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Op-ed: Learning to Love My Trans Male Body After Years of Violence

Op-ed: Learning to Love My Trans Male Body After Years of Violence


Boys Do Cry: So many trans men respond to intolerance with self-hatred and silence. This one learned how to be kind to himself.

02-boys-do-cry-633x375_0The author at age 13 and age 23

If I'd started a list at age 13 of all the things I hated about my body, I'd probably still be writing it now, a decade later. I was a short, chunky trans boy who despised my curves. Plus my hair was too blond, nails too round, fingers too slim, shoulders too narrow, thighs too thick -- you get the idea.

It wasn't until recently that I realized I've never thought about all the things right with my body. The fact that my heart beats and my lungs breathe and my immune system functions like no other. And even while my body shape is not necessarily exactly where I want it to be, I figure I have to start appreciating it for what it is: mine. Whether or not it meets all of the social standards for manhood.

This path to self-acceptance was a long one for me, and it took a little longer still to figure out that this was OK to talk about. Many of us trans men have been told our whole lives that our bodies are wrong, yet many men I've met don't often like to talk about the violence of those messages -- not to mention the threats or physical violence we can face.

In fact, I've met more and more men who, like me, took a long time to even realize they could be male. Before I was 13, I admittedly didn't even know that being a trans man was possible, even though I somehow knew that trans women existed.

So, if you give me a moment, I'll tell you some of my story. And I promise that it gets better if you stick through to the end.

I shaved all the hair off my head when I was 8 years old. It was a dramatic move in a long line of attempts to align my body with my male identity, starting when I first took scissors to my hair at age 4.

At the time, I was in third grade at a small-town California elementary school. It was 2000. I got plenty of stares for my new look, but the lack of hair hanging down was worth it. I felt more like myself. And then another kid's parent brought it all crashing down. She was a volunteer chaperone during recess, and she followed me into the restroom one day. Then she dragged me out, yelling in front of the entire playground that I was using the "wrong" restroom.

I was mortified -- me, a painfully shy child, being laughed at by all my schoolmates. I'd been using the girls' room, just as I'd always been instructed, but she didn't understand. It was already bad enough that every single day of elementary school another student would approach me as I sat alone on a bench and ask, "Are you a boy or a girl?" It happened without fail.

And it didn't end there. Another memory burns: the day our gym class had a substitute teacher, and we happened to be excused from the track late. We all ran back to the locker rooms to avoid being late for the next class. But as I tried to enter, I felt a hand wrap tight around my arm: the substitute. I could feel her nails digging into my skin, leaving a painful scratch. "That's the girls' locker room!" she yelled.

I hung my head and walked to my next class, blood pooling in the welt.

I finally found a haven in high school, when my vice principal agreed to let me change in the bathroom in the office building instead of the locker room. A girl had complained that she was uncomfortable sharing the locker room with me. It wasn't fair, but I was grateful to be relieved from all the staring and scowls.

I'm 23 now. I've been binding my chest since puberty, a decade of painful constriction and bruising. I've been unable to afford chest reconstruction surgery. This means I get faint and dizzy and nauseous, but the idea that people would be able to notice my chest size causes me such anxiety that I bear it; I take anxiety medication too. I'm afraid every day that if someone notices I'm trans, they'll either call me a woman or try to hurt me.

That last fear isn't irrational. In smaller towns like mine, masculine gender-nonconforming people like me are beaten and raped enough that it would make a reasonable person terrified. The fear first crept into me when at age 15 someone tried to run me over with a car, and again when I was shot with a pellet gun from a moving vehicle. I've had men in online conversations offer to rape me to "teach me how to be a woman." I've had things thrown at me, been verbally abused, pointed at, and mocked. I've been called "tranny," "dyke," and "he-she" to my face; humiliated my whole life for being who I am.

No one deserves to be treated like this. I had my first suicidal thoughts at age 7; little did I know how hard the road would be after that. But once I started taking testosterone at age 17, I began to feel free, happy, and complete for the first time in my life. I'm alive and I'm healthy. And six years into medical transition, I'm starting to shed the layers of shame all that treatment placed on me.

I'm learning to love my body. And if you're a person who's gone through something like what I've gone through, I wish the same for you.

My personal path to appreciating my body after all the violence has been to begin exercising regularly and eating nutritiously. And I know it's not for everyone, but I've even started to keep a vegan diet.

Eating well and exercising has given me a new appreciation for my body which, though I'd modified it with the testosterone and binding, I still felt dissatisfied with. Now having lost the aforementioned weight, I realize that for me -- and not necessarily for any other trans man -- it was never the weight I had a problem with: it was where it was located. I carried most of my weight in my hips and thighs, making me feel like I looked more feminine than I feel inside (it's OK, of course, for trans men to have curves or identify as feminine, it's just that I personally don't).

I've had to eat more bananas in a month than most people do in their lifetimes, but dang, do my thighs cause me less distress now! It's become important to feel like I have some control over my body, even when it can feel like I lose that control when I step out the front door.

I didn't realize for years that I felt miserable, in part because of how I feared others would react to me; it became a kind of unnamed default. Now that I've faced down some of the pain and owned my health, I feel more positive about life than ever. Little positive steps have added up -- I try to focus on them instead of the overwhelming threats that might still face me.

No, I cannot keep the world from being relentlessly transphobic. But I'm no longer giving up on the little world of my own body just because others have tried to beat me down. Are you like me? What can you do today to feel like you have just a little more power?


NICHOLAS BALLOU is currently a student in Nevada who focuses on writing the trans-centric fiction he never had access to as a child. He is married to a wonderfully supportive woman and hopes to inspire other trans people to be body-positive.

Check back tomorrow to hear more stories in the Boys Do Cry series that pull back the curtain on trans men's experiences with violence.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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