Early gender transition is incredibly awkward.

The Early Stages of Gender Transition Are Awkward, No Need to Pretend Otherwise

The Early Stages of Gender Transition Are Awkward, No Need to Pretend Otherwise

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Aug. 9 2016 8:30 AM

A Trans Man Walks Into the Men’s Room for the First Time

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If only it were as simple as following an arrow.

iStock/Thinkstock

There’s no getting around it: Early transition is incredibly awkward.

My first attempt to use a public men’s room was a disaster by any measure. I was nervous, you see. I’ve since been told by more than one person that I was excessively nervous, but as far as I’m concerned, my level of terror was appropriate for the experience of walking into a restroom designated for the exclusive use of men, knowing the whole time that anyone who saw me would probably know I was one of those transgenders. I’m 5-foot-2. I have a newly protruding beer belly, while my hips remain quite rounded. When I neglect to shave, I grow facial hair in two or three distinct patches, each a little larger than a quarter. Sometimes my voice sounds like a man’s; at other times it’s more like I have a head cold. I’m in early transition, and right now I don’t fully resemble a man or a woman.

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In another few months, the cumulative effect of the changes brought on by testosterone will, most likely, result in other people seeing me as just another guy. Perhaps I should have waited until then to use the men’s room, but the problem there is that I do pass sometimes: Given the choice between having men chuckling at seeing a girl in their bathroom versus women screaming and fainting at the sight of a man in theirs, I picked the former. So I walked toward the men’s room and, because there is no God, there was a big tall dude coming out just as I went to push the door open. At first he looked confused, then he looked down and saw me, then he looked confused again. Not exactly an auspicious start, but I had committed, so in I went.

I opened the door to the first stall I saw—and came face to face with a urinal. I startled as if I’d seen something horrible, which I had, because I’m not currently equipped to handle a urinal-only situation. (Note to self: Acquire one of those funnel devices that allow cis women and trans men to pee standing up before re-attempting.) The second stall had a urinal as well, probably because they’d heard I was coming and really wanted to mess with me. The last stall, the handicapped stall, was already occupied. Those two urinals stood there, silently mocking me. In one of the least proud moments of my life, I fled that place for the relative comfort of the ladies’ room. I have since been advised that it would have been perfectly normal to simply wait for the stall to open up, which is good advice but misses the point, which is that I had just been relentlessly taunted by those two urinals that clearly had it in for me. I was not about to wait while another man, one who would doubtless have been eight or nine feet tall and shirtless with huge shoulders and ripped pectorals, emerged from the handicapped stall to further humiliate me.

When I first started transitioning, I had a plan, and I thought it was a good one. I would wait until the masculinization process was complete, and I appeared fully male to strangers, and then I’d change my name and switch to using male pronouns. I figured this would avoid a lot of unnecessary hassle. I would never have to introduce myself as “Evan” to someone who expected a woman’s name. People who struggled to remember my new name and pronouns would get a push in the right direction by my changed appearance. A single, clean gender change sounded great—I wondered why everyone didn’t do it that way and congratulated myself on my practicality.

In real life, it hasn’t been nearly that straightforward. For months the people closest to me, people who care about my well-being and my comfort, have been asking every so often if I had a new name yet, or if I was really, truly OK with them still using female pronouns. People who knew me less well began to notice the masculinization of my appearance, leading them to either awkwardly ask or awkwardly refrain from asking about my gender situation. And several trans people I knew all but refused to honor my request that they continue to use female pronouns during this interim period, referring to me as he, in spite of my wishes. I think they were a little offended by my not wanting to change my name or pronouns at the earliest possible moment. On top of that, I have started passing some of the time, which means I can no longer tell whether any given stranger sees me as a man or a woman. It will be a while before that changes.

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I imagined my early transition phase as a waiting period, which I intended to endure as stoically as possible before emerging as a fully formed male person. But in real life, it is an awkward stage, and there’s no getting around that. When I’m passing, I wonder if I’ll do something to give myself away. When I’m not passing, I wonder what it is about my appearance that’s betraying me. When I don’t know if I’m passing or not, I wonder if I’m currently passing. Maybe there are trans people who can take all that in stride, but it feels like an impossibly tall order to me. Self-consciousness runs in my family, after all—my brother and I have had long conversations about whether people will think he’s a creep if he puts his hands in his pockets.

These days, everyone seems to have an opinion about transgender people, whether they’re supportive or dismissive or just intensely curious about us, and until I pass for male, I will be subjected to these opinions on a daily basis.

My in-between-y early transition appearance invites comment, discussion, and questions from the public. My dad wants to know if transitioning is trendy, and why I never said anything about being a boy when I was younger. My mom wonders if an anti-miscarriage drug she took in pregnancy could have caused this. An older friend explains that she will try to use my new name, but this is all so new to someone of her generation. Internet commenters explain sexual dimorphism in vague and poorly thought-out terms, assuming it will somehow set me straight.

All this is fine by me, except that, as I’ve mentioned, I am very early in this transition process, which means I don’t actually know anything yet. I don’t know what gender is or isn’t—nothing I’ve read satisfies me that this question is settled. I don’t know why some people are transgender—there are some intriguing preliminary studies, but it is an open question, scientifically speaking. I don’t know if I am a “real” man or what it would mean if I wasn’t—I think it depends on what you mean by real, and I’m not sure it matters one way or the other. I neither reject the concept of sexual dimorphism in biology nor expect it to settle everything.

What I’d like for other people to understand and accept is that this is going to be a little awkward for everyone involved. If we’re kind to one another, we’ll get through it just fine. You may use the wrong name or the wrong pronouns for me. I may flee from a men’s restroom for what, in retrospect, seem like less than urgent reasons. We both may find my changing appearance somewhat humorous or somewhat awkward. Neither of us may fully understand gender, or sex, or why some people seek to change their outward sex-based characteristics. Eventually, I’ll look like a dude, and we’ll both forget I ever wasn’t one. It’s all going to be OK, I promise. But it’ll take a minute.

Evan Urquhart (formerly Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart) is working to improve comments on Slate and is a regular contributor to Outward.