Ten years on is a good time to sit back and think about how my life has changed since I started to identify as FTM (female to male transgender) and started to transition gender from female to male. How has my life changed? Is it better or worse now? Would I do it again if I had to live the same life again?
Just to get the last question over first: Would I do it again if I had to live the same life again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Transitioning was definitely the best thing I ever did for myself. But to understand why, I need to look at the other two questions in more depth.
A Gradual Gender Transition from Female to Male
Once I finally acknowledge that I was FTM and made the decision to transition my gender, I certainly did not rush into it. On the contrary, I transitioned very slowly, because at the age of 50, it seemed like a very scary thing to do. My life, friendships, relationship, career, and family were very well established and deep rooted. The number of people I would have to explain my transition to was overwhelming.
But once I started transitioning from female to male, the change was gradual enough that it seemed almost like a non-event a lot of the time (except of course every time I had to come out to somebody about it). The change in my appearance – and therefore in the way people treated me – was similarly gradual.
Then, thanks to the effects of testosterone, there was a long period when people were confused about my gender, before the magical day when that gender confusion finally stopped. I don’t remember the exact day. I just remember suddenly realizing that I could not remember the last time I had been mis-gendered by a stranger (of course, friends and family continue to do it to this day, but that’s another story).
The Difficult Phase of My Life (which Lasted 50 Years)
Because my gender transition was all so gradual, it is quite surprising to look back and realize just how far I have come. My life before was complicated and often difficult. As a very masculine woman, I only really fitted in when I was in the comfort of completely queer environments. In other places, it was difficult and sometimes even dangerous just to exist.
I had abuse hurled at me from car windows, but almost never to my face. Perhaps because I had a horrible temper, and apparently used to scare people. Apart from abuse, people were often awkward around me. It seems that many people just do not know what to do with people who don’t fit gender stereotypes. As a child I was often bullied because I did not fit in, and as a teenager I tried to avoid conflict by trying to blend in. I also hid myself in a lot of fat for several years.
By the time I was 50 I was done trying to blend in, but that meant that I always stuck out like a sore thumb. I am all for making a stand about the right to be different, but honestly, it got very, very exhausting. I just wanted to be invisible, rather than some kind of freak whom people either targeted or felt awkward around.
Living in the Gender Twilight Zone
Once I started transitioning from female to male, things got worse for a while, before they got better. Because of course I became increasingly more and more masculine. At first that meant I caused more offence, and then it meant that I got into a kind of Gender Twilight Zone. Once people could not decide if I was male or female, they had no idea how to treat me, or even how to speak about me. For example, polite people in line-ups would say things to their children like, “I think that … person … was in front of you, honey.”
Abuse from strangers diminished and then stopped – no doubt because once it was possible, or even likely, that I was male, strangers were afraid to harass me. Just in case I fought back …
After the Nightmare Ended …
That all seems like a long time ago, like a nightmare one has to struggle to remember. An alternate reality, evaporating in the bright light of a new day.
Nowadays my life is comparatively simple. My wife and I are now perceived as a regular straight couple. Although, as I often remind my wife, we are still a queer couple, in the sense that we are not a regular straight couple. After all, how many married straight couples started off as a lesbian couple?
However, in terms of how strangers perceive me, my life is just blessedly simpler. I was exhausted from 50 years of making various stands. From the age of two when I was making a stand for my right not to wear dresses; to the age of five when I was making a determined stand to have short hair; to the age of 18 when I was making a stand for my right to date women; to the age of 50 when I was making a stand for my right to be a masculine woman and not get abused in the street.
The Joy of Being Invisible
It is hard to put into words how wonderful it is to be able to go wherever I want and just be invisible. Just another middle-aged/almost senior man. Not making a stand, just lounging in a comfy chair. Unremarkable. Too old (in most people’s eyes) to be important, or even fully visible. I love it this way. I love that I can go anywhere I like and feel safe. I love that I can walk on the streets and not be harassed.
Becoming Just “One of the Guys”
And it’s more than just not being harassed. What I never foresaw was that I would go from being an outcast to being just one of the guys. I have to say, I really love that. I love that I can get into easy conversation with other men at work, or at amusement parks, or camp grounds. Other men now treat me with the kind of respect all polite men seem to accord one another as a default. A polite nod, a polite good morning, a polite hand shake. Depending on the age of the other man, I am variously called “Sir,” “Mr. Underwood,” “Man,” “Bro,” and “Buddy” by strangers. It’s all good.
Now, I suppose I could over-analyze this, and decide that I am enjoying a false respect because those men don’t know I am a trans man. But no, I am not going to do that. Like I said, I am deathly tired of making a stand. I am just enjoying finally being on this earth and being able to relax and fit in.
One friend told me that she was skeptical about my transitioning at first, but forced herself to be supportive. She says now she sees that I am a different person – relaxed, seeming like I am happy in myself. So that now she realizes that it was the right decision. And she is right – it was the right decision. After 50 years of a difficult life, I am enjoying an uncomplicated life.
But it is about more than life being simpler. It is also about feeling more authentic in my own body. It seems funny now to think that during my gender transition, I was at times desperate to “pass” as male.
Looking back on my life as a whole, I realize that the time when I was really battling to “pass” was when I was striving to present as an authentic female. All those times I felt awkward and unhappy as a child, it was because it was such a strain to present myself as female. “Real” girls picked up on the fact that I did not fit in, and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) rejected me. I remember once in lonely desperation approaching the girls next door and asking if I could join in their game of “House.” They looked at me dubiously, conferred with each other, and then finally said grudgingly, “OK, you can be the brother.” Out of the mouths of babes …
So yes, my life is undoubtedly much, much better now. I feel relaxed and happy and authentic in my skin, in my home, and in my society. I can focus on my creative projects, instead of focusing on survival. I am also more prosperous than ever before in my life. Partly that is because my salary went up once I transitioned and I was finding work as a well-qualified man instead of a well-qualified woman. I discovered that workplace discrimination is alive and well, and suddenly, I was on the other side of that discrimination. I figured that after 30 years of being underpaid, I was OK with that.
But I am also more prosperous because I have more energy for work and creativity. I am no longer focused on trying to balance on the borders of the gender divide.
And of course, I have been richly blessed in my transition, in that I have had the loving support of many people, most notably my wife. Making such a profound change is obviously difficult, but I have had my wife’s support every step of the way. I don’t think she would have chosen this for me, but she sees how happy it has made me, and that makes her happy. Happy FTM, happy life!
My life has changed for the better in more ways than I could possibly have imagined, and I am grateful every day that I was able to transition gender from female to male. I fit in now, and I am happy.
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