I realised today that without noticing I’ve entered a strange stage of my transition.
I’m in a place where I’m read as female, male and sometimes, a big metaphorical question mark. This isn’t much of a new development in itself, but the how, why and when it happens has changed. Most notably, I’m losing the degree of control I have over it, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
I’ve been on HRT for 7 months now. The changes to my body have gone from subtle and personal, to obvious and noticeable. I should stress, there hasn’t been any hugely climactic shift nor am I expecting one. I still look like me, as I should but I’ve been nudged in a more feminine direction. On the surface it’s as if I’m becoming my own sister.
Parts of my face are still traditionally masculine and always will be, but other parts have changed. My face is softer now while my silhouette has shifted. My hips and buttocks are fatter, giving me a curvier shape, certain items of clothing now hang differently on me. My transition is no longer something I talk about as having just begun, or going to happen, it’s happened and is continuing to happen now.
This thought first occurred to me recently, when I wanted to pop out to the shops one morning. I just wanted to pick up some food and break up my sleepy day off work. As the weather was average and I was only going around the corner, I threw on some black skinny jeans and one of my old t-shirts, a black boxy unisex thing, but with a cute and amusing cartoon Ewok on it. Once I was out I ended up wandering into a local clothes shop, just to browse.
While looking through a set of blouses, I spotted my reflection in the mirror. I paused. The surreal nature of how I looked made me laugh. I felt like the t-shirt didn’t suit me, at all. A year ago I’d see my reflection in such clothes and disliked the plain, mundane style, but it was evidently still something that matched how I looked. Even though I hated how I looked at the time, my old clothes let me blend in, look unassuming and disappear in a crowd. At least, as much as I could with strikingly long hair and an attempted androgynous appearance. But now, in the same outfit, my brain tells me I don’t look right in those clothes, on every level they don’t suit me. I now look out of place. Perhaps it’s just in my head, after wearing more traditionally feminine clothes for so long, or perhaps it’s how I’ve physically changed, maybe it’s a bit of both. Seeing my reflection that day, I felt like I was wearing my fictitious brother or boyfriend’s clothes, not my own.
I pinched the back of my baggy t-shirt, pulling it tighter around me. The more fitted look was undeniably more flattering, more aligned with what my mind expects to see in the mirror. Hips suddenly became noticeable while my breasts stood out, rather than my bra softly sitting beneath baggy black fabric. Meanwhile, it complimented my face better too. Which despite not wearing any makeup beyond a light foundation, looks younger and rounder than it’s looked before.
In the past it felt like I was always working against my own appearance. I had to fight to look feminine, relying on makeup as my biggest crutch, while my long hair covers the sides of my face. Now it feels like my body has started to do the heavy lifting itself. Or if not the bulk of the work, it’s certainly taking the edge off.
Who’s That… Girl?
My transition is far from over, but if this is a moment to stop and check on my progress, I’m happy with how things are going. Although my internal sense of my gender remains steady, my new appearance is amusingly confusing the public.
In prior months I always had the mindset that when I wasn’t making a real effort (ie. when I had little makeup on or less overtly feminine clothing) people were reading me as male. Granted, a feminine guy in feminine clothes, but ultimately a guy. I wasn’t able to hope for much else. Now it seems every encounter is a roll of the dice.
I’ve been called “ma’am” when out alone, for instance, and while with a female friend or two I’ve been lumped in as part of a set of “ladies” multiple times. Once I was even confused for another woman altogether, asked point blank if my name was something else, as I apparently looked familiar. Yet I’ve also caught someone using “he” when talking about me to my partner. Meanwhile I’ve had the amusing instance of stumping people altogether, such as the cashier who stumbled on how to address me before abandoning gendered terms altogether. This is all while wearing what I’d call fairly androgynous clothing. Which I consider quite a nice revelation, that even then I can elicit some correct gendering or at least unknowns.
This topic was brought to the forefront of my mind recently when I had an intimidating encounter on a quiet train platform.
The short account of what happened is that a man asked me if I had a cigarette, to which I said no. Seemingly satisfied, he left. Then returned. He asked me if I was sure, which I thought was a bizarre question. I think it’s relevant to add he was the type of man who looked less than friendly, someone carrying themselves with a comfortable confidence that looked to stem from a sense of bravado and entitlement. Slightly frustrated, but wary, I again said no, I added that I had never smoked in my life. He suspiciously repeated my statement back to me, as if the idea of never having smoked was deeply suspect. His eyes narrowed as we stood there, staring at each other in silence for a few seconds. “Are you a boy or a girl?” The question took me completely off-guard, I laughed nervously at his puzzled and expectant expression.
A few thoughts shot through my mind all at once. I’m a trans woman. Does he know what trans means? How will he react? Will he be angry if I tell the truth? I’m not ashamed of what I am, but what will he think of me? Should I lie? I don’t want to lie. Which answer would most likely deescalate this?
Thankfully, a friend, who was stood nearby, casually stepped in and deflected the question. After a brief exchange, he wandered off back towards the platform. Presumably on his ongoing quest for a cigarette.
It sucked. I tweeted about it briefly, I don’t have much to add I didn’t say there. Except, looking back I feel a profound sense of uneasy satisfaction that I was able to elicit such confusion when talking to someone face-to-face, without much effort on my presentation. I was only wearing a dark hoody over a baggy shirt dress, again with nothing other than foundation and dark skinny jeans. I figured, as usual, that I’d unfortunately be seen as male by all nearby, even though I’d really prefer not to be. On weekdays I wear dresses, floral, scarves, mascara, lipstick etc. I put an effort in and let myself enjoy the excuse to dress up. But on weekends I allow myself to dress lazily, going for comfort over style, so that often ends in skinny jeans and very light makeup. Thus my expectations.
In truth, I keep my expectations low to avoid disappointment. I want to be seen as female regardless of how much effort I’m putting in, obviously. So despite the situation being outright scary, there was a warped sense of satisfaction from it. It was strangely validating to realise I’m losing control of how I’m viewed by strangers. It’s not just the makeup and the obvious clothes that are drawing people to see me as a woman, I don’t have to take the reigns so hard to lead them away from viewing me otherwise.
What happened was borderline harassment, I certainly wouldn’t like it to happen again and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. So I feel guilty to pull something positive from the experience, but I can’t deny that this twisted sense of satisfaction exists.
There will always be people who see me as male. That’s a sad fact of being a trans woman and something I know is well outside of my control. Ultimately I know that only my view of my gender matters. Yet the easier it comes being seen as female by the general population, admittedly the happier I am.
So 7 months into transition, I’m feeling optimistic. Being in this middle zone is strange, I hope the next 7 months keep me heading in this direction. I’m happy with my progress, but I can’t lie, I’d like even more.