I am constantly learning about my body. Everybody is. Every day I notice something different, something new, something I haven’t really looked at before. There are different lenses that you can see yourself through. Your own, another’s – society’s. It is up to you what you put value on, whose perspective you will take and add to your own. This can be a positive thing, but with positive comes negative, and it can also have a massively negative impact on your mind, your body, your confidence.
I spent a very long time putting value on someone else’s perspective, and adding it to my own, allowing myself to shape into their view of me and what they wanted me to be. I was told how to be a man. Specifically, how to be a cisgender man. And it took me nearly four years to realise something. I am not a cisgender man. I am a transgender man. And that is something else entirely. I’ll never be able to know what it is like to be born with a penis, or to have one now. I’ll never feel certain things that only a cisgender man can feel. I thought that made me less. That I was worth less. Worthless. I thought that because I didn’t have a penis I wasn’t a man, and without my prosthetic I was not ‘playing’ man enough. But you cannot play at being a man. You cannot play at being yourself. You just are. You just exist. You grow, change and adapt.
What I’ve come to learn about having a transgender body – it’s something in its own right. I’m able to feel things that only a transgender man can feel or maybe even only I can feel. By accepting this part of myself. By removing denial about the fact I am not a cisgender man. Opened me up so much to myself. To what I do have. I think as a transgender person I spent so much of my time wishing that I had something else that I didn’t stop to look at my body, to look at who I am as a person, and realise what I do have. And through this I have learned that there are some things about myself that I don’t actually want to give up – even if society projects that giving up these things, or trying to gain other things, would make me more of a ‘man’.
I feel connected to the world in ways I don’t think I could if I was not transgender. I am able to sit on the fence in many situations. I can recall my life as a girl and how society treated me and I can allow that to positively influence how I see myself as a man. My mum always used to joke that I was ‘the best of both worlds’ (she even once compared me to 50/50 bread), and it would really upset me. But I realise now that she is not far wrong. As a heterosexual male I appreciate that I have an understanding of the female body. And I enjoy how my understanding of my body as a transgender man is completely different to how I understood my body before my transition and how I understand my girlfriend’s body.
A crucial life lesson I experienced as a transgender man was that if something is making you feel negative you need to address it. Denial can only take you so far. Ignorance is not bliss. When I first started my transition I hated myself. I would say I only recently stopped. I hated my body, I hated my voice, I even hated my mind. I was in a relationship where this self-hate wasn’t contested but supported. I’m sure she would see things differently, this is only my truth, but I stand by it. In the beginning I was told to put a shirt on. If I was paranoid about my chest she would tell me to go to the gym. The lights had to be off during sex. My body wasn’t touched when intimate for almost three years – which resulted in not feeling close to the person I was with at all.
See, in the beginning, when she made me feel negative about myself I just took it because I already felt that way. So in my head I just was thankful she even wanted to be with me. This wasn’t the hard part. In a way this was my ignorance. I was ignorant of myself and my value as a human being (let alone a transgender man). When I started hormone therapy I slowly but surely began to grow more confident. Alone I was fine to be naked in myself, it usually took some convincing and maybe a little ignorance, but I was doing it. Around her I couldn’t stomach it. I felt wrong. I felt anxious, nervous, scared even. I would have a really confident spurt on my own – maybe I went to the gym, had a shower and sang my heart out or spoke to someone new. But then I would go to her and her negativity about my body and my identity was still there.
Sex. Something that transgender people don’t often talk about, but it’s a topic that greatly impacts people coming to terms with their gender identity. Sexuality and gender are different things but gender roles and expectation all manifest themselves heavily during sex – it is quite easily to slip into a negative experience with the wrong person. However, with the right person there is no expectation, no roles, there is just two people coming together. No outside world. No politics. No societal projection. Two people, love or at least mutual pleasure. I didn’t realise what a negative impact bad experiences sexually had until I had a positive sexual experience and it completely flipped my world the right way up.
It baffled me that the first encounter with my current girlfriend, which was casual, was intensely intimate and meaningful in comparison with the empty sex I was having with the person I had been dedicated to for almost four years. It just showed me that sometimes you are just with the wrong person. Someone who doesn’t understand you. My ex definitely didn’t understand me. She couldn’t relate or understand the part of my identity that was ‘queer’, because although I’m heterosexual I am transgender and my sex is female. I accepted that and she couldn’t. Be with someone who understands you. Who will try to understand you. Who will spend their time to keep understanding you. Because when I am with someone I want to constantly learn and understand them, it is part of how I love. Don’t compromise yourself for someone. Take what you give.