I could handle. A few weeks in, my therapist and I noticed a difference. I was clearer-headed, more confident, happier and hopeful. I had better energy, my pain was non-existent and I was on a whole feeling alive. I hated those meds and they were expensive, difficult to store and even harder to order. But, I had my life back.
I was travelling for again dance. Lying on a couch at an afternoon dance. Weary from trying to figure out how to be comfortable and why things were becoming unacceptable that I tolerated before. If I could continue to accept this control over my body, in exchange for not dealing with the fear of being perceived as a Black man. With a click, it could no longer be. I could no longer tolerate this lack of agency. Of showing up how I wanted. Of seeing myself as I wanted. Of constantly feeling like a failure for my body rejecting oestrogen and my inability to force myself into womanhood. I was trans, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
This wasn’t about you. This wasn’t a political statement. This wasn’t for attention or some kind of brownie points. This was about me saying no to the expectations being put on me. No, to the assumptions. No, to the demands. No to being forced into gendered spaces that made me deeply unsettled. No, to trying to be someone I wasn’t just because that’s who everyone thought I was and was meant to be.
With that, I took control over myself, expectations around me, and my own image. My role in society, how I felt about myself and wanted to show up. I, for the first time, felt like *I* was in control of my body. It was mine. Take it or leave it, I really didn’t care. I was going to be me. I went on the full dose of Testorerone.
Fast forward a few years and a pandemic later and I have been trying for the last few years to get top surgery. I found insurance that would cover it.
“It’s simple!” They said. “We need you to wait a year to be sure that this is what you want. A doctor needs to sign off that you are indeed trans. You have to be checked by a mental health professional to be sure you are of sound mind.” I hated this. For T they just asked if I knew the risks, but this was different. I’d been in therapy for a while so I figured it’s all formality. Annoying but an annoyance I can accept. She reads the paperwork and is appalled. She doesn’t really want the responsibility they are asking of her. She’s not fully sure she can even offer it, as she’s a young therapist.
Every session we spend on this is a session I can’t focus on healing. We spend several. Many consultations later, we have a plan. Because of my background, what is simple for most people is… more complicated for me. We have to change my therapy, onboard new tools and ideas, work through them and… we gotta be in person. I lived too far to see her and the pandemic made it impossible/irresponsible to travel. Months pass, a year goes by, and I finally move back. We sit down and she’s moving out of town. We try to move quickly but ain’t quick enough. I check in on my insurance and they still need this. I look at my other options and… without insurance AND without a letter, estimations around give or take $10,000 for everything.
I’m going to make the insurance work. This is silly. I got this. I’d slowly been falling more and more ill but in denial. I get bloodwork done and my oestrogen is high. HOW? Well, because no one listened to me, they didn’t correctly update my chart meaning I was slowly making myself sick unknowingly. I got angry. They refused to send me to a doctor that specialises in this. They made me wait. I called around and found someone. Only to see them and they told me to try a minor change and wait 6 months. 6 months?! I got sicker. And sicker. My mood shifted, I felt out of control, moody and irrational. I became depressed, my anxiety spiked miles high. My body changed. I gained weight more quickly now, and none of my clothes fit. Nothing fit right. My pain was sky high almost pre hysterectomy. I gave it up for nothing! Again, I started to, in my eyes, look like my mom. A beautiful woman to be sure, but a woman I was not.
My favourite doctor suggests a new treatment. It blocks my ability to create oestrogen. After a messy runaround, I finally start it. Within days I’m feeling better. Still far from recovered but better. I regain some control over my body. I meet some new guy friends and am overcome with envy. At what? The way their shirts fit. T had changed my shape but also how effective binding was. Binding which I hated. Binding which had hurt me. Binding which if I am at dance events I can never remove because it makes those around me treat me differently. Binding that has caused chemical burns, and ultimately doesn’t let me wear my shirts right.
All this time ’n all this effort and the one thing I wanted for so long is still out of reach. I’d need to take off time (a few months after 6 years of more or less weekly therapy) from my healing my mental health to do the extra steps required of me. Still, they might not even approve it. I look at myself and ask if I can do that. I can’t. Ultimately though, this morning I looked at myself. As I soothed my raw skin and compressed my chest to create a result, I am not even happy with nor lets me wear my clothes the way I want to, I hated myself. I hated that I was being asked to *beg*.
To beg for my body. To beg for my autonomy. To beg for the ability to prove my sanity. To beg for them to approve that my “caretakers” deemed it needful. To beg my “caretakers” for their approval. That after all this time and effort, after so much suffering, or having no way to make choices about myself. To show up as myself and see myself. That I was grovelling in the dirt, begging for them to deem me worthy, to see my humanity. To judge if I could make these choices about my body. If I was capable of making these choices. Moreover, if everyone around me believed it was a worthwhile investment.
Utterly disgusted, I refuse. I refuse to allow anyone else the ability to make choices about my body. I refuse to let anyone work on my body, to touch me, who doesn’t see me as the adult human I am, with agency. I refuse to beg for my rights as a Black person, and I refuse to do so here as well. I will not disrespect myself in this way. I refuse.
So. I am not going to settle anymore, say good enough is ok anymore, to disrespect the importance of this to myself. I am going to honour myself and my body. If you want to help me on this journey, check out my gofundme. If you already have, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
*Please note I am not code-switching this. My word choice is intentional. AAVE is not SAE. I want to speak in my native dialect.