Welcome to the table
A glance at one transgender experience
Equali-tea Time is a platform for educational discourse surrounding various topics about the LGBTQ+ community. If you would like to contribute a guest post, have a question you’d like answered, or want to send feedback or comments on subjects that have been discussed in the column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: This first column discusses gender expression from a binary perspective. My story should not be used as a comparison point for all trans experiences. In the future, Equali-tea Time will more directly tackle the idea of gender as a spectrum, along with a slew of other ideas relevant to the LGBTQ+ community!
Transgender is a term that describes people whose gender identity does not agree with the sex they were assigned at birth. A person’s sex is usually defined by biological markers, such as genitalia or chromosome designations, whereas gender identity is a socially understood concept of how people present themselves along the gender spectrum.
One of the clearest memories I have from when I was younger (maybe five or six years old) is asking my mother this: “Is it possible that I am a boy’s spirit trapped inside a girl’s body?”
Her response to this was dismissive: “You’re just making yourself think that.”
I remember feeling crushed. I was confused and at a loss. Was I really making myself think that? Wasn’t I taught to follow the beliefs I held in my heart? And why was it that everytime I saw a shooting star in the night sky, I’d close my eyes, hold my hands together, and wish with all my heart to wake up the next day in a boy’s body?
Gender dysphoria is often succinctly described by the saying “I was born in the wrong body.” This thought often persists in the minds of transgender people. Being identified as the wrong gender brings anxiety. Seeing ourselves in a body that doesn’t match our gender identity may bring us extreme discomfort.
I struggled with these feelings into middle school, dreading my first period, hating how my body changed as I went through puberty. I developed crushes on female friends, but I didn’t like the label lesbian. I didn’t know why, but I just didn’t vibe with the term. I couldn’t see myself completely identifying with it.
It wouldn’t be until the summer before my freshman year of high school that YouTube showed me the answer I had been looking for all these years. Trans men were using the platform to document their transitions and talk about what being transgender meant. It was the first time I really connected with a queer narrative. I finally felt like I had found the words to describe who I really was.
Generally speaking, there are two types of transition that a trans person can go through in their life: social and physical.
The social transition is, well, how one socially becomes their preferred gender. This usually means coming out to close friends and family, adopting the desired pronouns, changing one’s name, changing one’s wardrobe, and the list goes on and on.
When I think back on my coming out experience, I’m always glad to know it ended well. My high school friends and my little sister were really accepting and loving. My mom was confused and hilariously suggested, “Are you sure you don’t want to be nonbinary instead?” because she was afraid of the discrimination I may face by going through with such an “extreme” transition from one end of the spectrum to the other. Regardless, she trusted me and supported my decision.
However, the wait leading up to the coming out always makes me think. I was always too scared to come out in high school because I didn’t want to be bullied. I waited until after my high school graduation to tell my family because I really believed there was a solid chance I would be disowned and kicked out of the house, despite knowing, deep down inside, that they loved me unconditionally. I was prepared to pack up my things and spend my summer couch surfing at friends’ places until I could escape to a new life at MIT.
Knowing I really genuinely thought that… it always makes me a lil sad. It’s what compels me now to be a visible example of the trans experience. I want people who are scared to come out to know that unconditional love exists in the world. I was lucky enough to have found it in my family, but it’s also important to note that everyone’s journey with this will be different. The key is finding a solid support system to help navigate the turbulence of coming out and transitioning. Chosen families also exist for a reason, and I’m always grateful for the one I found at MIT because they understand me on that queer level that my blood-related family just can’t.
Along this same vein, I also urge people who aren’t trans to work toward a more respectful and accepting world. I don’t want trans youth to have to go through what I went through. To have to sit and wait for years, stewing in fear and anxiety and preemptive mourning of relationships that could be lost, just to wait to come out at a moment when they’re primed to escape if they have to. I don’t want that to be a reality that persists into the future, and changing that takes work from people inside and outside of the community.
Pronouns and names are important to trans people because it is a method of affirming their identity. Especially when trans people are trying to figure out their gender identity or are just beginning to socially transition, having other people affirm them with their preferred pronouns or help them try out new names helps to validate their thoughts and feelings as they explore themselves.
When I came to MIT, I was that really obnoxious trans frosh that would go, “Hi, my name is Nathan and I use he/him pronouns.” It was my first time actually being out in the world as male, but since I was pre-physical transition, I was always conscious of the fact that my feminine voice, my round face, and my curvy body would give away the fact that I wasn’t born male. To combat this, I reminded everyone I met that my pronouns were he/him. Looking back, I feel a bit embarrassed at how adamant I was about it, but it’s how I felt secure in a place as new and chaotic as MIT.
The physical transition can look very different depending on the person. The most common first step for a physical transition is starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which usually means taking regular doses of testosterone for trans men and regular doses of estrogen for trans women. Trans men and trans women will often also pursue cosmetic surgery to transform their bodies in ways that alleviate their gender dysphoria. Some trans people decide that physically transitioning just isn’t for them, which is cool too.
I started testosterone hormone injections February of last year, right smack at the beginning of my sophomore spring. I was elated to finally start the next step in my transition and the days couldn’t pass by quickly enough for me to see the changes I wanted to happen. See, my voice gave me the most dysphoria because I knew it was the one thing that really gave me away as AFAB (assigned female at birth), so when it finally started to drop with the passage of time, the relief was indescribable. Funnily enough, a lot of friends initially asked if I had caught a cold, but I assured them that “No, I was just going through second puberty.” This would become an ongoing joke well into my junior fall.
More recently, I’ve made plans to undergo top surgery to deal with the thing that started causing me the most dysphoria after my voice dropped: my chest. I’m not gonna lie, I’m dreading the inevitable post-op period of recovery, but the important thing is I will no longer feel trapped in my own body. I will have removed a weight off my chest (literally and metaphorically), and those scars will mark the end of my transition. It’s bittersweet to know I’ll finally close off this chapter of my life, but I got through it and I made it out the other side a much happier, more complete person than I started.
To all my friends and family who’ve supported me as I transitioned, thank you. I love you all.