Autumn Interview #5, September 2016

“My summer was very busy. I worked as a research assistant for a professor. We have been collaborating with the New Brunswick Public Library, putting an historical archive online that features multimedia and all sorts of primary sources to help researchers learn more about the city’s public history. I am curious and like learning, so it is an interesting job for me. It is going to continue during the year, but I will also look for other internships that are more related to my field. I am interested in affordable housing and real estate public policy.

In my free time I took day trips exploring Philadelphia and NYC. I go to NYC for my hormones so every time I am there I explore a different place, a different neighborhood. I love to wander about aimlessly and come upon interesting things. I’ve taken up an interest in historic preservation.

I started seeing somebody. I joined OkCupid, and I joined that one because it has expanded gender options. So I met someone on that site who lives outside of Philadelphia and I have been driving down since the end of July. It was going well for a while, but now it is difficult. She has been through a lot, and recently became homeless. She was thrown out of her place because she came out as a transgender woman. But she is not as comfortable about being out as I am. She has been cancelling plans as of late. She said it was just difficult being out in public. I am far more comfortable being myself out in the world, but she is just not comfortable being seen with me. She apologized for putting it that way, but the relationship just doesn’t have a future. However, it is a milestone for me. It is my first same-sex relationship, so I am learning more about myself. Before I came out, talking to people I could potentially be interested in romantically was a challenge, because I was like a non-entity. It’s hard to relate to if you don’t have an issue with your gender identity. I could go through the motions but I wasn’t there. Any possible relationship wasn’t real. I was out of touch with my emotions; I was a blank. I wasn’t even out to myself, so of course a relationship would be on false terms. I feel like I am going through puberty again now, coming out as transgender and again figuring out my sexual nature and identity.

I feel pretty great lately. I have been a lot surer of myself, and I think having a romantic relationship really boosts my confidence. I feel more secure as a sexual being. It gives you a feeling of validation that other people are interested in you.

Physical changes are a lot more of what I had been experiencing earlier. The same changes I’ve been seeing but more pronounced. My breasts have grown a lot more and now I have more of an hourglass shape. I will be starting electrolysis again, but it is a costly process. My body hair is becoming fairer. I am getting more comfortable with the way fat is shifting over my body.

In the past I didn’t exercise much, like trying to build up my muscles, because it just exacerbated my gender dysphoria. At this stage I am working more on losing weight. For transgender women in general it helps to lose weight to appear more feminine. Because of our skeletons,
because we often come on hormones later, our bodies are not as flexible as they would have been before adolescence. If you can transition before adolescence it is easier to pass. Thirty isn’t so bad, but I hear that if you transition once you are forty it is much harder.

It is difficult to separate out my moods; understanding what is caused by hormones and what is caused by life in general. At first my moods were like a rollercoaster because my body was not used to the hormonal changes. But now I am on pills and one of the reasons I’m on pills is because you take them daily so the mood changes are not as volatile. Hormones, for whatever reason, are not expensive at all. There is a lot of bias though, regarding transgender medicine. Some older doctors say it is risky, and they still look at me as male. Many general practitioners also have a bias against mental health issues, especially older practitioners. They think, ‘oh, you just want to be a woman.’ They don’t get that there is an emotional element to it; that you are not wired to be comfortable, for whatever reason, in the gender you were born into. People who are not in the field speak authoritatively and the bias comes out.

You get bias where you least expect it. I still do even in very progressive areas. If people give you a weird stare you can’t pinpoint the cause behind it. Maybe they are just socially awkward, maybe they are hungry and feeling irritable. When you are transgender, just like any minority, you are not part of a privileged group. I still have moments where I am harassed. When I went to my psychiatrist’s office recently I went to the bathroom. When I was leaving the lady’s room, someone said to me, ‘oh, its nice that men can go in the women’s bathroom now.’ It is tough to deal with day in and day out. In more liberal areas it’s subtler. People know it’s a social faux pas but they don’t know how hurtful it is.

Even in my grad school, when we were socializing one night, we were talking about online dating, and one fellow had his opinions. He went on this riff about how he thinks it is immoral and eroding social mores and that it’s eroding our basic humanity and making people more prone to polyamory. I wasn’t even saying anything. Then he turned to me and said, ‘it’s okay for somebody like YOU, in your situation.’ And the look he gave me and the tone of his voice, I knew it was because I was openly transgender. I said, ‘what do you mean by that’ and he said, ‘oh c’mon, hahahaha.’ And he thinks of himself as so progressive. I try to never make the fact that I’m transgender about politics; I try to separate my ideological views from my personal feelings. A lot of people in my program conflate politics with everything. They conflate ideology with basic humanity. I think there is a political angle to it but a lot of people who are self-professed progressives, they are just full of dogma and don’t see the humanity in it. They are feminists and pro-LGBT in the abstract, but when it comes to the nitty gritty they do have problematic unconscious biases.

I don’t care to wear makeup; I don’t want to go through the effort. I am fine being where I am. I have had a couple of people saying, ‘well, if you don’t want to be harassed, you should work harder to look more female.’ That puts the onus on me, to present outwardly, as thought it’s understandable that people have these reactions. Maybe I’m naïve and idealistic about this, but I just don’t feel like I need to conform in that aspect. Maybe one day I will feel that way but not right now.”