Dysphoria is a burden. I know for some trans people that would be the understatement of the year, but for me I feel like it’s an accurate description. It’s a weight that sits on my chest, figuratively and literally, and yet I’ve had a hard time describing it eloquently to people in the past.
When I was little I didn’t play with dolls. I didn’t like little dresses. I wanted to play with action figures, wear blue jeans, and hang out with the other little boys. Now, I know many nay-sayers would argue that I’m just a “tom boy” and for decades I was willing to identify in that way. Clearly that was it. “Trans” was something that was only ever discussed in terms of trans women, and the women I had met I didn’t identify with at all.
I had only met a couple of trans women in my life prior to my late twenties. One of them that stands out well in my mind was a woman at the church I attended as a teenager. She clearly had some variety of mental handicap, in retrospect it was probably somewhat severe autism, and I don’t want to say I was scared of her but I did feel uneasy around her. I didn’t know how to relate, and I didn’t want to insult her, and for me it was easier to avoid her… which in retrospect was cruel. However, the image I had of this woman matched the things I was told as a child about trans people; that they were sick and confused people. I didn’t feel sick or confused, nor did I really know that trans men were a thing (even though it stands to reason), and so I didn’t connect to this idea at all.
When I was a teenager I struggled to fit in. I struggled to be like the girls that I knew, but it never felt natural. I remember when the little girls in my class began to shave. I remember suddenly being embarrassed for my hairy body, clearly this wasn’t what I was suppose to be. My mother didn’t want me to shave at first, she wanted me to stay her little girl, but I did it anyway. I remember the feel of freshly shaved legs being awkward. My pants felt funny on me, and I hated the process. But I was embarrassed to not do it, because young ladies were expected to, but I really didn’t want to. When I got older, and settled into a happy long term relationship with my first husband, I nearly stopped shaving all together. He was tolerant of this quirk of mine, but I still felt an extreme amount of anxiety about anyone else seeing my hair legs. I refused to wear dresses or shorts, no matter how hot it got, and I remember being ashamed when I went to a doctors office and needing to disrobe.
Make-up was a similar trial for me. I remember when the girls started showing up to school with more and more make-up. Once again, this was a thing my mother didn’t want me to do, but when I was thirteen my father bought me a little make-up kit. I wore it on a few occasions, but rather than making me feel beautiful, it made me feel extremely self conscious. I felt like the whole world was staring at me and laughing about the clown make-up on my face. And this wasn’t simply a testament to my lack of skill in applying it. Even when adults, or peers, did the application for me I felt so uncomfortable. I wanted to hide my face until I could wash it all off.
I hated being included with the “ladies”. I remember when I got married, my soon to be husbands family wanted to do special things with me to include me. At one point the boys went off to do something (I don’t recall what), but all the women went to the salon to get their nails done, and I was expected to go with. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I certainly didn’t want to go. Having my nails painted was akin to wearing make-up. I felt like everyone was starring at the garish color and judging, but unlike make-up, I couldn’t just wash my face a couple hours later and feel more like myself again. I lamented it, but wanted to get along with my new family, so I went. I tried to embrace the situation, and tried to enjoy this “treat” that was theoretically being given to me. It was a long day.
When I hit my mid to late twenties, I started meeting more people in the trans community, and realized that the stereotype that all trans people were mentally handicapped was far from correct, but I still didn’t identify as trans. It was about this time that the notion of non-binary became something that I was aware of, and for me that seemed to click. I was not a girl. That’s why none of this fit for me. But if I wasn’t a girl, what was I? I was a person. Just a person. They/Them/Their… It felt like the safe option. That didn’t make me trans… I didn’t have to stress about where I pee, or who I date, or anything… I’m just me, but that wasn’t very emotionally satisfying, and didn’t last long.
During this time I went through a couple of name changes. I had always been called a short hand of my middle name, but I really actually disliked it. So I started allowing people to call me by my first name. It started with professors in college, and it continued on into the workplace, and then at my own business. But I never felt like that name really fit me, it’s just what people had chosen to call me, and me being the “go along to get along” type, I didn’t argue. But it wasn’t me. It didn’t fit who I was. It was far too formal and stuffy and girly. I hated it too. But it felt like it was a thing that was hard to change, and unfair to ask people to get used to. One day I was encouraged by someone to be called what I liked, and I thought about my name, my given name, and thought about short hands, and I remembered one little girl with the same first name that I had admired in school, and what she short handed her name to and I said I would enjoy being called that. And for a while, I did… and then I didn’t. It still felt unmistakably feminine, and I grew to hate it.
In the fall of 2015 I met one of my partners, Amber. She is trans, and is one of the first people to really try to help me figure out who I am and what I want. At this point I was identifying as non-binary still, and while Amber had identified as a lesbian, she reluctantly agreed to give things a try and we hit it off marvelously. Of course, being the doll that she is, she wanted to make sure she was using the pronouns that I wanted, but I didn’t have a good answer for her. For me, singular “they” had always felt cumbersome, and me being the “go along to get along” type hadn’t forced the issue on that, or any other gender neutral pronoun. I had been “she” the vast majority of the time, and “she” certainly chaffed but, what else was I going to do… She suggested “he”.
Now, initially I was very unsure of this, and so her and I just tried it out amongst ourselves. Just her and I. And what I found was that I loved it. This felt right. This felt good. Slowly I let my other loved ones in on things and we tried it out just in my household for a little while. A few months went by and we started discussing a more appropriate name for me. After a lot of discussion, and a few miss starts, Collin is what stuck.
It was during this time that I started abandoning women’s clothing all together. I had always favored more masculine clothing, but typically had purchased unisex clothes or extremely plain women’s clothing. Now I fully embraced men’s clothing: men’s shirts and ties, men’s pants, my first suit, men’s shoes. It finally made sense why women’s and girl’s clothing had always been emotionally uncomfortable: because I was a man! Suddenly I really enjoyed dressing up. I really enjoyed shopping for new clothes. I no longer felt like I was the “picky” and “unreasonable” woman who hated most clothes that I had been portrayed as. I felt like the man who liked to dress sharp.
Speaking of clothing, this past weekend, for the first time in years, I did something I have not done in nearly my entire adult life: I wore shorts in public. I had some grungy shorts in my twenties that I would very rarely wear around the house when it was extremely hot, but I did not wear shorts in public. I simply did not. Remember the whole thing about hating to shave, but feeling ashamed? This had led me to simply deny myself the comfort of wearing anything that showed my legs. I felt like people were judging me. That I was a terrible woman for not conforming to this standard. This Sunday, for the first time nearly ever, I tossed on a pair of shorts and mowed the lawn. Later, I went to the grocery store, still in shorts. And I even went and picked up some things from Amber’s mother’s house… still in shorts. Mentally I almost dared someone to say something. For someone to sneer at my hairy legs. I was feeling good about myself, and I was ready to fight anyone who wanted to argue that it was “unlady” like. Damn straight it is, because I’m not a lady, I’m a man! I would dare say it was freeing.
During that day though, I did have one moment of strong dysphoria. After I mowed the yard, but before I went to pick up some things from Amber’s mother’s house, I decided that the civilized thing to do was to take a shower. After all, I want this woman to like me, given how fond I am of her daughter! Stepping out of a quick shower, the towel pressed against me, I had a moment where I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The towel, that a moment ago had been covering my chest, had moved and now my breasts were exposed. And for a moment I had this sinking feeling… that weight of dysphoria smacked me firmly in the face. I was not born a man, even though I am one… My body is not shaped like a man, and my large double D breasts are a strong reminder of that fact. It’s an easy outward cue to the rest of the world as to what gender I was born, and I hate it. I feel like more than any other part of my body, my chest betrays me. I bind my breasts, and have for over a year now, but they are a very strong reminder that my body does not match who I actually am, much more so than what is, or is not, in my pants. I covered my chest again with the towel and tried to image what was really under that towel. Who I really am, and what I really look like, as the man I know I am. And then I took a deep breath and got dressed.
That’s the thing about my dysphoria. It doesn’t haunt me every minute of every day. It’s those little moments. Things that would be undistinguishable for most people. Those are the moments that eat at me. These moments of course are not made better by being misgendered. “She”, “Her”, “Ma’am”, “Ladies”… these are like cheese graters on my soul, because it reconfirms that the world does not see me the way that I see myself. The world struggles to see me as the man I know I am.