Disclaimer: This essay is my experience with being trans. It is not meant to reflect any trans experience other than my own, and the fact that I am undergoing hormone treatment therapy does not in any way negate or validate my trans-ness, nor anyone else’s.
Written by Skylar Bauer
My body has never felt like it belonged to me. It is conventionally attractive, for a woman, and it has gotten me where I need to be, for the most part. Regardless, I can’t bring myself to look in the mirror when I am undressed and waiting for the shower to get warm. I can’t face the reality that I try to hide under loose clothing and a binder.
When I was 11, I began trying to change my body. I asked my step mom (then, dad’s girlfriend) to cut my hair short. She kept asking if I was really sure, but she was mostly supportive. As a hairdresser, she understands the power of expressing ourselves through hair, but she had no idea then what my motivation was. Not that I did, either.
In the halogen-lit salon that I remember as yellow, my long hair fell away for the first time that I can remember. Each little snip of the scissors and lightening of the weight on my head felt like a victory. I didn’t know what I was fighting, but I felt like I was winning. Yellow, to me, means good. All of my best memories are tinted yellow, like when I met my baby brother for the first time or when my college Pride organization finally raised enough money to establish an LGBTQ+ scholarship, so the salon really could’ve been any color or mix of colors, but I see yellow when I imagine it.
When my step mom was brushing the loose hair from my shoulders, neck, and back, my step sister reappeared from wherever she had been. She felt at home in the salon, so she might’ve been talking to someone else or playing, but she was suddenly on the bench near the wall behind me. She told me, “you look like a boy,” and I can still hear an echo of her voice saying that in my head. I didn’t get it, but it made me so happy.
Shortly after the haircut, my best friend at the time helped me into masculine clothing. She gelled my hair down and back, and I put the hood of my sweatshirt up. We walked around our town for a bit that day, and we ran into another of our friends from school. She introduced me to him as her boyfriend from another school, and he believed it. He really thought I was a boy! I think that was probably the first time I felt right in my body.
I didn’t have words to explore how I felt about my gender then, so I just stuck with “tomboy,” but I always knew that was wrong. I didn’t even really know gender was something I could question.
As I grew up and started high school, I tried to blend in with the typical “girly” crowd. I started wearing makeup, I wore skirts, and I even wore push-up bras. I thought I could make myself fit the label I had been assigned because of what is between my legs. Some of it was even fun, but I didn’t know who the girl in the mirror was. All I knew was that she wasn’t me.
It took getting to college and learning about androgyny and gender nonconformity for me to really explore who I am. During a Pride meeting in my first semester, I heard terms like “genderqueer,” “nonbinary,” and “genderfluid” for the first time. That night, I tried out the genderfluid label. I thought that maybe I am sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy. I think I was confusing femininity with a lack of the dysphoria I would feel on those “boy” days. I was wrong with my first choice of label, but eventually, after years of thinking about it, genderqueer stuck.
I started questioning the idea of being trans around the time that I started hearing people talk about being trans and nonbinary, and that finally felt right.
It was not a sudden realization, like the media likes to pretend. “I’ve always known I’m a man” is bullshit. At least, for me it was. I crumpled onto the floor of room 306 in Saylor-Ackermann Hall at a small Ohio liberal arts college, and I cried because I just wanted to be cisgender. I wanted to be able to have the privilege that comes with that. That night, I watched YouTube videos and listened to music by trans artists, and, like an almost-dead light bulb, the truth flickered in front of me. It was like a neon sign on a darkened stage. It illuminated enough of the rest of me that I could start understanding myself.
Now, I have to shower in the dark sometimes. I can’t look at myself. I can’t stand knowing that my body is not what it should be or what I am expecting to see when I look at myself.
For the past month (as of the time of writing), my body has started changing. It started with poking a needle every week between the lines of the tattoo of the world on my right hip and injecting liquefied testosterone, but I’m starting to go through puberty all over again. My voice will deepen, I will grow thicker hair everywhere, the fat of my body will redistribute, my muscles will grow faster (as will my appetite), and I won’t be so terrified of looking in the mirror.
My roommate changed the lightbulbs in the bathroom to those day lights that trick your body into thinking it’s noon during a bright summer day. The mirror throws the curves of my hips and chest staunchly against the yellowed wall across from it like it’s a mugshot. I can see everything I hide from.
Sometimes, I can’t stop myself. Sometimes, I stand in front of the mirror and stare and squeeze my hips, imagining the fat gone. Sometimes, I imagine cutting it all off myself with a kitchen knife.
Other times, like right now as I am writing, I feel so secure in my body. I can put a binder on and wear masculine clothing, and I feel like I actually look like a man. I can write about these experiences with my body and not hate myself. This feeling is gender euphoria. It doesn’t happen every time I bind my chest and wear the right clothes; I wish it did. Wearing these things help, though. It makes me look a little more like myself.
Euphoria is invincibility.
When I’m dysphoric, I like to focus on the most masculine parts of me. Specifically, I look at my face. My jawline is sharp; my cheekbones are defined. I can find traces of who I will become with the right medical assistance. I can maybe even look in the mirror.
Written by Skylar Bauer