6 Things I Learned From Transitioning From FTM

At the age of 18, I started my transgender transition from female to male, after over two years of soul searching and research. At the time, I wasn’t that optimistic about how much my body would change if I physically transitioned, because I was small and had a relatively feminine build. I would even say I anticipated “not fitting in well” as a guy in American society after transitioning, due to my looks and size.

Another thing I worried about was receiving negative reactions from some of my social contacts and family members if they didn’t approve of my transition. This seemed like a valid concern to me, because I’d read about some transgender people who received seriously crappy reactions from family members and former friends after coming out.

So, why did I transition?

Because I got to a point where transitioning to live as a male seemed like the smartest and best option for who I was. That’s it — there’s no big mystery to it. I just needed to make a change that fit who I was, and my need to live as a male wasn’t the type that could simply go away.

I’m now 26, and happy to share what I’ve learned from my transition and life as a transgender man. I’ve been surprised and encouraged by many of my experiences, and yes, I had my originally less-than-optimistic expectations proven wrong, because my appearance has changed more than I ever anticipated.

Here are six of the most memorable things I learned from transitioning from female to male:

1. Testosterone Can Impact A Biologically Female Body In Surprising Ways

I’ve got to confess, I underestimated what taking testosterone could do to me before I began injecting the hormone as part of my transition. At the time, I was concerned I might be too physically feminine to ever be perceived as an adult male in social situations, even after years of “T.” Still, not transitioning was stressing me out and I was majorly depressed. I got to the point where I had to make a decision about moving forward with starting testosterone — and I did.

The result:

My face and body changed slowly on testosterone, and for about a year and a half, I seemed to be perceived as an androgynous woman by some people, and a 13-year-old boy by others. Nonetheless, I looked unmistakably male after about two years on testosterone. And after seven years on testosterone, I have found that I now look so male that no one — including other transgender people — guesses that I'm transgender unless I mention that I am.

2. Injecting Testosterone Can Have Drawbacks, But It Was Ultimately Worth It For Me

The drawbacks:

  • I have to stick a needle in my thigh once a week and push a thick, yellowish oil into my body. I'm very careful about cleanliness and my injection technique, but the injections can still sting from time to time. They can also leave a sore spot on my thigh for a few days.
  • Testosterone really can cause hair loss or recession of the hairline. My hair continues to be thick, but some trans men go bald due to testosterone. The main change I've seen in my hair is some slight recession of my hairline.
  • I have to make sure I get my testosterone prescription refilled regularly.
  • My insurance doesn't currently cover the cost of my testosterone.

Why injecting testosterone is worth it for me:

  • I have no periods on testosterone. Why this is worth it is probably self-explanatory to anyone who has had a period.
  • I feel more comfortable with myself on testosterone than I did in my pre-testosterone days. The only exception occurs when my testosterone levels get too high, which can happen if I lose some weight and inject the same dosage I was using before the weight loss. In turn, the weight loss can change the dosage I need to maintain normal hormone levels for a man of my age range.
  • Taking testosterone has impacted how I process emotions, and for me, having a normal amount of testosterone for a young man in my body feels more natural than not having it. I had to go off of testosterone to have a mastectomy in 2014 and all of my body's female hormones came flooding back. This caused some major emotional changes that I wouldn't wish on anyone (not to mention The Return of the Period). I felt much more emotionally level and comfortable with how I was feeling once I was back on testosterone.

3. People Can Surprise You

And by "surprise you," I mean "turn out to be with fine with you being trans and accept you without you having to explain much." I've gotten much more acceptance and support from people, including people I don't know well, than I ever expected before I transitioned. I've also been fortunate enough to avoid encountering people who react in negative ways when they find out that I'm transgender.

On the other hand, I recognize that:

  • I only tell people who I know will be fine with me being transgender. This cuts down on the chance of encountering negative reactions.
  • I have never worked in a male-dominated work environment. The trans people I know who do work in male-dominated environments have been worried about coming out as trans there.
  • I don't live in an overtly anti-LGBT area. That too can cut down on encountering people who might take issue with a transgender person.
  • I don't fit many people's idea of what a transgender person looks like. This helps me blend in where I live and avoid being identified as transgender based on my looks alone. Other transgender people may or may not have that privilege. Many don't.

4. Having Had Experiences Associated With Women As Well As Men Can Give You Insight Into Sexism And The Objectification Of Women's Bodies

Case in point: I experienced sexism before I transitioned that I never experienced again once I looked male. For example: when I was 16, a 21-year-old man once told me that women should do what men say, and claimed on a separate occasion that I was attracted to him. He wouldn't believe me when I said I was not at the time, and I can recall no reason for that other than him perceiving me to be a girl. I certainly was not attracted to him — I just tried to stay civil with him because he was my coworker's son.

After I started to look male, I can honestly say nothing like this happened ever again. Both straight and gay men have tended to believe what I say about who I'm attracted to. And sexist men have no reason to make the same type of comments about me, so they don't.

Another difference I've noticed is that people now seem to always believe me when I tell them about the medical reasons I'm so thin. Before I transitioned, multiple people jumped to the conclusion I must not be eating enough out of a desire to stay thin. And there were certainly times when more than one person proved he or she didn't believe I could be *gasp* eating enough. Yet, I was easily 16 pounds heavier before I transitioned than I am today. I was not significantly underweight for a small person of my height and bone structure.

As an adult, I'm almost dangerously underweight for medical reasons and yet, no one's claiming I have an eating disorder. I still get concerned comments, but the tone of the conversation has changed from "Does she have an eating disorder? I'm sure she doesn't eat enough" to "Whoa, you're really thin. What's going on?"

The moral of the story: Women deserve to be believed as much as men about issues that concern their own bodies and autonomy, but they aren't always. That needs to change.

5. Some Men May Still Be Convinced They Know Know What’s Best For You...Even If They Can't Prove It

However, straight men aren't the only ones who can become convinced they know what's best for a female partner or friend without being able to back up their views. As someone who is attracted to men, I've observed that some gay or bisexual guys can be just as easily infected with the "I know better than you about what life decisions you should make...even if I seem like I don't know you at all" bug. Since my transition, I've only had one guy try to convince me I didn't know what I was doing and shouldn't pursue the opportunities I want to pursue — but even one guy is too many.

The bottom line: Every woman or man deserves an honest partner who sees him or her as an equal — not someone who "mansplains" them and ignores what they have said without regard for the facts of a situation.

6. Testosterone Really Can Increase Your Sex Drive...But It Shouldn't Make You An Asshole

I definitely saw an increase in my sex drive after some time on testosterone, but it wasn't a dramatic increase — it was more like masturbation became a higher priority on my daily to-do list, instead of something I could put off for a while.

But despite its reputation as a hormone that makes you more aggressive, testosterone shouldn't make you act like an asshole. On the few occasions I can recall when my testosterone levels accidentally became too high, I sometimes experienced what I'd describe as noticeable mood swings. This happened (rarely) when my body was full of estrogen, too. But it didn't make me a violent, verbally abusive, or entitled asshole and it certainly didn't make me feel like I was "owed" sex by anyone. Men who exhibit those behaviors have many more factors to blame than testosterone.

Images: Photographer: April Metternich/Ezra Solomon; Photographer: Adam Bickel Photography/Ezra Solomon (2).