Framed | Born To Choose This Way @ The Narrators (podcast)
A reflection on change, desire, choice, and the stories we tell about ourselves
I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born, a body. Without my body, I don’t exist.
Some bodies have freckles, while some are six-foot-four and near-sighted. Some grow thick hair, while others have autism. Each body comes with a unique mix of experiences — affordances and constraints. This body isn’t wrong, it’s trans. My genitals don’t match my gender, the way some bodies do.
You might need help with insulin. I need help with estrogen. I don’t mean to medicalize this experience — only to claim it, and put it in my body.
I operate best on hormones I don’t produce. Most women call that menopause. I call it transition.
There’s a temptation to cherry-pick the past, to emphasize one particular story-arc, associate myself with the proper stereotypes, and prove I was born this way — a girl from my first breath.
In the final years before my transition, I was begging the pieces to fit perfectly. I wanted a narrative that could prove my gender, once and for all. That story doesn’t exist.
A friend asks me what it means to be a woman. I have no idea. What does it mean for you to be your gender?
Dysphoria is a subtle, grumpy, subconscious beast — like an upset stomach, or the anger you feel when you haven’t eaten.
Gender dysphoria is hangry.
There’s no instruction manual, or arrow pointing you are here. Your hunger doesn’t take the time to stop and explain itself before driving you mad.
I watch Eddie Izzard, and think maybe I’m an action transvestite, but the lazy kind with a beer gut, who has no time for makeup, and finds dresses unflattering.
Megan asks if I’ve been a good boy this year. I’m not very good at being a boy, if that’s what you mean. She says I’m genderqueer, so I attend the Trans and Genderqueer Poetry Symposium.
Rose asks what pronouns do people use for you? That’s not the question she meant to ask, and not the question I wish I was answering. Neither of us correct our mistake.
Erin asks me point-blank, but I don’t know the answer. For a week, she uses all the pronouns interchangeably, but I only like the moments of she/her/hers.
It’s hard getting anyone else to follow suit. I think maybe changing my name will help, but it doesn’t much.
I tell Nat how I’m feeling. That’s because you’re not on hormones yet. I believe her, but there’s a waiting list.
I never felt like a girl. What do girls feel like? I didn’t always know, and dream of wearing dresses. I wasn’t consistent, insistent, or persistent.
I was frustrated.
Even after I pinned that pain on gender, it took years to make sense of the fragments.
Sometimes you don’t know the pain is real until it goes away.
I first call myself trans while speaking to 60-some relatives at a family reunion. Sometimes I do things the hard way. Everyone is supportive, but no one notices their pronouns, and it feels like nothing will ever change.
Grandma asks if I’m planning to transition medically, and I say no. I’m wrong.
Cis women warn me about the emotional terrors of estrogen. Clearly you haven’t tried testosterone, I say. That shit’ll fuck you up.
Transition is a wild waffling between dysphoria and euphoria. The changes all seem minor, but the results are life-changing. I’m the same person, completely, and not at all.
I lose two shoe sizes, and twenty-two pounds. I can’t lift my bass amp, and rarely get turned on — but when I do it’s electric. The world is several degrees colder, to make up for global warming, I suppose. Emotions live in my body, taking root. I’m all nerve endings, raw and exposed to the elements. When I pay attention, I love every second of it.
He genders me right, in that condescending tone reserved for women. I’m excited and horrified.
Many people become frustrated by the trappings of gender — the rules and regulations imposed by our culture. We are not the only people to push against these limits. Then the boys find their inner princess, and girls grow up to be president (please), and everyone else moves on.
As my brother says, cis does not mean simple.
I wanted that story too — a complex gender, breaking from tradition without crossing any lines. I hoped gender was only a construct, and a change in performance could destroy my dysphoria. I wanted to express my feminine traits and move on.
But feminine is not my gender. Painted nails are not what it means to be a woman. Gender is often performed, but the performance is not the whole story. The play is not the thing.
A visiting trans friend asks where I get my T.
I make it inside my body, I tell him. I’d give it to you if I could.
My doctor doesn’t require a therapist’s approval, but she tells me it’s helpful if you have one. I don’t know what that means. My therapist writes a letter, just in case.
I have to sign a form that explains the effects of hormone therapy. They bring me the wrong form: Consent for Masculinizing Hormone Therapy. I ask for the other form, please. Probably a clerical error, but it feels good.
This is called informed consent. Expect breast growth, changes in body fat, and thinning body hair. Don’t expect changes in voice or facial hair. The form is full of typos, but I sign it anyway. Later that day, I take my first hormone pills.
Everyone asks me if I’ll keep dating women. The better question, I say, will women keep dating me? I wonder which part of transition should change who I find attractive. The name and pronoun, or hormones, or a possible surgery down the road? This all sounds absurd. I was bi before, I’m bi now, and I expect to be bi for a very long time.
Some do find that transition allows them more comfort in dating or noticing different genders than before. Sometimes sexuality is just about feeling comfortable and paying attention. Nothing is set in stone.
I’m still learning to identify as a woman, and as a lesbian. Both are over-simplifications. Maybe a non-binary genderqueer trans woman bi/pansexual femme tomboy dyke?
I was assigned male, and learned to identify as a man — no matter how odd or painful that felt. My identity was male for 33 years. Even when the label means nothing to you, it can be hard to shake off.
I’m terrified that all I want is the mythical teenage sleepover, and I’m too late for that. The Internet is all tweens and early teens, afraid they are too old for hormones. I read all the wrong things, and cry for weeks.
I told myself I was too masculine to transition.
I told myself I looked too young without a beard. I told myself a beard would allow me to be more queer. I used my beard as a beard, in the way gay boys and lesbians team up to throw you off the scent. I told myself if you don’t try you can’t fail. If I have a beard, no one will think I’m trans. I was right. My own fear and self-hatred became my strongest defense. I told myself it’s only a body. I told myself nothing fit right.
A friend jokes about the useless buttons on the back of my new coat. Those buttons aren’t useless, I tell him. That’s how people know I’m a woman.
I believed gender was only a performance when my own gender was a performance. Others believe gender aligns with genitals, because theirs does. It’s hard to look beyond your own experience. That’s why we have empathy.
I realized I was trans when rejecting gender only made things worse.
I’ve been fortunate to have the partners I have. None of us knew if our relationships would survive this transition, but both are queer as fuck, and I don’t know how I would have survived without them.
Thank you Rachel. Thank you Erin. You mean the world to me.
I’m not trans because of the things I like, or the people I sleep with. I’m not trans in order to paint my nails, fuck boys, join a coven, or get a free drink on Ladies Night. I’m not exploring my feminine side, or enjoying the realities of sexism, objectification, double-standards, mansplaining, and harassment. I could do all those things before.
I’m trans because the doctors called me a man and they were wrong.
I thought I was borrowing a scraper, but then he just cleaned off the car for me. This doesn’t happen when you look like a boy person.
The bank ask to see my marriage license. When I don’t have one, they ask the reason for my name change? I make a list of possible reasons:
There’s a period where I can’t use he/him/his for anyone. I pause before every pronoun, confused.
I don’t know how many trans people I know. After transition, many fade from view. Cis-assumption helps us blend in, for our own safety. Others haven’t come out yet.
Visibility is dangerous, but without it we’re monsters under the bed.
“Passing” is not something I do, but something that happens to me — not a way of presenting, but a way of being seen. Fickle. In a single moment I can be seen and not seen, gendered and misgendered. Ungendered, and undressed.
I start using the women’s restroom when others start seeing a woman — not 100%, but enough to feel un/safe.
Suddenly the men’s room feels impossible. I’m terrified, but I’m waiting for the FF2 from Boulder, and can’t hold it any longer. It’s been a year now, without incident.
When I say gender change, people only hear genitals.
We talk about socialization, as though kids only ever hear the half story intentionally directed their way. As though we’re not all taught to hate women equally. As though I can’t see past the mistake when I’m assigned male, and build my own feminine shame outside your view. As though I could survive 33 years without learning to cower.
A friend asks if I like to dress femme in the bedroom, or roleplay with crossed genders. I don’t think my pain is that sexy.
I tell my mom on the phone, I think I’m more binary than I think. She’s confused. So am I. I think I need to transition.
I watch a video of Kate Bornstein, and think finally, yes. Nothing she says, just her existence is enough. Nat says Women can be anything. Transition first, then explore.
Trying on clothes to see if they fit is way better than trying on clothes to see if your gender fits. I didn’t know there was a difference, until everything changed.
I can finally hate my body for the normal reasons.
Transgender and Transsexual always existed somewhere else, in another world. Extreme terms. I felt an affinity for cross-dressers, drag queens, and trans women alike (I wouldn’t distinguish until later), but the connection was fragile. They seemed so fierce and fabulous — wisp-thin and perfect-femme — nothing like a thick Indiana farm-boy.
On screen, their stories always ended badly.
Robert spent the night, but Audrey wasn’t allowed to. Later, the boys tell me not to play with her on the playground, and I listen.
A stranger asks me if I’m like, full tranny. That’s not a thing.
Living as a boy, pink became a symbol of something I could never fully articulate. Pink was a personal rebellion — pain played-off as politics.
But pink is only subversive for men. In the end, my rebellion reinforced my misgendering. A month into transition, I cleared all the pink from my closet.
Hormones are slow magic.
If you are wondering, am I trans, the answer is almost certainly yes love, and you are beautiful. No two stories are the same, but what we have in common is that pain, and that wondering. You aren’t stuck forever. You have options.
Being trans isn’t about knowing anything clearly, or even seeing it when others do. I transitioned on faith — my intuition jumping out ahead of my identity. I’m still surprised when I look in the mirror, but I look as often as I can — for the euphoria of that surprise, or just to normalize it over time.
—Ma’am, that account says ‘Eric Meyer’
—That’s my old… boyfriend? Can I change it?
I took a few voice lessons, for a better sense of control over my presentation. I don’t worry about a particular pitch, or gender-socialized speech patterns — just dropping some of that bass chest resonance. It was something small I could do before the hormones kicked in.
This was never a male body, it was always a trans body.
My body was trans as a kid.
My body is trans now.
My body will always be trans.
Recently, I had a nightmare about swimming. First I was worried about the swimsuit I don’t have. Will I try some on? Then I saw the locker room doors, and woke up in a panic.
I change my last name to Suzanne to avoid identity confusion in my career. I pick Suzanne from a list of family names my parents kindly send over. I’m half-aware at the time that I should be changing my given name instead. I move unspecified “M” to the middle, with a sense that I might need it later.
Given different genital circumstances, I would have been Miriam Suzanne Meyer at birth, or Mary Sue, or another variant. After three years, I change my first name to Miriam, and move Eric to the middle — for a sense of gender-queering history that I can drop to an initial at any time.
The man at TSA looks confused. Is that supposed to say Erica?
My first night out with a new name, I stumble and hate every minute. Erin holds my hand and introduces me to friends. This is my girlfriend. I’m trying to be dainty, maybe, or demure. It’s disgusting, and I want to vomit.
Hanson is on the radio. Why is Hanson on the radio?
I know that woman is not an action, but a description — what I am, not what I do. Knowing in my mind and knowing in my body are different things. Eventually I’m able to relax and be myself. It’s a new feeling.
An ex said she won’t be happy until I’m dead, gay, or castrated. I’m going for the hat trick.
After years of looking queer, it’s strange to realize you’re suddenly no-longer noteworthy — just one more woman walking down the street. It happened while I wasn’t paying attention: the queer kids stopped giving me that knowing nod.
Whatever made me stand out before, now only blends me in.
A few months on hormones, and flying becomes surreal. The woman checking ID says I guess you’ll want to get that changed as she hands back my license. Another woman beckons me through the scanner, and presses the pink button as I enter — then pulls me aside when the machine highlights my gender-failing crotch.
—I’m sorry ma’am, you triggered an alarm.
I mean, excuse me,
we don’t say alarm now,
we say anomaly.
—Yeah. I’m trans.
—I know, ma’am. Is it ok if I pat you down?
I buy PreCheck to avoid the scanners. Later I learn that a good tuck — or six more months blocking testosterone — is enough to pass their gender test. Press that pink button all you want. I guess this is what it means to be a woman?
In Colorado, your chosen name has to sue your given name for the right to exist.
Transition is not a binary. We all exist on a spectrum, stretching out in many dimensions. My transition will never be complete, and my gender will never be simple or static. Woman is only one label among many. None are perfect on their own, but we all live at intersections. We all contain multitudes.
I don’t believe in authenticity, but I do believe in pain, and doing something to survive it.
A reflection on change, desire, choice, and the stories we tell about ourselves
The Journal of Mennonite Writing asked me to submit for their queer issue. I don’t identify as Mennonite, but I did grow up in the church, so I asked my friends what to write about. They suggested the common question: In a world without rigid gender roles, would anyone need to be trans?
Yesterday, I shared an article about my impending surgery, and a request for help – both social and financial – as I go through this. I was embarrassed to ask, and not sure what to expect, but your response has been swift and overwhelming. I can’t thank you enough, but I’ll keep trying.
Denver Health has started offering vaginoplasty in addition to their other trans medical services. While I’ve been on the waitlist for various surgeons around the country, Denver Health called me this week to give me a date: September 10, less than two months away.
“I don’t have many guy friends, but my guitarist is one. Parting, I lean in for the cheek-kiss but he plants a good one right on my lips.”
At the family vacation in Moab, everyone is doing their best. It’s not enough, and my day is peppered with the wrong name and pronouns. I hide in my room through dinner so they won’t see me crying.
“I’ve seen myself in the mirror. I find me… disorienting. What do they see that I don’t? Why aren’t they laughing at me?”
“Mother finds me at her wardrobe, in her pumps and pearls. What are you doing? Being a mommy. Are you, then? She clips on the earrings (they pinch!), reaches for her lipstick.”
I wasn’t born in the wrong body. I was born, a body. Without my body, I don’t exist.
There’s a lot of language that gets thrown around, but much of it comes loaded with over-simplified baggage and misconceptions. Here are a few that have been on my mind – from gender identity to biological sex, transition, passing, and visibility.
There are some questions that come up again and again if you are trans. A few of those questions are terrible, but most of them are well-intentioned. I’m lucky to have a supportive community around me, so I thought I’d write down my most common answers to help ease your stress about getting it right, and ease my stress about answering the same questions over and over.