Every so often, I hear the news through the queer grapevine, an acquaintance, or directly from a friend, that they or someone we know is transitioning. Whether or not I know the person, I feel a sigh of relief, the creep of a smile, and a tenderness in my heart. The process of self-discovery and acceptance can take many years, and the willingness to risk all that is known for all that is true can take even longer. The moment a trans person embarks on this journey is, in my opinion, a great celebration.
From my own experience, I know the path for a trans or gender-nonconforming person is difficult -- family and friends may object, the medical community may put up obstacles, and job and career may be at stake -- but the rewards are infinite. Internal ease, physical comfort, and the opportunity to be seen can alter our very constitution, shifting the quality and texture of every moment for the better. ...
Back [at the beginning of my own gender transition], I spent many late-night hours clicking around on blogs, watching YouTube videos, and reading piles of gender books stacked by my bedside. Learning about people with various transgender identities opened up a galaxy of possibility for me. I used their language and experience as a reflection, a disco ball where each mirrored fragment showed me a tiny piece of myself.
I loved reading these stories. They provided me with practical information, empowered me to take action, and invited me into a community. I also hated reading these stories. They triggered self-realizations, presented a daunting future, and caused me to question the validity of any of my gendered experiences that differed from those I read and heard. I slowly discovered that there was no single trans narrative, which was both inspiring and frustrating. The potential to be my own unique self was appealing, but some proof or a test sure would've helped with my certainty.
During my self-inquiry, I struggled to understand why I had not "always known" I was trans, an element that seemed central to the narratives of many. I experienced a girlhood and not a stifled or squashed boyhood. I was equally comfortable as one of the girls and as one of the boys. I have no recollection of believing or wishing that I was a boy. Even now, I do not feel like a man. I do feel embodied, at peace in my skin, and present and available to those around me.
While I often group the emotional, physical, psychological, and social changes associated with a visible shift in my gender under the shorthand of "My Transition," the phrase also implies a linear movement from A to B, or in my case, from female-to-male. This had never been a goal. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other, taking incremental steps, each one independent -- choosing the language that suited me, the body that felt comfortable to inhabit, and eventually, the hormones that soothed me. I had no end point in sight, but I had set off a chain reaction whereby each revelation of happiness inspired another step towards happiness. Rather than fight this previously unfathomable level of contentment, I surrendered to its continued unfolding.
Recently, I watched a home video of my first testosterone shot, recorded by an ex-girlfriend who accompanied me to the doctor's office that summer day. When the nurse practitioner hands me the loaded syringe, my chin is quivering. My eyes are steeled. I am intent on my mission. I cock the thing like I'm about to launch a javelin into my thigh. And then I do. As I press the plunger, releasing the hormone into my muscle, I take slow, deep, audible breaths. Once I am finished, the nurse practitioner places a band-aid over the injection site and exits the room. The second the door clicks shut, I leap off of the table. "I did it! I did it myself!" I cry. My eyes bulge with incredulity. A smile rips across my face. I swivel my hips, shake my butt, and put on a show so unexpected and out-of-character that I watch the video again and again, just to see my little dance.
The whole clip is less than two minutes. And yet this brief segment captures my entire emotional journey through transition -- from abject terror to unfettered joy. At times, the movement was less direct, and the fear and excitement mixed and mingled, seemingly one and the same. For a while, every day was a heart-pumping adventure with some new challenge and some uncertain situation awaiting me.
Transition is a long list of firsts. The first time I purchased men's underwear. The first time my friends sang "Happy Birthday, Dear Nick." The first time a lover ran her hands across my flat chest. The first time I showered in the men's locker room at the gym. The first time I claimed my identity and said, "I am transgender," which also turned out to be the last time I spoke to my dad for several years.
The triumphant moments traded off with the awkward moments. Friends tripped over pronouns and tagged me on Facebook in old photos from my Lady Tigers sports teams. A former lover responded to my hello with, "I'm sorry, but do I know you?" On a first date, I walked into the bathroom, bladder bursting, and discovered it only had urinals. The judge at my name-change court hearing asked, "Are you sure it's just Nick? Not Nicholas?"
I understand the urgency felt by many trans folks to get this transition phase over with, for the fuzz of dysphoria to fade and for the reflection in the mirror to match the self-image. For me, I also found it important to recognize, honor, and treasure all the moments, the cringe-worthy and the affirming, during this heightened time of change. I was both a participant and witness, a teenager lost in the grand swirl of puberty, and a parent awed by the beauty and vulnerability of a precious child in transformation. ...
As the period of nonstop action, this climactic stretch of "My Transition" recedes, it becomes an increasingly shorter segment on this longer trajectory of my life. Touching back to this time reminds me of all the ways we change, of all the transitions, small and large, that go on within and around us. We transition in our jobs, relationships, living situations, and aging bodies. We transition in our style of dress, eating habits, walking routes, and hobbies. Around us, the seasons come and go, the moon waxes and wanes, the sun rises and sets. We can push and power through the phases we dislike, hoping to arrive at some end point where it will supposedly be easy, or we can lean into the uncertainty and ride these changes as if on an adventure.
Sometimes I wish that everyone received the gift that we trans folks refer to as "My Transition," an opportunity to undergo a change so big that it does not need a qualifier. Transition taught me introspection and self-awareness, to honor the truths that live inside of me, and to recognize my fears and still leap. The challenges along the way strengthened my capacity for compassion, and only by experiencing my own suffering could I truly empathize with the suffering of others. Accepting all of my feelings, even and especially the pain, is what let in the blessing of joy. This joy is what I see and look for, what I remember, and what I hope for whenever a trans person shares their story. It is the joy of allowing ourselves to be fully seen.
This piece is excerpted from the new anthology Finding Masculinity: Female to Male Transition in Adulthood (Magnus/Riverdale Ave Books), edited by Alexander Walker and Emmett J.P. Lundberg, available now from Riverdale (e-book) and amazon.com (paperback).
NICK KRIEGER is the author of Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender.