Transition Is Allowed To Feel Bad Sometimes

As a trans man, trans joy is easy to celebrate. Whether that’s friends getting gender-affirming surgery, fellow trans comedians crushing, or just my best friend getting a new barista job, every win for them is a win for me. Every month on the 17th, I hit a new milestone in my transition— another month on testosterone. Friends of all genders have celebrated with me. I ran monthly Q&As on my Instagram stories so I could share my progress and help educate any baby trans mascs who needed to see trans men thriving.

Then, around month 9-10, it stopped feeling like I was thriving.

It’s not that I dislike being on T. I love it. It’s given me more energy, helped my mental health, and made me feel more at home in my body. But while all of that is true, I still want more. Pre-transition, I felt dysphoric about how I wasn’t even trying to be more masc. Now, the dysphoria is something new, something I never would have predicted— I used to feel so much longing for the man I could be, but now, I feel hopelessly limited by the man I can be.

Pre-T, I imagined that close to a year on testosterone would come with huge differences. I thought I would be— prayed I would be— unrecognizable. I thought customer service reps on the phone would hear my voice and call me “sir.” I thought I’d have a shitty mustache, but a mustache nonetheless. Was that realistic? Probably not, but imagining a way out of dysphoria rarely listens to timelines.

Eleven months on T later, I still get “ma’am”-ed on the phone and my voice hasn’t changed since month six. I don’t know if I can expect facial hair at all. People have told me facial hair will probably be the color of my eyebrows, but my eyebrows are tattoos. The hairs are white. No matter the length, they’re invisible.

I am eternally thankful for the reality check from my roommate (who is trans and has a great mustache). When I complained about my lack of facial hair to him, he asked how long I’ve been on T, and when I said 10ish months, he laughed. “You’re not supposed to have one yet,” he said. “Any guy who has one by month six had a mustache pre-transition anyway.” I think about this any time the thin white hairs at the corners of my lips make me sad.

The words of other trans men are one of few places I find comfort about transitioning. I’ve had a quote from this essay by Damien Kronfeld saved in my notes app for months now: “transition requires a tremendous amount of faith and a willingness to trade the intolerable for the unknown.”

I gave up the intolerable, and it’s been the best decision of my life. But the further I go into the unknown, the more unknown stretches out ahead of me. What did I expect? I don’t know. Living happily ever after and never getting misgendered again, I guess. I’m a different person now, but not different enough. As my mom has said, “wherever you go, there you are.”

I’m at a low point in my transition, but it would be even lower if I hadn’t transitioned at all. This isn’t a case of regret. It’s longing for things to go faster, and a hopelessness that they’ll ever “go” at all.

When people say gender affirming care saves lives, it’s true. Studies have repeatedly shown that access to gender-affirming care improves mental health outcomes. According to Scientific American, almost every major medical organization, “including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Endocrine Society, the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association… find[s] such care to be evidence-based and medically necessary.”

But gender-affirming care doesn’t save lives in a day. Yes, my first dose of T gel got me out of a depression because I finally had hope for the future of how I would look and feel. No, I don’t look and feel how I want to 11 months later.

Not yet.

I’m creeping closer, but sometimes it still feels too far away.

I want to pass. I want strangers to use he/him for me at first sight instead of “she” or the sometimes-worse cautious “they?” of well-intended allies. At least those people can tell something trans is going on here rather than seeing me as a butch lesbian.

I’ve been correctly gendered by strangers exactly three times. Once by a door person at a comedy show who couldn’t see my face, once by a man I gave a dollar to who corrected himself when I got closer, and once because a doctor’s office mixup led to my chart saying I was born male. When they called “Mr. Gross” and I stood up, the nurses looked noticeably surprised. I am a man until someone sees my face. My height. My voice.

There’s a lot of discourse around passing — whether it’s necessary for safety, whether it’s cis-normative to want for yourself, whether it’s progressive or regressive, whether you’re lying to people by passing. None of my desire to pass is about other people’s discourse. I just don’t want to have to come out all the time. I want to be stealth at my day job(s) so the transphobic microaggressions stop. I want people to know who I am without having to tell them. Isn’t that what everyone wants? To be obviously themselves?

It’s terrifying to admit this to people: transitioning feels bad sometimes. I’m terrified that TERFs will point to this as an example of how trans men are just confused women. I’m terrified that a trans man on the verge of discovering himself will see this and retreat further into the closet. I’m terrified that anyone who doubts my transition will think I’m doubting it, too. Simply put, I do not want my imagined haters to win.

But if cis people were always happy with their gender presentation, the entire cosmetic surgery industry would go bankrupt. To want to feel visually affirmed in your gender is human. Some cis men want to look like Handsome Squidward, and I just want to look like the world’s most 5’4 cis man. When I see (presumably) cis men my height on the train, I think, “does it make you sad to look like me? And do you know what I’d give to look like you?”

Realistically, I understand that if you do something for 11 months, the chance that you’ll feel good for every second of those 11 months is zero. That’s too long of a time to never feel bad. Being on testosterone is no exception to this. I’m re-navigating my expectations and hopes for the person I could become in the future, and that’s allowed to be hard! If you’re reading this because you feel this way too, you’re allowed to feel less than perfect about your transition!

Maybe I’ll look back on this months/years/decades from now with a whole shitty mustache and laugh at myself for worrying. Maybe I’ll look exactly the same. Either way, maybe I’ll be happy.


Feature image by Marco_Piunt via Getty Images

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Max Gross

Max Gross (he/him) is a trans writer and comedian based out of Brooklyn. His writing can be seen in The Onion, Reductress, Slate, and now, wherever you're reading this.

Max has written 3 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. Max! After reading this, I went back through and re-read the other pieces you’ve contributed to Autostraddle, because they are some of the most thoughtful and honest writings about transmasculinity I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Your writing is like transness for trans people, just getting to the core of things I actually find myself thinking and wondering about. Thank you so much!!!

  2. max <3 sending big love. this is a vulnerable thing to share–you're totally right, this side of things is not talked about nearly as much as it's experienced privately–and it's meaningful that you're sharing it. wishing you the best.

  3. Solidarity, Max, thanks for writing this. A bunch of the trans femmes in my “cohort” are nearing the same time into transition, and so many have noted a bit of a one year rut. The more experienced gals confirm it too, somewhere between 9 months and a year is a low point in transition. It seems pretty common and pretty logical: it’s no longer new, no longer quite the same rush of self discovery, the “easy” transition things are well on their way… But we still have a long way to go, weeks of doing name change paperwork for hours a week, for the femmes, many hours of hair removal in various places with varying degrees of pain…

    I’m hoping I dodge it, I’ve been pretty lucky so far, but I’m coming up on the same durations as well… My rate of being gendered correctly will drop when I can’t wear my “obviously a women’s” winter jacket…

  4. not me being in a six month hrt plateau wondering when stuff will start happening again and reading about the one year plateau! great article, I always appreciate reading about different people’s experiences, the good, bad and in between. It’s such a wild, magical, individual process.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this! My partner’s on oestrogen but not T-blockers, so she’s very much in this plateau where very little is visibly changing; meanwhile, I’m pre-T, but have decided very firmly that microdosing T is what I want. I think it’s very easy to daydream about how massively transition is going to fix everything, but the part I’m having to swallow is that it’s a slow process with a lot of moving parts (and it’ll ESPECIALLY be like that if I microdose).

    I’ve always thought of transition as being like getting your dream job, the thing you have always wanted to do, the thing you love and you have it now, it’s yours. Even if you are someone who has a job like that, you’re still going to have shit days in that job. It doesn’t mean that suddenly the job’s not right for you, or that the industry your dream job is a part of shouldn’t exist; it just means that not every day is going to be perfect and filled with delirious happiness, because life’s not like that. I think we can all agree that even a shit day working in your ultimate dream job is going to feel a lot better than a shit day working a boring, unfulfilling job that you feel trapped in, right?

    So from a utilitarian perspective, transition is still the decision that brings the most happiness, even if it sometimes feels really bad.

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