I got a phone call last week from someone at my endocrinologist’s office. He asked to speak to Jennifer.
“This is Jennifer,” I sighed.
After a moment of confused silence he said, “I’m sorry, is this Jennifer?”
My voice is getting deeper. He wouldn’t have been so confused if he had actually thought about the message he was calling to give me: My new prescription for testosterone was ready to be picked up.
The first time I thought I knew who I was, my name was Jennifer and I believed I was a lesbian. I was born in 1971 and came of age before the internet, so give me credit for getting that close to figuring shit out. Back then, there were few words to describe the feelings I was having, and they weren’t used around children. The words themselves were considered too adult.
No one on TV admitted to feeling like me, but I found my trail of breadcrumbs. Buddy on Family. Jo on Facts of Life. Martina Navratilova. That cute girl in Dragonslayer who lives as a boy to avoid the virgin sacrifice lottery.
I went to the library and read everything I could find about my breadcrumbs, which lead me to new breadcrumbs. That’s how, at the age of 13, I came to a novel called Rubyfruit Jungle (written by Martina’s “ex-roommate”) and arrived at my first eureka moment:
Lesbian. This was the name for what I was.
Anyway, I went with it. I went with it pretty much from that 13-year-old moment in 1984 until June 10th of this year, when I was sitting in a sports bar with my wife, watching Game 4 of the NBA finals. For the record, we’re not basketball fans. But since we live in the Bay Area and the Warriors were “in it,” it seemed like our civic duty to try to care. There were three young hipsters sitting at the bar in front of our table, drinking their beers and being all stubbly and slouchy and poorly dressed, and I thought to myself, “I wish I could be as comfortable in my body as those assholes.”
Eureka. Just like that. Again.
There were three young hipsters sitting at the bar in front of our table, drinking their beers and being all stubbly and slouchy and poorly dressed, and I thought to myself, “I wish I could be as comfortable in my body as those assholes.”
Don’t misunderstand: It’s not that I was tired of a lifetime of “putting on my face” and wearing heels. I have only worn makeup a few times ever, and I live in hiking boots. But I had convinced myself that my gender dysphoria was just that run-of-the-mill issue every woman I know seems to have of wishing their body was closer to some ideal of “perfection.” Which is true —I have that issue. It’s just that my idea of perfection runs closer to the Brad Pitt side than the Angelina Jolie end of the spectrum.
In my youth, I was blessed with narrow hips and a flat chest. I went from tennis-playing tomboy to (literally) starving college student, so my body didn’t change much until my mid-20s. That’s when my career began — a career that turned into a two-decade-long run of high-stress deadlines. Exercising was reduced to walking to the door to pay the delivery guy.
Next thing I knew, I went from not bothering to wear a bra most days to a 38D rack. I cannot adequately express the frustration I have had with owning breasts since then. I dieted, exercised and tried to will my body into a shape that I could accept when I looked in the mirror, but no matter how hard I tried, I still had breasts.
It was in 2002 that I first suspected I was the last and not the first letter in the LGBT rainbow. I nose-dived into the now-existent internet and researched the bejesus out of transitioning. I read about how so many trans men had arrived at this place I was at and then went on to a place I didn’t want to go. So many guys back then started their transition by relocating to a new city, purposely seeking out a place where they knew no one so they could change their name, change their appearance and begin again because it was near to impossible to be openly trans and safe.
But I really liked where I lived, and I had a successful career in a hard-to-break-into field. If I wanted to continue doing what I did, my employment opportunities hinged on the experience I had already amassed.
Besides which, I began to suspect that I didn’t qualify as gender-dysphoric after all. For one thing, I didn’t need to have a penis. Certainly not badly enough to go through the risks and expense and probable loss of ability to orgasm just so that I could…what? Pee standing up? And the thought of a second puberty was bad enough (acne — I rest my case), but the possible addition of body hair? The threat of eventual baldness? Thank you, no.
I revised my self-diagnosis from FTM to gender queer dyke, got a breast reduction and lived happily-enough-ever-after. For about a decade.
Until Game 4 of the NBA finals. Why then? Lots of reasons, I suppose. Trans visibility had become “a thing” in the meantime. I had also married a trans woman and found myself surrounded by a network of friends and family who had already been tested and found to be able and ready allies.
More importantly, I believe that reaching mid-life finally allowed me the serenity to give no more fucks. After four years of peri-menopause, when the daily cocktail of Black Cohosh, Oil of Evening Primrose and Pro-gest could no longer control the hot flashes and depression, I decided that if estrogen was quitting me, I could quit it right back.
I’ve been on testosterone for eight weeks now, and it suits me. I have more energy and confidence, and my sex drive is back. My top surgery is scheduled for mid-December, which means that I will be flat-chested, finally, for Christmas. I will never pee standing up, and I’m still OK with that.
Which isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be nice to have a body that aligns a little closer to my ideal. But, often times, the things we are given that we don’t earn go under-appreciated. So, just like the trust fund I also forgot to be born into, I’m probably better off not having been born male-bodied. I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained by taking the scenic route on this journey. In one month, the court will be turning over documents certifying that my gender is male and my name is William Joseph.
You can call me Will.