My mom has always been a reliable pillar in my life. She is a woman of action, accustomed to stressful situations. If a problem arises, she deals with it with tact, diplomacy, and determination. She was the one to teach me to value music and the one who sat by my side when it was time to practice. She was the one who helped me through difficult english assignments, the one who joined the scout instructors to help me feel safe in a new environment, and the one who comforted me whenever I came back from school shaken by that day’s bullying.
I love my dad, but in the end it was my mom who was there when it mattered most. And it was to her I went first when I couldn’t bear the burden of silence anymore.
She listened to me, asked a few awkward questions most of which I didn’t know how to answer. Knowing her own limited knowledge on the topic, she asked me if I would like to talk with a professional like a sexologue. It was part of the usual narrative, so I agreed. She then hugged me and reassured me she would do everything she could to help.
Although I dreaded it at first, the talk with my mom went well. A little too well in fact.
She took immediate action. That day at work she requested a list of people who might be able to help from the services provided to employees. She educated herself on what she could find on the topic of transgenderism. She looked at news articles and statistics. One such article said that these feelings I had would never disappear; that they could be repressed, but would eventually come back when the feeling of dissatisfaction grew too intense.
She reaffirmed whenever she could that she was there to support me and that I could come talk to her. My mom had a plan, but more than that she was well aware she couldn’t understand what I was going through and that the help she could provide alone was limited.
Thus, she scheduled me an appointment with a therapist.
In my adult mind it feels like it had taken only a week between my confession and the appointment, but it could have been one and a half or two; I’m not sure. The only impression I’m certain of is that I thought it was too fast; that I wasn’t ready.
I went along with it.
In a vacuum, it was the reasonable thing to do. To my fourteen years old mindset, psychologists were people qualified to take momentous decisions that could change the course of one’s life. You were supposed to sit in a room with them, answer a few questions, talk about yourself, and they would make a decision for you. They knew what was best. Or so did the theory go.
My previous experience with a psychologist had left me apprehensive about them having that much power over me. When I had been in first grade, my parents had scheduled appointments with someone qualified because I was smart. I could do maths other kids my age couldn’t do. I remember spending several sessions doing IQ tests and solving labyrinths and puzzles. It was done in the aid center at school. The teacher giving the tests later recommended I skipped ahead a grade because it would stimulate my logical mind. I could handle it according to them.
Yet, they had failed to take into account that my reading and writing skills were subpar. They had ignored the impact being a year younger could make on a five years old child. At that age, one year is massive. I might have had above average grades compared to kids my age, but I wasn’t ever compared to others my age; I was compared to older kids, and next to them I was barely making it.
For five years, I was smaller, weaker, less mature, less knowledgeable, less everything than my peers. I was ridiculed, intimidated, harassed, pushed around, forcefully held in place and poked, and laughed at. Other kids found it entertaining to ask me questions they knew I didn’t know the answer to. One question would be followed by a smug smile, no answer, then another question I didn’t understand, another smile, and never an answer. At some point the teachers stopped caring when I went to them saying the other kids were annoying me with all their questions. The teachers found it innocent enough; they didn’t understand how miserable and lacking it made me feel. To make it stop, I had to change school and take back a year simply to be in the right age bracket again.
I could handle it, the psychologist had said.
Thus were the thoughts I had while waiting with my mom in the lobby of the therapist. I hadn’t yet met them, and already I was feeling anxious and ill at ease. I didn’t want to be here, but I had read therapy was a normal part of transitioning. It was what the true transwomen did to prove they were women and to get hormones and many other things. It was part of the narrative, so I kept silent and tried to make myself comfortable.
The woman came to greet us. I didn’t speak much, giving the reins to my mom instead. The two of them talked around the topic of transgenderism, either as though the therapist hadn’t been made aware of it or it was taboo in a public space.
Leaving my mom behind, I followed the woman into a room with two large and uncomfortable club chairs. There wasn’t anything else in the small room; just a carpet, me with my bags, and her with pen and paper.
I didn’t know what to say, so I remained silent and let her start. She shared the privacy policies of her establishment. Everything would stay between her and I, unless she decided it was life threatening, in which case she would take action. Already nervous, her mention of suicide did nothing to put me at ease.
After resisting her first few attempts at probing me, we eventually breached the topic I was here for.
I told her I wanted to be a girl. She asked me why, and I didn’t know the answer. I had never tried to justify my desire to myself. It had been floating in the back of my mind for so long there was no ‘why’; it just was. Having only breached the subject with two other persons I hadn’t needed to find a reason for wanting to be different, and yet here she was, confronting me about it.
She asked me if I felt like a girl, and again I didn’t know the answer. How did one ‘feel like a girl’? How did one ‘feel like a boy’ for that matter? I didn’t feel particularly feminine nor masculine. I felt uncomfortable, but how? I couldn’t say.
Even to this day, I don’t feel ‘like a girl’. I do feel comfortable though. I feel like myself. Nathalie Wynn had the right of it that the only good answer to that question pre-transition is ‘I feel like shit‘.
At the time, though, I took my lack of feelings as proof against me. I scrambled to come up with different reasons why I was feminine. I told the therapist I enjoyed drawing, crocheting, weaving, origami, swimming, and other such activities I associated more with girls than boys. At the same time, other activities came to my mind which I tried to repress: my love for legos, bugs, outdoor activities, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons. Each of them felt like it detracted from my reasons to want to be a girl. It was like a scale, with on one side all of myself that was feminine and one the other all of that which was masculine, and the feminine side was falling short.
The therapist asked me how long I had felt that way, and once more I lacked anything decisive. At the age of seven, whenever I would go to sleep, I would imagine myself changing gradually to another shape. It had started with animals such as snakes and eagles, but eventually I tried a mermaid, and then a plain simple girl. Changing to a girl fell more soothing than any other shape, and while I tried a few more, I kept returning to that of a girl. Every night, I would do this little ritual of imagining myself as a girl as I fell asleep. It was comforting and helped me through the difficult times in grade school.
But that was the only memory I could conjure. I hadn’t known all my life like the other transwomen. I never crossdressed, never played with dolls.
Once more, I fell short of the desired narrative.
One of the questions I could answer I preferred lying instead: had I seen or read something to trigger these feelings? Kashimashi immediately came to mind, but I didn’t want to admit it. I was feeling pressured and tested, and I feared that the therapist would point out all the ways the manga failed to represent a true narrative. I didn’t want the woman in front of me to tarnish my enjoyment of the story. I needed to be able to keep dreaming, so I lied.
The therapist kept asking more and more questions, very few of which I knew the answer to. She would ask and reassure me with a smile when I couldn’t offer anything. She could have answered her own questions, shared with me other people’s experiences and different stories which were all as valid as the next, but she did no such thing. She never filled in the gaps. It was the same pattern I’d seen countless times before:
A question, a smile, no answer, another question, another smile, never any answer.
At some point, I stopped talking. I was too ashamed to say any more. There was no point. I wasn’t woman enough to transition. All I mustered were some ‘mhmm’, ‘okay’, and ‘why?’
The coup de grace came when she mentioned hormones. At the time, hormones were the closest thing to that dreamed “become a woman” button. I thought they were these magic whatever that would feminize my body over time without me having to do anything. They were the last thing I clung to with any semblance of hope.
I asked her whether hormones were an option.
She told me she would first need to make sure I wouldn’t regret my decision. To gain access to hormones, I would need to live one full year as a girl. Dressed as a girl, going to school as a girl, and being referred to with female pronouns.
That killed any hope I may have had that I could transition. I didn’t want to be seen as a boy in girl clothes. I didn’t want to be ridiculed nor to give anyone any reason to ridicule me ever again. I couldn’t imagine myself going full-time, coming out to my entire family, all my friends and everyone at school. I felt like I needed the hormones to be able to transition, so to be told that I needed to do so without only to be rewarded with them when all was said and done was non-sensical. It put the cart before the horse.
But what did I know? She was the expert.
I exited the room feeling numb. My mom was there waiting for us. She asked how it went, and I told her I didn’t want to talk about it. It was painful to be reminded of what I couldn’t have.
That was the last time I mentioned transgenderism in the years that followed. I didn’t want to think about it at all.
I resigned myself to masculine behaviours. I would avoid my own reflection as much as possible, ignore facial hair until it grew long enough I randomly caught sight of it in glimpses of said reflection I was avoiding.
I went back to reading gender-bender fiction, but no explicit transgender literature. I enjoyed my friends’ company. Most of my hobbies were more masculine, such as card games, board games, Dungeons and dragons, and scientific experiments. I distracted myself with life for a while.
Meanwhile, my mom had the patience of a saint. After I had come out of my appointment with the therapist, she hadn’t breached the topic with me nor had she taken more steps to help me transition. She had read it never went away, and thus she had waited for it to come back, ideally at a time I felt more confident and comfortable about it. I never told her what had been said during that therapy, nor that I had associated the sexologist with the same teachers/psychologists that had been involved during the most stressful years of my childhood. I only talked to her about all this when writing this post. That was one emotional yet satisfying discussion.
My mom waited three years before coming back to me about it all. She asked me if the feelings I had had— I didn’t want to talk about it. I knew what she was alluding to and I didn’t let her say it aloud. I told her I regretted opening up to her about my feelings. At seventeen I was right into my teen years, and so my mom stepped back and let me have my way. I was often lost in my own head, recluse in my room for one reason or another. Recalling the teenage years of my older sisters, my mom gave me all the space I needed and didn’t take my rudeness too personal.
The most I did gender-wise during the following years was to grow my hair out. I thought I could maybe dress as a girl at Halloween if my hair grew long enough, but I never went through with it.
I was still in too much denial to do more than this. Every time something reminded me of trans issues, I became nostalgic and resentful. If my mom was around, I was anxious she would bring me up in any such relevant discussion. The topic was taboo for me.
Over the years, I gained in maturity and confidence. Even though the topic was a self-imposed taboo, I would once in a blue moon read something about it, or be exposed to it in a way that didn’t trigger my fight-or-flight instincts (or rather my freeze-or-flight response in the 4F system). Eventually I became comfortable enough with the topic to be curious about it and search solutions to specific problems: how to completely get rid of my facial hair, how to soften my voice, how to tuck my Adam apple, how to care for my hair, etc.
It was July 2015. I was going on 21. One day I received from my school an email offering opportunities for an internship in Japan. Four to eight months in a different country, where no-one would know me nor recognize me. Eight months to explore, to try things and make mistakes with no long-term consequences. It was too good to pass.
That email was the trigger that pushed me to transition.