While working at a film festival at the Castro Theater in San Francisco recently, a festival volunteer approached me and covertly slid a crumpled piece of paper across the table where I was seated. In a confusingly secretive manner, the man nodded at me urgently, prompting me to unfold the paper and examine its contents. Printed on it I found a pixellated photo of several naked men, clearly porn stars. He pointed at one especially skinny guy and said, 'That's you, isn't it?" Alarmed, I engaged in some nervous laughter and told him no. Unsatisfied with my answer, the man fixed his gaze on me for a few seconds longer before slinking away, photo in hand.
Context aside, the experience of being misidentified as a gay male porn star was not particularly upsetting. In fact, all creepiness aside, I was kind of elated. If I am being mistaken for a male porn star, then I am passing as male pretty damn well. Though I have been passing with varying consistency for several months now, the general consensus among strangers perceiving me as male is that I am a teenager -- exemplified by ID requests at R-rated movies and receiving children's menus at restaurants. The thrill of being mistaken for a male who is both over 18 and muscular enough to be desirable in gay porn rapidly replaced my discomfort with being hit on by a 60-year-old man and left me feeling genuinely excited.
Next month I am having the first surgery of what will likely be a series of medical procedures to physically change my body from female to male. After 10 months on hormone therapy and six months of fundraising for chest reconstructive surgery, which is not covered by my health insurance, I feel like the medical aspect of my transition has been lifetimes in the making. I can only image the perspective of my therapist, who now sees me come into her office excited and happy every week but used to see me in my ultimate state of despair and self-loathing. It's been a pretty big change. In a few weeks that change will be solidified in an $8,400 procedure that will flatten my chest and complement the new self-confidence I exude in my day-to-day life.
Learning how to be male in a hyper-gendered world after missing out on about 21 years of precious male-identity development is confusing, to say the least. Though I am generally flattered when gay men hit on me, I am acutely aware of how it felt to be female and have straight men hit on me. The striking difference between how nonthreatening I find gay male attention and how terrifyingly threatening I used to find straight male attention shakes up all my perceptions about gender and sexuality and leaves me questioning the intricacies of human interaction. I also find myself wishing I could go back in time to closely observe my father and male role models growing up. Some of the basic life skills that boys learn -- bathroom etiquette, how to measure pants sizes, barbershop terminology -- are the subject of my Google searches instead of information passed down to me on father-son bonding excursions.
Even after almost a year on testosterone, I find that my closest friends are still generally straight women, because we share similar confusion about and annoyance with traditional male crises of masculinity. Had I been born male, I might have experienced more anxiety about the size of my penis or felt concerned about my complete lack of interest in video games growing up. In some sense, transitioning in my early 20s is saving me some of the hallmark discomfort of going through puberty as a teenage boy. But the best parts of puberty -- the pimples, the cracking voice, the inconsistent hair growth -- are all fair game for trans guys, and in recent months I have found myself intimately situated in the riveting experience of hormone-induced pubescent development.
The arrival of thick hair on my thighs is exciting, and the startlingly rapid growth of my biceps and ever-broadening shoulders has suddenly made me much more inclined to go to the gym, but the process of hormone therapy is not defined only by positive changes. Every week before I do my shot, I am reminded of my paralyzing fear of needles, which I pushed to the fringes of my mental capacity when I got my first testosterone prescription. I generally stare at the syringe for a few minutes, contemplate throwing up, and eventually push the needle into my muscle after I have reached a point of mind-numbing self-control. I flip through GQ magazines in hope of better understanding male fashion and often find myself in the dressing room at H&M, frustrated that my 5-foot-4 frame does not fit properly into really any clothing at all. Every few days there is the bus driver or the waitress who says, "Excuse me, ma'am," and I go through an emotional roller coaster of anger, shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred in about half a second. Testosterone certainly does not create a man out of girl's body.
In the past few weeks, however, I noticed a significant turning point in my relationship to the world as a man. Normally the small joys of passing are not coupled with being obnoxiously hit on or mistaken for a male porn star. Generally, the excitement of passing comes from hearing the consistent use of male pronouns to describe me and being pointed toward the men's bathroom instead of receiving quizzical looks from restaurant staff when I ask where the restroom is. As I close in on my surgery date, I feel better than I have ever felt before and eternally grateful for the people in my life who have said "he" even before hormones, when my voice was high and feminine. I am distinctly aware of how lucky I am to have so many people value my happiness and help make my surgical transition a reality. I hope that at some point there are other transgender kids who will be able to take something away from my story and help educate others about our experience.