You start testosterone on the first cold day of winter. The appointment had to be scheduled months in advance.
25 years, you figured, was long enough.
You stand outside your then-girlfriend’s apartment and Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” courses through your headphones. You wait as the wind licks at your soft face.
Will this be your last winter without a beard?
The first time you do your shot alone, you stab yourself in the thumb. You shoot a text to your nurse friend.
You: Accidentally stabbed myself with used T needle, will I get HIV???
Her: I mean…do *you* have HIV…?
Slowly, it becomes your Monday night ritual. 8 PM, every week. It takes a long time for your hands not to shake.
You come out to your mom over text message. Transitioning, you’ve realized, is the one thing you won’t be able to hide from her. Will it bring you closer? Widen the tenuous suture between the two of you?
The answer, perhaps as it always is: a mix of both.
It’s a quick month.
You do three shots instead of four.
You get really into watching Survivor.
You are spending an inordinate amount of time alone.
The first three months are excruciating in a way no one warned you about. You don’t eat enough, it makes you nauseous. You’re anxious all the time, it makes you nauseous. Nausea becomes the tautology of your transition. Alone in a hotel room at a conference you wonder if any of this is worth it, if you’ll ever feel like yourself again.
After a drink at some local tavern where the barkeep calls you “buddy,” you take yourself up The Capitol Wheel at sunset. It’s a blustery day but warm enough to wear only a button-down under a suit jacket. The wind blows the cars of the Ferris wheel from side to side and the sunset is breathtaking in a predictable way. You ride until the sun dips well below the horizon, thinking about how easy it is to see things from above.
When you come home, your dog doesn’t recognize you calling her.
Everyone asks if you’re writing about it and you say no but something inside compels you towards the computer. You’ll want to remember this, they say. What is most difficult to articulate is how normal all of it feels. It doesn’t feel memorable or transformative. It feels like the slow shifting of gears into place.
You and your then-girlfriend break up. You break up with her, but it doesn’t feel that way. It isn’t messy or violent or even cathartic. You wonder what transition means for your dating prospects—lesbians don’t date men but have always liked you. Straight women don’t date women but have always appreciated the break you provided from heteronormativity.
You wonder if you’re ever enough of anything for anyone.
When you speak, people crane their necks to hear you. The gravel of your voice is consumed by the din of a crowded bar, a loud room, a busy restaurant. There was a time when you were the loudest in a group. Now you are the quiet one, sometimes silent.
You begin to think a lot about the type of man you’re becoming. The type of man you want to be.
You’re out of town for a fellowship in upstate New York.
A woman with an asymmetrical haircut and expensive glasses pursues you. You do not get this type of attention, so you convince yourself to play along. But much like slipping into a hot bath without testing the water first, it’s too much too fast.
I’m not going home with you.
Come on, just let me suck your dick.
You kiss on a street corner in the middle of the sidewalk. You replay it ad nauseam in your head for the rest of the summer.
It wasn’t nonconsensual, but you are upset it happened.
You change your name at the beginning of August. At the end of the month, you attend a meeting at your university.
Despite your enormous personal space bubble, a faculty member you haven’t seen in a while hugs you.
“Hey lady!” she says, after you’ve just introduced yourself to a new colleague with your new name.
“I mean man!” she says.
“I mean, whatever you are! You know, it’s new! It’s just confusing.”
You traverse every contour of that conversation for the rest of the day and evening, “whatever you are,” reverberating like a struck bell.
It is new. Sometimes you struggle yourself. When you talk about yourself in the past tense, you use your birth name. You use she/her pronouns. You wonder if that diminishes your desire for this experience.
You ease into being stealth. Recent blood work indicates that you’re a man, chemically speaking. You have a fondness for barbers who clip your sideburns without trimming your facial hair. Your students call you sir.
One of your students clocks you. He lingers after class, makes knowing jokes. He writes openly, elegantly, about being trans. You envy his bravery, his boldness. When he signs up for your winter class, you panic, wondering how much longer you’ll be able to keep up the facade.
When you tell a friend that you’re participating in No-Shave November she says, “Jay, being single is one thing, leaning into it is another.”
You shave it all off a little after the third week. You’re running a half marathon and are afraid of picking up your bib. You haven’t changed the gender on your license, and it would be weird to race in the 25-29 female age group with a fledgling beard.
For the mere cost of 10,282 out-of-pocket dollars, you have a double mastectomy that quite literally cleaves you from your past life.
The night after surgery you wake in a cold sweat from a nightmare in which your breasts have grown back. You sleep for the next six months with your hands folded across your chest, as though the act alone will staunch the possibility of growth.
Jay Jolles is a PhD student in American Studies at The College of William and Mary.
Photography by: Lance Asper