Guest post by J. Squid
Some of you in my meatspace have known this for some time. And a couple of you in my cyberspace have known as well. For the last year and a half, plus or minus, I have been transitioning. You can probably get a fairly good idea of when I started by looking at when I changed my commenting name from Jake Squid to J. Squid. I will be changing it again in the near future. The reason I haven’t announced this before is that if word of my transition had gotten back to my employer, I would have been immediately fired. As I have left that job (for my 2nd retirement), I no longer have to be closeted in most places and times. When I first told people, I said that I had done a reasonable facsimile of a man for 50 years and now I’m going to do a reasonable facsimile of a woman for the next 50 years.
I’ve known since some time before I was 10 that I was (or would do better as, the context of time and place certainly had its influence on me) a girl. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no such thing as transitioning as far as any of us knew. When I did learn about the possibility of transition, 10 or so years later, it wasn’t realistically achievable for me. I’m a terrible actor and there was no way I was going to pull off being super feminine for psychiatric and medical professionals. So it wasn’t a possibility for me.
And then, you know, life continues. I fell in love, got married and lived 10 years as the victim in an abusive relationship. When that broke up, just before my 31st birthday, I strongly considered transitioning and looked at it again. Alas, it was just as unachievable for me as it had been 10 and 15 years earlier, so I put it out of mind.
And, once again, life continued. I fell in love for the second time, got married and lived for close to 20 years with a wonderful and loving partner, Mrs. Squid. And then, just after my 50th birthday, my doctors FINALLY became concerned about the lump in my chest I’d been complaining about for 30 years – apparently, it just had to get BIG enough to scare them. That concern morphed, over a short period, into a mastectomy. During that whole process, the shocked look from the doctor, meeting with the surgeon, mammograms and sonograms and biopsies, more meetings with surgeons, surgery and recovery was the best time in my entire life, to that point. It was a gas and I was so very, very happy. I’d like to be happy like that again one day, but I digress…
After I had recovered from the mastectomy, I was appalled and disturbed by having nothing but chest wall on that side. On the advice of everybody in the world, I waited a year before deciding what to do. I decided I needed reconstruction. It was during that process that I began to realize that just getting back what I had before wasn’t what I wanted and I found myself disappointed that no reconstructive surgeon suggested implants. I thought about that for a couple of months and realized that what I really wanted was to transition. Can I tell you how nervous I was when I told Mrs. Squid? I mean, I was as certain as one could be that she would be okay with it, but that doesn’t really hold back the fear that you’re about to destroy your most important relationship. She listened to me, looked at me, and said, “I was wondering when you were going to figure that out.” That still brings tears to my eyes. My family was just as accepting. My friends were even more accepting and were calling me by my new name so fast it left my head spinning. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I do.
Having made the decision, I was referred by my therapist to another therapist who specializes in trans issues. I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better match and her help has been invaluable. So in September of 2018, I began taking hormones. The changes over the next several months were very welcome. After about 13 months, I decided the time had come to stop vaping. (Here, I will digress, once more, to tell you how much better vaping is than not vaping, but here I find myself…) Once I stopped vaping, the effect of the hormones increased unbelievably. I had heard that oral HRT is less effective for smokers, but they really undersold that.
It has, so far, been a revelation. I am, without question, feeling better about myself than I ever have. If it hadn’t been for the degrading situation at work (they kicked out the hated brother-in-law who, it seems, was the one responsible for a great work environment), everything would’ve been perfect. Work, however, had been getting me increasingly down since last summer. The collapse of my thyroid function (after 10 years of cromulent management of the problem, I had forgotten the symptoms and didn’t realize that’s what was going on) left me crying from exhaustion every night in the shower and really broke down my resistance to the horrible work environment that had been created. On Valentine’s Day, I reached my limit and was fortunate enough to have saved enough money that I didn’t need the job, and gave my two weeks notice.
I am hopeful that once I get over the panic of not having an income for the first time since 1996 (even though I don’t actually need an income any time soon) that I will get back to feeling, well, if not happy then, at least, not depressed. We’ll call that a victory.
I have an appointment with a surgeon next month and I’m looking forward to not being lopsided for the first time in over 30 years. I can finally be me all the time and everywhere and now I can get a wardrobe together, search for the job I want and present myself as the me that I am. I’ll have time to see my friends and to get my spaces at home organized and to work on my writing and all those other things that I haven’t had time and energy for. As I enter the second half of my life (my family tends to be exceptionally long lived and I shall be optimistic about my chances), I am increasingly of the belief that I should enjoy myself while I can.
At some point I’ll reconcile my need to transition with my belief that men and women are the same – they’re people. Or I’ll decide that there is no need to reconcile those two things. Whatever.
So, yes, I am more content with myself than I have ever been, my friends and family are the best I could ever ask for, strangers are kind enough to treat you the way you signal you’d like to be treated and my hair is magnificent. MAGNIFICENT!
Best of Luck on that momentous step you’ve been considering for a while. I know quite a few people who have taken it, and the ones that I liked before were very likeable after, and visibly happier.
But because I am contrarian, I have to take a exception to your title:
Spring (or Fall or Summer, But Never Winter) is a Time for Change…
… unless you are a tree in need of pruning.
Women and men may be the same, but we’re not treated the same! Our bodies and identities don’t have the same social meaning. So even if we’re in essence the same, in practice things are different. So, this is how you feel in practice, being you in this place and time with these social meanings. Who knows what would happen if we were all in some different context with different social meanings? In some ways, who cares? This is the time and place we are.
And I remain very happy for you.
Congratulations on transitioning! My experience is not your experience, but they surely often rhyme, and I know what a huge internal endeavor it was for me, and how much grueling labor it took.
What pronouns should we use? (I could guess “she/her”, but this is a fine opportunity to ask, and then we actually know.)
Congratulations also on being free of the shackles which held you back. Having room to maneuver is critically important in transition, because there’s no way to predict how individuals will react. I know that I did not see it coming from the quarter it came from in my case; it was the unlikeliest person who proved to be the most difficult. So, you’ve set yourself up for success.
You know how to reach me privately. Let me know if you want any of my public advice on the road ahead, for whatever it’s worth.
I never wanted to act, once I was out; I figured I’d done enough of that pretending to be a man in the previous decades. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a casual acquaintance describe me as feminine, let alone “super feminine”. However, many people met me post-transition and did not know I was trans until someone told them, sometimes months or years later. Several of the women have told me that they never got a weird vibe from me or thought that I seemed at all masculine, even though I am still tall and strong and some of these women were fellow athletes in my sports league.
Certainly I never heard a psychological or medical professional describe me as “super feminine”. That said, I only approached a psych professional after I heard her referenced in glowing terms by a successfully-transitioned woman, and I only approached the endocrinologist recommended by that psych professional. So, in other words, I found the right people. I don’t know if any such people existed, for you. It’s perfectly possible (indeed, probable) that they didn’t.
All of which is contextual preamble to this: the most effective barriers are often the ones we set up ourselves. One of the many reasons I didn’t transition in my early twenties was that, back then, the wisdom was that no one would help you transition if they thought you couldn’t pass as a cis woman when you were done — and I was over 6 feet, with broad shoulders — or if you were attracted to women, which I was (and am).
But people transitioned anyway, and now we know better, and so do a lot of providers.
So I’m sorry that was a factor in holding you back, because I’m sure it made it seem impossible.
A few years ago, maybe three or four years after I transitioned, I was participating on a panel discussion with a room full of med students. I told a story about how one of my supervisors confided in me that, prior to my coming out, he had always thought of me as “a man’s man”. And one of the med students, a man in his apparent thirties, guffawed, and there was general laughter in the room.
So, for all my fears and lack of super-femininity, apparently I don’t come across as masculine, at least to most people.
This is not always true of trans women. But perhaps it will be true for you, too.
Amen to that.
Meh. The real answer to the proposition that men and women are the same, or to the proposition that men and women are different, is to ask, “Why are you using a two-category system to describe a multivariate set of continua with highly-but-not-completely correlated bimodal distributions? Especially when discussing exactly those data points which don’t map completely to the two categories?”
Also, what Mandolin said. You’re now enrolled in a master class in seeing the differences in the assumptions people make about you depending on what category they assign to you. It’s a powerful class, and you’ll learn a lot.
That’s awesome! Enjoy the hell out of that. My hair turned out to be just okay, but on the other hand, I’m very happy to have hair. Magnificent is truly tremendous fun!
That made me laugh a lot more than is reasonable.
And, thus, my cries for sanity for the last ~45 years. If we were treated the same I wouldn’t have been shouting, “Women are people, too!” repeatedly.
And thanks for your happiness! It really does mean a lot.
I am going with she/her, so you’re right on the nose.
I don’t think of what I was doing as pretending to be a man so much as doing what I needed to in order to get by as a man. Which, to be honest, was both just barely enough and way more than enough. Which is to say that I did not partake of machismo culture and at the same time was strong enough to make it clear that was because of my disdain for it. And… that’s cool, the not knowing you were trans. I have certainly not known for some folks who I didn’t know pre-transition. Knowing somebody in only one form of presentation sure helps with the not even thinking about transition. I have my doubts that I will ever pass so well, but who knows. And, though it’s a goal or dream of some sort, I’ll be perfectly happy if I never pass as cis. It’s enough, and more, to be who I am.
Although I haven’t, mostly, been presenting as a woman over my lifetime, I am acutely aware of those differences. More than your average bear. It’s yet another reason for my shouts of “Women are people, too!” Which isn’t to say that I have the full, internalized understanding of people who have experienced it for years and decades, nor felt the emotional effects of that treatment. Though I probably will, some day. I’d say that I notice, but do not experience that difference up through now.
It’s all relative, I suppose. But having it get longer for the first time in 20 or more years and having it just look better is, to me, magnificent.
You and I are opposites in so many ways as I have always been small (when I stopped being tiny) and thin. And mistaken for a woman countless times over the years. We all have certain advantages and disadvantages when we transition as older folks. I am lucky in that I’m small with tiny hands and feet and my hair was already pretty long. Otoh, the receding hair line and beard that grows so fast it’ll be full if you blink are disadvantages. We celebrate where we’re lucky and adjust or accept where we’re not.
I do and I am so grateful for your advice and compassion as I have embarked on this process. Now that I’m just about out of that terrible environment and, even more importantly, seem to have enough thyroid meandering through my body, I hope to correspond with you a bit more often.
As different as we are – and we are very, very different in so many ways – I have always appreciated your perspective (and writing). Sometimes it has caused me to reevaluate my stance and, at others, to just go, “Huh. I guess you can look at it that way.” But your compassion, kindness and, not least, your courage, has really affected me over the years. As I said in my support group, “Everybody here is doing something incredibly brave, whether you think so or not. And, if we’re lucky, it will be so much easier for people 20, 30 or 50 years from now because of what you’re doing.”
J., I’m not sure if you’d recognize me from my occasional comments, but I’m an avid Alas reader, and have been since 2009 (eek!).
I’m so happy for and proud of you! Welcome to the club <3333
If for whatever reason you're looking for reading material, I recommend Emily VanDerWerff, Ivan E. Coyote, and generally all of Autostraddle.
Congratulations!! Very happy for you!
I’m familiar with your work, you newcomer, you. More seriously, I always appreciate your comments here.
I’ve read some of Emily VanDerWerff’s writing, but Ivan Coyote and Autostraddle are new to me, so thank you. And thank you for your well wishes.
Congratulations, J.! I’m really happy for you.
Go, Squid, go!
Dare I ask, is there any more to the story about Mrs. Squid’s remark, “I was wondering when you were going to figure that out”? And how is your relationship with Mrs. Squid today?
Congrats on the big move. My kids grew up with a neighboring kid. Our families would go on week-long campouts and we still vacation together. The neighboring kid was always curiously quiet. Then he went off to college–and she returned. She still has a quiet voice, but has become much more animated and comfortable in her own skin. Today, it is really a joyful story.
May your story have a similar trajectory.
Best wishes for your second 50 years!
The rest of the story about her remark is her’s, though I will try to summarize. She says she’s always been attracted to feminine guys, that her friends and family all asked, way back when, if I wasn’t a little too feminine. Somewhere in that intervening time she recognized who I am. After that, it was just a matter of waiting. Our relationship is exactly what it was before that day.
I can understand why your neighbor became so much more comfortable. In a visceral way. I, though I detect no personality changes in my self*, have experienced the same thing.
Thank you, so much.
* Mrs. Squid may have a different opinion on this subject.
I guess now you will have the task of finding clothes that actually have actual pockets and decoding the mysterious size number meanings.
The thing I remember about surgery for an inguinal hernia was I was put under general anesthesia. It was 7:00 AM when I was being wheeled to another room and a minute later, it was 12:30 PM and I was back in the room where I started and I was very sick.