I no longer recognize myself

Being transgender means having a strange dichotomy between the image of yourself as you are, and the image of yourself as you want to be. That dichotomy gets even stranger as your transition progresses, and the image that has been burned into your mind as who you are no longer matches your actual physical appearance. I’ve shared my timeline before, but the gradual changes from before I came out to a year into HRT are one thing, and the before and after of nearly two years since coming out is a stark contrast.

Today I went to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror, and honestly didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. Even having forgotten to shave this morning, the difference between that self image that has been burned into my mind for over 30 years and the face that I saw was so different. I always joke that hormones are a hell of a drug, and it’s true. The changes they’ve made to my face, my body, and my mind are amazing and drastic, and it hasn’t even been two years yet. It’s not just longer hair and no beard, but eye shape has changed, my chin, my cheeks. I look at the contrasting photos, and am amazed.

I still don’t see the person I want to be staring back at me, but it’s so close. I realize I’ll probably never get there, because after all who truly does look the way they want? We live in a society that has drilled in the body shapes of Barbies and super models into our consciousness as the ideal body. I’ll never be that body shape, and I don’t even want to be, but there’s definitely an idealized version of myself that I’ve pictured for ages.

Even beyond the idealized version of myself that I picture in my head, there’s always been the question of what I would look like as a woman. Wigs and costumes and dresses have never done it for me. They’ve always just looked and felt wrong. I never even luck with those AI gender swapping photo apps that are all the rage. Just putting photoshopped hair and makeup on someone isn’t enough to truly reveal the person that’s hiding inside.

I look back at photos of myself early in my transition, trying on women’s clothes, and while they were affirming, they never made me feel like I looked like a woman. I just looked like a man parading around in women’s clothes, and an awkward one at that. Back then I couldn’t separate my ingrained self image and the images I saw in pictures. It was impossible to see the woman that I had hiding inside. My imagination just wasn’t good enough, or perhaps my self doubt kept me from using it to look past the glaringly obvious flaws in my appearance.

Sometimes I think back and wonder if I should have gone slower. If I had waited to start presenting as a woman until I grew my hair out, or was on HRT for a certain amount of time that perhaps I would have been more comfortable. Maybe I should have waited until I could pass as a woman, before presenting as one. The more I think on it though, the more I realize that those worries and fears are unfounded.

The problem, as I see it, is that passing doesn’t just happen overnight. There isn’t some magical point in time where a transgender person goes from being instantly clockable to passing. I think that is something that transgender people need to remind themselves of constantly. Especially because some of the changes of hormones happen so quickly compared to others.

During the long wait between starting to transition and passing as a woman, there got to be a point where I didn’t even pass as a man. My androgynous period was almost as hard on me mentally as my pre-transition depression. I could see the effects of the hormones, but I had to look for them. My budding breasts weren’t big enough to look natural for a woman, but were too big to hide behind a men’s style shirt. My hair was longer than most men’s, it was messy and especially curly, but not long enough to really be styleable in a way that I felt was womanly enough. It felt like I was in limbo. Progress was being made, but it just simply wasn’t happening fast enough.

Now, the changes are drastic. I had to buy new bras a couple weeks ago, because the ones I had bought when I found the first set of bras I bought to be too small and becoming uncomfortable. To my surprise I had grown a full cup size, and no longer need padded bras to look like I have a chest. I was walking down the stairs at work the other day, and realized my usual gait resulted in an uncomfortable bounce that I was unfamiliar with. My hair has begun to get caught in my purse straps, and I can feel it tug when I’m sitting in a chair with my head back. My skin is so smooth and soft that it doesn’t even feel like it’s mine anymore. I can forget to shave for a day, and the hair on my chin is barely visible, even without having started laser hair removal. Even just little things like my hands give me pause. Sometimes I find myself just staring at my hands and my painted fingernails on my keyboard, and baffled that they belong to the same person that anxiously chewed his fingernails just a few years prior.

I don’t recognize myself. It’s so hard to describe how strange and yet affirming and wonderful the feeling is, and my transition is still very much in the early stages. Two years ago I would have told you that it would be an eternity to get to this point, but now here I am and eager to see what the next two years brings.

The thought that my B cup breasts are still growing, and will be for at least two more years both scares and excites me. I know what my idea size would look like, but it’s impossible to say if I’ll get there, or if I’ll outgrow even that. My friends ask me how long I’m going to keep my hair, and I don’t have an answer for them beyond “until I get sick of it.”

This journey that I’m on is always an adventure, and I can’t possibly turn back now. Too much good has happened, despite the roadblocks and struggles and frustrations.

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