[CW: suicidal ideation, gender dysphoria]
I smile more in photos nowadays. I smile more full stop.
Recently, a friend who left an abusive relationship last year mentioned that they felt like they could finally recognise themselves in the mirror again. The words resonated with me, but with a key difference: I feel like I can recognise myself for the first time. It’s as though someone I don’t know has been staring back at me for my whole life, and I didn’t realise how wrong that felt until I could finally see myself in the mirror.
It feels like I’m an entirely different person. I’m finally myself.
I don’t think it can be solely due to the ways my body has changed since I started testosterone. My voice is deeper, yes, and while the trail of hair leading under my waistband isn’t as thick as that of the hot trans guys I lust over on Instagram, it still brings me gender euphoria. There’s more hair on my face too, but my facial hair has always been so fair that it’s barely visible. It’s not enough to explain how different I look.
Testosterone redistributes your weight, shifting your body fat away from your hips and thighs and increasing muscle definition in your arms and legs, but I don’t know if five months on T is enough to notice those changes yet. I can’t tell if the shape of my face has changed either. I look through old selfies and compare them to what I see in the mirror now, but I look so different to myself that I’m honestly not sure which changes are physical.
Even if the changes aren’t physical, they might still be visible. I hold myself differently now. Not only to try and emphasis my shoulders, one of the parts of my body that brings me the most euphoria, but because I’m not scared of taking up space any more. I no longer try to shrink myself down, scared of being seen. I’m not hiding any more - I know who I am, and I can stand tall and steady in my gender.
It’s strange to feel so confident in myself. It’s strange to no longer feel the need to apologise just for existing. I might not man-spread on the tube, but I definitely don’t make myself smaller to make other people comfortable nowadays. It’s liberating to give way fewer fucks about what people think. It’s still a work in progress, of course, but it’s so freeing. So powerful.
I feel powerful.
I think part of finally recognising myself is because after two long years I finally surfaced from my worst depressive low. I’m much less ill than I was a year ago and I don’t want to discount how much my transness plays into that. While I will forever hate mental health professionals who ask me if I’m depressed because I’m queer or trans (and most of them do), I was also raised in society that tells trans people that they are wrong. Is it any wonder that I internalised some of that?
I have a long way to go with unpacking and unlearning my self-hatred, but I’ve taken massive steps forward. I’m no longer the hollow shell of a person I was last November, living minute to minute sometimes as I tried to shut out the voice in my head that screamed at me to kill myself. I don’t feel numb any more; I feel alive. I made it through all of my worst days, and when I look in the mirror I feel proud of that. I’m still here and I’m slowly learning to be compassionate towards myself, to put down the guilt I feel when I make choices that prioritise my needs.
I used to wrap my arms around myself as though I was trying to physically hold myself together. Now I put my hands in my pockets and hold my head high. I grin. I’m happy.
I wonder if someone who knew me six years ago would recognise me now.
Of course, there are still days when looking in the mirror makes me dysphoric. Sometimes I can’t shake the awareness of how wrong my body feels. It’s painful, that hyper-awareness of my body, and that other people see my body and assume I’m a woman. There are days when I catch sight of my body and don’t understand how it can be mine. I lean over when I’m naked and my tits hang down, away from my body, and they feel so alien. I hate it.
But I carry myself with more confidence now - and not only when I’m binding. As euphoric as seeing myself with a flat chest makes me, I’ve reached a point where I know even my tits are male. My whole body is male, because I’m a man. I can still feel masculine (and hot) even when my tits are out, and I’m slowly figuring out my style as a guy. I wear jeans, long-sleeved tops and Doc Martens. I like cords and sweatshirts and dungarees. I never leave the house without a pronoun pin, which I wear like armour.
Oh, and I cut my hair.
I got it cut right before London Trans Pride in July, at a barber’s near Hyde Park Corner. I felt so masc, leaning back in the leather chair next to someone getting a full shave. I doubt guys wearing ‘Pro-abortion trans fag’ t-shirts and strap-on harnesses over their shorts make up a large part of their usual clientel, but they didn’t bat an eyelid at my request, just checked once before they started shaving my head. Throughout that incredible, euphoric day, I kept touching the short stubble at the back of my head. It felt so good. It wasn’t only a way to stim: the fuzz beneath my fingers grounded me in the moment.
You’re alive, the feeling of my newly shaved head said. You made it. You’re living your truth and you should be so fucking proud of yourself.
I want to make it clear: I still struggle with suicidal ideation and self-hatred. I’m still a mess, but I’m a mess who looks in the mirror and sees myself. I like the person I am, the person I’m becoming.
Now and then, I forget how transphobic the world is and forget that people look at me and assume that I’m a woman. I’m so confident in my gender that I don’t understand how other people can’t see it. Most of the time, though, I’m aware that people see me as a woman and it makes my skin crawl. It don’t change how I see myself though. I see myself as someone who is strong, who is smart, who has survived all the shit he’s been through. I see myself as someone who has value, even though I have flaws, even when I fuck up.
It doesn’t matter who anyone else sees, because I know who I am. I finally recognise myself when I look in the mirror, and I finally love myself.