Live Through This

Neither/Both

Deciding to change my “outer” gender to match my inner one was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. And then I did it all over again.

Illustration by Kelly.

Illustration by Kelly.

Two nights ago, I went to my friend’s weekly one-woman karaoke night at a local gay bar. I had just accompanied her to Nicki Minaj’s “Fly,” and I got offstage feeling really good about my performance. As I was walking back to my table, a man approached me and said, “You’re amazing!” He looked like he was in his 20s and a few drinks deep, and although he wasn’t my type, that kind of attention is always flattering. I was probably blushing. Then, still smiling, he asked me, “What’s your gender?”

Taken a bit aback by his sudden forwardness, I struggled for a few moments to formulate an appropriate response. What I came up with: “Ummm…hmm. Uhhhhh…”

“Yeah, that’s cool!” the guy said, upbeat as ever. “I just wanted to know what gender you identify as.”

About 15 seconds passed before I managed to say, “Umm…uhhhh…androgynous, I guess?”

After this incredibly satisfying exchange, we went back to our respective tables and never spoke again. I need to get better at answering that question, I thought. But, see, it’s complicated.

If that man had asked me the same question last year, I wouldn’t have skipped a beat before proclaiming, “I’m a guy.” I thought I had it all figured out. I had made a conscious choice to be a man, despite having been born with what’s thought of as “female” equipment. I was so sure, in fact, that I was a guy that I underwent a lengthy transitioning process, involving hormone shots and close monitoring by a therapist, to get my outside appearance in line with my inner self—who was a man, no question.

But the big problem with our insides is that they’re always changing. As I approached my two-year mark on testosterone, I began feeling less sure of the choice I was making. I started to feel stifled by my chosen gender identity, buried under the trappings of manhood. My outside had ceased matching my insides, and that didn’t feel good at all. What had been a source of freedom—getting to choose what gender to present myself as—started to feel like a trap.

It’s terrifying to decide to stop taking testosterone after two years of regular injections. Even scarier, for me at least, was the prospect of facing ridicule from my friends and from strangers on the internet when they learned that I was going back on this thing that I had been so passionately sure of just a few years ago. I was afraid that people would latch on to this idea that my transition was a “mistake” and use it to discount the validity of other people’s transitions. I feared the street harassment that comes with looking at all “feminine.” I feared that I would never look more feminine, that I would always be perceived as “a man” forever. But most of all, I feared the unknown: Where was I headed? What exactly did I want to look like, or “be”? What if I was making a huge mistake?

However, I knew that a way bigger mistake would have been to try to stifle the inner voice that was telling me I wasn’t happy and that I needed things to change—again. After I took my final testosterone shot in June 2013, I felt a mixture of excitement, embarrassment, and confusion. How much would my appearance change, and how rapidly? What would people think when they saw me on the street? I was truly alone on this journey—no one I knew had experienced anything like it—so I took one baby step at a time in whatever direction felt right for me.

The first one was shaving my legs, something I hadn’t done in four years. Or, rather, shaving one of my legs, which seemed to express how I was feeling at that point: I’m in between, and I don’t care what you think about how I look. The next step was buying an outfit that made me feel good: a comic-book-print bandeau under a white tank top, black cutoff shorts, and black platform sneakers with hot pink satin laces. I was nervous about wearing the outfit in public, but my desire to look cute trumped my nerves. Wearing things that made me feel attractive gave me a little confidence boost, which was all I needed to focus less on what others thought of me and more on my own happiness.

One thing that made me happy was spending time with a great friend that I grew up with. She has always loved and supported me, and she was a great sounding board for whatever I was going through at a given moment. She’d check in with me almost daily, asking, “How are you doing? What effects are you feeling from the hormone shift? What pronouns are you feeling right now?” She felt like a safe person with whom to experiment with presentation and pronouns. And there were a lot of experiments: One day I’d want to be referred to as she; the next, I preferred they—as in, “I just saw Tyler; they came over and we watched a movie”—which is where I am right now, I think. Sometimes I wanted to wear a strapless dress with face stubble, sometimes a hoodie and red lipstick. Even though everything about me was in flux, I knew my support system was stable. I am so lucky to have this friend in my life; she allowed me to actually enjoy this process of discovering who I was and what I wanted.

I’ve been off hormones for 10 months now, and I still don’t know how to articulate my gender identity in a word or two. That might seem super uncomfortable, and it does make for some awkward moments in bars, but mostly it is actually a pretty freeing feeling. The way I think of myself changes from moment to moment, and instead of fighting it, I just go with it. I’m learning to exist without analyzing every aspect of myself or trying to force myself to feel, live, or look any certain way. I love looking in the mirror and watching my features contradict one another.

Sometimes I feel like my gender is an optical illusion: Light me from one angle, and you’ll see a pretty girl; from another, I look like a pretty boy. I am neither, and I am both. Many people will never understand how I feel, but what matters to me is that I understand myself, even if I can’t find myself in words. The possibilities seem endless. ♦

31 Comments

  • e1znekcaM April 3rd, 2014 12:12 AM

    wow, amazing piece. you rule! don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • taratwinkle April 3rd, 2014 12:27 AM

    Wow, this is beautiful. I think its important to remember that its ok to be in-between, and not to know.I know someone who I think this will really help.

  • Eileen April 3rd, 2014 12:31 AM

    so, i think you’re amazing. and shaving one leg? should be a movement

  • Bex_cygnet April 3rd, 2014 2:01 AM

    Uh-mazing. Also I just stalked & adored your twitter!

  • thecoronersgambit April 3rd, 2014 2:09 AM

    I really identify with this piece. Though I haven’t undergone any type of hormonal treatment, I still feel stifled and trapped by gender labels. I don’t necessarily want to be female, but I don’t want to be male either. I don’t know what to call my gender, but this piece articulates clearly what I actually feel. I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you for writing it.
    (This is my first comment so I don’t have the whole comment-writing thing down. Sorry c:)

    • WeAreWhatWeAre May 28th, 2014 3:57 AM

      I know how you feel. I don’t like to present as female , but I also feel uncomfortable when people call me “sir” or whatever. Also, I’ve got quite curvy hips and breasts and I hate it, but I’m scared to get hormone treatments or surgery. This piece made me feel loads better about myself and less scared of my own body. I’m really glad it’s out there.

  • TessAnnesley April 3rd, 2014 2:46 AM

    So amazing.

  • lingeringsoul April 3rd, 2014 2:56 AM

    tyler i am so, so fond of you.

  • punk-m April 3rd, 2014 6:37 AM

    I just want to thank you for this piece. I’m starting to feel less comfortable in my body, but don’t quite know what I do feel comfortable in, and the mixture of female and male options has been helping me.

  • victoria April 3rd, 2014 11:48 AM

    i <3 you, tyler
    and i <3 you, rookie, for always advocating for trans* awareness, understanding, acceptance.
    <3

  • Mayi April 3rd, 2014 12:10 PM

    I’m so glad you have good support system. And I totally relate to the insides being in flux. I’ve been coming to terms with the fact that I am forever changing, and the things I’m passionate about shift too. I think it’s crazy to expect anyone to stay the same. As long as you’re doing you, it’s all good <3

  • Steef April 3rd, 2014 1:28 PM

    Amazing article! <3

  • JoanaNielsen April 3rd, 2014 3:06 PM

    this is so important. thank you. ♥♥

  • Arabelle April 3rd, 2014 3:27 PM

    iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou

  • soretudaaa April 3rd, 2014 8:24 PM

    I loved this so much <3 I think this kinds of feeling are mostly ignored by the media, so I love that you're writing about this!!! It's relevant because flux exists in every single aspect of nature, so why can't gender experience that same phenomenon?

  • k80fart April 3rd, 2014 10:24 PM

    LOVE ∩(︶▽︶)∩

  • thebrownette April 3rd, 2014 11:01 PM

    This is great!

  • bedroomeyes April 4th, 2014 2:15 AM

    wow this is absolutely beautiful for so many reasons<3

  • Flossy Mae April 4th, 2014 10:09 AM

    I love this!

    Also, this is slightly off topic but I noticed it in the comments and wondered, why does trans* have an asterisk? x

    • Johann7 April 4th, 2014 5:19 PM

      The asterisk is used to indicate uncertainty about the category in question. “Trans(s)exual” used to be the standard term to describe people who decided to adopt a gender presentation different than the one socially dictated by the appearance of their genitals at birth and/or use medical interventions like hormones or surgery to alter their biological gender presentation. As both academic gender studies and on-the-street activism continued to explore, challenge, refine, and disrupt our conceptualizations of sex and gender, “transgender” became the more popular term. However, there are a lot of people who still prefer the older terminology, “trans” alone, or any number of other possibilities e.g. “trans-queer,” or even terms like “tranny” that are considered slurs by many trans* people but are also used as self-identifiers. The purpose of the asterisk is to attempt to be inclusive of the wide range of identity labels when referring collectively to all people who have changed gender identity or presentation.

  • Erin. April 4th, 2014 1:12 PM

    Tyler, it’s always so interesting to read about your experiences. You’ve made me see that it can take a lot of work and effort both to be yourself and to be all right with yourself, and in a way I’ve grown with you.

    Just as a side note, I wonder if you’ve heard of Gary Levy, from Big Brother Canada season 1? When you mentioned wanting to wear platform shoes and super cute clothes, I immediately thought of Gary. I’m not sure whether he identifies as male or androgynous, but he’s got awesome fashion sense, and doesn’t let convention hold him back from what he wants to wear. Just the other day he was wearing a cat-girl print dress and a fluffy fur coat and he had a large feather in his hair. He’s like 6 feet tall and entirely gorgeous. He is sort of Canada’s reality TV champion/super hero of being yourself.

  • fluorescentyesterday April 5th, 2014 1:03 AM

    Thank you for this. I’m still figuring out my gender identity and reading this is comforting. I guess I’m non-binary but I still have ‘girl’ days and ‘boy days’. My friends find it ‘confusing’ and I don’t want to bother them by telling them my preferred pronouns, but it’s also tough.

    Once again, thank you. That last paragraph made me feel all nice inside.

  • Amy Rose April 5th, 2014 3:32 AM

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfRNRymrv9k

  • Logan April 5th, 2014 10:02 AM

    What a courageous piece to publish. I admire you so much for being so honest and I believe this type of writing is what Rookie is all about. You are such an inspiration to us all!!

  • Anya N. April 5th, 2014 10:53 AM

    awwww you go, tyler!!!

  • 3LL3NH April 5th, 2014 4:39 PM

    Thank you, Tyler.

    There’s a lot of figuring with gender identity, and you expressed very well what’s inside my head. Focus on your inside matching your outside rather than your outside matching the world. Right on.

    I have a question- are you glad things happened how they did? Would you forgo T if you did it over again? That’s where I am now…

  • Alepisaurus April 8th, 2014 12:34 AM

    I know I don’t always feel at home in my body, but not much else. This quote, “I’m learning to exist without analyzing every aspect of myself or trying to force myself to feel, live, or look any certain way” sounds terrific to me. Thank you so much for your article, for helping me feel like maybe I don’t have to have it 100% figured out all the time.

  • ColoredSoft April 8th, 2014 12:54 AM

    I appreciate you a bunch for sharing this. I appreciate you in general. You’ve impacted me in a way that I don’t quite understand yet

  • Cynthia April 8th, 2014 1:53 AM

    this is so beautifully written and inspiring tyler!!

  • horrorfreak May 25th, 2014 5:11 PM

    Ahh amazing. Gender Identity has always been a struggle for me, I love people like you for posting their experiences with it, thank you.