[CW: suicide, mental illness, transphobia, mention of genitals and masturbation]
Saturday was a year since I started testosterone. It saved my life.
I'm not saying that the last year has been easy, but it's been the best year of my adult life. Possibly the best year of my life, full stop. It's not that my depression magically vanished overnight. I'm still disabled and autistic and trying to survive in a society that is trying to make it impossible for trans people to exist. There are still days when I dig my fingers into my arm and focus all my energy into taking deep breathes until it no longer feels like my pain is too big for my body. There are days when all I can do is get through the next thirty seconds.
For years, I told doctors that if I was still this ill in five years time, I thought I’d look back and wish I’d killed myself then – or, rather, now – rather than forcing myself to get through so much pain only to keep suffering. Starting testosterone changed that. I still think about killing myself a lot, but it’s easier to remind myself that I don’t want to die. I want to live.
Now I have a confession to make: testosterone did save my life, but not in the way I thought it would. My depression didn’t vanish overnight, but honestly? Part of me thought it would. I’d been fighting for months to get access to a bridging prescription, and I thought it would solve all of my problems. And when it didn’t, I had to deal with the fact that no matter how much I needed to start testosterone, it wouldn’t “fix” me.
Maybe I put way too much pressure on those first few weeks because part of me still thought I needed fixing.
But I firmly believe that medical transition doesn’t make me any more of a man than I was before. I’m also working on internalising that, despite every message I’ve been given all my life about being broken and wrong, I am neither. Not broken, just bent. I didn’t start testosterone so cis people would look at me and see a man; I started it because I wanted to look in the mirror and see myself. And I do, it just took longer than I wanted it to – I’ve always been impatient.
The physical changes were slow. For the last year I’ve recorded my voice every Friday to track the minuscule changes and forced my friends to listen to barely-different voice notes like a proud parent showing off photos of their child. And while week-to-week there’s little difference, my voice is deeper now. Lower. I often open my mouth and find that nothing comes out, because I’m trying to make a sound that I could make a year ago but can’t any more.
Then there’s the hair on my thighs and my belly. I’m obsessed with the trail of hair that runs down from my belly button. If you followed it down, you’d find that my clit – my dick – has grown. Bottom growth was one of the parts of starting T that I was most excited about, and it’s been so dick watching my cock growth. Now I can feel myself getting hard when I’m turned on, I can jerk myself off. It’s so fucking hot.
I’m more comfortable with my body. I’m still dysphoric; I still desperately want top surgery. But I’m no longer keeping my underwear on during sex, a physical barrier between me and my partner. Maybe it’s because I’ve fully internalised the idea that my body is a man’s, despite a world of people who wouldn’t agree. It would be even if I wasn’t on T. And chest aside, my body feels like my own. I feel like myself.
I’m really proud of how far I've come since I started T. I've started corrected people when they misgender me. I’ve started compassion-focussed therapy. I’ve started forgiving myself rather than holding on to guilt and shame to punish myself. I'm still a mess, but I'm learning how to be kinder to myself. To set boundaries. To honour my own needs. To give fewer fucks.
Those things aren’t because of testosterone – or at least not directly. It’s not like the hormones themselves made me more confident. The idea that men are inherently braver than women is bioessentialist bullshit, so I know it’s not my increased levels of testosterone that are responsible for me pushing myself out of my comfort zone so often over the last year. I haven’t just found my voice literally, but metaphorically as well. I’m learning to speak up and speak out, and to believe that my voice has value.
I no longer feel like I’m waiting for my life to start. I am living my life. And I make an active choice about how I want to live my life and who I want to be every day when I squirt testosterone gel into my hands and rub it into my belly and inner thighs. I choose transness and I choose myself. And I believe – at least most of the time – that I’m someone worth choosing.
When I came out on my blog in February 2020, I said that I didn’t know why it was easier to love myself with my new pronouns. I do know now. It’s easier to love myself because this is who I am. I’m no longer pretending to be someone I’m not, no longer trying to fit into the woman-shaped hole that I was expected to fill. I get to be me, and that feels fucking incredible.
I don't know if cis people understand how serious trans people are being when we say that gender-affirming healthcare saves lives. I might still be alive today if I hadn't been able to start testosterone, but I don't think I'd want to be.
Starting testosterone is the greatest act of self-love I have ever given myself, and it saved my life.
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🍆 Cruising the internet
I'm trying not to feel guilty that I've barely read any of the important writing and journalism around the clusterfuck of transphobia and targeted roll back of trans rights. If you're feeling the same, please remember that it's important to take care of yourself. You're allowed to step away and protect your mental health.
- I wrote the term 'gay panic' for Refinery 29. I talk about queer history, how sodomy used to mean any sex that wasn't for procreation, the importance of representation of queer love and queer joy, and how queerphobia is still deeply entrenched in our legal systems. "Can you imagine your masculinity being so fragile that you feel the need to murder a trans woman who you found attractive, just to reaffirm that you are straight?"
- My utter lack of shame about talking about anal sex at unconventional moments (like on a panel about arts and culture journalism!) led to me getting to write about vaginismus and anal sex for May's issue of The Skinny. For years I've wondered whether vaginismus impacts anal sex, and I'm so glad that I got to write a piece exploring the question and ranting (just a bit) about how appalling it is that we've normalised pain during sex.
- After not finishing a book for months, I devoured Harry Nicholas' A Trans Man Walks Into a Gay Bar* in one evening. It's an incredible book it made me cry, because I’ve never heard say some of these things before, and I desperately needed to hear them. I felt so fucking seen. “We are told that we do not know what it is like to have periods or hormonal imbalances such as the menopause. We are told that we cannot be given emergency contraception because ‘Boys do not get pregnant.’ Our reality as trans men is entirely missed.”
- I'm absolutely obsessed with the podcast Maintenance Phase right now. A podcast hosted by queer people that debunks the junk science behind health and wellness fads? Yes please. Every episode is extensively researched and I'm getting more and more nerdy and excited about science communications stuff. Fellow sex nerds might want to check out this episode about the history of vibrators.
- Finally, I really needed to see this tweet when it came across my timeline this week:
If you’re trans or nonbinary or genderqueer and you got up this morning? You’re a fucking hero and somebody should buy you an ice cream cone, and honestly I wish it could be me.— S. Bear Bergman (@sbearbergman) May 24, 2023